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Ottawa Jazz Festival 2010: Days 1-3, June 24-26, 2010

John Kelman By

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Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-9 | Days 10-11
Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio
Etienne Charles and Folklore / Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers
Bill Frisell 858 Quartet

TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
June 24-26, 2010
Back in April 2010, when the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival unveiled its 30 Anniversary program, the general consensus was that it had somehow managed to top its 2009 edition, which boasted one of the strongest lineups ever. 2010 has brought a considerable number of changes to the festival, and while some represent the end of an era, others represent a new direction that bodes well for the festival's future.

With the retirement of program director Jacques Emond after an incredible stretch of 30 years, OIJF will be in search of a new program director to build on Mr. Emond's tradition of excellence. Over the years, however, Executive Producer Catherine O'Grady has assumed an increasingly active role in programming, bringing a more left-of-center disposition and becoming a much-needed local advocate for the rich and, at least in North America, unfairly overlooked European scene. Her stellar Improv Invitational series at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage, beginning five years ago, has provided an ongoing, dedicated vehicle for artists ranging from Evan Parker and Roscoe Mitchell to Nils Petter Molvaer and Wibutee. The Improv series continues in 2010 with its predictably outstanding programming, with a bevy of international artists including Globe Unity Orchestra, Norwegian pianist {Tord Gustavsen}}, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and Korean singer Youn Sun Nah.

Two other longstanding series have been replaced/renamed. The Connoisseur series, an afternoon institution of concerts in the theater of Library and Archives Canada, has been re-titled the Anniversary series, but a rose is a rose by any other name, and 2010 boasts a fine group of more centrist shows that will include Canadian pianist Michele Gregoire and Ottawa's own Hugh O'Connor, as well as two final shows that hold considerable promise: the first, pianist Fred Hersch, the second, trumpeter Tom Harrell.

More severe a loss is the longstanding Studio Series, which took place in the 350-seat Studio of the National Arts Centre. In its place, the OLG Late Night Series inaugurates a new tent on the west side of Confederation Park, directly opposite the larger main stage. With another fine lineup including drummer Manu Katche, Canadian altoist Christine Jensen and her big band project, and the freewheeling Mostly Other People Do the Killing, the only question is how the sound will be in the tent. It's a new venture, with a few teething pains no doubt to be had, but the design of the tent is top-notch, with a generous stage, a grand piano, and seemingly well-configured sound system. Sometimes change is good, and in some ways, this new series in a new location may well do better than the Studio series, as people leaving the park after the main stage shows will now have another option right along their path.

The main stage, as usual, is reserved for larger, more eminently approachable crowd pleasers, but Ottawa's reputation as one of the purer jazz festivals—at a time when others face much more mixed programming to help stay afloat—remains intact. Yes, there are some shows, like the first official evening's Smokey Robinson, that are a stretch, but in relative terms not so far as to be an issue to most, and the rest of the programming promises to be as exciting as this festival has ever seen, ranging from piano icon Herbie Hancock, who brings his The Imagine Project to Ottawa, and guitar legend John Scofield, who returns with his gospel-inflected Piety Street (EmArcy, 2009) Band, to jazz jam band progenitors Medeski, Martin & Wood, making an overdue return appearance in Ottawa, and that show's eagerly anticipated (but still, a little curious) opening by Oregon co-founder/guitarist Ralph Towner and trumpeter Paolo Fresu, touring their recent Chiaroscuro (ECM, 2009). Equally anticipated are individual shows from saxophonists Kenny Garrett and David Sanborn. Garrett nearly blew the roof off the Library and Archives theater a few years back, so who knows how high into the stratosphere he'll go, unconstrained by any kind of ceiling?

OIJF also introduces another new series, the Friends series which, akin to Montreal's By Invitation, brings artists into a venue for two nights with two different groups of their own choice. Amongst the highlights are two artists who are no strangers to Ottawa—drummer Matt Wilson, who seems to show up at the festival almost every year, and guitarist Bill Frisell, who will perform one night with his 858 Quartet, and the other with his new trio featuring violist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston, and whose first release, Beautiful Dreamers will be out on Savoy Jazz later this summer.

There's more still, and while local bassist John Geggie will, once again, hold sway at the late night jam sessions with pianist Nancy Walker and drummer Nick Fraser, he'll also give festival-goers a taste of his regular Geggie Concert Series, with a "without a safety net" performance at the Improv series featuring drummer Jim Doxas and trumpeters Cuong Vu and Jimmy Lewis.

All in all, an exciting year, with plenty to choose from.

Chapter Index
  1. June 24: Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio
  2. June 25: Etienne Charles and Folklore
  3. June 25: Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers
  4. June 26: Bill Frisell 858 Quartet

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