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

June 24: Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio

For the first night of the Improv Invitational Series, OIJF brought Finnish saxophonist Mikko Innenen, seen here in 2009 as part Delirium. This time, it was with his own group, Innkvisitio, whose Paa-Da-Pap (TUM, 2007) was a fine debut of music combining Ornette Coleman-inspired freedom with wild electronic textures, powerful improvisational energy and empathy, and a kind of dry humor that, at times, broke out into rich laughter amongst the band members. Serious improvisation needn't be all that serious after all, and if one sign of a good performance is how much the group is enjoying itself, then Innkvisitio's performance was a particularly strong one.

From left: Seppo Kantonen, Mikko Innanen

The group played tracks from Paa-Da-Pap as well as some material from soon-to-be released sophomore disc, but while three-fourths of the album's group was on-hand for its Ottawa show—in addition to Innanen, synthesizer player Seppo Kantonen and drummer Joonas Riippa—original member Timo Lassy was replaced by Swedish saxophonist/clarinetist Fredrik Ljungkvist, perhaps the most well-known of the group internationally speaking, as an ongoing member of Atomic, as well as Norwegian percussionist Thomas Strønen's group, Parish, that released its self-titled second album on ECM in 2006.

Whether on alto or baritone, Innanen possessed a seemingly endless stream of ideas, with extended techniques that gave him plenty of flexibility to drive his set of original compositions. Particularly strong on baritone, with the ability to deliver deep, visceral growls and more delicate upper-register phrases, he was especially in tune with Ljungkvist, the two providing cued support during an especially impressive solo from Kantonen late in the set, where the keyboardist's otherworldly tones were matched by angular phrases with odd intervals and displaced time. Riippa was also an impressive engine for the group, rarely soloing but bolstering the performance with everything from a solid backbeat to tumultuous turbulence, all with an clear eye for when the free play had to end and it was time to return to Innanen's knotty themes.

And the compositions were quirky. An early piece began with Kantonen alternating between sharp, loud, chords, matched by Riippa's loud crashes, but quickly dissolving into dark balladic territory—beautiful in a brooding, foreboding fashion. The group didn't deny swing as a component, but it was often a transitional thing, as the music freely moved from one rhythmic feel to another, with the elastic rubato that's a signature from that part of the world, a regular partner to more defined pulse. And as much as Kantonen continued to provide alien soundscapes, he also provided, at times, a clear bass line with his left hand that differentiated this bass-less group from most of its kind, where time and swing are so often implied rather than overtly delivered.

All four were impressive players, but Innanen and Ljungqvist stood out, with the majority of the direct solo space. Alternating between an alto/clarinet frontline and another where Innanen countered on baritone to Ljungkvist's tenor, comparisons could be drawn to some of American reed man Ken Vandermark's projects, but there as an underlying humor n both the writing and the approach to soloing; not only did Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio bring it, but they did so with an infectious sense of play that made it an early favorite for the 2010 OIJF.



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