Home » Jazz Articles » Ottawa Jazz Festival 2010: Days 4-6, June 27-29, 2010

Live Review

Ottawa Jazz Festival 2010: Days 4-6, June 27-29, 2010

Ottawa Jazz Festival 2010: Days 4-6, June 27-29, 2010

Sign in to view read count
Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-9 | Days 10-11

Kenny Garrett Presents / John Scofield and the Piety Street Band Ralph Towner and Paolo Fresu / Medeski, Martin and Wood John Geggie and Friends / Youn Sun Nah / Manu Katché
TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival Ottawa, Ontario, Canada June 27-29, 2010 As the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival continues to grow, with new series and more choices than ever before, that very growth creates one problem, though it's not exactly a bad one: so many great shows, so little time. Life could be worse than having so much great music to choose from that it's impossible to catch it all. Still, it meant hearing only a portion of Israeli-born, New York- resident clarinetist Anat Cohen at the National Library and Archives of Canada theatre on the afternoon of June 27. Cohen brought almost the same group to Ottawa that she did the 2009 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, with the exception of drummer Daniel Freedman. Sitting in for Freedman was Obed Calvaire, who wowed trumpeter Etienne Charles' audience at the same venue only two days prior and is clearly a player to watch. Of special note was guitarist Gilad Heckselman, who was impressive in Montreal, but has come a long way in a year, burning through his first solo of the set in Ottawa and providing firm but constantly imaginative support. Cohen was, as ever, a fountain of ideas as she tore through a combination of originals by herself and Heckselman, as well as some well-known standards. It was a shame to have to leave early, but better to have caught even a few songs rather than none at all. Meanwhile, after a strong opening set at the 6:00 PM Great Canadian Jazz Series by Montreal-based pianist Min Ranger, the stage was cleared and the audience grew for a night of soulful, funky jazz. <

Chapter Index
  1. June 27: Kenny Garrett Presents
  2. June 27: John Scofield and the Piety Street Band
  3. June 28: Ralph Towner and Paolo Fresu
  4. June 28: Medeski, Martin & Wood
  5. June 29: John Geggie and Friends
  6. June 29: Youn Sun Nah
  7. June 29: Manu Katché
June 27: Kenny Garrett Presents The 'hood came to Ottawa on June 27, as saxophonist Kenny Garrett hit the stage, encouraging the audience, "Yo, come on," as his crack quartet laid into some serious funk, driven by bassist Kona Khasu and drummer Nathan Webb. Khasu and Webb locked in tightly for the entire 75-minute set—no surprise given the two have also been working together with the Jtr3, a new group that, combining jazz, R&B and hip hop, will be honing its sound at some US dates this summer, including New York's Iridium in July and Philadelphia's Chris' Jazz Café in September—and whose first release, Love Passion Correspondence (Self Produced, 2009), makes clear why Garrett chose this rhythm section for a group so heavy on groove. Garrett's Ottawa performance was the only one for this group in June—he'll be on the road with pianist Chick Corea"s Freedom Band for most of July and part of August—but Kenny Garrett Presents was on the road for most of May, and they'd lost none of the simpatico built during the course of a week at the Iridium and 11 days across Europe. Kenny Garrett Garrett tends to alternate between more funk-driven projects and straighter jazz efforts, although his most recent release, Sketches of MD: Live at the Iridium (Mack Avenue, 2008) did marry the two more than albums like Standard of Language (Warner Bros., 2003) and Beyond the Wall (Nonesuch, 2007), projects that leaned far more heavily on a kind of burning, modal traditionalism. Regardless of the context, however, Garrett can always be counted on for a kick-ass band that brings whatever's on the table with serious attitude and plenty of intent. Few saxophonists can milk a note for everything it's worth as well as Garrett—whose Ottawa show a few years back nearly blew the roof off the Library and Archives Canada theater—or whip his band or a crowd into a frenzy as well as the saxophonist, who played alto, his main axe, for most of the set, with the kind of lithe dexterity and screaming physicality he's become known for since his days with trumpet icon Miles Davis in the 1980s.

Despite laying down some serious, booty-shaking groove for most of the set— though there were moments of surprisingly ethereal atmospherics at one point—he had his work cut out for him with an appreciative but overly sedate audience at OIJF's main stage in Confederation Park. Still, while his early attempts at getting the crowd involved were met with relatively deaf ears, by the time he closed the set, asking if the crowd was "Happy People"—the only song to make a return appearance from his last Ottawa performance—he did manage to get people clapping, and some of them up on their feet doing what this music was meant to for.

Keyboardist Johnny Mercier, another relative unknown who ought to be on the radar, provided gospel-tinged support throughout the set, taking the audience to church during an organ solo near the end of the set, laying into a stop-start repetition that mirrored Garrett. But while the grooves ranged from relaxed and chilled to fiery and funky, Garrett's entire group brought it to an Ottawa crowd that had no idea what to expect (there was no advance notice of his lineup, or what kind of show it was going to be. With guitarist John Scofield following with his gospel/New Orleans-informed Piety Street Band coming up afterwards, it was a pretty good bet that OIJF had programmed Garrett before him because the two sets would dovetail nicely. And dovetail they did, with Garrett warming up the audience so that, by the time Scofield took the stage, they were good and ready.

June 27: John Scofield and the Piety Street Band Speaking with Jon Cleary after Scofield's show, the British-born keyboardist/singer—born in the UK but moving to New Orleans in his late teens and, consequently, retaining his accent...at least when speaking—said that it would have been great to have had the chance to hit the road before recording Piety Street (EmArcy, 2009) with Scofield. As good as the album is—one of the guitarist's best fringes-of-jazz albums in recent years, where he has regularly alternated between those and more decidedly jazz dates—live, the guitarist took the material to far greater heights, stretching out on eight of the album's thirteen tracks, and adding a couple of new songs to the mix. Also on hand from the album was bassist/vocalist George Porter Jr., who laid down an unshakable anchor that, at the same time, was incredibly pliant, working tongue-and-groove with drummer Terrence Higgins.

Beginning the set with the same one-two punch that opens the album—the bright, gospel-inflected "That's Enough" and greasier "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," Scofield demonstrated his remarkable and distinctive ability to take the most "inside" music out, with solos that, by moving "outside" just enough to build some serious tension, ultimately released when they resolved back in. Surprising some of the guitar geeks in the audience by playing a Fender Stratocaster on "That's Enough," he alternated with his usual Ibanez semi-hollowbody— also playing, for the most part, with his fingers, and only resorting to a pick when he cranked up the velocity later in the set, on songs like "Gloryland," where he played a lengthy a capella intro that also brought some of his effects, built into a massive pedal board, into play.

For a guitarist who came to an arsenal of effects relatively late in the game—when he formed his Überjam (Verve, 2002) band—Scofield has managed to create an electronic soundscape all his own. He employed circuitous loops and reverse delay on "Gloryland," and created a lengthy loop of tremelo'd chords to support more soloing at the start of "Angel of Death"—a ballad introduced at great length as the guitarist, clearly—and comedically—searching for ways to articulate just how scary its lyrics were, finally broke things up saying "So, how's the whole repartee thing going? I think it's working..."

Porter largely contributed background vocals for the smooth-voiced Cleary, whose soulful but restrained delivery was a treat throughout the set, but the bassist did take lead mike for the funky "Never Turn Back," with a grittier voice that, like Cleary's, sat well behind the beat to give it a relaxed vibe that pulled in rather than pushed out. Without soloing, Porter—a founding member of The Meters and, since then, a busy session player—proved why he's such a legend on the New Orleans scene, with lines that seemed to stretch the pulse without ever losing it. Higgins has equal but different cred, a member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but he delivered one of the most unusual solos from a drummer in recent memory, eschewing the usual multi-limb, "look at me" pyrotechnics in favor of nothing more than a bass drum and a tambourine during the uplifting set closer, "It's a Big Army"—though what he did with just those two instruments was plenty more than enough.

The only thing to mar the performance was rain, which began as a drizzle half-way through the set, but turned heavier towards its end. Still, a sign of a great show is when the audience sticks it out, and relatively few people left the park, with those remaining on their feet and demanding an encore. Scofield introduced Cleary—the youngest member of the group (under 50), who'd already acquitted himself as a singer, pianist and organist—as a great guitarist and, after the show, he confirmed that he actually started on the instrument before moving to piano in his teens. Picking up a Strat for the encore—"I Don't Need No Doctor," from Scofield's Ray Charles tribute, That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles (Verve, 2005)—Cleary engaged in some thrilling trade-offs with Scofield, belying his later comment that, playing only one song a night, he felt a little clumsy. Nobody but Cleary would have noticed any missteps, and if there was one complaint, it was that his volume wasn't quite equal to Sco's and so while his solos were plenty soulful, they lacked some of the "oomph" that that would have made them truly stand out.

That said, Scofield clearly admires Cleary, introducing the song by telling the crowd that "Cleary does all the things that I can't...but that's ok because the Angel of Death is coming and I'm a soldier in the army of the Lord!" Scofield may have wondered how his repartee was doing partway through the show, but between his endless ability to bring a more sophisticated harmonic sensibility to his soloing on songs rooted in New Orleans, gospel and funk, the exhilarating support of his Piety Street Band, and the soulful vocals of Cleary and Porter, he had absolutely nothing to worry about.

June 28: Ralph Towner and Paolo Fresu

It seemed like an odd billing: sublime chamber jazz duo Ralph Towner and trumpeter Paolo Fresu bookended by powerhouse Montreal soul/funk unit Papagroove and perennial jazz jambanders Medeski, Martin & Wood. How would a crowd predominantly looking for a party handle a duo so subtle, so understated? Nobody need have worried. Guitarist Towner and trumpeter Fresu had more than enough of an audience to draw people to Confederation Park on the strength of their appearance alone; and for those looking for an evening of grooves and jamming, the duo acted as a lovely palate cleanser.

But to reduce Towner and Fresu's set to nothing more than a sorbet between courses would have been to diminish the strength of their hour-long set, which was not only extremely well-received, it actually managed to somehow eliminate all the ambient noises outside the park, commanding the full attention of the audience and creating a kind of insulated microcosm in the middle of the city. Other than rounds of applause following solos—and a standing ovation at the end of the set that actually took the artists by surprise—the crowd was rapt; devoting its complete attention. On paper, it seemed as though the music would have been better positioned in a smaller, more intimate indoor venue, but in practice it absolutely worked in the larger outdoor performance space—in no small part thanks to the superb mix provided by the festival's soundman, which was so good that Towner made a special point of acknowledging him to the crowd at the end of the set, as well as to OIJF Executive Producer Catherine O'Grady backstage, after the set was over.

With material culled largely from the duo's ECM debut, Chiaroscuro (2009), Towner and Fresu opened with "Punta Giara," a tune that immediately focused on Towner's distinctive harmonic language. Initially dark and spare, it gradually picked up steam, introducing the duo's remarkable ability to suggest time while oftentimes staying away from a fixed pulse. Fresu's warm flugelhorn floated atop Towner's nylon-string guitar, which was as warm and big as ever. While there was, indeed, a PA system pushing the sound out to the park, in more intimate and acoustic surroundings it's more inherently clear that Towner's tone is expansive all on its own. And with a combination of hard nails and the soft flesh of his fingers, Towner's tone ranged from soft to sharp, but always possessed a warm sustain, even when he played more delicately.

Chiaroscuro may be only a couple years old (recorded in the fall of 2008), but Towner and Fresu have been playing together for fifteen years, with "Punta Hada" inspired by the Sardinian festival where the two first collaborated. Flipping the opening two tunes and continuing with "Wistful Thinking," a tune first heard on Towner's 1994 solo album, Open Letter (ECM), and Chiaroscuro's opener, the chemistry between the two was even more evident, on a rubato tone poem that was all about feeling where the two should come together to move the song forward. In lesser hands it might sound tentative or not quite unified, but Towner and Fresu managed to coalesce effortlessly, Fresu's lineage to Kenny Wheeler, though his approach to lyricism is equally informed by Enrico Rava, with whom he's collaborated over the years. Unlike either of these trumpeters, however, Fresu also uses a mute on occasion, as he did on Towner's "Sacred Place," a gentle but majestic tune written for the Chiaroscuro session. Fresu also had a small rack with some sound processing gear; used rarely but to great effect on a song towards the end of the set, his repeating lines mirrored by Towner.

In addition to a conventional classical guitar, Towner also used a baritone guitar, also nylon stringed and tuned lower, but still with the same relative tuning. Used on the brighter but still somehow emotionally dark "Doubled Up," it's even richer texture allowed Towner even greater latitude both in support of Fresu and when he soloed. While both players were featured individually, it was the interaction between them that made the set so compelling; that, and both musicians' effortless virtuosity, an acumen that never got in the way of the music.

From left: Ralph Towner, Paolo Fresu

It was a set that, in its understatement, elegance and lyricism, remained a powerful example of spontaneity in action, with the two entering into some particularly deep—angular, even—free play halfway through the set. The duo's take on Towner's "Zephyr" was another highlight; a gorgeous tune first heard with Oregon on Ecotopia (ECM, 1987), but later arranged for an orchestra on the criminally overlooked Oregon in Moscow (Intuition, 1999). Here, reduced to a duo, Towner's ability to compose for guitar, but farm out portions of the arrangement to other players—altering the complexion but retaining the core of the song—was brought into sharp detail. His own role varies, depending on the context; here, despite being shouldered with a lot of responsibility, Towner (and Fresu) were always aware of space, and left plenty of opportunities for notes to naturally decay, without feeling the compulsion to fill the gaps.

It may have been an odd choice to open up for the more electric and high volume Medeski, Martin & Wood, but it ultimately turned out to be a great one, not just for existing fans, but for those who were new to these two profoundly talented musicians.

June 28: Medeski, Martin & Wood

It's been a few years since Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW) last visited Ottawa. Hard to believe that this trio of now-veteran musicians—who turned a curious combination of powerful grooves and freewheeling, left-leaning improvisation into a veritable cottage industry—has been together for nearly twenty years. It was, in fact, keyboardist John Medeski's 45th birthday the night of MMW's performance at the 2010 OIJF, and when drummer/percussionist Billy Martin announced it before they launched into an encore of "Chubb Sub," an early hit for the trio from Friday Afternoon in the Universe (Gramavision, 1995), the audience sang an impromptu (and unprompted) "Happy Birthday."

It was a fun and funky way to finish an evening that ran the gamut from extreme- textured improv to the kind of greasy grooves that have made MMW an unequivocal favorite amongst the jamband community. While most of the audience from the previous Towner/Fresu show remained, the crowd did expand for MMW, with a more youthful demographic to boot—a challenge facing all festivals, and one to which OIJF is attuned.

The set list covered a lot of ground, starting with "Agmatia," a sizzling track from the trio's collaboration with Downtown Scene's composer/altoist John Zorn, Zaebos: The Book of Angels Vol. 11 (Tzadik, 2008). What has made MMW stronger over the years is its outside affiliations, both as a group and individually. Medeski has been a participant on Zorn's label for many years, dating back to Bar Kokhba (Tzadik, 1996), one of the albums that kicked Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture into high gear. Martin has worked with everyone from Iggy Pop to Tin Hat Trio, while Chris Wood has recorded with drummer Stanton Moore, Gov't Mule and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe. The strength of working outside the purview of MMW while still remaining committed to it means fresh ideas brought in on a regular basis, to keep things equally moving forward within the band's evolution.

"Agmatia" also kicked MMW into high gear, for a set that ran continuously, with no true breaks during its entire 90 minutes, as the trio shifted to two tracks from one of its best- selling records, Combustication (Blue Note, 1998)—first, the New Orleans-centric but (as always) slightly off-kilter "Coconut Boogaloo," followed by the more relaxed, behind-the- beat backbeat-driven "Just Like I Pictured It," where bassist Chris Wood—switching from acoustic bass to a well-traveled Hofner Beatle Bass—delivered a gritty slide solo that led into a potent keyboard mix from Medeski.

For fans of analog keyboard gear, Medeski's as close to a modern god as it gets. Organ, Fender Rhodes, Moog synthesizer, melodic and more contributed to a collective keyboard sound that's dense and in many ways otherworldly, as Medeski created swirling, dervish-like textures and gritty electric piano sounds pushed to the stratosphere with an arsenal of electronics. That Medeski seemed to know—to feel—where everything was and how to use it on a subconscious level made for some of the most exciting moments of the set. The most visually engaged performer of the trio.

MMW also referenced its jazz roots, performing a medley of Charles Mingus' "Nostalgia in Times Square" and Sun Ra's "Angel Race," beginning with Martin on some clanging but tuned percussion, ultimately settling into a funky groove bolstered by Woods' simple but effective bass line as Medeski delivered a piano solo that swung hard and made clear that MMW's more electro-centric music still comes from a place of tradition.

The trio also focused heavily on material from its recent three-volume Radiolarians series, collected into the Radiolarians—The Evolutionary Set (Indirecto, 2009) box. As the box proved with the live disc included, MMW may be great in the studio but they're far better live, where there's invariably an enthusiastic audience to provide plenty of feedback. Though it's perfectly clear from the concentration going on between the three players that they'd be as committed for a crowd of a hundred as they were, at their OIFJ performance, for a few thousand.

June 29: John Geggie and Friends

Ottawa bassist John Geggie has been spending every night of the 2010 OIJF hosting the late night jam sessions, as he has for many years now, and this has been an especially active year so far. But the jams tend to be inherently more centrist. For a broader picture of Geggie's interests as an improviser, his annual Geggie Concert Series— where he recruits artists from around the world for an evening of "without a safety net" music that has, in the past, included pianists Marilyn Crispell, Craig Taborn and Bill Carrothers, saxophonist Ted Nash, guitarist Vic Juris and many others—has long been the place to go during the festival off-season. Geggie's appearance at the 2010 OIJF Improv Invitational series found the exploratory bassist bringing back three musicians with whom he has worked in past Geggie Concert Series shows, and gave concert-goers a taste of what goes on at his series throughout the year.

Trumpeter Cuong Vu was in Ottawa back in 2006, not long after wrapping up a world tour with Pat Metheny in support of the guitarist's The Way Up (Nonesuch, 2005), to play with Geggie and guitarist Kevin Breit in what remains one of the bassist's most memorable shows. Since then, Vu has released a record with his longstanding trio, Vu-Tet (ArtistShare, 2008), and worked with pianist Myra Melford's Be Bread group, on albums including The Image of Your Body (Cryptogramophone, 2006) and is an educator in the Seattle area. Toronto-based trumpeter/education Jimmy Lewis is also no stranger to Geggie's series, in addition to being a regular participant at Jazzworks' summer jazz camp, just outside of Ottawa, which takes place each year in August. Along with jam session drummer {Nick Fraser}}, Jim Doxas has been one of Geggie's longtime drummers of choice—and for very good reason—not to mention recording and touring regularly with pianist Oliver Jones and singer Sophie Milman, as well as working the nightly jams at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. But while Vu, Lewis and Doxas have performed with Geggie before, they've never actually played together in a quartet, as is the bassist's preference. Geggie's shows are always experiments, and while some work better than others, they're always worth the experience. Geggie's 2010 OIJF performance was one where the trip was terrific, the ultimate destination even better.

Ever the democratic leader, Geggie split compositional duties between himself, Vu and Lewis. Lewis' "Lineage" started the set, setting the tone for the performance, as well as a high bar that the players reached and exceeded time and again. As was the case with most of the charts, Lewis' knotty theme—played by Vu and Lewis in unison, with the two trumpets diverging into harmony at the end of each phrase—became a roadmap for individual and collective improvisation. With Vu exclusively on trumpet, Lewis leaned more heavily on flugelhorn, which added some textural variety (and warmth), though the two players clearly possessed their own style and voice. Additionally, Vu combined extended techniques and effects including digital delay to turn his solo on his own "Acid Kiss" into one of the highlights of the set, with Doxas hitting hard and Geggie tightly locked in for some of the set's most visceral moments. Lewis' solo was an equally imaginative combination of angular phrasing and especially controlled embouchure that changed his trumpet's tone from tart to compressed. Virtuosity was in evidence, but soloing and collective free play always possessed a clearly musical purpose that went far beyond mere technical displays, and despite the more outré nature of many of the songs, there was plenty of lyricism to be found as well.

As much as Vu commanded attention, Doxas was (as always) a charismatic player, whose loose, responsive approach has made him truly one of the best drummers in the country— and who really ought to be considered more on the international scene as well. With his often- present bell-belt thrown over his shoulder, he shook his body, clapped his hands and used the rims of his kit as much as he did more conventional sticks and skins. His cymbal work was especially impressive, getting more out of them than most drummers; and while he only took one extended solo at the end of the set, on Geggie's exhilarating closer, "Clubhouse Anthem," it was as compositionally focused, powerful and inventive as ever.

Geggie kept the tone of the introductions as dry and light as always, but his playing continued to demonstrate the rapid upward trajectory he's been on the past couple years, with the release of both Geggie Project (Ambiances Magnetiques, 2010) and Across the Sky (Plunge, 2010) a few months apart. Whether soloing with utter freedom or locking into a groove with Doxas in support of Vu and Lewis, Geggie has grown from a capable player to a consistently impressive and often surprising one, two qualities in clear evidence at his 2010 OIJF performance. Roll on Geggie Concert Series 2010/11!

June 29: Youn Sun Nah

For her first North American tour, Korean vocalist Youn Sun Nah pared down the already spare personality of her 2009 ACT debut, Voyage, but she couldn't have made a better choice for an accompanist. Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius' résumé includes a decade with the late Oscar Peterson, to whom he dedicated one of his opening solo pieces at the beginning of Nah's set at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage. The recently released Signature Edition 2 (ACT, 2010) provides a terrific introduction and cross-sectional view of this highy talented and stylistically unfettered guitarist, but his last two releases for the label—2005's Notes from the Heart, a tribute to pianist Keith Jarrett, and 2008's Live is Real, an homage to the late Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson—have been singularly outstanding, demonstrating his profound interpretive skills.

Interpretive skills that were no less impressive at his Ottawa Improv Invitational series performance. Opening with two medleys—the first, a traditional Danish folk song for his fellow Peterson partner, the late Danish bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, followed by an original, "Blues for O"; the second, a Brazilian medley that touched in a number of important artists including guitarist/pianist Egberto Gismonti—Wakenius appeared onstage by himself, with only an acoustic guitar, and proceeded to wow the capacity audience with a combination of stunning virtuosity, rich dynamics, a surprisingly broad range of color from just a single steel-stringed acoustic guitar, and a hint of humor. Whether he was strumming furiously, sending out lightning-fast single note runs or creating delicate rhythms, in concert Wakenius surpassed his already impressive recorded work, but it wasn't just about strong technical ability; when Nah arrived on stage, it became clear that he's a player with his ears wide open—an ideal accompanist capable of everything from Gismonti's lithe classic, "Frevo," to Nat King Cole's comic "Calypso Blues," two early songs in Nah's set that captured the audience from the singer's first, delicate note to her later, more powerful delivery.

Starting the set with Voyage's title track, Wakenius replacing Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick's reverb-drenched a capella intro with one equally poignant. Rather than beginning her set with a bang, Nah sang so softly that it brought the entire audience to a hush, with such a fragile, vulnerable delivery that when she began singing with greater power, the slightest shift became dramatic, without ever approaching melodrama. Cole's "Calypso Blues" lightened things considerably, Nah's coy delivery engaging and Wakenius' imaginative adaptation of an arrangement that, on CD, was performed as a bass/vocal duo with fellow Swede, bassist Lars Danielsson.

Nah departed from her CD by singing a lovely version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Desafinado," but it was "Frevo," that followed, that was an early set highlight. Nah not only navigated Gismonti's challenging intervallic leaps, but entered into a call-and response with Wakenius that turned into an percussion duo, as the two musicians emulated a variety of percussion instruments. Judging from the enthusiastic audience response, this may be Nah's first appearance on this side of the Atlantic, but it's sure not to be her last.

June 29: Manu Katché

With the 2010 OIJF in its sixth day, it was time to get back to the new OLG tent for a 10:30PM show with veteran drummer Manu Katche, who brought a somewhat different lineup in support of his latest ECM release, Third Round (2010). While Norwegian saxophonist Tore Brunborg—who's particularly busy on ECM this year, having also participated on pianist Ketil Bjornstad's Remembrance (2010) and pianist Tord Gustavsen's Restored, Returned (ECM), the latter coming to the OIJF with the saxophonist, drummer Jarle Vespestad and bassist Mats Eilertsen on July 2—was still in tow. But with bassist Pino Palladino rarely (if ever) touring and pianist Jason Rebello on the road this summer with guitarist Jeff Beck, Katché recruited two French friends— pianist Alfio Origlio and electric bassist Laurent Vernerey—to accompany him on 60 dates that will see the Peter Gabriel/Sting alum hitting cities across North America, Europe and the Middle East.

Radiating sheer enjoyment throughout the show, Katché introduced the set by asking the audience to count in the first tune. Laughing when an audience member in the packed OLG tent shouted out "six-eight!," Katché replied, "no, just four-four," encouraging the crowd to snap its fingers in time as he jumped behind his kit and started a 100-minute set that emphasized material from Third Round, but also reached back to his earlier ECM discs, Neighbourhood (2006) and Playground (2007), but introducing material not found on any of the releases as well. He may not have wanted to ask the audience to snap in 6/8, but he had no problem playing in irregular meters, one new (and, sadly, unannounced) tune grooving hard in 5/4.

With an emphasis on groove, sing-song melodies and accessible arrangements, Katché's ECM releases are as close as the German label has ever come to a contemporary jazz sound, but those calling it "smooth jazz" are missing the fundamental difference. Katché's may be exceptionally easy on the ears, but live and on disc these are playing bands, with the drummer's earlier albums featuring some of the cream of ECM's crop of European players— trumpeters {Tomasz Stanko}} (who will be in Ottawa on the final night of the festival with his Dark Eyes Quintet) and Mathias Eick, saxophonists Jan Garbarek and Trygve Seim, and two of Stanko's young collaborators, pianist Marcin Wasilewski and double-bassist Slawomir Kirkiewicz. Those who think that Katché's albums are out of context with the overall ECM aesthetic are also missing the delicacy, the subtlety, the understatement with which Katché's bands deliver the music.

Third Round may be potentially more accusable than the others because of its shift to shorter song form and even great pop sensibility (not that there's anything wrong with that), but in a 2010 interview with AAJ's Ian Patterson, Katché said it all: "I love melodies and I try to be as melodic as I can, even when I play drums, and I think when you listen to Third Round, you go for a little trip. When we play live, of course, we go a little bit more for the improvisation but not too far away, not going crazy. The audiences are pleased because maybe they are not used to that way of structuring in instrumental music, but they react very positively to it. It's in, and not so long after, it's out, and they appreciate that. I'm not a big fan on record of—which is different than on stage—having 150 bars of improvisation. I think that when you listen to a record you just go for a trip, and if the trip is too long you get bored, unless you are Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane or Miles Davis, which I'm not."

Katché may not be Williams or Jones, but there's no doubt that he's carved out a unique niche for himself that now transcends his work in the pop world—work that, in many ways, is just as innovative as the jazz icons to which he refers and defers. Certainly he has a distinctive voice—something that, for many, is hard to hear on drums. Effortlessly navigating a kit that, admittedly, looks more "rock" than "jazz," his enthusiasm was evident, as his playing ranged from delicate, bell-like cymbal work and rim shots all around the kit, to thundering fills so challenging in execution that he would lean back—his left foot lifting way up off the hi-hat, as his body leaned back before coming back down as he rolled into yet another staggeringly polyrhythmic beat, with the kind of independence of limbs that was obvious, even to those who weren't drummers—and there were clearly plenty of players in the audience.

It's difficult for Norwegian saxophonists to escape from under the shadow of the iconic Garbarek, and with a tone that certainly comes from the now-legendary saxophonist's dry, sharp tone—even playing a less common curved bell version of the soprano saxophone, as does Garbarek—Brunborg's roots are inescapable. That said, since emerging in the 1980s with Masqualero—a group led by early Garbarek co-conspirators, bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen—and with a series of his own albums including the exceptional trio record, Lucid Grey (DRAVLE, 2009), Brunborg's voice and warmer tone have unequivocally become his own. Capable of seemingly effortlessly lithe runs, he also demonstrated a similar attention to tone and space as his early influence, also incorporating some subtle electronics throughout the set, including a pitch harmonizer to broaden his sound.

Origlio is a classically trained pianist who has a particular penchant for flamenco music, though his recent Headhunters tribute album demonstrated an unmistakable link back to '70s-era Herbie Hancock. In performance, playing both grand piano and Fender Rhodes electric, Origlio's ability to move inside and outside Katché's deceptively straightforward harmonies took the music to a deeper place. His playing on Neighbourhood's opening track, "November 99," was as informed by Hancock's dreamy harmonies as was Wasilewski on record; but live, this trio piece (with Brunborg sitting out), became much more powerful, as Katché's soft but sustaining cymbals led to subdued but still astounding fills of staggering complexity, while never losing sight of the primary pulse. Originally played on double- bass, the song's melody came from Vernerey, whose warm electric tone and soft staccato attack gave it an entirely different complexion.

The biggest difference between the songs on record and in performance was, some stretching out aside; Katché pushed the music a lot harder. The albums groove in a very physical way, but live Katché and his quartet smoked them. With the sound in the OLG much improved over that first evening six nights ago—proving that it was really just a matter of becoming accustomed to a new (and slightly challenging) performance space—Katché, Brunborg, Origlio and Vernerey kicked serious butt, delivering a performance that not only gave the drummers in the crowd plenty to go home and think about, but the entire audience as well, clearly captivated by Katché's eminently appealing writing and his group's energetic and committed delivery.

Coming up on Days 7-8 of the 2010 TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival: Radio.String.Quartet.Vienna and Tord Gustavsen Ensemble.

Visit Kenny Garrett, John Scofield, Ralph Towner, Paolo Fresu, Medeski, Martin & Wood, John Geggie, Youn Sun Nah, Manu Katché and TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival on the web. Photo Credit: John Kelman

Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-9 | Days 10-11

Get the Jazz Near You newsletter Since 1995, shortly after the dawn of the internet, All About Jazz has been a champion of jazz, supporting it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to rigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.

Post a comment




Read Ramsey Lewis: Life is Good
Read Horace Silver: His Only Mistake Was To Smile
Read Meet Abe Goldstien
Out and About: The Super Fans
Meet Abe Goldstien
Read Matthew Shipp: A Dozen Essential Albums
Read Herbie Hancock: An Essential Top Ten Albums
Read Bill Charlap's Stardust

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and includes upcoming jazz events near you.