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June 30 may have been the final day of ticketed/pass performances at the 2007 TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival, but a number of free performances kept a more general, largely non-jazz crowd happily occupied. OIJF has programming at Confederation Park running from 11:15 AM right through to 8:00 PM, when the annual holiday spectacle begins a few blocks away at Parliament Hill, culminating with fireworks at 10:00 PM.
Canada Day aside, it's also an opportunity to reflect on this year's festival. With so many superb shows, it's hard to pick favorites, but there were a handful of special performances that met expectations completely, completely exceeded them, or came as complete surprises.
- People Project
- The Souljazz Orchestra
- Festival Wrap-Up
While 11:15 AM is a tough time for any group to play, it was a rare opportunity for People Project to perform. A collaboration featuring Mexican residents Natalia LaFourcade (bass synth, guitar, melodica, vocals) and Gabriel "Queso" Bronfman (guitar, vocals, ukulele, bass) and a Canadian contingent of Philippe Lafrenière (drums, vocals, guitar), Steven Patterson (tenor saxophone, background vocals, bass, percussion, beatbox) and Marie Amelia Martinez (flute, percussion, background vocals), geographical distance makes working together a special challenge for this group.
It's also a challenging group linguistically, with its original music sung in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, but from the listener's viewpoint understanding the lyrics during it hour-long set came secondary to witnessing the bringing together of Latin rhythms and a distinctly youthful jazz/blues vibe.
Lafrenière's kit was certainly unique: a bass drum, high hat, cymbal, snare drum, conga drum and cowbell. But the strange hybrid worked, allowing him to create thumping, almost techno, four-on-the-floor pulses on the bass drum to which, using one hand, he added conga to give things a more ethnic feel.
Vocal duties were largely split between Lafrenière and Bronfman, although Lafourcade delivered a powerful vocal turn mid-way through the set. Patterson and Maritinez created an unusual front line, flute and tenor sax blending together with surprising cohesion.
The material was drawn largely from the group's 2006 self-titled debut, and was not only an easy-on-the- ears way to work into a day of music and festivities but an appropriate set-up for the Souljazz Orchestra's 12:30 performance, which also featured Patterson and Lafrenière, as well as Bronfman, who sat in as guest guitarist. class="f-right">
The Souljazz Project
Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra gave an exhilarating performance at 12:30 PM on the main stage, succeeding where some bands at the festival have tried and failedto get its audience up on its feet and dancing. After an outdoor show at the Montreal Jazz Festival the night before, an early afternoon performance on Canada Day may have seemed less than ideal, but the group's energy captured the crowd, and no doubt will help to grow its audience locally.
The Souljazz Orchestra
The group's first record, Freedom No Go Die, featured a number of guest vocalists, in addition to its regular memberskeyboardist/guitarist/bassist/vocalist/principle writer Pierre Chrétian, saxophonists Zakari Frantz, Steve Patterson and Ray Murray, and drummer/vocalist Philippe Lafrenière. The music comes from a variety of influences, including Afrobeat, James Brown-style funk and hints of jazz throughout (especially with Patterson, who pushed out righteous Albert Ayler-like wails throughout the show). Lyrically it's a politically driven band, with titles including "Mista President," "The Blind Leading the Blind" and of course the CD's title track, making loud and clear where its members' sentiments lie.
The group, which has received praise from across Canada as well as the UK, also performed a new track from its forthcoming four-song EP, People, People. Adding to the already wide cross-genre mix, Souljazz opened with the New Orleans-inflected "Shoofly," with its relentless but engaging call-and-response.
With music that's as meaty as it is infectiously grooving, Souljazz is the kind of act that can appeal to a younger demographic while still having something to offer to the more established jazz crowd. It was a good idea to book the group for this year's general Canada Day festivities, but as festivals are faced with the challenge of bringing in a younger demographic, Souljazz is a group that could help bridge the gap, and would not be an inappropriate act for the regular ticketed/pass days.
With finished tracks slotted for forthcoming anthologies and tours being lined up, it looks as though The Souljazz Orchestra's star is on the rise, making this small, local performance one that, a few years down the road, may well be looked upon by those in attendance as one of those "I saw them whenâ‚¬¦" memories. class="f-right">
Bouncing back after some criticism over its 2006 line-up, the 2007 TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Festival was an overall success. Some of its biggest-ever crowds attended performances in Confederation Park by legend Dave Brubeck and relative newcomer Pink Martinianother act that drew in a significant number of under-thirties.
At the various indoor series, the piano focus of the Connoisseur Series yielded memorable performances, and a fascinating opportunity to experience just how different a single instrument can sound under the hands of a diverse group of players. The too-brief but substantial Improv Invitational series featured two local groups (a welcome first) and two European groupsall demonstrating it's possible to be challenging and fun. The Studio series had its share of that as well. And after a couple of lean years for after-hours activity, the late night jam sessions were jumping almost every night, with everyone from Roy Hargrove to Junior Mance sitting inand, in the case of the always enthusiastic Hargrove, hard to shut down.
There were a couple of missteps, most notably Dr. Lonnie Smith, whose rant early into his set, suggesting that John Coltrane was responsible for the death of jazz in clubs, was met with resounding indifference if not disdain. Piano wunderkind Matt Savage, while undeniably talented, was a case of a back story more interesting than the resultant music though, at only fifteen, he's got time on his side, willing to help him evolve into an artist of merit.
Amongst the twenty-five shows covered by All About Jazz, the following shows stood out:
- Bill Evans SoulgrassA surprise that featured known entity and festival favorite, violinist Christian Howes, and legend-in-the- making banjoist Ryan Cavanaugh, this ex-Miles Davis saxophonist's mix of bluegrass and jazz occupied a similar space as Béla Fleck and the Flecktones but, with a more direct rhythm section, grooved far harder while still flexing plenty of muscular solo power;
- Bill Frisell
l:r: Tony Scherr, Rudy Royston, Bill Frisell
Any time guitarist Bill Frisell comes to town, he's worth seeing. This time, with longtime friend Tony Scherr on bass and relative newcomer Rudy Royston on drums, Frisell delivered a set ranging from edgy freedom and dense loops to loose grooves and idiosyncratic lyricism;
- John Geggie GroupOpening the Improv Invitational series, local bassist John Geggiewho also returned to lead the late night jam sessionsalready had a reputation for operating without a safety net at his own series held during the off-festival season. Here he demonstrated that free music can be both beautiful and lyrical in a trio with percussionist Pierre Tanguay and Pierre-Yves Martel on the viola da gamba, the cello's ancestor. Three lengthy improvisations found their way to (and sometimes left) compositions by Dave Holland, John Zorn and Charlie Haden. The only unfortunate thing about the show was its low turn-out;
- Toots Thieleman/Kenny Werner Two artists, separated by a nearly three-decade gap, delivered the festival's most sublime performance, a loving tribute to classic jazz material ranging from Herbie Hancock to Michel Legrand and Bill Evans. There is, quite simply, nobody who sounds like the 85-year-old Thielemans on chromatic harmonica, and nobody capable of following the harmonicist's gentle twists and turns with ease while simultaneously charting new directions of his own than pianist Kenny Werner;
- Dhaffer Youssef
l:r: Joanna Lewis, Ivana Pristasova, Petra Ackermann, Melissa Coleman, Dhafer Youssef, Jatinda Thakur
Tunisian-born, Paris-resident oudist/vocalist Dhaffer Youssef's last couple of albums have seen him working in an electronica space with Norwegian Nu Jazzers including Eivind Aarset and Nils Petter Molvaer. Here, accompanied by the Divine Shadows Strings and tablist Jatinder Thakur, Youssefwho, on occasion, sampled and looped his oud as well as Melissa Coleman's cellodelivered a largely acoustic set that dissolved not only musical boundaries but cultural ones as well. Combining Middle Eastern tonalities with the intimate warmth of a classical string quartet and the intricate pulse of Indian rhythms, Youssef's performance was the sleeper hit of the festival;
- Roy HaynesOctegenarian he may be, but drummer Roy Haynes looks more like a youthful fifty and plays like an out-of-the-gate twenty year-old. Keeping the ever-important mentoring tradition of jazz alive, he brought a superb quartet of young players who turned the most well-heeled Cole Porter standard ("My Heart Belongs to Daddy") into a post-Coltrane modal burner with stunning solos from pianist Martin Berjeramo and saxophonist Jaleel Shaw. Unquestionably the hottest show of the season.
Visit People Project, The Souljazz Orchestra and the TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival on the web.
Dhafer Youssef: John Fowler
All others: John Kelman
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