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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2014, Days 1-2

John Kelman By

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Days 1-2 | Days 4-6 | Days 7- 9

Joey DeFrancesco Trio / Sun Rooms / Harris Eisenstadt Golden State
TD Ottawa Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Canada
June 20-July 1, 2014

Another year, another TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, except to say so would sound dismissive of a festival that, year after year—now, in 2014, in presenting its 34th edition—has managed to address the challenges of festival programming for a musical genre where the majority of the attendees is in the gray hair or no hair demographic.

And it's not been without its detractors; when the festival made the decision in 2011—partly for financial reasons, and partly because it recognized that, in order to survive, it had to begin bringing in acts that would appeal to a broader (read: younger) demographic—to start programming tangential or completely extracurricular acts to its main stage at Confederation Park, there was a lot of noise about it no longer being a jazz festival, because it had deserted its previous purity of programming (for more information, check out When is a Jazz Festival (Not) a Jazz Festival).

The truth, however, is that the Ottawa Jazz Festival has retained its right to "Jazz Festival" status through its rich, varied and almost entirely jazz-centric programming in a number of indoor venues, while broadening the purview of its main stage—which still features some terrific Canadian jazz content, most nights, at its 6:30P:M Great Canadian Jazz series that comes before the Concert Under the Stars main event—to include artists, this year, ranging from Bollywood star Richa Sharma and Canadian blues belter Colin James to (at last!) the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Daniel Lanois. Yes, the Concert Under the Stars series also has Bobby McFerrin and, again on the bluesier side, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, but for the most part this year, once 8:30PM rolls around at the main stage, the content is, at best peripherally related to jazz.

And that's ok, because at the indoor venues that include the National Arts Centre's intimate Fourth Stage, where the Improv Invitational series is bringing a total of 26 shows ranging from the more avant-leaning Sun Rooms and Harris Eisenstadt's Golden State, rising star Ambrose Akinmusire and the promising guitar duo of Julian Lage and Nels Cline, Britain's legendary vocalist Norma Winstone and contemporary style-mashers Partisans, to Norway's wonderful Susanna and guitar power trios Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen Trio and Bushman's Revenge, Israel's Anat Fort and Shai Maestro, and Swedish/Danish groups including David's Angels and Torben Waldorff Quartet. The program at the Fourth Stage is, this year, so good, that it's a challenge to not just stay there, rather than go to some of the other venues/series on offer.

Like the Studio series at the NAC Studio, a larger but still intimate venue where everyone from organ master Joey DeFrancesco, Hiromi, Bill Frisell , Rudresh Mahanthappa's Gamak, Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60 celebration, Jeff Ballard and Christian McBride will bring projects old and new, and the Tartan Homes Signature series at Dominion-Chalmers United Church, where everyone from The Bad Plus, Holly Cole, Bela Fleck and Jill Barber, amongst others, will hold sway.

But perhaps the venue with the greatest overall potential to bridge the demographic gap (some might call it an abyss) is the late-night OLG After Dark Series, which brings more youthful groups like the up-and-coming Snarky Puppy, The Mahones, DFJ Rekha (continuing the Bollywood theme of the main stage's opening night), Torontonian electronic music scene's Austra, the hip hop- laden, funky and Klezmer-oriented Socalled, seminal N'awlins party band Dirty Dozen Brass Band and, a real coup, Frisell performing his music from Music for the Films of Buster Keaton: Go West (Nonesuch, 1995), with the film—something he last toured in 1995 and has rarely been seen since.

If there's anything particularly special about the 2014 edition of the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival is that it's clearly redefined itself as a festival whose primary purview is—and always will be—jazz, but is also a festival that is looking to bring other people through its gates, and has become increasingly successful at youth programming that will, hopefully, slowly shift its overall demographic to a more balanced one over time. Only time will tell, but it does appear to be working.

June 20: Joey DeFrancesco Trio


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