TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2014, Days 1-2

John Kelman By

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While the sound in the room is normally great—and certainly when Harris Eisenstadt took over the stage two hours later at 7:00PM—it was not optimal for Sun Rooms, where the percussive tone of Håker Flaten sometimes got lost in the shuffle when it came to clear definition; and while Adasiewicz's approach is clears as a bell on record, in the room it was, like the bassist, a little muddy and weak in definition, making some of the more lyrical tunes like "Rose Garden," written for his first daughter Isabella, less effective than it should have been.

But sound aside; Adasiewicz was an animated performer with a lot of ideas, but with enough restraint not to be trying to get them all out at once. There was, in fact, significant consideration to space, to texture and to unusual compositional constructs— one tune even starting with Adasiewicz and Håker Flaten doubling a repetitive line, and Reed acting as the lead instrument. Still only in his mid-thirties, Adasiewicz has created a very personal space for his instrument, one that's sharply contrasted with other contemporary vibraphonists like Joe Locke and Stefon Harris. Clearly coming from the Chicago scene that, in the '60s, spawned the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), as much as the music affords plenty of freedom, it's not without form, albeit oftentimes form of a rather abstruse nature.

The house was, perhaps, half-filled, but the response was more enthusiastic than that relatively small number (80-90 people) might suggest. Sun Rooms may not have been known to some of the people attending its Ottawa debut, but the group undoubtedly left the city with a few more fans than it had when it arrived, by car, from Hamilton literally just before the show ("It feels good to arrive by car and go right onstage," Adasiewicz said at the start of the show).

June 21: Harris Eisenstadt Golden State

Eisenstadt has been to Ottawa a number of times, including an impressive 2008 appearance at the now-retired Library and Archives Canada, with his Toronto Quartet. For his 2014 show, he brought his Golden State Quartet, which is in the middle of a cross-Canada tour with one stop in the US, and while the group could be said to be operating at a disadvantage, with regular flautist Nicole Mitchell unable to make it due to a family health emergency (happily, resolving positively), any group able to bring in clarinetist Michael Moore as a last minute replacement is far from being at a disadvantage.

There may be some unexpected benefits, in fact, in the quartet's blend of clarinet with Sara Schoenbeck's bassoon—two reed instruments that really worked together timbrally—alongside Eisenstadt's relaxed and largely light approach to the kit and Golden State's real secret weapon: bassist Mark Dresser, who has also been to Ottawa before, in particular for a tremendous two- bass night in 2005 with John Geggie, at the local bassist's sadly now-defunct annual NAC series. Dresser is a bassist whose reputation is huge but whose name brand is, unfortunately, not at the same level. A true master of his instrument, Dresser managed to pull sounds out of his bass with just two hands and, occasionally, a bow, rather than relying on the preparations that so many others use to eke unusual textures from their instrument. From thin, buzzing notes and double-line melodies, played with two hands tapping on the neck that moved, in glissando, towards each other only to meet and once again diverge, to striking his strings with great dramatic sweeps of his right arm, Dresser was, as ever, a revelation throughout this set of Eisenstadt originals—all of them new, none of them appearing on his first CD with this group, Golden State (Songlines, 2013).

Eisenstadt's writing was, as ever, a mix of music that was more like contemporary chamber music and sketch-like constructs that left plenty of freedom for his group to navigate into uncharted territory. Fluid and so relaxed that he almost seemed about to fall off his drum stool, Eisenstadt was an intriguing contrast to Sun Room's Mike Reed, less direct and more implicit, though there were moments where he locked into firm grooves with Dresser—one, in particular, that was reminiscent of Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen's recent show at Mai Jazz in Stavanger, Norway, but illustrating just how different even that similarity can be in the hands of two different sets of musicians: one, free and loose but more direct; the other, equally free and loose, but more suggestive and indirect.

Schoenbeck was, as ever, a remarkable performer—improvising, as she does, on one of the most difficult instruments on which to do so. That she has to deal with thirteen thumb keys alone goes a long way to understanding just why the bassoon is considered one of the most difficult instruments on which to improvise, but Schoenbeck managed to transcend such limitations and deliver solos that were a combination of oblique melodies, occasional extended techniques like multiphonics, and some less even expected textures. Moore, too, brought together more easy-to-grasp linearity with some truly remarkable techniques that created things like fast trilling and harsher timbres. But when Moore and Schoenbeck came together, either in unison lines or with individual melodies that circled around each other, approached each other for brief unisons only to split apart again? Pure magic.

Magic which must be attributable to Eisenstadt, truly a rare compositional talent. With such a relaxed vibe and a constant smile on his face, it's no surprise that the drummer is able to come up with such curious titles as "A Particularity With A Universal Resonance," "The Arrangement of Unequal Things" and "A Kind of Resigned Indignation." This was music that may have appeared both rigorous and serious, but watching Eisenstadt, Dresser, Schoenbeck and Moore, it was also music played with a certain degree of levity by a quartet that was clearly enjoying itself. That the slightly fuller house at the Fourth Stage appeared to be in complete accordance only suggest that Golden State may well be onto something very good, indeed.

Photo Credit: John R. Fowler

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