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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2014, Days 4-6

John Kelman By

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Tedeschi and Trucks' recorded version of "Space Captain" demonstrates just how far their reputations have carried them since first beginning to work together. Originally recorded by Joe Cocker on Mad Dogs and Englishmen (A&M, 1970), it was reworked by Herbie Hancock for the pianist's pop-centric The Imagine Project (Herbie Hancock Music, 2010). One of that album's clear high points, In addition to featuring Tedeschi and Trucks, it also included Derek Trucks Band regulars (and future TTBers), keyboardist Kofi Burbridge and harmony vocalist Mike Mattison—DTB's lead singer, but now one of TTB's harmony singers, though he still gets a little time in the spotlight, in addition to co-composing some of the group's music. Live, TTB amped up Hancock's version even more and, as the second encore following Made Up Mind's more folkloric "Idle Wind" (with Burbridge making a rare switch from keys to flute), demonstrated another way that TTB bucked convention: rather than ending on a more low-key note that would be less likely to encourage an audience to demand even more, the group once again pulled out all the stops, ending as powerfully as it began, left the stage...and that was it.

In between, there were songs culled from the group's three recordings: the studio Revelator (Sony Masterworks, 2011) and Made Up Mind; and the live Everybody's Talkin' (Sony Masterworks, 2012). In most cases the songs were expanded well beyond the original tracks lengths to allow for plenty of soloing—everyone in the group getting some spotlight time but the primary focus still on Trucks' staggering ability to build solos to peaks of climactic frenzy (while avoiding any of the typical guitar posturing), but also turn more spare and lyrical as the songs demanded.

The group—which also featured bassist Tim Lefebvre, drummers/percussionists Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, background vocalist Mark Rivers, saxophonist Kebbi Wiliams, trumpeter Maurice Brown and trombonist Saunders Sermons—was a well-oiled machine, tight as a drum yet totally loose at the same time, whether kicking things off in high gear with "Keep on Growing," a nod to Duane Allman culled from his collaboration with Eric Clapton on Derek & The Dominos' classic Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (Polydor, 1970), moving into gospel territory with "Bound for Glory" or ratcheting things up to eleven in the extended, blues-drenched "The Storm," where Trucks' grittily overdriven guitar was so dense as to almost—but only almost—overpower the rest of the band.

It's hard to imagine how Tedeschi and Trucks manage to keep a group this size on the road and viable, given today's climate, but after experiencing the group at full power for close to two hours at Confederation Park, maybe it was not so difficult to understand, after all.

June 24: Bill Frisell: Guitar in the Space Age!

Since 2010, guitarist Bill Frisell has been making regular appearances at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival every two years. His last appearance in 2012, performing the music of John Lennon, was so utterly transcendent that it's still being talked about as one of the best shows local Frisell fans have ever seen.

Which set the bar high for his latest project, Guitar in the Space Age! . Whether or not it reached the sheer heights of his Lennon tribute, Frisell's 2014 appearance was a contrast in that most times he tours he's touring a record that's already out. In this case, with the album not due until October, fans were walking into the music cold...but by the time the 90-minute set (including encores) was over, there's no doubt that things in the National Arts Centre's Studio were much, much warmer, as Frisell worked his way through a set of material culled from the '60s, guitar-based groups that were important to him during his formative years ranging from rock groups like The Byrds and The Kinks to country pickers Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, surf music legends The Beach Boys and The Ventures, and a host of others.

Bringing back the same group from 2012—bassist Tony Scherr, drummer Kenny Wollesen and pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz—this time also spending plenty of time playing an old Fender Jazzmaster guitar that had at least one guitarist in the crowd trying to figure out a way he could take it home with him after the show—Frisell approached his set the same way he did the Lennon tribute: with a book of songs from which to cull, but with little defined in the set list; other, perhaps, than the opening and closing tunes and a couple of occasions where transitions were clearly planned, nobody, not even his band mates, necessarily knew what was coming next. It kept everyone, including the audience, on their toes and was, as ever, a marvel to experience, as the slightest turn of a phrase could signal a shift from one song to the next.

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