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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2014, Days 4-6

John Kelman By

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With Leisz playing a lot of guitar in addition to pedal steel, he proved a more grounded alternative to Frisell's ever-idiosyncratic approach to even the simplest of triads. Somehow, the way Frisell phrased, the way he moved chords up and down his neck, there was always something distinctly him, but if Guitar in the Space Age! was different from past performances, it was in that there were often more delineated solos, times where both Leisz and Frisell were front and center in the mix. It was also the first time in memory that Frisell has used a guitar with a whammy bar—a prerequisite for this kind of music, really—so that when both he and Leisz were leaning on their own individual bars, there were some seriously psychedelic moments to be had amongst the instances of country, blues, surf and rock that formed the basis of their set.

"I have to apologize to you guys," Frisell said, early in the show, as looked to one part of the jam-packed, sold-out audience but then changed his mind, continuing "actually, to everyone for having to look at my ass...I've gotta look at these guys," referring to his band, "or I lose my concentration...," pausing, and then adding, "See? It just happened." If anything, this was one of the most relaxed shows Frisell has given in recent memory, and if there was lots of eye contact going on, there were even more smiles...sometimes, even, some real, flat-out laughter. Clearly this was a band that enjoyed more than just playing together, and that's really how the best music is made, an unmistakable connection to the previous night's Tedeschi Trucks Band show.

Some of the highlights of the set were a relatively faithful—at least, initially— version of Link Wray's thundering "Rumble," featured prominently in Quentin Tarrantino's 1994 film, Pulp Fiction; a look at The Kinks' "Tired of Waiting" that went places its writer, Ray Davies, likely would never have imagined possible as it turned more psychedelic, with Frisell's overdriven, whammy bar-inflected playing moved into Jimi Hendrix territory while never losing the quirky approach to phrasing that makes everything he plays so instantly recognizable, before suddenly leaping into a more classically funky look at the Junior Wells classic, "Messin' With the Kid"; a version of The Byrds' classic, "Turn, Turn, Turn" that while, faithful to form—and driven with total credibility by Scherr and Wollesen's in-the-pocket groove—turned into another extended excursion for Frisell and Leisz; and a rousing closer, The Chantays' classic "Pipeline," also covered by The Ventures.

It may have been rock 'n' roll, country, blues, surf and a whole lot of music not associated with jazz but, as ever, Frisell managed to open the music up while, at the same time, being completely reverent and respectful. There were moments of lush ambient clouds; passages so wry that you didn't need to see the faces of the group to know they were laughing; gritty excursions into extremes Frisell has rarely explored in recent years; and songs, songs and more songs that may not have been in the DNA of some of the younger folks in the audience—and there were many. Still, for those born anytime before 1960, this was the music of their childhood, their teenage years or early adulthood—those times when music often makes its most lasting impression. Clearly, irrespective of where Frisell's career has led him over the past four decades—from skronking noise to lush Americana—this music, this Guitar in the Space Age! , has been a seminal part of who he is, something he and his group made patently clear with their first of two 2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival performances.

June 25: Julian Lage & Nels Cline

If the 23rd and 24th of June were a guitarist's dream, then the 25th was even more heavenly, featuring not just one, but two terrific shows from guitarists spanning two (maybe two-and-a-half) generations.

First up, at the Fourth Stage's Improv Invitational series, guitarists Nels Cline and Julian Lage delivered a duo set that was all the more remarkable for the relatively short time that the two have been working together.

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