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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2014, Days 4-6

John Kelman By

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In a set ranging from original material from both guitarists to a cover of Jimmy Giuffre's "Brief Hesitation," from the undervalued reed multi- instrumentalist's Fusion (Verve, 1961)—later rescued from obscurity by ECM Records, along with another session recorded the same year but released the following (Thesis) as 1961 (1992)—it turns out the duo actually came to know each other through another Giuffre connection, Jim Hall, an early mentor for Lage. The spirit of Hall—who passed away less than a year ago at 83—loomed large over the set, in fact, though more in spirit than anything resembling style or execution. Cline's own "Blues, Too," first heard on his The Giant Pin (Cryptogrammophone, 2004), was a dedication to Hall, and it's not insignificant that when Rooms is finally released later this year, Cline told the audience that it will be dedicated, in its entirety, to a guitarist who may have influenced more modern players than any other, beyond Lage and Cline including names like Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Vic Juris and John Abercrombie.

Both Cline and Lage demonstrated much more instrumental prowess and overall stylistic breadth than Hall did during his sixty-year career, but never to excess and never sacrificing substance for style. There were plenty of smiles onstage, and almost constant eye contact, even the introductions were relaxed and informal: at one point Cline unplugging one of just three effects pedals (a far cry from his usual arsenal) and adjusting the reverb on his small Fender amp, with Lage quipping "Reverb is a big thing with our duo," and Cline quick on the comeback with "Either it's on or off...and it's gotta be on."

The communication between the two was palpable; the smallest head nod enough to cue a return to form, and both Cline and Lage's ears so wide open as to easily catch the smallest motif from each other and either respond to it briefly, or take it as a stepping stone to somewhere else entirely. Both proved capable of light-speed playing, but it was the way the two managed to bring together complex voicings on the fly, in tandem soloing where the two seemed more to be four arms connected to the same body, and an effortless ability to pass soloing amongst one another like a baton in a relay race...except that there was nothing competitive about the way the two played— or in their ability to turn from sharp reds to softer indigos, sometimes at the drop of that hat—and which contributed to making their set so consistently captivating.

With Cline switching between a hollow body Gibson electric six-string and unidentifiable solid body electric twelve-string, while Lage stayed solely with his electric hollow body guitar, custom built by Torontonian luthier Linda Manzer—who, amongst many others, was the woman behind Pat Metheny's 42-string Pikasso guitar—the duo delivered an uncharacteristically long set by Improv Invitational standards at a little over 90 minutes with the encore, as Cline revealed, after the set, that they'd actually cut a couple of tunes and intentionally trimmed another couple back. Nobody seemed to mind.

June 25: Bill Frisell Go West

While Bill Frisell's relationship with movie soundtracks is a longstanding one—most recently collaborating with filmmaker Bill Morrison on The Great Flood (Icarus Films, 2014), caught in performance at the 2013 Enjoy Jazz Festival in Ludwigshafen, Germany—it's been some time since he last performed music for Buster Keaton's 1925 feature-length film, Go West. If not quite 20 years—if he's done so since the last time it was performed with the original trio of Kermit Driscoll and Joey Baron at the Canadian Festival International de Musique Actuelle Victoriaville (FIMAV), the music released the same year on CD as Music for the Films of Buster Keaton: Go West (Nonesuch, 1995) but taking another 14 years to find its way to DVD release as The Films of Buster Keaton (Songline/Tonefield, 2009)—it's certainly been a long, long time, even though he has delivered live performances of Keaton's shorter films also documented on the DVD and on the companion CD to Go West, The High Sign / One Week (Nonesuch, 1995), with current trio mates Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen.

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