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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2014, Days 7-9

John Kelman By

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

Anat Fort / Susanna
Torben Waldorff Wah Wah / Norma WInstone
Partisans
TD Ottawa Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Canada
June 20-July 1, 2014

For the last three days in Ottawa before heading to Montréal for five days of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, the emphasis was entirely on the Improv Invitational series, at the National Arts Centre's intimate, club-like Fourth Stage. It was an eclectic mix of artists, ranging from an Israeli pianist, a Norwegian singer/songwriter and a Danish guitarist to two artists from the broad-spectrum British scene: one, a legend, the other, if not exactly a legend, then at the very least a group considered to be the founding father of the current British revival that includes groups like Polar Bear and Led Bib.

With temperatures and humidity soaring outside, the dark, cool Fourth Stage seemed like the perfect place to be for three days of music ranging from contemporary, rock-informed jazz and beautiful voc al interpretations to a taste of Norwegian gloom and one of the finest solo piano recitals to hit Ottawa since the elimination of the late afternoon Connoisseur Series a few years back.

June 26: Anat Fort

She may have first found her way onto the international map with A Long Story, her 2007 debut for ECM Records, but pianist Anat Fort—who spent nearly two decades living in New York City before returning to her Israeli homeland five years ago—had already begun the slow build of a career back in 1999, when she released Peel (Self Produced), a year before forming the longstanding trio which was finally documented when the pianist released her follow-up to A Long Story, And If (ECM, 2010).

Fort's next recording is already in preparation—another recording with her trio but, this time, also featuring guest clarinetist/saxophonist/ECM label mate Gianluigi Trovesi—but for her 6:00PM Ottawa show at the Fourth Stage, Fort traveled the long distance from Israel on her own, for a solo piano recital that, while less well-attended than it should have been, clearly garnered some new fans along with those already familiar with her focused, lyrical approach to both composition and performance.

The diminutive pianist came onstage and, following a moment of silent preparation, launched into "Lullaby" from A Long Story. Hearing the piece solo contrasted substantially from the freer approach on the record, which also featured clarinetist Perry Robinson, bassist Ed Schuller and drummer Paul Motian, to whom the pianist later paid tribute with a piece, appropriately enough, titled "Paul Motian" (two versions of which bookend As If). While Fort's music contains clear structure, there's plenty of space for both embellishment and flat-out extemporization, and from the opening minutes of her performance certain characteristics to her playing—most particularly a very personal use of the sustain pedal to create chords that would ring out briefly, only to be quickly cut short as she released the pedal, creating a specific kind of tension and release that was subtle but palpable.

A relaxed performer, Fort quickly created a comfortable rapport with her audience. She introduced all her songs, often explaining the meaning behind their titles. One, מְלָפְפוֹן or "Me'laf'fon" in Hebrew, translates into "cucumber" in English and, according to Fort, had no other meaning than it being an interesting sounding word; others, like And If's "Lanesboro," referred to personal experiences, in this case the Minnesota town where she spent time in a retreat, composing; and still others, like the same album's "Clouds Moving," while written for the Minnesota skies, made more personal for the pianist's Ottawa audience by relating how, after waking up earlier today following an early morning (and five-hour late) arrival by plane, she saw similar movement in the Ottawa sky and, so, dedicated the song to them.

It was an all-too-short performance at just over an hour including a well-deserved encore, but it was plenty long enough to establish Fort's increasing potential for broader recognition. Even when there was complexity in the music, as in "Clouds Moving," Fort delivered it with such fluid ease as to make it not just seem easy, but to make an irregularly metered song that alternated bars of 5/4 and 4/4, feel utterly natural. And when the music was spare and gentle, as was her delicate encore of "Lanesboro," it was clear that beneath such a simple construct lay greater depth and profundity. It was the year's only solo piano performance and strongly suggested that, if Fort's next recording is to be a quartet date, then ECM should seriously consider a solo recording when the time comes for her fourth recording for the label.

June 26: Susanna

A dark, moody performance by Susanna, with her group Susanna, was one of those Fourth Stage performances that really should have been better attended; all that meant was that those who did decide to forego at least the first part of the main stage show at Confederation Park were treated to something the city rarely gets to experience—one of Norway's most intriguing piano-playing singers/songwriters whose music was dark, moody and largely very down-tempo; music that demanded as much of its audience as it did the group that played it. "Thank you for not going to Earth, Wind & Fire," Susanna quipped coyly, early in the set.

In addition to Susanna (sister of ECM recording artist, pianist Christian Wallumrød), her touring trio—which, after some west coast dates wrapped up a short North American tour in Rochester, NY the following evening—included brother Fredrik (drums, vocals, sound engineer) and her partner, guitarist Helge Sten. One of the co-founders of renowned noise improv groups Supersilent, one-half of the Minibus Pimps duo with ex-Led Zeppelin bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones and, as Deathprod, one of Norway's busiest producers and mastering engineers, it was a very rare opportunity to hear Sten play guitar and sound, for the most part, actually like a guitarist, his normal approach being more textural in nature, with plenty of processing and unorthodox treatments.
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