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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2014, Days 7-9

John Kelman By

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While the personnel has shifted slightly from album to album, with people like saxophonist Donny McCaslin and keyboardists Gary Versace, Sam Yahel and Jon Cowherd passing through, Waldorff has retained the same bassist and drummer across all four sets, and it was these two—bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Jon Wikan—that have also accompanied the guitarist for his short North American summer tour which has included Canadian dates in Vancouver, Saskatoon, Toronto, along with American appearances in Cleveland, Detroit and Rochester. With Wah Wah's Gary Versace unavailable, Waldorff recruited Adam Birnbaum, a young pianist who already has three albums under his own name, in addition to appearances with artists including Greg Osby and Ryan Keberle, since first emerging on the New York scene a decade ago.

A clearly talented guitarist and writer whose personal touchstones define his approach and differentiate him from the pack, including a motif-based approach to carefully built solos that were often predicated on broad intervallic leaps and sparse but orthodox-busting lyricism, Waldorff's hour-long set moved from the gently pulsing "You Here" to the 6/8 "Cutoff (The Eleventh Bar)" (both off Wah Wah), which kicked off with a brief a cappella solo from Clohesy that helped explain why the bassist is in such demand from artists including Darcy James Argue, Seamus Blake, Alan Ferber, Geoffrey Keezer and David Weiss. Wikan drove the entire set with the perfect mix of grace and fire—his ostinato-driven solo at the end of the set-opening "Skyliner," from Afterburn (ArtistShare, 2008), demonstrating why everyone from Christine Jensen and Ingrid Jensen (Wikan's wife) to Darcy James Argue and Denise Donatelli have chosen him as their drummer of choice.

If there was any complaint it was that Wikan was, at times, a little loud in the room, threatening to overpower his band mates, but it was a small one in an exhilarating set that undoubtedly made Waldorff some new fans in the roughly half-filled Fourth Stage. Waldorff's inventive approach to writing—from the balladic title track of American Rock Beauty (ArtistShare, 2010) to Afterburn's fierier "Squealfish"—coupled with a more considered and thoughtful approach to playing that differentiated him from contemporaries like Adam Rogers and Kurt Rosenwinkel by keeping virtuosity in check so that when he did pull it out, it was even more impressive.

Waldorff's ongoing work with Clohesy and Wikan has allowed him to build both a longstanding chemistry and personal language, the kind that can only evolve through playing with the same people for many years; there's still, however, the energy that comes from new encounters, and by fleshing out his groups with a variety of different players, the guitarist has also allowed his music so change with every new recruit. With Birnbaum a pianist who surely deserves broader recognition—as, of course, does Waldorff—he brought a vivid sense of the unexpected, whether on grand piano or Fender Rhodes. The result was a set high on energy, melody and conceptual focus—a performance that those who attended will not soon forget.

June 27: Norma Winstone

It's hard to believe that, in a career now spanning over 45 years, the now-legendary British singer Norma Winstone has never been to Ottawa. With a resume that reads like a who's who of the British jazz scene that emerged in the 1960s and '70s, including John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, Mike Westbrook, Nucleus, Azimuth and Michael Garrick—not to mention her own small but superb discography, which began with 1971's The Edge of Time (Disconforme)—it's difficult to understand why this city has not brought her here before. For the past 13 years, the trio she has been working with has created its own sound world, releasing four exceptional recordings that also feature German bass clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Klaus Gesing and Italian pianist Glauco Venier; that she's toured the country on more than one occasion but never made it to the Nation's Capital seems almost outrageous.

Fortunately, the 2014 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival has righted the wrong and, while the write-up in its program did little to address her importance as one of the most significant and influential jazz singers still alive today, it didn't hurt her capacity to draw an audience, with the Fourth Stage just slightly under a sell-out of enthusiastic people excited to experience Norma Winstone and her trio in the flesh.

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