TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2014, Days 7-9

John Kelman By

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At times shifting textures constantly—from atmospheric wah wah tones reminiscent of "He Loved Him Madly," from Davis' Get Up With It (Columbia, 1974), to locking in ring modulation for an oblique solo that turned more consonant when he shifted to a harmonized and overdriven tone for some lightning-fast phrases that seemed almost impossible were it not for the evidence in front of the audience's eyes and ears, before suddenly cueing to a knotty unison line that served as the launching point for one of Siegel's best solos of the evening, bolstered by Kelly and Calderazzo's high velocity funk groove and Robson's tremolo-drenched chordal support.

Partisans' music, almost by definition, shifts gears constantly—clearly something that keeps things interesting for the band, which has to be fully on its toes at all times since any one of its four members can signal a shift onto which the rest must somehow grab hold. But while lesser groups might sound unfocused or uncertain of who and what they are, Partisans possesses a clear identity and an unmistakable sound that somehow manages to transcend all the perils that the group seems to put regularly in its way with full intent. And if it's almost impossible to describe what, exactly, Partisans is—amalgamating, as it does, everything from African and Caribbean influences to modernistic expansions of the jazz tradition and, when the group rocks out, doing so with complete and utter authority and credibility—truly matters not.

What Partisans appears to be is four of Britain's finest players—drummer Calderazzo may be American born, but he's lived in the UK for more than 15 years now and so, like Canadian expat Kenny Wheeler and former American-resident bassist/Whirlwind Records label head Michael Janisch, who also now makes London his home, fully qualifies as part of the British scene even if his accent still speaks unequivocally of New York—who have, across five recordings in 17 years, defined an inimitable style that seems to get better every time the group takes a break for other projects, like Robson's transatlantic The Immeasurable Code (Whirlwind, 2011) and Siegel's equally impressive Urban Theme Park (Basho, 2011), inevitably bringing experiences gained back to the group to be incorporated into the Partisans sound.

With a reputation already firmly cemented in the UK, Partisans may have been dealing with the unusual position of playing at venues and festivals in North America where it is relatively unknown, but if its Ottawa performance is any indication, not only does the group understand that an audience is built a few people at a time, but that it can leave Ottawa for Montreal the next morning confident some new fans have, indeed, been made—fans who may not have known who the group was prior to its 6:00PM performance, but have now been converted to the cause and will follow the group's next steps as it approaches the release of Swamp at the end of September.


While there have been some superb shows across the board at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival's various venues, the award for best series of 2014 most certainly has to go to the Improv Invitational series at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage. It's hard to believe that, only a decade ago, the series did not exist and there was no real forum for groups like Partisans, Sun Rooms, Harris Eisenstadt's Golden State or the 23 other performers that delivered shows in the festival's most intimate venue. Kudos to the festival for realizing that there are enough people in a city the size of Ottawa to justify taking the risk of bringing some of the more left-of-center groups to participate. Sure, the main stage acts are the big ticket events upon which the festival's reputation with much of its audience relies; but without venues like the Fourth Stage, the NAC Studio, Dominion-Chalmers Church and the Laurier Avenue Canadian Music Stage, there wouldn't be the tremendous breadth and depth that has, over the past few years, increasingly positioned the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival as one of the go-to destinations for jazz fans looking for a varied program that truly delivers something for everyone.


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