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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2016

TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2016
John Kelman By

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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Canada
June 22 -July 3, 2016

It's hard to believe, with seasons that move quickly from spring into summer, that it was time, once again, for the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. Now in its 36th year, the festival has grown from a weekend event into a full-blown, 12-day festival with a broad cross-section of artists from around the world. The past few years have seen further growth, with the introduction of new series and a lineup that has slowly seen the festival address issues documented in an earlier All About Jazz article, When Is a Jazz Festival (Not) A Jazz Festival?, in particular the challenge of finding a way to draw a younger demographic that will ensure the festival's existence beyond its original and still-primary age group, the aging baby boomers and beyond.

Yes, the Main Stage at Confederation Park—where the festival can draw its largest audience—has become a more egalitarian blend of jazz, blues, pop, folk and more, diluting the purer jazz landscape of the festival prior to 2011. But with a bevy of outstanding artists performing at a number of venues in the adjacent National Arts Centre—ranging, this year, from the 140-seat NAC Back Stage (replacing the Fourth Stage, currently out of commission as the multi-venue arts venue undergoes major renovations) to the 350-seat Studio...and, for the first time, the 1,100-seat Theatre—there are rooms intimate enough to handle the smaller draws and large enough to suit bigger-name artists.

It may be true that some of the artists playing in the Theatre this year could be seen as suitable Main Stage fare but the truth is that getting the chance to experience artists like rising star Kamasi Washington, the reunited John Scofield/Joe Lovano Quartet, last heard in the mid-'90s until the release of Past Present (Impulse!, 2015), and singer Stacey Kent in the still-intimate Theatre undoubtedly made for a better experience, while artists like Sharon Jones and the Dapp Kings, Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan, the New Orleans-infused funk of Trombone Shorty (still young, but already making his third appearance at the festival over the past few years), the perennial local favorite of Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and piano legend Chick Corea's trio with Christian McBride and Brian Blade (who delivered a kick-ass Fall, 2010 performance at Dominion Chalmers Church as part of the festival's off-season program) were more appropriate fare for the park, where the festival has, on occasion, seen draws upwards of 10,000 people.

Meanwhile, the increasingly popular Improv Series was renamed the Discovery Series, but with the festival's knockout international cadre of artists, no matter what you called the series it was a certainty that the music would be as unpredictable and attention-grabbing as ever. Genre-busting The Claudia Quintet made its first, very eagerly anticipated TDOJF appearance, while a global representation of pianists coming from the UK (Alexander Hawkins), Poland (Marcin Wasilewski), the United States (Myra Melford, with her Snowy Egret group) and Israel (Anat Fort, in duo with Italy's renowned clarinetist/saxophonist Gianluigi Trovesi) covered even more stylistic territory. Meanwhile, saxophone trios from the sublime (Norwegian bass giant Arild Andersen's longstanding group with Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith and Italian expat drummer Paolo Vinaccia) to the flat-out pedal-to-the-metal (fellow Scandinavian trio The Thing, featuring relentless Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson alongside Norwegians Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love) gave brass lovers plenty to talk about. And for guitarists, there was, in addition to Scofield, the multi-brained seven-string guitarist Charlie Hunter—last seen at the festival in the late '90s when he was, himself, on the ascendance as a player who could play bass lines, melody lines and chordal accompaniment simultaneously—making a welcome return to Ottawa, this time, in a trio with maverick drummer Bobby Previte and trombonist Alan Ferber.

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