TD Ottawa Jazz Festival
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 Parkwhere the festival can draw its largest audiencehas 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 Centreranging, 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 Theatrethere 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
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 Håker 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 simultaneouslymaking a welcome return to Ottawa, this time, in a trio with maverick drummer Bobby Previte
and trombonist Alan Ferber
Reed fans were also happy to find Colin Stetson
delivering two gigs at this year's festival: one, an intimate duo with Canadian violinist Sarah Neufeld, best-known as a touring member of Arcade Fire; the other, an ambitious 11-piece "Re-Imagining of Górecki's 3rd Symphony
"with a similarly open-minded lineup of three reed players, three guitarists and, one each, keyboards, drums, violin, cello and voicelooked like it just might be one of the festival's many surprise hits. In its cross-pollination of jazz and classical musicalongside Claudia Quintet's similar boundary-blurring mix of improvisation, contemporary composition and, at times even, progressive rock tendenciesStetson's look at Górecki's music was just further evidence that attempts to pigeonhole jazz...or jazz festivals, for that matter...into a narrow space with rigid walls has become increasingly futile. And that's a very
good thing. Kamasi WashingtonJazz Warrior Series
National Arts Centre Theatre
June 22, 2016
While the festival's "official" opening date was June 23, the opportunity to bring Los Angeles-based tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington
to town was too good to pass up. Having released his ambitious and, perhaps, a bit more than audacious debutthe three-CD, three-hour, The Epic
(Brainfeeder) just a little over a year agothe saxophonist is also known in the hip hop world for appearances on albums including rapper Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly
(Top Dawg, 2015). Since its release, The Epic
and Washington's careerhave picked up steam, with largely effusive reviews and the beginning of rare honours like a cover story in the July, 2016 issue of Downbeat
The real question was: could Washington deliver the same kind of energy and élan as on The Epic
where his suite of sixteen compositions (all sporting plenty of room to stretch out) was performed with, in addition to a core group drawing on a dozen members, a fourteen-piece choir and nine-piece string ensemble on some tracks?
The answer? A conditional yes.