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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2017

John Kelman By

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But that was, perhaps, one of the biggest joys of another set that evening where empathy was running high, and the connection between these three players nothing short of pure magic. With the age of these three musicians ranging from 61 (Baron) and 69 (Copland) to 82 (Peacock), there was the benefit of long careers and far-reaching musical experiences to bring to to this trio. Irrespective of Peacock's technical problems, from the very first note he played in his introductory solo to a gorgeous, atmospheric, at times, abstract and wonderfully rearranged look at the Italian classic "Estaté," he was an instantly recognizable force, his lithe yet sinewy deftness suffering not one bit from advancing age.

Baron has played in contexts ranging from near-whisper to ear-shattering, and while the emphasis on this night was towards the former, that didn't stop him from laying hard into his kit at one point during his solo on "Footprints"—so much so that audience members could be heard exclaiming "whoa!," even as he turned to a softer conclusion. Capable of just about anything, in this trio Baron was as much about color as pulse; time, in fact, was often a house of cards with this trio: discernible from the collective, but something that, were one member to drop out, would fall apart instantly. That's not to suggest Baron didn't occasionally move into more overtly time-based playing, but it was more often something that could be felt rather than heard.

That said, the ever-smiling Baron—mirrored, throughout the set, by Copland and Peacock, the three in constant eye contact and with physical movements that reflected the conversational give-and-take that was fundamental to the trio's overall approach—seemed to particularly enjoy "Footprints," where Peacock reinvented its familiar 6/8 bass line into something more sophisticated, adding extra bars to the end of each round but still possessed of its irrepressible groove. It's a tune that Copland has covered more than once (including, again, on both Time Within Time and Some Love Songs), but beyond his solo reading, it's rarely been this open-ended harmonically, treated with the perfect confluence of respect for the original and the irreverence required to make it his (and the trio's) own. His touch may have been soft, but that didn't mean he couldn't—or wouldn't—lay into his piano with greater strength; it was only more dramatic when he did, however, because his attention to overall dynamics—as was true for everyone in this marvellous trio—was so profound, so erudite, so recondite.

That the trio played nothing from its first recording may mean that some of the music heard in its Ottawa performance may be on its upcoming follow-up album; on the other hand, given label head Manfred Eicher's general aversion to standards programming, this may be the kind of set only possible to experience in concert. At one point there was some talk, barely audible from the front row, of playing Now This' "Vignette"—a Peacock tune first introduced on his 1977 ECM recording Tales of Another (coincidentally, the first meeting of Peacock, Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette, who would reconvene six years later for the first of many Standards Trio recordings, collected on 2008's Setting Standards—New York Sessions, the first of ECM's Old & New Masters Edition box sets)—but it ultimately was nixed for the Mitchell tune.

But in some ways, it really mattered not what this trio played. Not unlike the Frisell/Morgan duo that came before—but in some ways, the interaction all the more remarkable for there being more players in the pool—this was a trio that turned every piece into something new and utterly personal. While Peacock and Baron are longterm members of the ECM family, it has taken far too long for Copland to finally find his way there. His approach has long suggested that the label is unequivocally the right home for him, with the pianist making his first appearance in his longstanding quartet with guitarist John Abercrombie—heard most recently on the guitarist's Up and Coming (2017) but first appearing on the guitarist's 39 Steps (ECM, 2013), after a number of albums with almost the same lineup but under the pianist's name on Pirouet and Savoy and dating back to 1996. As wonderful as that quartet is (also featuring Drew Gress and Baron), the familiar context of the trio feels equally at home for the pianist. Based on this trio's Jazz Warriors performance at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, it's clear that Peacock, Copland and Baron share a rare comfort level while, at the same, time, never falling into complacency. Instead, all three have proven capable, across their careers, of a capricious mutability; on the heels of such a strong performance—equal parts so quiet that to was almost necessary to lean forward to hear it, but peppered with momentary bursts of surprising volume and muscular invention—here's hoping that this trio can make a return visit to the festival sometime—anytime—soon.

June 24: HUDSON

They may all be connected by living in the Hudson Valley (thus the name of this new quartet), but drummer Jack DeJohnette, guitarist John Scofield, keyboardist John Medeski and double bassist Larry Grenadier—a group of equals and listed in order here by nothing more than order of age—have shared a variety of connections over the years.

DeJohnette and Scofield, in particular, have shared stage and studio on more than one occasion, appearing on each others' albums as well as with many others including Herbie Hancock, the similarly collaborative Trio Beyond with keyboardist Larry Goldings, and the late, not-to-be forgotten Polish violinist Zbigniew Seifert.

Scofield has also shared a now two-decade on again/off again project with Medeski's longstanding (and, for the collaborative trio, breakout) jazz jam band groundbreaker, Medeski Martin & Wood. Only Grenadier appears to be a newcomer to the members of this quartet, though his long tenure in pianist Brad Mehldau's trio, membership in guitarist Pat Metheny's Trio 99>00 and countless other projects certainly suggests that, if he's not been documented in a group with any of his band mates in HUDSON, he has surely come to know all of them over the past couple of decades...in particular DeJohnette, with whom he has actually given double bass lessons to a drummer whose career has been defined by a constant search for new ways to expand his purview.

A description that applies, indeed, to every member of HUDSON, appearing at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival's Jazz Warriors series relatively early on in a tour that hits jazz festivals during the summer and then reconvenes for more dates later this fall. The group's eponymous first album, released on the Motéma label earlier this month, reflects the broad musical tastes of everyone involved. There are originals, ranging from the collectively composed, 10-minute opening title track—more a jam with the sketchiest of forms—and a couple of more decidedly jazz-centric originals by Scofield, including "El Swing" (first appearing on the 2011 E1 album Miles Español) and the freshly minted "Tony Then Jack," to three from DeJohnette: a reprise of the vocal tune "Dirty Ground," co-written with Bruce Hornsby and first heard on the drummer's Sound Travels (E1, 2012); "Song for World Forgiveness," from the drummer's live duo record with reed multi-instrumentalist John Surman on Invisible Nature's (ECM, 2002); and the also-new "Great Spirit Peace Chant," which closes the album.

But it's HUDSON's choice of cover material that also reflects the overall vibe of the album, its broad stylistic purview...and the group's 100-minute set at the NAC Theatre: Jimi Hendrix's rarely covered "Wait Until Tomorrow," from 1967's Axis: Bold as Love (Track); two Bob Dylan classics—"Lay Lady Lay," from his countrified, post-motorcycle accident Nashville Skyline (Columbia, 1969), and his earlier "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," from the singer/songwriter's second, protest-oriented The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1963); Robbie Robertson's "Up on Cripple Creek," rendered classic by The Band on its 1969 Capitol hit The Band; and Joni Mitchell's now-iconic "Woodstock," from the Canadian expat singer-songwriter's Ladies of the Canyon.

The beauty of HUDSON is its combination of indisputable jazz tracks blended with covers that range from relatively faithful to totally far-out and elastically stretched. Live, however, the group took the material much further than on the record; "Woodstock," for example, which was the well-deserved encore, may be relatively literal on the record, with Scofield iterating its familiar melody; but in concert, his solo went much further harmonically, as he shaped a solo built on a by-now signature ability to create marvellous tension-and-release by taking things outside, only to pull them back in at precisely the right moment. Medeski, better-known for his electric work, in particular on Hammond organ and heavily altered Fender Rhodes, stuck to acoustic piano on this balladic rendition that also added some additional chord changes at the end of each chorus, contributing a solo that made clear similar abilities in an unplugged context.

As with his past two albums, including last year's Grammy Award-wining Country for Old Men (Impulse!), Scofield eschewed the effects he's often used to augment his sound for the simplest of setups: his trusty Ibanez hollow body guitar; a good cable; and a simple Fender Deluxe amplifier. While his use of effects has increasingly grown to become one fundamental of his overall sound, like last year's memorable festival performance with Joe Lovano, the unadulterated purity of placing nothing but a cable between guitar and amp resulted in the sweet yet gritty tone that has defined his sound for the past few years...in some ways, a return to his early days and albums like Live (Enja, 1977) and Rough House (Enja, 1978).

That said, the guitarist still managed to eke a remarkable breadth of textures from this simplest of setups through his use of the controls on his guitar, alternating between pick, fingers and thumb, string scratching with pick and palm of hand and more. Sonically, in many ways, he's never sounded better, whether contributing warm-toned, Wes Montgomery-style octaves on a version of Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand" (also from Axis: Bold as Love and the only song not appearing on the album), bending his strings where no strings have gone before, with deep, bluesy inflections, during his solo on "Dirty Ground," or adding odd harmonics to the ostinato-based "Hudson"—the second song of a set that began, irrepressibly energetic, with a cover of "Wait Until Tomorrow."

And if some of HUDSON's interpretations were somewhat (but never completely) literal, the quartet also took considerable liberties with every song, every moment. "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" was reinterpreted with a swinging pulse and overall approach that, once the familiar melody was out of the way, didn't just expand with the kind of expansive soloing and interpretive accompaniment that would be expected from a group of players such as these; it went into completely free territory, with Medeski—the group's sonic mad scientist—contributing ever-shifting sonics through his distinctive use of his Hammond organ's bars, as the tune gradually dissolved into no time, with the keyboardist switched to Rhodes, but taken far beyond the stratosphere with his bevy of effects, including ring modulation, as the final chorus was played, rubato, over DeJohnette's percussive maelstrom.
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