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Kenny Barron beats out Kenny Rogers in Favs Poll: our weekend Ottawa Jazz Festival results

Kenny Barron, Hudson, Ellias / Copland / Vedady, and Igor Butman and the Moscow Jazz Orchestra were the clear audience favourites this weekend at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, from those who responded to OttawaJazzScene.ca's ongoing festival reader poll.

Kenny Barron:


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On Saturday, the two shows at the National Arts Centre Theatre were the popular choices. We didn't get enough responses to count for Kenny Roger's country show on Confederation Park main stage. Perhaps that’s not surprising after listeners panned Roger’s placement in the 2017 festival.

But another Kenny, pianist Kenny Barron's 7 p.m. solo piano concert garnered strong positive reactions, with an average rating of 4.4 stars out of 5. John Fysh gave Barron high praise: “While he limited his choice of material mostly to standards, Kenny Barron has the ability to transform each of them into mini masterpieces. His shading of the nuances of each piece of music was exceptional. I particularly enjoyed the Monk standard, Rhythm-A-Ning.”

Karen Oxorn concurred: “One of my favourite performances so far for the pure beauty, elegance and perfection of the playing. Kenny Barron admitted to being somewhat tired but it did not show in his playing and he still engaged well with the audience in his stage patter. I love when the artist has some things to say to the audience, about the songs, his life, other artists; it adds so much to the connection which musically speaking was tremendous.”

Another listener agreed: “A friend used the word sublime, and I'd agree with that. I enjoyed this show immensely: his playing style, tune selection, even his connection with the audience. This is my top pick so far.”

One listener noted the concert may have been affected by Barron's busy touring schedule: “Kenny Barron is a very accomplished pianist in the lyrical style. He admitted he was tired before the show began, and looking at his previous and upcoming schedule, I can see why! (Next day was Vancouver, then Edmonton the day after, etc.) I didn't get the buzz I expected from his playing ... it was more soothing than anything.”

HUDSON: Next up in the Theatre was the jazz fusion sound of Hudson, the American supergroup of drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Larry Grenadier, pianist John Medeski, and guitarist John Scofield. While they again received a 4.3 star rating, they also left a few poll respondents dissatisfied.

“This was rock, even though a reviewer used the term jazz-rock. And I didn't enjoy John Scofield's style. In addition, it was far too loud, esp. for an indoor venue like the NAC Theatre. Having said that, I didn't plan to attend it, as I suspected I wouldn't like it; and only did so to accompany someone who wanted to see it due to the weight of 3 Citizen reviewers' recommendations,” said one listener.

“I am not a fan of electrified funk but I did like the two pieces in which John Medeski played acoustic piano,” Gaby Warren said.

But the majority of the respondents were highly enthusiastic.

“The very high calibre of playing and the great collaboration between these four master jazz artists made this experience a highlight. The program was very inventive and paid homage to some decidedly non-jazz numbers but it all worked. Loved sitting up close in the Theatre to really be in it with the musicians; sure hope this venue can be retained for future festivals,” said Oxorn.

Chris Halford agreed. “Four great musicians playing some old tunes in a new way. Jack DeJohnnette still has the confidence and pizazz of one of the great drummers. Scofield was the best I've heard him with licks from all over the musical spectrum. John Medeski was his normal wild self, the first time I've seen him play live. Larry Grenadier provided great bass throughout. A bit like the Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Woods stuff. The only criticism I have is that John Scofield had too much of the solo work but it was a great concert.”

As did John Fysh: “So far, this was the best concert of this year's festival that I have seen. All the players were on form and they seemed to be having fun playing with each other. The choice of songs was from their new album. The main influence was the late great Tony Williams. Indeed, for me, the piece that stood out was the Scofield composition, "Tony then Jack." Even though each the members are jazz stars in their own right, Jack DeJohnette is the foundation and leader of this group. With his drumming and singing (admittedly kind of wobbly), he set the pace.”

“Absolutely fantastic performance from the most creative and energetic musicians I have heard in a long time. It will be difficult for any other performance at the festival to match the thrill of this one. They clearly loved the venue and gave a long set. (I appreciated their choice of a couple of pieces with themes by Canadian musicians, too),” said another listener.

One listener liked the show but not the complete band: "This is a very eclectic group that can play everything from swing to blues. We enjoyed the drums, the bass, the piano and most of the electric guitar, but felt that the repertoire would be better off without the synthesizer and electric keyboard."

And then there was the listener who had been planning to see both Barron and Hudson, “but Ottawa finally had a nice, warm day and I didn't want to spend it inside the darkness of the NAC. If they had been at one of the outside stages, I would have gone to the festival.”

Other Saturday shows didn't receive sufficient votes to report meaningfully.

Sunday, June 25

On Sunday, listeners were delighted by the trio performance of Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias, American pianist Marc Copland, and Montreal bassist Adrian Vedady, and gave them an average rating of 4.5 stars. “Superb interactive musicianship and excellent compositions. Perfect acoustics at La Nouvelle Scène,” was Gaby's Warren's reaction.

Roddy Ellias ©Brett Delmage, 2009Chris Halford was equally enthusiastic: “The quality of musicianship and the way that the players worked together and interacted was amazing, particularly between Ellias and Copland. There was some quite beautiful music and I agree with what others say about Mark Copland's piano playing, it's quite wonderful and I would look forward to hearing more. The tunes were a bit samey early on and I wasn't quite sure where Roddy Ellias was going with some of his fast playing. It would have helped if he had spoken before after the fourth tune - he looked way too grim. This wouldn't be my regular music tipple and my wife found the music a bit to slow and quiet, but I really appreciated the musicianship.”

“Wonderfully simpatico with each other, the musicians performed original and difficult material by each of them (which they seemed to not have had a lot of time to rehearse) and they were a pleasure to listen to. Difficult music but not atonal or offputting for the audience. The final piece by Copland, Waves, was a beaut, as was the gentle encore, Postcard, by Ellias,” was another comment.

Igor Butman brought his Moscow Jazz Orchestra back to the festival for the second year in a row – and judging from the reaction in our poll, that was just fine with listeners. The Orchestra received an average of 4.2 stars. “Excellent playing, every one of them, so tight, tons of energy” was one comment.

Moscow Jazz Orchestra: “This is my festival highlight so far,” said Karen Oxorn. “I saw them last year and thought they were very good; no, I thought they were great then. But I can well understand Festival Artistic Director Petr Cancura's comment when introducing them that although the OJF avoids booking an act two years in a row (in order to bring in other great artists), the Moscow Jazz Orchestra far, far surpassed last year's performance and were even more fantastic than in 2016. The Tartan Homes Stage (where, BTW, the acoustics are much improved this year) allowed for much greater exchange between the musicians and the audience and it was so wonderful to experience them close up. Together and in one incredible solo after another, the orchestra had us in the palms of their hands and demonstrated how relevant and exciting a truly great big band can be. It was almost impossible to keep still given the infectious rhythms of the repertoire and a few of us eventually broke out in dance. Igor Butman is not only a superb musician but an excellent band leader and I especially enjoyed the playing and singing by Oleg Akkuratov, the very interesting and enjoyable electrified trombone solo by Oleg Borodin and a simply gorgeous and challenging alto solo by Ilya Morozov (hope I got everyone's name right!) What a terrific performance by this great orchestra!”

Steve Szabo had a different take: “The band was great, but the majority of their set was a duplication of what they played last year. I feel that a band of this level should bring more variety to the table, especially since they are a tribute to the big bands of old.”

Another listener agreed about the musicians, but not the location: “They are an amazing very talented orchestra that doesn't miss a beat. My question would be that if they were good enough to bring back for a second year, why were they given such a poor venue. They should have been a feature talent performing at the NAC, not a tent at 10.30 at night with not nearly enough seating.”

While we only received a few responses about The Al Muirhead Quartet's concert in the NAC Back Stage, they all gave it 5 stars. Oxorn said that “The level of musicianship was so inspiring and the simpatico between the artists was very strong and at times extremely touching as they at times reminisced about early collaborations, especially between Guido Basso and Brian Browne. The audience was so attentive and appreciative and Guido in turn expressed his appreciation of us: so cool! Another great venue for this type of performance.”

Toronto jazz ensemble Peripheral Vision was the main stage opener, and received an average of 3 stars. One listener loved them – “Great groove and great musicianship” – while another said the set was good but it was hard to hear the music.

Sunday's main stage headliner, soul singer Joss Stone, received highly varied comments and an average rating of 3.6 stars. On the positive side, Pierre Hughes described her show as “Great voice, great performer and stage presence. Eclectic.”

“As a fan of Joss Stone since she first came to public attention as a teenager, I was thrilled with the opportunity to see and hear her live,” said Karen Oxorn. “She was warm and sincere in her interaction with the crowd - and it was a large one! - and blew us all away with her unbelievable vocal chops. A little too much reggae for my taste rather than her more soul inflected singing but still always impressive. As a singer myself, I could only marvel at how someone could have such ability to do absolutely whatever she wanted to with her voice; a truly stunning talent. And how nice that the rain went away for the show."

On the other hand, one listener felt “What an amazing voice but presentation was forced. I had hoped for better.” Another complained that “I don't know if it was the sound or her but you could barely make out the words.”

And a third was initially left cold: “It took more than an hour before she started to show her real talents. The first hour was like a 22 yr old at her own party singing whatever she felt like in that moment. We all would have benefited from a set list.”

Other Sunday shows didn't receive sufficient votes to report meaningfully.

During the day on Saturday and Sunday, local youth bands performed, and we heard praise from several listeners about their shows. “They were AWESOME!,” said one listener. “We need to given these opportunities to our students, as they will be our next generation of musicians.”

Teacher Steve Szabo, who ran the youth stage and directed two of the bands, said that “all of the performances were wonderful. Youth Jazz is alive and well in Ottawa, and each band that performed seemed to reflect the director's musical personality.” The John McCrae Jazz Orchestra performed a piece which Szabo wrote designed to depict the sights and sounds of Newport. “It poured rain while we were performing, which helped create a very special musical moment for us and the audience.”

Indoors versus outdoors: no consensus from listeners

Our poll also asked listeners about listening to jazz indoors versus outdoors in Confederation Park. 75% agreed that “I enjoy listening to jazz in Confederation Park and I can hear it fine” – but at the same time 91% said that “I hear the subtle nuances of jazz musicians' performances better at an indoor concert”.

When asked about the disadvantages of outdoor shows, 55% were distracted by worrying about the weather, and 67% didn't like lugging around a chair and umbrella.

One listener pointed out that “the weather has been an issue in the Park for years. However, I've attended great shows there over the years. I've also been rained out of great shows but them's the breaks. I agree that small groups are better heard inside but I can't imagine how the festival would squeeze say the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra into any of its current or past indoor venues. With most of the real jazz now indoors, the incentive to buy a Bronze Pass has evaporated for me as there is no reasonable prospect of getting into any of the indoor shows with a Bronze Pass.”

When asked about the disadvantages of indoor shows, 57% of respondents worried about not getting admitted to inside shows before they fill up, versus 29% who did not. When asked if they'd rather not have to line up and wait before each indoor show, 42% disliked the lineups, and 50% didn't consider them a problem, although those who disliked them were more strongly opposed.

     – Alayne McGregor

Participants in our Ottawa Jazz Festival poll must register with an email address and real name to help us ensure a fair and democratic vote. Employees and contractors of the Ottawa Jazz Festival are precluded from participating. Voting is anonymous. Listeners may choose to include their name with their comments. Survey responses are carefully reviewed and optionally edited for length and spelling by OttawaJazzScene.ca’s journalists before publication.

Have your say: Vote and comment about the shows you have loved and hated and will hear at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Watch OttawaJazzScene.ca this week for more listener comments on 2017 Ottawa Jazz Festival shows. Read our previous stories: