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The Jesse Stewart Trio sparks everyone's imagination (review)

David Mott played extended solos on baritone sax which sounded rich and deep and satisfying. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Jesse Stewart Trio
Parc de l'imaginaire
Gatineau (secteur Aylmer), PQ
Festival de Jazz Desjardins
Friday, July 26, 2013 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of this concert

The name of “Parc de l'imaginaire” in Aylmer, where the Festival de Jazz Desjardins is held, can be translated in various ways. Ottawa percussionist Jesse Stewart chose to think of it as a park “of the imagination”, and told the audience at his Friday concert that his trio would be playing music appropriate to that. “We will use our imaginations and I invite you to do the same.”

Stewart had invited two avant-garde musicians from Toronto to play with him: Rob Clutton on electric bass, and David Mott on baritone sax. The music they played was almost completely improvised, but overall more “inside” than other times I've heard them separately or together.

For the first two pieces, it was as though you could almost recognize the music. Mott played extended solos, a bit blues-influenced, which hearkened back to hard bop and post-bop, and sounded rich and deep and satisfying. Clutton echoed him in a bass solo, and then moved to a higher, more muted pattern, using harmonics. Especially in the second piece, they alternated between more straight-ahead and free improv, deconstructing riffs and circling through them.

For the third piece, Stewart started on solo waterphone. This was in honour of Richard Waters, the inventor of that instrument, who died in early July. Waters built all four waterphones that Stewart owns, and they had known each other for many years.

The park was very quiet for the piece, which started with light and ethereal tones which echoed among the trees. Alternating using a bow and his fingers, Stewart coaxed out notes from the tonal rods, circling and chiming. Partway through, Mott joined in with very light circling lines on the baritone. When Stewart switched to the drum set, the baritone strengthened, which ended with just the bass and drums playing slowly against each other. It was a beautiful and affecting requiem.

Next Mott played “L'Histoire”, a celebration of circular breathing, followed by an improvisation which stated out softly with Stewart rubbing the skin of his snare drum and Mott breathing across the top of a water bottle, and then moved to a more pulsating line and deep rolling riffs on baritone. Clutton played his bass much like a guitar, creating light, intricate patterns that moved up and down.

Stewart started the final piece alone, with African-style hand drumming, creating an infectious rhythm. Mott insinuated a riff on baritone, and the music strengthened until it filled the whole park. There are few instruments better at delivering a really full, earthy beat than a baritone sax, and Mott showed his mastery of that, dancing out notes and creating repeated circling riffs. The audience appeared really engaged, moving with the music. They greeted the final deep growl on baritone with strong applause, and calls for an encore.

The trio responded with a swinging piece – Art Blakey crossed with free jazz – in which all three played with and celebrated the beat. Everyone, the musicians and the audience, appeared to be having a great time.

There's an assumption that ordinary audiences won't enjoy free improv or more avant-garde jazz. This concert clearly disproved that – the park was nearly full, few people left during the show, and there was a lot of interest and intent listening. It helped that the park was the right size: large enough to hold several hundred people comfortably but small enough to allow an intimate connection with the music and the musicians, and get excellent sound. While the music was clearly not as “outside” as I've heard elsewhere, all three musicians challenged their and the audience's imaginations with interesting sounds and combinations, and produced a memorable concert.

    – Alayne McGregor

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All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2013
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