Two nights – two very different results in OttawaJazzScene.ca's reader poll for the 2017 Ottawa Jazz festival. While outdoor shows predominated on the festival's opening night, it was an indoor show that got the raves on Friday. And listeners’ impressions of the first two days of the festival was all over the map.
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On Friday, June 23, the show of the night was definitely The Now This trio, with Gary Peacock, Marc Copland, and Joey Baron in the NAC Theatre. It received an average rating of 4.3 stars out of 5 and no negative votes for a show which mixed originals with standards and jazz classics.
Betty Ann Bryanton's response was typical of the comments. “SO amazing - each of them individually & together as a group. Sublime piano, such interesting percussion, and very cool bass (too bad the cable kept cutting in and out, though). My favourite song was I Loves You, Porgy. The opening was so haunting. At the end of the show, I couldn't believe it was already the end! Time had passed so quickly and effortlessly - a sign of a great show. And when Gary kissed Joey on the head and then they left the stage all arm in arm, that was pretty great.”
Several responses did note that Peacock had problems, particularly at the beginning of the show, with his bass amplification, and suggested that he should have stopped and corrected the problem instead of soldiering on.
“This trio was also fairly laid back and Gary Peacock had some trouble with the amplification of his bass that seemed to put him off for the first couple of songs. After they were were resolved, the trio settled down and gave a very enjoyable concert. I was pleasantly surprised by the touch of Marc Copland on piano. Joey Baron is one of the more underrated drummers I have seen. Not a beat out of place. His solo during Footprints was a highlight,” said John Fysh.
Other comments: “A quieter, more contemplative Bill Evans. I'll be catching Marc Copland at every opportunity” [Michael Lechasseur] “They get 5 stars for playing Waltz for Debby as an Encore!” “Excellent piano playing and just an overall excellent ensemble. Bass playing was melodic and interesting.”
The trio did not introduce any of the pieces or talk to the crowd about the music, and one listener suggested she “would have liked a little bit of engagement with the audience”.
In other shows, those who saw Steve Boudreau's tribute to George Gershwin at 11 a.m. were highly enthusiastic, with an average of 4.7 stars.
“Love Steve. He played his takes on Gershwin. The trio complemented his playing. Very fluid and creative,” said Hughes. Another listener was similarly happy: “Trio was skilled, smooth, polished, creative. Very professional.”
The Rakestar Arkestra, whose music leans more to the avant-garde and is inspired by edge-pushing American musician Sun Ra, got ratings ranging from very satisfied to very dissatisfied from the lunchtime crowd, with an average of 3 stars. “Not my type of jazz/music, but great musicians” was one comment. Another simply didn't like the show: “Music was shrill, harsh, discordant. Their costumes seemed to be an attempt to distract from their harsh music.”
The duo of guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan in the NAC Theatre received an average of 3.5 stars, but mixed comments. The positive: “Wonderful guitar playing, I had never heard Frisell before. Interesting combo with the much, much younger bassist who was excellent,” wrote one listener.
The negative: “He's an excellent guitarist, but I'm not a guitarist. I like music and I wanted to hear music rather than a demonstration of Frisell's skills. I felt like I was watching the 70 yr old version of a kid practicing in his garage. An hour of this was too much.”
The in-between: “The interaction between bass and guitar was good but more one sided (Frisell) than other performances of either Frisell's or Morgan's than I've seen before” was one comment. John Fysh said, “I own the cd that Frisell and Morgan were supporting and find it to be highly enjoyable, even tho it is a little too laid back. This concert was even more laid back and I found myself continually nodding off. At least I didn't start snoring. What I remember hearing was very well played.”
The Halifax gypsy jazz group, Gypsophilia, who opened the main stage show, were well-received, receiving 4 stars. “Love this, easy listening and great from both close and far away from the stage,” said Tara Vanderlinden. “Interesting music well performed,” wrote David Oulton.
The Jerry Cans received 4.3 stars for their show on the City Hall stage. “Tremendous enthusiasm and great interaction with audience,” wrote David Oulton. “Feel good, really got the blood pumping and crowd going. Loved the throat singers but they needed their mic's turned up so we could hear them over the instruments,” said Tara Vanderlinden.
Friday's main stage headliner, Canadian pop star Serena Ryder, received mixed reviews and an average of 3.7 stars from those who stayed to hear her. Those who commented thought she gave a good performance: “Powerful voice, love her tone and range. The show was FULL, the quiet set was just as moving as the high volume tunes. She was friendly and interacted comfortably with the audience,” Helen Spencer said.
“A really solid performance particularly her solo part. Very impressed with her musicianship,” said Oulton. “I have never heard her music, but she is a talented and entertaining young lady. Enjoyed her music and her show (even though not jazz) but would not go and pay to see her again,” another listener wrote.
Other Friday shows didn't receive sufficient votes to report meaningfully.
Thursday results emphasize showmanship
On Thursday, June 22. the winners in our reader poll were those who knew how to move a crowd: in particular Tanika Charles, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
Performing on the festival's City Hall stage, Tanika Charles received an average of 3.8 stars from those who responded. “Original, genuine and personable on stage. Great audience rapport,” one listener responded.
“Not jazz but she really 'sold' her show / her brand. I liked how she shared stories, put tropical leaves on the mic stands, and brought her guitar & bass guys together at the centre mic to sing some beautiful harmonies. Plus, she had a very good camaraderie with her band mates. - I like to see that. As well, Ottawa's Clayton Connell was pretty sweet on the keys and I liked his twirling dance moves - not to mention his very cool hat!” said Betty Ann Bryanton.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones, that night's main stage headliner, received an average of 3.7 stars. The band's energy and showmanship was a big draw.
“Obviously, they know how to move a crowd. They reeled people in with their music and their antics. LOVED their brass section! Really enjoyed hearing the bari sax, too. Music was well-played and the red suit drew our attention,” Bryanton said.
Michael Lechasseur agreed. “Great energy. Gorgeous horn arrangements, engaging singer with a strong band.”
“St Paul is a real showman - bigger than life. Even if he went too far with the rolling on the floor, it didn't change the fact he can really sing and put on a show. The sax player was amazing!” said Helen Spencer.
Several noted that the show was entertaining even if not jazz. “They stayed within their limits and played a highly satisfying set of soul flavoured pop songs.” Pierre Hughes, on the other hand, isn't a big R&B fan: “great for a song or two, but gets annoying.” Another listener noted: “Great musicians, but a lot of screaming.”
Canadian guitarist Alex Goodman opened the main stage show, and received an average of 2.8 stars. David Oulton was impressed: “Very favorable first exposure. Would see again.”
Others praised Goodman's musicianship, but not the show. “Very nice music but could engage with the audience more.” “The musical skill level was good, but the playing was straight ahead and not very inspired.” “A little progressive for me, especially with his own written songs, but a very good musician.”
John Fysh suggested the show didn't fit the main stage: “There was a lot of noise and other distractions. He should have been on a smaller more intimate stage.”
David Occhipinti's Camera Ensemble's concert in the NAC Back Stage received widely varying responses, for an average of 3.3 stars. The comments were tepid: “The show felt more like chamber music session than jazz. The violin and bassoon overshadowed everything else. I kept waiting for more jazz.”
“I found the tunes were repetitive both time to tune and within. After a few I considered leaving but did not. What improvisation there was was cursory and limited to David and the vibist.”
Other Thursday shows didn't receive sufficient votes to report meaningfully.
Late-night jazz jams: "We could have listened to that all night"
Listeners' impressions of the first two days of the festival were diverse. On the positive end: “Strong festival programming with surprises at every turn.” “I have only been to a few shows so far, but I'm excited to see more Jazz this year, tomorrow I see Hudson!” “Better than anticipated.”
On the negative: “Pretty flat as a jazz fan. Unfortunately did not see Bill Frisell, and I'm not into the avant garde, progressive jazz, stuff. So wasn't much left jazz wise.” “Shows have been ok. Have not seen the wow show yet. Disappointed in the low attendance.”
Another listener was surprised that “there was not a great crowd for the "Broken Bones" concert. Again the non jazz performers don't fill the park anymore than a Jazz performer.”
“Seems like a bit of a slow start audience wise, but is so much craziness going on in the city right now that it's understandable. Jazzfest is still where I prefer to be. I find that a lot of the artists I want to see are spread out in different venue forcing me to be a little more selective in what I can see, especially on volunteer days. I kind of wish that it was all in the park, but I can't say anything bad about it. Music in the city is always a good thing. The ever threatening rain so far hasn't been as bad as all that. So far so good. People are happy and ready to have a good time,” was another response.
"Day 1 was quite good, day 2 not so much. The mainstage headliners have been great so far, even though they were not really jazz. My big peeve with the Ottawa Jazz Festival is the tendency to force jazz fans to sit inside the NAC rather than put the jazz shows out at the mainstage. The lineups and process make it seem less like a festival. That said, if we have to sit inside, the NAC Theatre is an excellent location for shows,” said Helen Spencer.
She also noted issues with the Discovery series being moved further away: “It doesn't seem like I will ever get to any of the La Nouvelle Scène shows because of the time it takes to get there and there are good shows around Confederation Park at about the same time.”
Listeners also noted logistical issues:
- “The first night was a bit unorganized, which is surprising; I would have thought they'd have figured it all out after each year. But they ran out of bronze passes by 6:15 pm. I had to wait 10-15 mins to get mine, and then no lanyard (not a big deal, just saying).”
- “I still haven't found the water fill-up station (no, not the fountains; the water fill-up station that is advertised).”
- “The security searches seem a bit over the top.”
John Fysh expressed his frustration at paying a premium for a Gold Pass and then the “one-off ticket holders get a preferential treatment at venues away from the main stage. I really detest the paid preferred seating in front of the main stage.”
The late-night jams received unsolicited praise from several listeners. “The late-night jams at Lord Elgin are super convenient. Glad to see the hotel added extra tables on the floor on the 2nd night. Too bad they don't have their special jazz food menu they had last year (which was very good). Would like to see more musicians, local & touring, called up earlier and more often.”
“Loved the 10:30 jam session at Lord Elgin in Grill 41, finally some jazz!!! We could have listened to that all night.”
– Alayne McGregor
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