The final day of the 2017 Ottawa Jazz Festival had the weather that epitomized the entire festival this year – when it was good, it was very, very good, and when it was bad, it was horrible.

Listeners loved the Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet, giving it 5 stars out of 5. Feist didn't fare as well. (photo provided by the Ottawa Jazz Festival)
Listeners loved the Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet, giving it 5 stars out of 5. Feist didn't fare as well. (photo provided by the Ottawa Jazz Festival)

It was balmy and sunny on July 2 until a few songs into Feist's closing concert – and then it absolutely soaked the park in a torrential downpour. Similarly, performances throughout the day received high praise – and then a lot less later in the evening.

The afternoon shows with local musicians were particularly well-received that day.

At noon, guitarist Wayne Eagles debuted his new trio, with drummer Jesse Stewart and bassist John Geggie, to an enthusiastic response (4.4 stars out of 5) from the listeners who responded. All three have played for years in Ottawa's jazz scene, although this was their first time together: one listener said she was a fan of all three. Denis Huppé noted they were accomplished musicians and said he liked the group's sound.

At 2 p.m., the stage in the City Hall tent was packed with the 11 musicians in Ed Lister's Prime Rib Big Band, playing Lister's original charts in the swing tradition. Those who responded loved them, with an average of 4.75 stars. Huppé described their show as “very dynamic and entertaining.”

“Great musicians. Real pros. The best performance I have seen during the festival. They most definitely deserved to play on the main stage.”

The Prime Rib Big Band will perform a free outdoor concert this Thursday (July 27) in Aylmer as part of the Festival de Jazz Desjardins.

American drummer Mark Guiliana has received considerable critical interest for his work with Brad Mehldau and Donny McCaslin. He brought his own jazz quartet to La Nouvelle Scène, and received a unanimous 5 stars from listeners in our poll.

“This was my favourite concert of the 2017 OJF,” said Gaby Warren. “Excellent musicianship by all four musicians. The compositions allowed them to move organically between "inside" and "outside", often achieving segments of spirituality. This was the first time I have heard live, the sensitive playing of pianist Fabián Almazán, whose career I have been following.”

Another listener praised the musicians' talent, and how they achieved “the right level of modern-ity without be[ing] avant garde.”

The Allison Au Quartet's Great Canadian show was consistently praised ©Brett Delmage, 2015
The Allison Au Quartet's Great Canadian show was consistently praised ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Allison Au Quartet from Toronto opened the show in Confederation Park that evening, with music from Au's Juno-winning album plus some new pieces. Respondents gave them 3.9 stars, and consistent verbal applause.

David Miller liked Au's “intriguing one-word compositions played with sympathy and enthusiasm. I immediately bought Allison's two albums.” Peter Feldman praised the quartet's high calibre of playing, as well as Au's personality and stage presence. Another listener described the music as a “fresh, clean sound from very competent musicians with good variety.”

Sally Robinson was glad to hear “some jazz at the jazz festival. She's a great player; really liked the piano player [Todd Pentney]. Nice all around.”

An hour later, the Ottawa pop group The Hilotrons was less well-received, with an average rating of 2.75 stars. Its show at the City Hall stage received widely varied ratings, from 1 to 5 stars, and some downright acerbic comments.

“It was loud and obnoxious,” said Sally Robinson, who noted she could still hear the group's sound bleeding through when she moved to the main stage area. André Constant described the show as “too rocky and loud”.

We received no responses about Laurent Coulondre's “Gravity Zero” concert at La Nouvelle Scène.

Canadian singer-songwriter Feist closed the festival with a show in Confederation Park. To her credit, she played a full show – and an encore requested by the die-hards – despite the extended thundershowers.

The responses were all over the park. On the positive side: “Loved her new songs and she really rocked out as we were getting rained upon,” said Sally Robinson. Another listener enjoyed the band's energy.

One listener praised Feist's professionalism and said she hoped to hear her again under better circumstances. But for this show, she had real problems hearing the music. “I was sitting towards the back of the field and found the sound to be way too low. I could barely make out her more acoustic songs, of which there are many, and couldn't really make out what she was saying. Unfortunately the heavy rains started midway through. I feel bad for Feist as people seemed to be fleeing (understandably).”

“Feist brought her best game to the stage. She was a warm, engaging host who kept the entire park under her thumb despite torrents of rain. However, I personally did not find her music very interesting,” said David Miller. “I thought that she was great, considering the circumstances (rain). It's just that her music does not 'talk' to me,” Denis Huppé concluded.

Others were even less impressed with the show. André Constant summed it up as “Pop music ....And rain.”

“I know Feist has a huge fan base, and that's fine. I just didn't find her interesting musically; it was literally putting me to sleep,” said Peter Feldman. A listener who only stayed for first part of the performance said that the pieces from the new album played in that part of the show “lacked melodic quality and the lyrics were excessively repetitive and boring.” Another listener who left early because of the rain said that “the sounds she started with were, to my mind, nondescript and not tuneful like her earlier works.”

And for another listener, Feist's music just didn't fit: “Not my favourite style of music. Not jazzy enough.”

Feist is a highly popular singer-songwriter, but perhaps not with a jazz audience. Our respondents gave her a rating of 3.1 stars.

– Alayne McGregor

Read's other reports from our 2017 Ottawa Jazz Festival survey: