The Ottawa Jazz Festival's most interesting innovation this year is a three concert "residency" by bassist Dave Holland, who has only (at least in recent years) appeared as a sideman at the festival, and that infrequently. Holland is well-known as a composer and leader of everything from trios to big bands, as he has often shown off at the Montreal jazz festival. In Ottawa, he will perform three very different concerts: a duet with Kenny Barron; a trans-cultural improvisational trio with Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem and bass clarinetist and saxophonist John Surman; and the world premiere of Prism, Holland's first electric project in decades, with guitarist Kevin Eubanks, pianist Craig Taborn, and drummer Eric Harland.
He won't be the only prominent bassist at the festival. Esperanza Spalding, who beat out Justin Bieber last year for the Best New Artist Grammy (the first jazz artist to win that award), will present music from her just-released Radio Music Society album with a 12-piece mini-big band. In a press release, Spalding said the album was one in which "jazz musicians explore song forms and melodies that are formatted more along the lines of what we would categorize as 'pop songs'", and was designed to reflect how one can be captured by a piece of music while just flipping through the radio dial.
Also prominent on the main stage will be drummer Brian Blade, who will bring back his highly popular and melodic Fellowship Band. They will be preceded by Ninety Miles, a Cuban-American collaboration among vibraphonist Stefon Harris, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and saxophonist David Sanchez (ninety miles is the distance from Havana, Cuba to Miami).
On June 25, the festival will feature a New Orleans evening with the crowd-pleasing Trombone Shorty preceding Allen Toussaint's tribute to the New Orleans jazz greats who built the genre from the ground up in the early 20th century. They will be followed by a late-night performance by the Soul Rebels, a New Orleans-based brass band which plays dance music with "ferocious funk and second line grooves ... all layered on top of a hundred years of street-wise jazz tradition."
Big bands will also return to the festival this year, after a complete absence last year, with main-stage performances by the Mingus Big Band, and the Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.
Guitarist Bill Frisell will reinterpret John Lennon's songs in his own iconoclastic manner with a quartet. Entitled "All we are saying", it's a project that Frisell has been contemplating for many years but was sparked by being asked to put together an impromptu set in honour of Lennon as part of a special event in Paris.
Guitar fans may also appreciate Marc Ribot, whom Festival programming manager Petr Cancura highly praised. Ribot will be playing with Allen Toussaint on the main stage, and also performing a solo, improvised show entitled "Silent Film" in the Fourth Stage. Cancura note that Ribot has recorded from everyone from Elton John to McCoy Tyner. The festival said Ribot's solo performances are "unpredictable events" which create "a sonic matrix of memory, free improvisation, zeitgeist, extra-terrestrial radio signals, and much more... always leaving the listener on the edge of their seats."
On the keys...
Jazz piano fans will have a plethora of choices, starting with spouses Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes. Both jazz pianists (but he has the more romantic repertoire), they put out a duet album last year called Double Portrait, and will be playing from that and other originals and standards for two concerts in the Studio.
Brazilian pianist and singer Eliane Elias will finally make it to Ottawa with her Brasileira project on the late-night OLG stage. Elias has been nominated multiple times for Grammys including recently for her song "What about the Heart", no surprise given her impressive skill on the piano that blends her Brazilian roots with some rock/pop covers and mainstream jazz.
NYC pianist Marc Copland wowed Ottawa audiences last year at his John Geggie series concert with a performance that reached both the heart and the head. He is well-known for his collaborations with bassist like Greg Osby and Gary Peacock, and guitarists like Vic Juris and John Abercrombie. Guitarist Roddy Ellias has been wowing Ottawa (and other) audiences for decades, and invited Copland to play with him. Montreal bassist Adrian Vedady has toured with Copland and is part of Ellias' longstanding Montreal trio. The three musicians' appearance together at the Fourth Stage is not just one-time; they are preparing an album to be recorded later this year.
Keyboardist Joey Calderazzo will team up with saxophonist Branford Marsalis. The two long-time collaborators – in Marsalis' quartet as well as Calderazzo's solo projects – will be playing from their recent duet album Songs of Mirth and Melancholy in two concerts in the NAC Studio.
And in the improv vein...
If you haven't seen Vancouver pianist Paul Plimley in action, you haven't seen how true energy and abandon produces fine improvisational results. In Hexentrio, he is matched by two other virtuoso improvisers from Europe: British bassist Barry Guy and Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli.
Niggli and Guy will also be playing free improvisation with violinist Maya Homburger, who is best known for her chamber and early music performances, especially of music from the baroque period, She is married to Guy, and they run a music label, Maya, whose releases range from free improv to baroque music to contemporary composition.
François Houle is an evocative and inventive clarinetist. He will be playing with French pianist Benoit Delbecq (with whom he recorded two albums, Nancali and Dice Thrown), once as a duo and once with Houle's quintet. Both have strong improv/free jazz roots, and the ability to make that music accessible and interesting. The quintet will feature Harris Eisenstadt, who presented a festival concert in Ottawa in March, on drums.
Big Satan is a project from free-jazzer and alto saxophonist Tim Berne, playing with French guitarist Marc Ducret and drummer Tom Rainey. The three progressive jazz musicians have played together for decades, and are reuniting after a five-year gap from their last concert in Europe as a trio.
French cornet player Médéric Collignon was well-received in Ottawa at a wild festival winter series concert in 2009. He had to cancel his festival appearance last year, but is back this year with a quartet which will be exploring "cool jazz, rhythm and blues, free jazz, contemporary electro-acoustic music as well as big band and orchestral."
If you liked Kenny Wheeler's festival concert in 2011, you might enjoy Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick, who will be paying "tribute to both the truly unique Scandinavian soundscape", and Wheeler's "lyricism and melancholy".
French alto saxophonist Pierrick Pédron will bring his sextet to play from his latest album, Cheerleaders. It's a concept album, reflecting one night in the life of a cheerleader that runs through a battery of emotions, and apparently includes "shades of brass bands, bebop and psych-rock hinging on Pédron's distinct alto sound".
Fans of Scandinavian groups like Atomic and The Thing in previous jazz festivals, might try Norwegian and Swedish improvisers IPA, whose musicians Cancura said "helped pave the way of new music".
And, finally, New York-based vocalist Becca Stevens recently toured with Brad Mehldau. The New York Times described her as "a best-kept secret" and "impressively absorbing." Stevens also plays guitar, ukulele and charango, and her vocals are complemented by harmonies from her quartet.
Canadian musicians take the stage
There's also a large and impressive Canadian contingent at the 2012 festival.
Saxophonist Phil Dwyer won the Juno this year for Best Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year, for Changing Seasons, a large-scale composition in four sections featuring Mark Fewer on violin. For his festival performance, however, he has another project: The Canadian Song Book, for which he has created new jazz arrangements of iconic Canadian tunes. The festival rarely programs West Coast musicians, so it's refreshing to see Dwyer, along with bassist Jodi Proznick, and trumpeter Vince Mai. Dwyer also lived in Toronto for many years, so it's not surprising he's also including a number of Toronto musicians: guitarist Rob Piltch, drummer Davide Direnzo, and singer and pianist Laila Biali (who was prevented from performing at last year's festival by a lightning storm that first delayed her flight and then imprisoned her on the tarmac at the Ottawa airport for several hours).
Bassist Chris Tarry, a Canadian now based in NYC, will bring his modern electric jazz quintet, which includes Toronto saxophonist Kelly Jefferson, for one concert in the NAC Studio. Tarry has eight Juno award-winning albums; his latest, Rest of the Story, was nominated for two Juno awards (including contemporary jazz album) and won one for record packaging.
Baritone saxophonist Colin Stetson's music falls in the cracks among genres (including jazz), but that didn't prevent him from getting two Juno nominations (one for contemporary jazz, one for instrumental) in 2012. He also plays other saxophones, clarinets, cornet, French horn, and flute, and is prominent as a sideman with artists like Feist, Tom Waits, David Byrne, Arcade Fire, and Anthony Braxton.
Torontonian David Mott's control of and ability to speak through his baritone sax is legendary. His quintet will be performing his current work, Journey to the Land of Oz, a large-scale work which "runs the gamut of composition and improvisation. Journey to the Land of Oz references Wizard of Oz music with sly, twisted and embedded passages that leaves the listener guessing and venturing into a journey of musical discovery that veers from the Yellow Brick Road more often than not." He will be playing with musicians well-known to the Ottawa improvised music crowd: saxophonist Peter Lutek, trumpeter Ellwood Epps, bassist John Geggie, and percussionist Jesse Stewart.
Montreal tenor sax player Joel Miller just released a new album, Swim, on April 7. It features Grammy-nominated pianist and composer Geoffrey Keezer as well as Miller's frequent collaborators, bassist Fraser Hollins, and drummer Greg Ritchie. He'll be bringing the same group to the festival, to play music that is at least partially inspired by the simpler melodies that Miller has been singing to his one-year-old daughter, Liv, and a return to Miller's own jazz roots.
Two of the three members of the Parc X Trio live in Parc-Extension, a mostly immigrant neighbourhood in Montreal that is defined by its fusion of many different cultures. Similarly, the trio's original compositions have a wide range of influences such as the contemporary jazz sounds coming from New York and Europe as well as classical, pop and world music. The trio’s main goal is to "create an original soundtrack that reflects their love of this unique Montreal borough". They've got a good reception in Ottawa clubs and at the Aylmer jazz festival since they were formed in 2008.
And not be overlooked is Toronto guitarist Roy Patterson, who will be playing at the Brookstreet Hotel Options Lounge in Kanata on June 28 (as well as with singer Maria Farinha on the main stage). Patterson, who won the Prix de Jazz at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1997, will be making a welcome return to the festival circuit.
If the international and Canadian artists aren't enough to overwhelm you, be sure to also check out the festival's 2012 lineup of local Ottawa-Gatineau artists, which includes musicians playing music from their original and creative projects and concepts.
– Alayne McGregor Full disclosure