Roy Hargrove and his Big Band blew up a storm at the the Ottawa Jazz Festival Concerts Under the Stars series on June 29. ©Brett Delmage 2010
Roy Hargrove and his Big Band blew up a storm at the the Ottawa Jazz Festival Concerts Under the Stars series on June 29. ©Brett Delmage 2010

Bassist and leader Moppa Elliott of Mostly Other People Do The Killing © Brett Delmage, 2010
Bassist and leader Moppa Elliott of Mostly Other People Do The Killing © Brett Delmage, 2010
As soon as Mostly Other People Do The Killing started at 10:30 p.m. Sunday at the OLG Stage, you could hear the boom of the bass and the drums across Confederation Park and spilling over into the surrounding streets.

The quartet – Moppa Elliott (bass), Peter Evans (trumpet),  Jon Irabagon (sax), and Kevin Shea (drums) – played 75 minutes of improvisation, based on their compositions but often including snatches from other music – everything from "A Night in Tunisia" to "The Candyman Can". They'd start out with one piece, and morph into another, with interesting side passages along the way.

Particular notable was Shea's work on his electronic drum pad, where he'd produce sounds like telephone bells and birds to complement the brass and reeds. And each of the musicians performed intricate and well-performed solos.

But the group's real talent – and my ability to listen to what they were doing – was undercut by the extreme volume at which they chose to play. At times, Shea seemed to be trying to outdo the late Keith Moon in battering his drum kit. It was difficult to grasp the subtleties of their playing because the music was extremely loud.

In their publicity, the group says they want to produce music that's "fun, engaging and thoroughly contemporary". It was that and never boring, but I think it would engage even more people at a slightly lower volume.

    – Alayne McGregor



Paolo Fresu (flugelhorn) and Ralph Towner (guitar) play the Ottawa Jazz Festival Main Stage. photo ©Brett Delmage 2010
Paolo Fresu (flugelhorn) and Ralph Towner (guitar) play the Ottawa Jazz Festival Main Stage. photo ©Brett Delmage 2010

Listening to Paolo Fresu play with Ralph Towner is like being bathed in tranquility.

It's not that their music is repetitive – definitely the opposite – but rather that the interplay between trumpet/flugelhorn and acoustic guitar is so surefooted that listeners can simply relax and enjoy the two trading melodies back and forth.

The Monday night audience in Confederation Park responded to the beauty and (relatively) low volume of the music by becoming uncharacteristically quiet. Parents shushed their children; there were almost no side conversations. Almost everyone was intent and listening.

The first four pieces they played were written by Towner; the first one, "Punta Giara", honoured the town in Sardinia where he and Fresu first played together 15 years ago. After that, the titles were mostly not announced, but included what appeared further originals as well as jazz standards like Miles Davis' "Blue in Green", on which Fresu played an evocative solo, not replaying Miles but reinterpreting the melody.

There is one full week of Jazzfest remaining and a lot of great music to be heard on the local stages from talented Ottawa-Gatineau musicians. There's something for everyone, from smaller groups playing standards and originals, to 20-piece big bands – much of this for free courtesy of the Ottawa-Gatineau Musicians' Association trust fund.

For nine years, saxophonist Doug Martin has brought interesting programs to the local stages. Last year his Trio performed songs based on world cities, including Doug's world premiere of an original,  "Bytowne Serenade". Find out what original tunes his group, Jasmine Quartet, will play on noon on Tuesday, June 29 at the free Rideau Centre Stage,

Since returning to the scene, Los Gringos played to two full audiences since last fall. (read our review, Los Gringos has a Rousing Reunion). If you couldn't get into either of those shows, you have another chance on Tuesday June 28 at Noon at the free OLG Stage, in Confederation Park, next to Elgin Street.

The more adventurous should not miss Geggie, Vu, Lewis and Doxas at the NAC Fourth Stage Improv Invitational Series on Tuesday June 29, at 7 p.m. All have played with John Geggie in his winter series, to appreciative audiences. This is sure to be another excellent show.

If Latin isn't your thing or you just love big bands, come back to the OLG Stage at Noon on Wednesday, June 30 for the Straight Ahead Big Band. Playing "a savvy adventure in the best of the big band sounds of the last 50 years,  the Straight Ahead Big Band performs accessible music." The emphasis here is on Big, with 20 local jazz musicians participating.

With an exploding worldwide fan base, Ottawa's own Souljazz Orchestra hits the Main Stage in the Great Canadian Jazz Series on Friday July 2 at 6 p.m., with a African, Latin, funky and soulful sound.

And if you're free in the afternoon on Wednesday, June 30, or Friday, July 2, don't miss the last two installments of the Workshop series at the OLG Stage in Confederation Park. There's three different combinations each afternoon, and the results are always adventurous and exciting. You can read our story about the first afternoon here.

Al Henderson concentrates during his Septet performance on the Ottawa Jazz Festival Main Stage. photo ©Brett Delmage, 2010
Al Henderson concentrates during his Septet performance on the Ottawa Jazz Festival Main Stage. photo ©Brett Delmage, 2010
In all the jazz combos I've seen over the years, two cellos in the front row was a first.

Al Henderson's septet had that – plus piano, saxophones, clarinets, flutes, bass, drums, and bird whistles, to produce soundscapes that were far more complex than your average straight-ahead jazz.

The Toronto-based septet opened the Confederation Park evening show Saturday night (June 26) at 6 p.m. That can be a difficult time, with many jazz fans arriving during the show and the late afternoon sun pointing straight at the stage. Henderson commented on that near the end of the show: even at the back of the stage with his bass, the red-head found the intense light quite brutal.

But that didn't show in the group's playing, as they recreated tunes from Henderson's recently-released CD, Regeneration. It was nominated for a 2010 Juno for best Traditional Jazz Album. Henderson brought most of the musicians on that album to the Festival: Alex Dean on sax and flute and bass clarinet, Mark Chambers on cello, Richard Whiteman on piano, Barry Romberg on drums, and Henderson on double bass. Andrew Downing subbed in on cello, and Kelly Jefferson on tenor and soprano sax. All of these are well-known on the Toronto scene, and Henderson has also played with Jefferson in the group Time Warp.

The highlight of the show was the entire Regeneration Suite. The suite was inspired by Henderson's work with architect Raymond Moriyama, who designed the Canadian War Museum, and dealt with how war affects us all. The seven-part suite started with music reminiscent of a Scottish reel. Then, with an ominous cello solo, it moved into steadily more frantic interplay ("Darkening Clouds", "Conflict", and Final Confrontation")

Ingrid Jensen played a prominent role in sister Christine Jensen's Jazz Orchestra performance at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. To her left is bassist Fraser Hollins and to her right is sax player Joel Miller. photo ©Brett Delmage, 2010
Ingrid Jensen played a prominent role in sister Christine Jensen's Jazz Orchestra performance at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. To her left is bassist Fraser Hollins and to her right is sax player Joel Miller. photo ©Brett Delmage, 2010
The crowd was spilling out on the lawn outside the OLG tent for Christine Jensen's Jazz Orchestra on Saturday night, despite the late hour. And they weren't disappointed, as the 19-member big band put on a fiery and well-disciplined performance.

The performance covered much of the orchestra's new CD, Treelines, with trumpeter Ingrid Jensen a strong presence as guest soloist. Saxophonist Christine Jensen wrote almost all the pieces on the album; they were primarily inspired by trees and water on Canada's West Coast, where she grew up, with titles like Arbutus and Red Cedar. Particular highlights were Sea Fever, and the one piece not written by Jensen, Dropoff, by her husband, saxophonist Joel Miller, who also soloed on it.

Roddy Ellias and Jeri Brown at the Ottawa Jazz Festival's Improv Invitational Series. photo ©Brett Delmage 2010
Roddy Ellias and Jeri Brown at the Ottawa Jazz Festival's Improv Invitational Series. photo ©Brett Delmage 2010
Jeri Brown has a crystal-clear voice and an unerring feel for rhythm. Roddy Ellias is a master of the acoustic jazz guitar. Their 90-minute concert Saturday, June 26 at a mostly-full NAC Fourth Stage (despite strong competition at other stages)  showed off their strengths, to strong applause from the audience.

Most of the concert consisted of standards (such as Misty)  to which Brown adding scatting and her own dramatic phrasing, and Ellias added guitar improvisation. But the exceptions – for example, Joe Sealy's Afro Blue, and a samba with a downhome beat – were among the most interesting and compelling.

The concert also coincided with the release of their joint album: Jeri Brown and Roddy Ellias: Improvisations in Song: Live at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall in Montreal, which was recorded last year.  Ellias just retired this spring from the music faculty at Concordia University in Montreal, while Brown remains a professor there.

    – Alayne McGregor

Mike Hickey, Mike Dubue, Mike Schultz make the electronic music. photo ©Brett Delmage, 2010
Mike Hickey, Mike Dubue, Mike Schultz make the electronic music. photo ©Brett Delmage, 2010
Put electronically-processed vocals and keyboard on one side of the stage, and trumpet, clarinet, sax and drums on the other, in an improvised "electronic versus acoustic" mix and you've got the quirky start of the first Jazz Workshops series on Friday June 25. Anchored by versatile local jazzmen Mike Essoudry (drums), Linsey Wellman (sax, bass clarinet) and Craig Pedersen (trumpet), the music had an appealing range of dynamics and new sounds and textures to keep the curious engaged - and wake them up from after-lunch drowsiness.

The sizable crowd of listeners who stretched their ears during the first workshop were given a respite in the second set, as the Mighty Popo of Rwanda (guitars, vocals) and more African musicians, played with series Curator Petr Cancura (saxes) to present a more traditional sound.


The third set featured local vocalists Steve Berndt, Renée Yoxon, and Christine Fagan showing The Power of Song.

Herbie Hancock and Lionel Louecke share a lighter moment during a pause for introductions at their main stage performance at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. photo ©Brett Delmage,2010
Herbie Hancock and Lionel Louecke share a lighter moment during a pause for introductions at their main stage performance at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. photo ©Brett Delmage,2010
Herbie Hancock started out with jazz and crossed over to pop during his Friday evening concert at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, but the audience enthusiastically stayed with him.

The band opened with jazz, including Hancock classics like Watermelon Man (in which Hancock played his keytar – keyboards slung like a guitar). Then came one of the highlights of the show: a reprise of Hancock's The River album, in which vocalist Kristina Train sang Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, in a lower register than Joni but with equivalent contrast between joy and hopelessness. The band (Hancock on piano, Lionel Louecke on guitar, Greg Phillinganes on keyboards and vocals, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and Tal Wilkenfeld on bass) added fine texture underneath without ever distracting from the impact of Train's voice.

About an hour into the concert, Hancock moved to pieces from his just-released The Imagine Project, and the musical focus moved towards pop and world music. It started with his version of John Lennon's Imagine, featuring a well-tuned duet between Train and Phillinganes, and then moved to further pop covers and world beat-influenced pieces. Each had a clear message of promoting world peace and understanding, which Hancock had said right at the beginning of the concert was what he was trying to do. He said he was doing it through music, because that was his skill, but he urged the audience to do the same through whatever they're good at.

***

While OJS publisher Brett Delmage stayed for the entire concert, editor Alayne McGregor didn't want to miss French bassist Hubert Dupont at the NAC Fourth Stage. Despite the competition from Hancock and Bill Frisell, Dupont T acquired a respectable crowd for a fine 90 minutes of modern jazz.

Given Dupont's studies with Dave Holland, it wasn't surprising that several pieces opened with extended bass solos, but they were interesting and varied, particularly the last piece in which he let his bass strings go slightly slack for a different sound. And he left lots of room for extended solos by alto saxophonist Denis Guivarc’h, pianist Yvan Robillard, and Chander Sardjoe, who had a generally light but very exact taste in drumming.

    – Alayne McGregor

Enthusiastic fans crowd the stage to enjoy Gil Scott-Heron and his band. photo ©Brett Delmage, 2010
Enthusiastic fans crowd the stage to enjoy Gil Scott-Heron and his band. photo ©Brett Delmage, 2010
Despite an everything-that-could-go-wrong day, Gil Scott-Heron and his band wowed the audience at the Ottawa Jazz Festival's opening and free concert night on Wednesday.

The warmth between the tall, painfully-thin man and the audience crowded up to the stage was palpable. As he entered, many people reached up their hands, and Scott-Heron shook as many as he could. He started talking, simply and straightforwardly, with a lot of humour, some of it old but all of it still funny.

The day had started badly for the Festival when the original headliner, the Max Weinberg Big Band, had had to cancel because thunderstorms completely shut down travel out of Chicago. Then Scott-Heron's band made it to Ottawa, but he was delayed by customs inspections – of which he made much fun on stage, at point recounting that he had assured the inspectors that if they had really wanted drugs he could go back home and find them some but right now he didn't have any on him.

Scott-Heron missed his flight, got further delayed by weather, and was barely on his plane from New York City at 8 p.m., when he was originally scheduled to start.

Instead, his backing band, Kimberly Jordan on vocals and keyboards, Brian Settles on tenor and soprano sax and flute, and Alton Duncanson on percussion, gave a highly crowd-pleasing set of jazz, pop, and R&B standards, ending with a long, crowd-involving back-and-forth on a Carole King song. Jordan has a strong, flexible voice and used it well, and Duncanson's percussion gave a strong underpinning. Lots of cheers and happiness.

And that happiness was needed, because the weather got steadily worse as the evening progressed. The rain started spitting about 8 p.m., became steady by 8:30, and continued sometimes light, sometimes heavy for the rest of the evening.

Some of the crowd put up umbrellas, others pulled up their hoods, and others just ignored the rain. Many just stood close together under the stage overhang and to be closer to the musicians.

Scott-Heron first moved to the centrally-placed Fender Rhodes, and played several songs with an R&B feel, sometimes just singing a cappella. Then he was joined by Jordan on backing vocals for several more songs, and finally by Settles and Duncanson. The music shifted between R&B and jazz: one song involved a long and humorous "explanation" of the origins of "jazz", followed by a fine New-Orleans-style piece.

Settles produced some fine solos on sax and flute, while Duncanson particularly spread himself on a long percussion solo near the end.

Particularly notable pieces were a heartfelt "Work for Peace", and the soulful "I'll Take Care of You" from Scott-Heron's 2010 album I'm New Here.

The concert ended with "Celebration" (which it felt like), but the audience called them back for an encore before dispersing into the rain.
    – Alayne McGregor