Myriad3 also played the Montreal Jazz Festival on Saturday, June 28. They were a contestant in the festival's Grand Prix contest for Canadian jazz groups.

2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 7: Myriad3 (Great Canadian Jazz), Earth, Wind & Fire (Concerts Under the Stars)
Confederation Park
Thursday, June 26, 2014

Myriad3 is the Toronto-based trio of pianist Chris Donnelly, drummer Ernesto Cervini, and bassist Dan Fortin. If not precisely a super-group, this group consists of three prolific composers who had thriving separate jazz careers well before getting together in 2012.

Although I had enjoyed hearing Donnelly and Cervini before, at Café Paradiso and elsewhere, I had missed the first time they'd played Ottawa this March – so I was particularly looking forward to this concert.

Their hour-long show primarily featured music from their new album, The Where, which was only released a few weeks ago, plus a few numbers from their first album,Tell [Alma Records, 2013]. All three contributed compositions, but they fit well into a unified whole, each piece becoming a conversation among all three.

Listening to them, I was immediately reminded that their instruments – piano, bass, drums – are essentially percussive. Beginning with forceful piano chords and hard drumming in “First Flight”, they consistently used individual quick notes on bass and piano, rather than sustained notes, to develop their melodies. It gave their music a strong forward push, and a danceability that was unfortunately not acted upon by the audience.

Their one non-original hinted at a possible origin for this style: Donnelly had rearranged Oscar Peterson's arrangement of the Duke Ellington classic, “C Jam Blues”, and you could certainly hear the Peterson-style strong bass lines and hard swinging in both piano and bass in that number.

Their songs also had a huge dynamic range: moving from full-out to quiet and back again, sometimes very quickly: Fortin's “The Strong One” changed from formal and stately to all-out frantic in only a minute or so. Donnelly's “For All the World” swept the listeners up in its momentum and its intersecting patterns. It steadily built from its initial single notes and simple chords on piano to insistent piano chords and hard drumming, until it resolved into light notes again. Cervini's “Fractured” (dedicated to trumpeter Nadje Noohuis) was a mosaic of sound, with contrasting riffs building and changing throughout.

Their set was consistently fast, dramatic, and well-performed – what you would think would grab the attention of a park audience. But all around me I heard a loud buzz of conversation, sometimes almost drowning out the stage. I could see a few people listening, but the majority in all directions were chatting or on their phones. It was louder than I ever remember a festival audience before; hugely noisier, for example, than at the Great Canadian Jazz show the previous evening.

The difference was likely in the audience, which had already filled two-thirds of the park. The headliner was Earth Wind & Fire, and I suspect that their core listeners simply aren't into jazz, and especially not jazz with some complexity. Or they were only there for EWF, and saw Myriad3 as an opening act who could be talked over with impunity.

If I had been programming the festival, I would have switched Myriad3 with that night's 10:30 p.m. act, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band – who could have at least drowned out the talkers. But if the Ottawa Jazz Festival is going to program Canadian jazz groups as opening acts for groups which attract a primarily non-jazz audience, this is going to be a continuing problem.

Earth, Wind & Fire: horns, guitars, falsetto, and a bit too much of the same

Earth, Wind & Fire is a group which mixes soul, R&B, and gospel. Their sound features lots of horns in unison and guitar solos, and in particular the high soaring voices of their three singers. Other than some short sax solos and horn interjections, there's very little jazz in their music.

But it's well-presented, and certainly was well-received. Confederation Park was filled to its edges and right to the back with clapping, cheering fans who stood almost as soon as the band got on stage, and danced to the music for a large part of the concert.

A few numbers in, the band announced “We'll have to compress 42 years of music into the next 72 minutes”, and they did their best, quickly segueing from hit to hit in a show that lasted just over 90 minutes.

The group had its first big hits in the 70s and the horn-guitar ethos of that decade is still clear in their music. It's catchy and dramatic and fun to listen to, but I found it all sounded the same after a while, and I was frustrated at the indistinct lyrics. A particularly important part of their sound is falsetto singing, and lead vocalist Philip Bailey performed an impressively high and extended solo near the end, pitching his voice higher and higher but remaining on-note before the music devolved into a fanfare and huge applause.

The show was tight and well-rehearsed down to how the musicians circled forward and back on stage: even their goodbyes were clearly choreographed. And given that it was Earth, Wind & Fire's first appearance in Ottawa (Bailey said from the stage that they couldn't remember being here before), it's no surprise the audience – primed from the beginning for enjoyment – reacted rapturously. By the time the band had them singing along to the Beatles' “Got to get you into my life”, they were clearly delighted with their evening.

But would these listeners come back for other jazz shows? That seems less likely.

    – Alayne McGregor

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