Dominique Fils-Aimé
Ottawa Jazz Festival
OLG Stage, Confederation Park
Sunday, June 30, 2019 – 7:30 p.m.

With a striking vocal and physical presence, Dominique Fils-Aimé wowed a packed tent on the final evening of the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Her hour-long concert flowed from song to song, hardly taking a break as she and her quintet created a soulful and emotional river of music – ending in a standing ovation. She opened powerfully with her anthemic originals “Where There Is Smoke / There Is Probably Fire”, which showcased the purity of her vocals in a very atmospheric double piece.

The Montreal vocalist has been named the 2019-20 Révélations jazz artist by Radio-Canada, the first vocalist to gain this signal honour for francophone musicians. And you could hear why in a concert which drew from both her albums, Nameless [2018] and Stay Tuned! [2019].

Fils-Aimé has cited Nina Simone as one of her influences, and performed several standards made famous by her, including a fierce and transcendent “Feeling Good”, in which her voice nearly cracked with emotion. Her version of “Strange Fruit” opened almost matter-of-factly, underlined by a simple keyboard motif; she gradually added in emotion but kept the mood restrained, letting the horrific story told by the lyrics speak for itself. In between those two songs, she sang an original, “Birds”, about the uncertainty of leaving to start a new life. She delivered it simply over Nathan Vanheuverzwijn's flowing keyboards, with scatting and wordless vocals filling in spaces between the words.

“Constructive Interference” and “Sun Rise” had a revival meeting vibe, pushing the audience to “feel the power” and “clean up and move on” – and then segued into the heartbreak and anger of “Gun Burial”. “Big Man Do Cry” contrasted plaintive lyrics (with links back to Porgy and Bess and “Cry Me a River”) and wailing wordless vocals, with punctuated rhythms and Etienne Miousse's inflected and soaring electric guitar.

The mood became more jubilant with the hopeful and uplifting “Free Dom” and the gospel-influenced “Joy River”. “I got joy like a river in my soul,” she sang sincerely and warmly, with electric guitar echoing her voice. “We know what lights the way, And will show us where to lay, Cause we got joy like a River in our Souls”. As soon the final words died out, there was a leap-to-your-feet instant standing ovation.

Fils-Aimé returned for an encore, with just her and bassist Danny Trudeau. “Stand By Me” was presented calmly but with an underlying passion in her voice, and as the last notes from her wordless vocals and his bass died out, the audience again responded with strong applause.

You'll have another chance to hear Dominique Fils-Aimé en concert in Gatineau, on February 22, 2020, in Salle Jean-Despréz in the Maison du Citoyen. The National Arts Centre also regularly presents Révélations winners in its NAC Presents series, but hasn't yet announced all its 2019-20 series. The NAC might wish to look at putting Fils-Aimé in its Studio rather than the Fourth Stage, given the response she can evoke in Ottawa audiences.

Set List

  1. Where There Is Smoke / There Is Probably Fire
  2. Strange Fruit
  3. Birds
  4. Feeling Good
  5. Constructive Interference
  6. Sun Rise
  7. Gun Burial
  8. Big Man Do Cry
  9. Free Dom
  10. Joy River
  11. encore: Stand By Me

Photos of this performance are not available because the Ottawa Jazz Festival denied's request for news media accreditation for founder, journalist and photojournalist Brett Delmage for the 9th consecutive year.

Read's interviews with previous Révélations jazz winners: