Kidd Jordan ©Brett Delmage, 2011
Kidd Jordan ©Brett Delmage, 2011
Creative Collective: Kidd Jordan, William Parker, Joel Futterman, and Alvin Fiedler
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Cooperators Hall,
River Run Centre
Guelph Jazz Festival

September 11, 2011 was a quiet Sunday morning in the city of Guelph. As listeners walked to the last concert of the 2011 Guelph Jazz Festival, they passed under large green trees bent over the sun-dappled sidewalks, with the Speed River meandering in the distance. It was very peaceful.

The concert that was about to start was by the Creative Collective: four notable American jazz improvisers. The leader, saxophonist Kidd Jordan from New Orleans, had appeared twice before at the festival (2002 and 2008). He was joined by pianist Joel Futterman and drummer Alvin Fiedler, both of whom have recorded and played with him for more than 15 years. And holding the centre of the stage was free-jazz bassist William Parker, who had already appeared several times that weekend, and had also previously played with Jordan.

Outside, the news had been full of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. But it was only in the introduction to this concert – on this, the actual anniversary of the tragedy – that I heard it mentioned at the festival. This music is about survival, the M.C. said, and the packed audience grew silent.

The music started simply with a low resonant note on piano. A piccolo began dancing above, and then a quick triangle note introduced the strumming of piano strings. It sounded like a bucolic spring morning, yet with disquieting undertones. As Jordan's sax and Parker's bass strengthened and the pace increased, the effect became confusion and disarray. Loud and intense, the musicians seemed to be pulling in every direction.

Yet there was a guiding energy behind it, and as Jordan's sax took the lead, melody returned – with phrases from the old spiritual, "My Lord, What A Morning" (best known for its rendition by contralto Marian Anderson). Soulful and clear, it reminded the audience of hope.

The energy built again with an intense solo by Futterman including long percussive runs. (It was the third time in three days that that particular piano had been pounded on with that level of energy, the others being Paul Plimley and Craig Taborn, and I pitied the poor piano tuner). Fiedler and Kidd underlined the energy with fast drumming and quick high circular notes respectively.

The music slowed eventually to a more elegiac feel, as Jordan's sax returned to the gospel theme. On and up he moved, never appearing to stop for breath, crying for those lost and praying for those remaining. As he finally slowed, deep quiet piano notes welled up underneath, and then Parker's bowing of his bass, contrasted with light drumming, emphasized the solemnity of the occasion.

The concert continued alternating more intense and more reflective passages, with each of the musicians contributing and playing together with an almost telepathic communication. Most completely-improvised concerts have a few rough edges, a few places where risks were taken and didn't completely work out. Here it all worked together as a piece, one that the musicians put their hearts into and which left the audience exultant at the end.

Sometimes I listen to free jazz more with the head than the heart: the relative absence of melody and lack of the standard ways of evoking emotion make it a more initially difficult, if rewarding, experience. This concert – partly because of the choice at the beginning to use gospel and blues motifs along with straight blowing and a bit of bebop – had both, and stronger impact because of it.

As concert-goers left the hall, the atmosphere was cheerful but a bit hushed, as listeners were still absorbing what they had heard. But as they stepped out into the sunlight, the carillon of St. George's Church a few blocks away started playing "America the Beautiful", followed by "The Maple Leaf Rag". It was another sign of hope.

    –  Alayne McGregor

Other 2011 Guelph Jazz Festival coverage:

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2011