July 12, 2009


The Ottawa International Jazz Festival for 2009 ran from Thursday June 25
to Sunday July 5. There are four main series of concerts, the Connoisseur Series at Library and Archives Canada, Great Canadian Jazz at Confederation Park, Concert Under the Stars at Confederation Park, and Improv International at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage. In addition, there were free concerts in various locations around town and on the OLG Stage, plus two panel discussions organized by the Jazz Journalists Association and nightly jam sessions. I’ll take you through each major series chronologically, but I should explain that I did not attend every concert of every series.

At the Connoisseur Series, which featured pianists, I particularly enjoyed four pianists whose styles could hardly have been more varied - Toshiko Akiyoshi, Amina Claudine Myers, Patricia Barber and Lenore Raphael.
Toshiko endeared herself to the audience with autobiographical anecdotes which served to introduce each piece she played. Bud Powell loomed large in the anecdotes and in her playing. Amina demonstrated her strengths in gospel, jazz, blues and standards on piano and organ. Patricia Barber was the epitome of chic; the musical equivalent of New Yorker magazine. Lenore chose a selection of standards and elaborated on each one most skillfully.

Because of time conflicts, I attended few of the Great Canadian Series concerts, but one concert I particularly enjoyed featured the gutsy tenor saxophone of Andre Leroux, who was there with his Quartet.

The Concerts Under the Stars came on to the Main Stage after the Great Canadian Series each evening. What little I caught of Dave Douglas’ Brass Ecstasy was very impressive. Dave’s solos were inspired, and the concert was my first opportunity to hear the great French horn player Vincent Chancey in person. Singer Roberta Gambarini lived up to her reputation as one of the foremost jazz singers of our day. The few tunes I heard from Jimmy Cobbs’ So What Band were delightful; I particularly liked the way in which the two saxophonists (Vincent Herring on alto and Javon Jackson on tenor) worked together. Soul singer Al Green put on a polished show to an adoring audience.

The Gary Burton Quartet Revisited kept the audience’s attention, despite heavy rain. Both Gary and Pat Metheny soloed most effectively. Always a treat, the Maria Schneider Orchestra played beautifully, the arrangements being particularly effective. The same material played by an inferior orchestra might be dismissed as purely pretty, but the quality of the arrangements and the players would stifle any such assessment of this orchestra. Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes and his quintet did a strong set and were enthusiastically received by the audience.

The Concerts Under the Stars series ended with Brian Blade and Charles Lloyd. Brian Blade is that rare item; a drummer without ego. His excellent Fellowship Band was a model of restrained power and Brian limited himself to one short solo. Charles Lloyd performed remarkably well on tenor sax and flute for a man of his age, backed by an excellent quartet.

The Improv International series was the reason I missed so much of what went on elsewhere. This excellent series brings in improvisational talent from around the world, starting things off with the brilliant Monk’s Casino from Germany, led by pianist Alex von Schlippenbach. Both trumpeter Axel Dorner on trumpet and Rudi Marshall on bass clarinet were outstanding, and von Schlippenbach demonstrated a rare understanding of Monk’s music.

The high quality continued the next evening with Switzerland’s Zoom. While all three musicians were excellent, trombonist Nils Wogram stood out as a world-class player. French pianist Baptiste Trotignon brought in four Americans to play with him. His playing was very sophisticated, and excellent solos were heard from Mark Turner on alto sax and Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and flugelhorn. Crystal Magnets was the disguise behind which French pianist Benoit Delbecq and Canadian pianist Andy Milne hid their piano duets. Music of a very high quality.

Some people found the Finish group Ilmiliekki unsatisfying, but I found that what they lacked in fire they made up in subtlety. Perhaps they suffered from comparison with the enormously dynamic and enjoyable Trio M (Myra Melford, Mark Dresser and Matt Wilson). It was obvious from the start that this trio just loves playing together, which they demonstrated by great musical empathy and supportive laughter. The series ended with another dynamic trio; Dutch pianist Michiel Braam, Dutch bassist Wilbert De Joode and American percussionist Mike Vatcher. This trio has played together for a long time, and their musical empathy was evident throughout their energetic and energizing performance. This series adds a fresh and vital dimension to the whole festival.

In conclusion, the 2009 Ottawa International Jazz Festival was one of the best ever. Come and join us next year!

Ron Sweetman.

This review was prepared for the JAZZ BLOG of LA SCENA MUSICALE.
See other reviews at: http://www.scena.org/blog/jazz/