Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My 10-Day Plan: Life Is Just A Jazz Festival

As summer officially begins, I'll be settling in for 10 days of music at my hometown jazz festival, the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. This time of year often finds me heading off to other festivals on assignment, but sticking close to home I'll be making my own choices about what to see and hear. Here's where you'll find me:

June 20
Dr. John & The Nite Trippers – I came to Mac Rebennack's music courtesy of the late FM DJ Brian Murphy, around the time that the New Orleans singer and pianist was dressing in feathers and glitter and trading on the mystery of Louisiana folklore. In those years, Rebennack's band featured some of the young heavyweights of the Southern rock scene, and they did a great job at stirring up a stew of spacey sounds on songs like "I Walk On Gilded Splinters." Rebennack has moved in many directions since then, and lifestyle choices have not always made for the strongest music. But, like many other musicians his age, Rebennack has cleaned up and rejuvenated himself, and he's sounding better than he has in years.

June 21
Mike Reed's People, Places & Things – A couple of years ago, at the annual Winter Jazzfest in New York City, the buzz among my fellow music critics was all about drummer Mike Reed. In part, this was because New Yorkers can't stand to be behind the curve, and they wanted to see if someone based in Chicago was as good as his advance rep. The other part was just how good Reed's rep is, and the fact that his band includes other promising young players. Reed is one of those drummers who break the stereotype; not only leading a band, but writing compelling compositions that reflect the music's heritage and help move it ahead.

Aoife O'Donovan – Those who follow American roots music—particularly the strands that lean toward bluegrass and Celtic heritage—already knew about the power and suppleness of Aoife O'Donovan's gorgeous voice before she was selected by trumpeter Dave Douglas to join his band for his album of traditional hymns. I've since watched her perform her own music via NPR's video stream, and I'm looking forward to hearing more of her captivating material. O'Donovan has a deep well to draw on (she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music) and represents a broad cross-section of American music.

June 23
Mike Murley Septet – There was a time when Canada's leading musicians—who, for the most part, live in Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal—could afford to take their bands to other parts of the country throughout the year. Thanks to cuts to government funding and rising transportation/accommodation costs, those days are gone, so this is a welcome opportunity to catch up with saxophonist Mike Murley and some of the other great mainstream players—including Kevin Turcotte, Jim Vivian, and Ted Warren—who live in Toronto.

David Byrne & St. Vincent – Guitarist Annie Clark knocked me out the first time I heard her, and I've been a fan of Byrne's since the Talking Heads' debut album. Remarkably, I've never seen Byrne live, so I'm anticipating this show a lot. A free download of this band, which Byrne made available a few weeks ago, demonstrates that it combines the quirky rhythms that Byrne loves with a tremendous horn section.

June 24 
Joe Morris/William Parker/Charles Downs – I think I may have seen bassist William Parker perform more than any other musician in the past 20 years, but I never see enough of either him or guitarist Joe Morris. The great acoustics of the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage should really make an intimate performance of close listening.

Gilad Hekselman Trio – Another highly original guitarist, and another trio—featuring Marcus Gilmore and Joe Martin—that promises to push things into exciting places. I'm not sure how well this show will go over in the 'After Dark' tent, where audiences usually expect more pop-oriented shows, but I'll be happy to endure the likely grumbling and early exits.

June 26
Steve Kuhn Trio with Steve Swallow & Joey Baron – Okay, life is full of difficult choices, but having to choose between two of my favourite Vancouver ensembles (the Peggy Lee Band and the Brad Turner Quartet) and the rhythm section of Steve Swallow and Joey Baron.... Well, this was a tough call, but Baron provided some of my most memorable moments last summer when he appeared in Ottawa with Sound Prints, the band co-led by Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano, and Swallow remains a master of the electric bass. Have to go with this one, as much as it pains me to miss Lee's double-guitar combination of Ron Samworth and Tony Wilson.

June 27
Jason Moran's Fats Waller Dance Party featuring Meshell N'degeocello – I never pass up the opportunity to hear Jason Moran, and I've heard so many great things about his tribute to Fats Waller's social music that this is a definitely a must-see. The combination of the church setting and Moran's giant papier-mâché Waller head may well prove to be the most enduring image of the summer.

June 28
Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up – Two words: Mary Halvorson. I've been singing her praises since first hearing her unique, octave-bending sound with Anthony Braxton. Fujiwara's writing is sharp and smart, and Halvorson is joined by some of her brightest peers, including trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson.

The Bad Plus – The guys in the band readily admit that the first show they played in Ottawa—to a tiny crowd on a ridiculously humid Sunday afternoon—stands as the nadir of The Bad Plus' performing career, and they have subsequently tried to erase the memory of it every time they come to town. I expect no less once more. Always a great time, no matter what they pull out of their trick bag.

June 30
Wayne Shorter Quartet – I equate my experience with this band, which I've seen both in grand concert halls and a Spanish basketball arena, to Miles Davis' post-retirement groups: I feel privileged to spend 90 minutes or so in the company of genius, and I'll happily go where the music takes me. Like Joey Baron, drummer Brian Blade never fails to provide memorable moments on the drums.

Vic Vogel & Le Jazz Big Band – I have a special connection to this show because I'll be introducing it, as part of a tribute to the late Jacques Emond (right, with me at a CKCU-FM reunion), the longtime programmer of the jazz festival who died last winter. Jacques was a knowledgeable big band aficionado and a dedicated supporter of Quebecois musicians. Vic Vogel is one of kings of Montreal's music scene, dating back to the early 1960s. Always filled with some of Quebec's finest session players, Vogel's big band is representative of the kind of jazz orchestras that populated Montreal's nightclubs when the city was recognized by musicians around the world as one of the swingingest places on earth. Jacques would be smiling at this one!

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