Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Early This Morning

Everyone knew last night's jam session at the 2010 TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival had the potential to go nuclear, what with Joe Lovano, Roy Hargrove, Matt Wilson and Manu Katché in town with their respective bands.

The hang at the bar—with Wilson, Lovano, Cuong Vu and others—was terrific, but what was happening on the bandstand was something else again. I left before Lovano sat in, but my friend Peter Hum captured it all here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

De-construction Site

Of the many myths shattered or illuminated by Robin Kelley's engaging biography of Thelonious Monk, one of the most revealing was that Monk, Kenny Clarke, Dizzy Gillespie and the other denizens of Minton's Playhouse did not set out to deliberately confound their musician peers with their new music. Rather, it was a situation where talented, young musicians collectively sought to play their way out of idiomatic dead-ends that had developed: apply these substitution chords to this structure and see what happens.

The allusion to that 70-year-old revolutionary step was impossible to miss when Mostly Other People Do The Killing morphed from one of their speed-jazz original compositions into Gillespie's "A Night In Tunisia" inside the OLG tent at last night's gig at the 2010 TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival. Today, most young musicians who go through BMusic programs at NYU or the University of Michigan graduate knowing more about harmony than Monk and his associates knew at the end of their lives. They don't only know how Stravinsky influenced Charlie Parker; they also know how Parker influenced hip-hop artists who influenced Jason Moran and Robert Glasper. The world is a bigger place, and every young musician worth his or her AFM card knows how to get around it.

Let's blow it all up, agreed bassist Moppa Elliot, trumpeter Peter Evans, saxophonist Jon Irabagon and drummer Kevin Shea. With a sensibility that seems equal parts Spike Jones and The Bad Plus, MOPDtK shred musical conventions with all the abandon of the boppers and all the reverence of Ornette Coleman. They drive people out of their gigs in anger, and drive just as many people to yell lusty encouragement.

What those who leave miss is the level of technical skill that the quartet brings to the music. Evans is a ridiculously talented trumpeter who once told me that he takes as much influence from Cootie Williams as he does from Don Cherry. That he can take cues from both pioneers and create something new—like the burbling phrases he played through a close-miked Harmon mute, doubling Elliott's bassline—is the kind of thing that makes MOPDtK the most-exciting live band I've seen in quite a while.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Painting With A Full Palette

A few years ago, a jazz composer told me that he was genuinely sorry when he graduated from university, because it meant that he didn't know when he would next get the chance to hear his music played by a full ensemble.

Such is the lot of the composer/arranger. Famously, during the 1950s, the great Gil Evans languished for years in the wilderness (his New York City apartment, actually) before Miles Davis swept him up, rich with a new Columbia Records contract.

From the stage in Confederation Park last night, one of Evans's most-prominent successors—Montreal-based Christine Jensen—thanked people for coming out to hear what she said was the equivalent of a month's work for a small group: three prime-time gigs with her jazz orchestra. Featuring her gifted older sister Ingrid on trumpet and electronics, Jensen's band is studded with many of Montreal's finest players, and her compositions—many of them inspired by the landscape of Vancouver Island—are rich additions to the jazz orchestra canon. It's great to hear the band, but just a shame that more people won't get the chance.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Smokey Does It

It's so easy to be disappointed by your childhood heroes, and I've seen my share of elderly rock, blues and jazz performers coasting their way through a set to the next paycheque. I was prepared for a pleasantly nostalgic evening in the company of Smokey Robinson, but was suitably impressed by a consummate professional who still knows how to show an audience a great time.

He might lay the sex appeal on a little too strong for a senior citizen, but while he's cooing about lingering in bed with his lover he's also reminding you that he's the man who showed Marvin Gaye how to be sensual onstage, and the master who schooled young Michael Jackson. Mr. Robinson still has it, and while he might look a little silly at his age in red leather pants, 37 Top 40 songs give you the right to do just what you want. He rested his voice on the opening pair of songs, leading me to think that he didn't have much left in his high range, but for the rest of the evening—and it was a lengthy set—his marvellous instrument seemed as supple as ever. There's a lot of show biz in his act but, in spite of the set patter and the pair of dancers who took me back to that part of my youth that was "misspent" hanging out at the Coppertone Revue on the midway of the local carnival, he seemed to be in the moment and having a great time interacting with an audience that was happy just to be spending a beautiful evening with him.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

At Least The Pestilence Missed Us

So, Day -1 of the 2010 TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival (the festival officially starts tomorrow) began with reports of bad weather... so bad in Chicago that drummer Max Weinberg and his big band were grounded long enough to miss their narrow transportation window.

Then, an earthquake hit. Only a 5.5—a mere shiver by Haitian or Californian standards, but pretty severe in this part of North America—but enough to throw travel into additional disarray (did I mention that the Chinese president was arriving in the city, shutting down the airport and various roads?). That threw Gil Scott-Heron off his schedule. First he was flying to Montreal and being driven to Ottawa, then direct to Ottawa but delayed, and then...really delayed.

Scott-Heron's backing trio gamely took the stage in his absence—by this time it was raining pretty steadily—but with just keyboards, sax and congas their repertoire was mighty limited.

Scott-Heron finally joined his band around 10 p.m. (his show was originally slotted for 7:30).

Now ready for the real thing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's On!

Moving to my onsite office tomorrow afternoon for the start of the 30th annual TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival. Hoping to do some blogging, time permitting.

Every year—whether I'm working for the festival or just observing—people ask me which acts are on the top of my list. There's so much to choose from over 12 days of music, but I will pick one band to highlight.

A few years ago, in Vancouver, I caught guitarist Gord Grdina's Boxcutter with clarinetist François Houle and fell in love with them. Grdina is an exciting soloist who brings something of a punk attitude to music that alludes broadly to John McLaughlin, and Houle remains an underrated master of his horn. I'm hoping this band will transport me again, and win a huge bunch of Eastern Canadian fans.

See you at the festival.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Drum Line

I ran into a young man at a family wedding reception yesterday, and I found out he was entering Humber College's jazz program in the fall. He's a drummer, and we started discussing some of the great ones at this year's TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival, which kicks off with free concerts on Wednesday. Here's a partial lineup:

June 23: Max Weinberg
June 24: Ted Warren
June 25: Rudy Royston and Vinnie Colaiuta
June 26: Han Bennink, Barry Romberg and Gene Lake
June 28: Billy Martin and Paul Lytton
June 29: Francisco Mela, Otis Brown III, Manu Katché and Matt Wilson
June 30: Matt Wilson
July 2: Ari Hoenig

Calgary Jazz Fest Cancelled

Just when you think it's safe to go back in the water... The sudden cancellation of the Calgary Jazz Festival, which was slated to open tomorrow, is a shocker.

News reports say that the festival's board of directors made the decision after a six-hour meeting on Saturday.

The festival, which is centred around the downtown area's Stephen Avenue and Olympic Park, was to have featured Chick Corea, James Farm (featuring Joshua Redman), Pancho Sanchez, Cedar Walton and others.

Addendum: Interesting to note, for those wondering about why this fest might've failed, there's not one word about the festival on the Calgary Herald's web site—neither about its cancellation nor heralding its launch, which was to happen tomorrow. Looks like a case of, what if they held a festival and nobody cared.

Addendum 2: The Herald finally reported. More details here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

One Week From Now

If you're in Ottawa next Friday, June 25, you're in luck.

Good enough that you'll have a chance to see Christy Doran, Jamaaladeen Tacuma and company pay tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers (with Eyvind Kang and Rudy Royston), Syrian superstar Omar Souleyman and Herbie Hancock, but from 2–3:30 pm you can catch major domo Michael Ricci and managing editor John Kelman, talking about their business model and what the future holds for digital jazz journalism. just won yet another Jazz Award from the voters of the Jazz Journalists Association, and it is far and away the most successful attempt at creating an online alternative to the traditional print magazine.

Michael and John will be discussing their work at The Black Tomato in the Byward Market. Drop by, have a beer and enjoy. Then come back to the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival for an evening of amazing music.

So, make your plans now.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sound The Trumpets

I was on Sarah Onyango's radio show the other morning promoting the 2010 TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival, and as I was rhyming off some of the highlights it suddenly struck me what an astounding array of trumpeters will be in town between June 24 and July 4.

How's this for a trumpet summit?

June 24: Kevin Turcotte
June 26: Ingrid Jensen and Eric Boeren
June 27: Peter Evans and Kevin Dean
June 28: Paolo Fresu and Axel Doerner
June 29: Cuong Vu and Roy Hargrove
July 4: Tom Harrell, Christian Scott, Lina Allemano and Tomasz Stanko

Monday, June 07, 2010

The View From (Way) Back There

Just found this excerpt from a video about my old radio station, CKCU-FM, in Ottawa. I think it was shot in about 1984. Who designed those early '80s glasses, anyway? And why did we wear 'em?

Damn, I wish I still had that red flannel shirt, though. What happened to that thing?

And, sad to say, you still can't hear Ornette Coleman on commercial radio.