Thursday night featured an unusual, eclectic pairing both satisfying and surreal in downtown Ottawa. Enjoying the last reasonable summer weather before a looming heat-wave, revelers arrived early in anticipation of glimpsing something elusive and jazzy floating into the scene: an overweight pink animal in tilted hat and shades.
Once I arrived, the scene was set.... for the rare.... storied elegance of the infamous, grass fed.... Kyla Ramsey. (Full disclosure: My wife has been an amazing co-conspirator this past week, often developing some of the finer turns of phrase in these reviews: Chaka Gon?- all her. Thanks Kyla!).
Together we sat in the humid humus and hot-doggedly relished the arrival of Bela Fleck the Flecktones, and although no flying hippos were sighted, the evening was certainly cosmic. Bela and the 'tones sounded tour-fresh and dexterous as they worked through a 90 minute set of new and classic material, flanked artfully by the stoic multi-coloured, possibly acrylic Jazzfest columns (or Roman spouts, or trumpet holes- whatever those things are) which have peppered the stage for the last 30 years. Trotting out returning Flecktone Howard Levy on piano and harmonica for his first appearance in Ottawa since the departure of Jeff Coffin, renditions seemed slightly scaled back or re-imagined, which was fine. I did crave the intensity of Coffin at times, but it didn't matter as Levy definitely adds his own flair. Forever young, Victor Wooten's playful style is riveting. He attacks his bass with merciless joy and skill. Joking and smiling on stage, it is clear the band are close friends enjoying these time on the road. Their relaxed approach is, however, incongruous with the music, which maintains a relentless intensity, and a note-count somewhere in the upper trillions. Even still, somehow their compositions remain booth soothing and thrilling. In a heartfelt moment, Bela Fleck shared a piece written for his recently born son, entitled 'Juno' and then the group finished with classic 'Sinister Minister' encore to the great delight of my better and I. Futureman tapped it out methodically all night- though by the look of his weathered hat, and face, it appears the future past may be catching up with his pirateering a bit.
On the (new) late night OLG stage at Confederation Park, (FYI- After Dark Tartan events are now taking place at Confederation Park, and as a result, some of the earlier events have been affected). This night, Tanya Tagaq emerged with violinist Jessie Zubot and drummer Jean Martin for a set of heavy, at times somewhat uncomfortable, but most surely thought-provoking improvisation. It was by no means a groove-fest, but rather a holistically invasive cerebral aural experience. Polaris winner Tagaq easily charmed the audience with her authenticity, modestly introducing the band. Once underway, her set was genuinely intense and at times even monstrous. Her vocal abilities are quite literally unmatched and include everything from traditional Inuit throat singing, to howling, operatic singing and scatting. Tagaq has a natural confidence and musicality that allows her to employ this arsenal with devastating effect. Her themes and rhythms rolled with a rare natural ebb and flow, evoking magic and terror symmetrically. For a set with few deliberate words, themes and connections could be made, often between pleasure and pain in a masterpiece of subjectivity. Tagaq's bravery as a performer is also, frankly, stunning as she dissolves into her performance baring everything of which she is comprised; blood, guts, love and hate, pain and leasure. It's almost impossible to take your eyes off of her- she is a total powerhouse. Without knowing how to quote specific sections, I enjoyed the movement that I recall as "rage/fuck/row/resist'. Her music incites disruptive reflection as she evokes both the struggle and joys of not only Inuit people, or First nations women, but anyone ready to confront themselves on some level, and feel things they can't remember having felt. Go see Tanya Tagaq!