3 pointsAlison Krauss packed Marion Dewar Plaza with the most attentive crowd I've seen in recent memory. Though a little bit quiet through the main speakers, and muddled by wine-tent yakking, the audience tried their best to catch every breath and fiddle twiddle the songstress shared. Her band was comprised of Nashville magicians, softly singly sweet songs of love and sorrow in unmatched harmony. You know music is working when you are truly taken away- and at moments during this set I found myself exploring deep recesses of my mind, just freely wondering... Where will it all go? (I'm not sure) - Is Mr. Dress Up still alive? (no- Ernie Coombs died in 2001, I Googled it) - Should I be trying to write fiction so there is no accountability? (Probably). It was a lovely set, and definitely primed me for the jaw-dropper to come. Tartan stage hosted The Jerry Douglas Band, in what can only be described as a close encounter of the 4th kind, the Jazz-Grassian kind. There was a power and energy on that small stage which is not often available to mankind- it was almost divine, or maybe alien. Spacey, exploratory and dense music danced into our hearts with grace and precision. The combination of tenure, experience, confidence, and genuine delight in music-making seduced revellers to the point of ecstatic convulsion (That is just how I dance, Ronny!). Jerry looked like a mature southern ranch owner, with a twinkle in eye and a knowing flash in his toothy grin. He's the uncle we all wish we had, with his perfect leather boots and winky smarm. He could be a character in a Quentin Tarantino movie, played by Don Johnson, or Jeff Bridges. Jerry earns his reputation, and as 'the best dobro player in the world' it comes as no surprise that Jerry would have the best Nashville hot-shot soon to be elites in his band, and he gave them all an opportunity to strut their stuff. They collectively sashayed the audience through a mesmerizing 90 minute masterclass in musicianship, style and excitement. With some of the most riveting interplay and compositional creativity I've enjoyed in a long time. All members were off the charts, but guitar player Mike Seal was a show-stopper, calmly picklessly picking his matte Ibanez like a modern Roy Buchanan with something to prove. His speed and tasteful layering often brought Jerry to smile, and their mutual grins were exceptionally cute, and kind of heartwarming. I guess, I'll include my phone note: It was like Zappa was arranging for Garcia and Rice. Departing on my bicycle with a strong soberish music high- the world seemed just a little more beautiful.
1 pointMonday night's lineup at Ottawa Jazz fest stood-out like a beacon of hope for me for several weeks leading up to the event. It was the kind of bill that was like a mysterious and exciting hooded rider..You know the kind? With a leather satchel, on a dark horse.. in that, you don't know what's under the hood, what's in the satchel (like bread? or firecrackers? who knows!), or if the horse is fast or lazy. Or lame. What a bloated, unsatisfying metaphor, I know, I apologize- but it fits here. Frankly, for so much hope, the evening ultimately provided only diminishing returns. The event kicked off with a taste of Jazz-Punk from amazing local heros Fet Nat in the Tartan Homes tent- another brave booking in a desirable time slot. Really, what better way to celebrate St-Jean Baptiste day, than being musically terrorized by a group of Quebecois nationalist noise-anarchists in the heart of English Canada's Golden Triangle? I guess the wise elder crowds got the memo, as attendance was poor. Regardless, the band performed with memorable energy and positivity in a riveting though short set. They are a lot like early Pod-era Ween in their sounds, with no interest in traditional songwriting or money-making. Fet Nat tore through heavy dissonant grooves and distortion with screaming and vocal modulations which brought me personally, great delight. The band used social commentary with humour to get a reaction, and leave you with something to think about. For example: the 'singer' / 'host' directed the sparse crowd to shift their seating comically using cute handmade child-like signs and traffic police-like direction, while other band members were screaming aggressively and pointing accusatorially at audience members. Then, the group thanked everyone cordially for their participation sheepishly, in a high pitched mouse voice- again very satisfying. I did have difficulty at times understanding the all-French lyrics, and felt bi-lingually inadequate, as per usual. Time to tune into French CBC a little more often, I guess. Local sax player Linsey Wellman adds some wonderful texture to the group, and their drummer Olivier Fairfield is one of my favourites to watch, using only a kick, snare and hi-hat to great effect. One of the set highlights was his son climbing onto the stage and cozying to his kit as the ferocious drumming continued. Looking forward to seeing this band again. Chaka Khan on the main stage provided a rare opportunity to scream 'Chaka Khan!' loudly and specifically- which was also a delight. Especially when it draws an irritated look from my favourite CBC voice, Lawrence Wall. Chaka took the stage with her huge backing band of world class players- and brought the smooth funky disco of the late 70s to the Plaza. Her band was most certainly super badass. It's not often you see a leather do-rag coupled with aviators glasses, a pink Stratocastor, rhinestone everything, and infinite sparkles all in one place without irony- and it somehow worked. The group had some great choreographed struts and rock squats, and kept the groove moving all night. The sound was a little bit on the harsh (digital?) side, and sorely lacked the necessary warmth of disco vinyl. I suppose this is a result of the concrete. After thrilling the audience with 'Tell me Something Good", and 'I'm Every Woman' - she shuffled off the stage without an encore, and just like that - Chaka 'Gon. I can't say if it was a good set for her, but it felt a little bit flat for me. Over to the Tartan Home's stage for - Knower - one of my most anticipated events of the festival. A weirdo duo from Los Angeles who incorporate funk, and upbeat dance rhythms in their tunes, have produced a series of ridiculously irreverent songs and videos which are impossibly catchy and clever; including - 'The Government Knows (when you masturbate)", "Butt N Tits N Money", and others whch have recently captured my heart. I enthusiastically sang their praises to several friends throughout the evening- but ended up slinking out of the tent sheepishly, hoping they wouldn't notice when things weren't going as well as I'd hoped. It was kind of like when you really want to take a friend (who has never been) for a great sandwich at Dirienzos, and the day you bring them the bread is staler than those packets of McDonald's orange mix at the back of your cottage cupboard. That kinda thing. First problem was that the show began at 10:40pm, almost 50 minutes after Chaka ended. This is not an acceptable amount of time to go without music at a 'music festival'- but especially on a Monday night. Producers need to start the Tartan Tent stage at 10:15pm, or earlier, even if music overlaps a bit. This way the 'fans' or those who want to shift stages can make that choice. It would also keep music playing and avoids useless lineups, and also prevent the chair-people from staking out inappropriate real estate on the dance-floor. Anyway, the band took the stage to an seemingly epic backing track intro, and then timidly stumbled through a few tracks and motions. They certainly got their groove at certain moments- but the confidence of their playing was lacking and they seemed quiet and concerned. I wondered if they had been introduced to some of Canada's over-potent, soon to be legal, recreational herbage backstage: it was that kind of awkward. Singer Genevieve Artadi looked bashful from the get go- and her voice lacked tone and clarity. The whole band seemed intentionally quiet, which is never a good sign. Drummer Louis Cole played with intensity in compensation. He made some snide remarks about the sponsor, then admitted the duo only met the guitar player and keyboardist that day, so not to judge too harshly. Ooof. They he launched into a drum solo that seemed disconnected from the songs, while the rest of band waited, chatting. I only managed to stay for a few more tracks as I realized I was actually hoping for a big choreographed production with backing tracks that made me move. Something big loud, ridiculous and fun with video- not some timid wank. I really just would like to be entertained, unequivocally- and I feel I'm still waiting for the satisfaction. It was also earlier revealed that St Germain had cancelled their appearance on Wednesday, so I suppose perception played a big part. Hopeful for tonight!
1 pointTo wrap things we checked out the electrifying Israeli 16 piece brass powerhouse marching band, Marsh Dondurma. Sweet heaven! - do yourself a favour and catch these amazing players. Energy and enthusiasm was off the charts as this interactive and playful group got the crowd dancing on all sides of the After Dark tent. Everyone got a turn, and the Crowd response and interplay was incredibly fun and probably extra musical as half the audience appeared to be local musicians smiling from ear to ear in participation. I'm looking forward to checking out their collaboration with Mike Essoudry on his kit Sunday afternoon on the free stage!
1 pointThis year's Ottawa Jazz-fest has successfully rolled itself, temporarily, across Laurier to Festival Plaza, while Confederation Park attends to some boggy drainage issues- a mechanical enema you could say, but probably wouldn't. This environmental investment requires that, for just a year, we trade the cool grass and familiar shady haunts of the park for the exposed concrete digs at City Hall. So be it, we can handle some slight discomfort for the sake of our future environment, right? Although the trademark Festival main stage has been transplanted, some familiar vendors and the free OLG stage remain static along the West end of Confederation. In expanse, the festival footprint now also includes the Tartan 'After-Dark' tent at Lisgar field- so there is a bit of hustling and jockeying required if you want to catch all the action. The scene is quite reminiscent of our early millennial Bluesfest, especially in baby-boomer representation- whose sprawling lawn chairs, festive blankets and healthy prepared snacks occupy 90% of pitch real estate. One glaring difference with the site's previous tenant is the overbearing inclusion of the now inevitable tiered experiences which permeate the festival, with various exclusive tents and fences. This trend unfortunately leaves the 'Average music lover who didn't bring a chair and doesn't mind being with other people' section quite a small slice of the sectional jazz-pie. Nevertheless, the vibe is really quite nice, and subdued, especially on a beautiful night like Friday's where Boz Scaggs and his band entertained a solid turnout with some (very) mature musicianship and several tasty musical treats. Highlights predictably included 'Lowdown' (buoyed by the incredible lady-like falsetto of his hulking keyboardist), 'Jojo' and the smooth party anthem 'Lido Shuffle' which was unfortunately drowned out by an aggressive chorus of drunken elder-bros howling like forlorn manatees. Boz hogged the spotlight in his glowing white shirt and face, dropping a few surprises on the crowd, most notably a cover of Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" which had all the squares twisting like Vincent Vega at Jack Rabbit Slim's, minus the junk and milkshakes. After some whisper quiet blues and a tasty ripping solo from Boz, whose guitar was close to inaudible otherwise during the set, many of us made our way over to the After Dark tent, for Moon Hooch. We tucked in like Trinity Taylor, and felt the tent filling up with an enthusiasm to which, I'm sure, this trio is surely accustomed. The Brooklyn group, comprised of a drummer who clearly loves to rock, flanked by two dialed-in, horny AF sax players, serving a high energy electro-jazz which flirted with house and dub step, while remaining connected to jazz sensibilities and dynamics. Extreme shifts in groove, feel and tempo, kept listeners on their toes and got the crowd moving, and yes, grooving. Looking forward to the week of shows ahead!
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