Day 8 - Ottawa International Jazz Festival, June 29, 2006
For those who saw that Bayou show eighteen months ago, along with the group's ability to bring fresh ideas to material that they've played for a considerable amount of time, what was most obvious at yesterday's show was just how much the group has opened up, letting the music breathe so much more. Part of that is due to Abbasi paring the group from a quintet that also featured saxophone to a quartet. But it's the group's ability to take the music to more abstract placesan achievement when one considers the knotty irregular meter of tunes like "Kismet and the connection between everyone feels so much stronger. Abbasi's quartet feels like a group that, rather than being a collection of individual instruments, speaks with a single voice.
In a rock and pop world where youth seems to be one of the defining factors, and with few exceptions, aging rockers lose credibility, it's one of jazz's strengths that it has little, if anything, to do with optics. While there are those elderly jazz artists who seem content to rest on their stylistic laurels, there are others who consider their connection with music a real life's work, never retiring from music because it's such an integral part of who they are.
In the case of woodwind multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef, who appeared a part of the Belmondo & Yusef Lateef Sextet at the 8 pm Improv Series at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage, it's clearly a spiritual journey as well. At one point during a sold-out performancewhere, unfortunately, a number of people had to be turned awayLateef stopped playing his multitude of instruments to sing a brief song that kept returning to the line, "Gonna get to the other side. Words that, hopefully, won't come true too soon for the octogenarian Lateef who may have walked a little slower but was still able to deliver a passionate performance, surrounded by a group of French musicians who were clearly thrilled to be playing with this legendary artist.
The sextetalso featuring brothers Lionel Belmondo (tenor and soprano saxophones, flute) and Stephano Belmondo (trumpet, bass trumpet, flugelhorn, conches) along with Laurent Fickelson (piano), Sylvain Romano (bass) and Dre Pallemaerts (drums)delivered a 75-minute set that revolved, for the most part, around modal numbers that featured elaborate horn arrangements but were, more importantly, strong vehicles for some of the most passionate solos heard at this year's festival.
With a frontline of multi-instrumentalists, there was the opportunity for some diverse and beautiful blending of instrumentstwo flutes and flugelhorn at one point, trumpet, oboe and soprano sax another, and bass trumpet with two tenors at yet another. It also demonstrated the strong ability of the rhythm sectionall fine soloists in their own rightto be dynamically attuned not just to what was being played, but to the overall texture of the front line's instrumental mix at any given time.
That a man in his mid-eighties can play with such strength as Lateef is remarkable. On tenor, in particular, his tone was bold. But whether he was playing saxophone, flute, wood flutes or oboe, it seemed as if every phraseevery notewas being squeezed out of the depths of his soul. His ability to build powerful statements, ranging from gently lyrical to aggressively spirited, never lost focus, with the Belmondo brothers, in particular, shouting out in affirmation during especially profound moments.
But as much as Lateefwho, like the Belmondo brothers, sat on a stool front and center---was an inescapable presence on the stage, the players around him, while less-known, were strong foils for his own exploratory style. Stephane Belmondo, in particular, constructed solos that, regardless of the instrument, were potent with possibility. His bass trumpet work, in particular, was notable because it's an instrument that's rarely heard and, with a range somewhere between a trumpet and a trombone, allows for the best of both worlds.
Romanowho, like many others playing at the festival, borrowed local bassist John Geggie's instrumentproved that while a good instrument is essential, the sound of the instrument is more than just its own qualities. It's also not about the obvious differences in playing style. It's just as much a matter of physiology, touch, density of fingers, etc. that determine how an instrument sounds, and in Romano's hands, Geggie's bass sounded warm and rich. His support in the rhythm section was unmovable, and he took a lengthy solo at one point that managed to be both thematically strong and, ultimately, exciting as well.