Ottawa Jazz Festival 2009: Days 1-3, June 25-27, 2009
Days 1-3 | Days 4-6
John Stetch TV Trio / Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy / Roberta Gambarini
Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio / Jimmy Cobb's So What Band; S.M.V.
The Botos Brother / Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue / Al Green
TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
June 25-27, 2009
As festivals strive to stay afloat at a time when sponsorships are down due to the global recession, the 2009 TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival (OIJF) got a much-needed financial boost from the Canadian governmentthough the funding came in at the last minute. Still, that added funding, along with the unparalleled efforts of OIJF Executive Producer Catherine O'Grady, made it possible for a triple bill featuring Toronto flamenco guitarist Pavlo, Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra and trumpeter Terence Blanchard to be pulled together in just 48 hours, for a free pre-show on June 24, the night before the festival kicked off officially.
But even if that weren't enough to make front page news (it did, in The Ottawa Citizen), when the festival line-up was announced back in April of this year, it was already clear that the 2009 edition had far and away the best roster of any in recent years. With an especially strong main stage line-up at Confederation Park (in downtown Ottawa just minutes from Parliament Hill) that includes Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy, singer Roberta Gambarini, the bass trifecta S.M.V. (Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten), Gary Burton Quartet Revisited with Pat Metheny, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Julian Lage, Al Green, Esperanza Spalding, Chris Botti, Wayne Shorter, Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, Charles Lloyd and more, there's something for everyone.
And that's only part of the line-up. At the annual Connoisseur Series, in late afternoon at Library and Archives Canada about a mile away, the festival once again focuses on piano with a series of young pianists including John Stetch, John Roney and Robi Botos and more established artists including Toshiko Akiyoshi. Patricia Barber and Lenore Raphael, while the Studio Series in the nearby National Arts Centre boasts a roster including a special performance by trumpeter Enrico Rava and pianist Stefano Bollani, along with a wealth of lesser known talent nonetheless deserving of broader recognition.
As if that isn't enough, in addition to daytime programming at a variety of indoor and outdoor locations to feature local talent, the Improv Series brings an experimental edge to the festival at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage, with double and triple bills including Trio M (Myra Melford, Mark Dresser, Matt Wilson), Andy Milne and Benoit Delbecq Duo, Christy Doran's New Bag and Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher. With a particularly strong focus on jazz that's nearly unmatchable by any other festival its size, it was strong recognition of that singular eminence when, as Dave Douglas took the stage on the opening night of the festival, the trumpeter remarked, "It's great to be playing at a real jazz festival."
- June 25: John Stetch TV Trio
- June 25: Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy
- June 25: Roberta Gambarini
- June 26: Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio
- June 26: Jimmy Cobb's So What Band
- June 26: S.M.V.: Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten
- June 27: The Botos Brothers
- June 27: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue
- June 27: Al Green
Opening a six-date Canadian festival tour that will see him cross the country from Montreal to Vancouver, Canadian pianist John Stetch brought his touring group, featuring Ithaca, New York-based bassist Nicholas Walker and New Brunswick, Canada-based drummer Greg Ritchie, to the National Library, kicking off the 4:30 PM Connoisseur Series with a program largely culled from his recent release, TV Trio (Self Produced, 2009). Stetch feels that the '70s was "the golden age for TV music" and, while that contention might be arguable, there's no disputing the music he chose to adapt which, even when the actual shows they supported were less than high- grade television, worked well within the context of his complex arrangements.
There were plenty of "it's on the tip of my tongue" moments for the audience, as Stetch and his trio worked through everything from a quirky rendition of the theme to The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and a Gershwin-esque take of The Love Boat to a balladic look at Dallas, bright and knotty reading of The Price is Right and fittingly dramatic (and, floridly melodramatic) arrangement of Star Trek.
In covering theme music for The Waltons, Sanford and Son and The Might Hercules, Stetch also broke the program up with three originals. The episodic and appropriately titled "Black Sea Suite" featured an especially impressive, Middle Eastern-tinged arco solo from Walker, and a tough chart that wound its way through multiple meters, feels and keys to make it one of the 90-minute set's highlights. "Oscar's Blue/Green Algebra" was a tribute to Oscar Peterson but, while the late pianist's inerrant precision and incredible virtuosity were being channeled through Stetch, his playing was original and unpredictable throughout, taking simple motifs and working them until they were stretched beyond recognition: indeed, he demonstrated a lighter touch and penchant for the oblique that incorporated many of Peterson's markers into something more contemporary.
It's a good thing Walker works in the classical world as well as in jazz, as some of Stetch's charts were sufficiently complex to challenge even the most accomplished reader. Walker and Ritchie were often reading (though Walker, remarkably, had a surprising amount of the music committed to memory), it didn't stop them from playing "off the page." Still, while soloing and interplay were a part of Stetch's music, the emphasis was on the arrangements, which were filled with stops, starts and punctuationsa particularly entertaining one being a dark, dissonant chord that Stetch injected at the point in The Love Boat theme where the lyrics are "Love won't hurt anymore."
l:r: John Stetch, Nicholas Walker, Greg Ritchie
That ironic sense of humor imbued both the show and Stetch's between-song patter, especially his introduction to the closing Star Trek themedelivered in his best, over-the-top William Shatner voice. It was a fitting ending to a set that may have leaned largely towards the cerebral, but never lost sight of the fun component.
Hot on the heels of recently released Spirit Moves (Greenleaf, 2009), trumpeter Dave Douglas brought his five-piece Brass Ecstasy Band to Confederation Park for an early evening show that wasn't just hot because the temperature was hovering around 30 Celsius as the sun began to set. Much like the album, Douglas and the group trombonist Luis Bonilla, French hornist (though Douglas refers to it strictly as "Horn") Vincent Chancey, tuba player Marcus Rojas and drummer Nasheet Waitscut a wide swath across music ranging from the slow, second line-influenced "This Love Affair" to a booty-shaking take on Otis Redding's hit, "Mr. Pitiful."
While some of the material was kept relatively close to album length, the quintet stretched out more on tunes like "Bowie," an homage to the late trumpeter Lester Bowie, whose Brass Fantasy group was a clear antecedent for Douglas' group, though Douglas' voiceboth compositionally and performance-wiseremains firmly his own. It's a remarkable achievement for the much-heralded Douglas, in fact, that no matter what the context, his voice shines through true and clear. The collage-like "Bowie" ranged from detailed arrangement to moments of pure freedom and some marching band references ("When the Caissons Go Rolling Along"), while "Twilight of the Dogs" grooved more viscerally, though it built up with far greater power during Douglas' impressively serpentine solo.
There was plenty of room for everyone to solo, but some of the hour-long set's most exciting moments came when the trumpet/trombone/horn front-line soloed collectively. With Douglas' embouchure providing a surprisingly broad textural range, the combination was warmer, less brash than might be expected from a brass-heavy ensemble. Chancey soloed less than the rest, but with his horn being an especially difficult one on which to improvise, the challenge made his few features all the more striking. Bonilla delivered a set- defining solo that built to a fever pitch and an abrupt stop during which, it appeared, he considered continuing, then just waved his trombone and walked offstage to great applause and a slap on the back from Douglas.
Rojas, an equally superb player who managed to do things that probably shouldn't be allowed on tuba, was situated upstage, but his sound was a dominant force. Amplified onstage, it was a huge, meaty sound that anchored the group with Waits, capable of laconic melodic counterpoint but also surprising swing, as he walked like a double-bass at a surprising clip during one of the solo sections on "Bowie." He also soloed with surprising dexterity and fluidity. The tuba will never be the same again.
Waits, in addition to rooting the music with a combination of New Orleans funk and more sensitive brushwork, took a couple of characteristically powerful and melodic solos that demonstrated why he's in such demand with artists including Fred Hersch, Jason Moran and the late Andrew Hill.
l:r: Dave Douglas, Luis Bonilla, Marcus Rojas, Vincent Chancey
Douglas continues to evolve, year-after-year. For an artist who has worked with string groups, electronica- tinged ensembles, Eastern European-tinged quartets, acoustic septets and more, it's his impeccable playing that's set him apart in a category of his own making. Demonstrating incredible controlholding long, clear notes within which a soft vibrato occasionally phases in and outhe also displayed constant invention, making him impossible to ignore as one of his generation's most outstanding players. And his egalitarian writing, exploiting fully both the context he finds himself in and the players he chooses, turns every new project into one that may not last indefinitely, but ought to. Brass Ecstasy is Douglas at his most accessible- -even as his charts possess non-pandering harmonic depth and freedom of expressionand was a perfect festival opener to stretch the minds of those who'd come for the more mainstream headliner, Roberta Gambarini.
Firmly planted she may be already, but Roberta Gambarini lays waste more popular female jazz vocalists like the oddly iconic Diana Krall, who doesn't possess even half of the Italian singer's range, interpretive skills or onstage personality. With a crack trio featuring Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Neil Swainson and legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb (the last surviving player on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959), and who'll be performing music from that album with his own group, Jimmy Cobb's So What Band, the following night), Gambarini delivered a 90- minute set that had the audience so rapt that, during its quietest momentsand there were some incredibly quiet moments for an outdoor performance in the heart of downtown Ottawayou literally could hear a pin drop.
Unassuming and with an unforced stage presence that connected with the audience immediately, Gambarini and her trio worked their way through a range of standards, focusing heavily on music from her upcoming release, So In Love (Emarcy, 2009), ranging from the warmly balladic medley of a slightly reworded "Porgy, I's Your Woman Now" and "I Loves You Porgy," from George and Ira Gershwin's enduring opera Porgy and Bess, to a buoyant uptake of "On the Sunny Side of the Street," with a vocal solo modeled after the three instrumental ones on the 1957 Verve album by Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins, Sonny Side Up. Gambarini may be relatively young, but she knows a vast history and repertory of song, culling film music from Ennio Morricone's 1989 soundtrack to Cinema Paradiso, as well as Dave Brubeck's classic "In Your Own Sweet Way" and Billy Strayhorn's often-covered "Lush Life."
Gambarini has chops, but she knows when and how to use them. Scatting with fluidity throughout her wide range, but never overplaying her cards, as the set progressed the singer became more adventurous, taking things "outside" harmonically on more than one occasion in a remarkable display of vocal acrobatics. But as impressive a technician as she is, it's all about the feel, and her emulated flugelhorn solo on the particularly soft and elegant Bruno Brighetti/Bruno Martino chestnut, "Estaté" was an understated high point of the performance.
Chestnut, whose star as a leader seems to remain in a holding pattern these days, proved himself to be an ideal accompanist, sensitive to Gambarini and the centrist nature of the music while still delivering no shortage of virtuosity and adventure. Swainson, one of Canada's great bassists, is no stranger to the festival and here locked, hand-in-glove, with Cobb, one of jazz's most refined players. And while Gambarini was clearly the focus of her audience's attention, she was a democratic and appreciative leader who was clearly more than happy to be working with such a finely tuned trio.
Despite the straight-ahead nature of the music, Gambarini managed to bring an unexpected sound of surprise to keep even the most familiar material fresh and contemporary. Easy on the years, yes; but with no shortage of substance, suggesting that the accolades being heaped upon Gambarini as one of her generation's great singers are absolutely well-deserved.
It would have been enough that 79-year-old pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and her trio put on what may turn out to be the sleeper hit of the festivalwith the show far exceeding even the best expectationsbut for the diminutive Japanese expat, it was about more than just the performance. While the trio navigated its way through a set of challenging mainstream charts (largely Akiyoshi originals) with great energy, nuance and grace, Akiyoshi's spoken introductions to the tunes were equally compelling.
Akiyoshi spent some time explaining how, growing up in Japan in her time (1929-1945), access to jazz music was very limited, and so, at the age of 16, she left for the United States in order to discover "my own idiosyncrasies," as she put it. It was later, in Paris, that she met and became a protegé of legendary pianist Bud Powell, and it was a life-changing experience that has been a part of her makeup ever since. Her anecdotes engrossed the audience and built a warm rapport that made the material she played all the more meaningful, especially the set closer, "Hope," the epilogue of a larger suite commissioned about Hiroshima but, taking place around the time of 9/11, a cautiously uplifting piece that took on even greater significance.
l:r: Mark Taylor, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Paul Gill
Akiyoshi also possessed a comedic tinge, giving an impromptu instruction to drummer Mark Taylora British expat now living in New York but spending much of his time in Japan these daysto play four bars ahead of the group coming in, turning to the audience and saying, "this is what we call 'instant arrangement.'"
As engaging as she was with the audience, her music was even more so. Most people who know Akiyoshi think of her longtime relationship with saxophonist/flautist Lew Tabackin and their Akiyoshi-Tabackin Big Band from the 1970s, but since 2003 she's returned to her activity of the 1950s, focusing more on small ensembles and solo performance reminiscent of her appearance in Concord's Maybeck Recital Hall Series (Volume 36, 1994). Her writing reflected the return to small ensemble and solo work with a number of unaccompanied solo piano passages worked into the material. Surprisingly powerful, Akiyoshi's most distinguishing "idiosyncracy" may well be her ability to create tight arrangements that, nevertheless, manage to breathe and, most importantly, swing. Whether it was on the bright and fiery "Long Yellow Road" or the at times subtle, at times boldly dramatic "Remembering Bud," Akiyoshi's flexibility and remarkable technique captured the near-capacity audience, with each successive solo receiving more applause, whoops and hollers than the last.
Akiyoshi chose two terrific players to round out her trio. Taylor, pianist Monty Alexander's drummer for the greater part of the past ten years or so, was a remarkably crisp drummer whose ears were wide open throughout, and he delivered a number of outstanding solosespecially his intro to "Drum Conference, Third Movement," part of a larger suite Akiyoshi was commissioned to write for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in 2001. While Taylor couldn't replicate the sound of the Taiko drums she used in the original performance, he did manage to evoke the feel of these large oriental drums in a solo of great dynamic breadth. Bassist Paul Gill was a firm but flexible anchor who also received a number of fine feature spots, delivered with lithe ingenuity, and excelled at working with Taylor to maintain the swing, even through some of Akiyoshi's more difficult charts.
Every year the festival has a show or three that fall into the category of "talked about, wish I was there." Those in attendance at the Akiyoshi Trio show witnessed an early contender for most memorable show of the year, while those who didn't may well have to live vicariously through the eyes and ears of those who did.
With 2009 the 50th anniversary of a number of seminal jazz albums, it's no surprise that tributes and reissues have been flowing hot and heavy this year. Amongst the best would have to be drummer Jimmy Cobbwho accompanied singer Roberta Gambarini the previous eveningand his So What Band paying tribute, on the year of its 50th anniversary, to one of jazz's most definitive, enduring and seminal records, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959). Cobb is the only remaining participant on that record still alive, and he put together a crack band that saluted Kind of Blue, doing so in a way that was reverent but not imitative.
Opening with the classic "So What" and performing the entire album in sequence, Cobb's sextettrumpeter Wallace Roney, alto saxophonist Javon Jackson, tenor saxophonist Vincent Herring, pianist Larry Willis, bassist John Webberwasted no time in setting the pace for a set that simmered and occasionally boiled over. Roney stood out, in particular, for the very thing he's been fighting for most of his career. Miles Davis' protegé, the trumpeter has too often been compared with the late icon and considered a clone, something that couldn't be farther from the truth, as his festival performance and a string of terrific albums on HighNote in recent yearsPrototype (2004), Mystikal (2005) and the aptly named Jazz (2007)clearly attest. Davis was an innovator but not necessarily the greatest technician; a player remembered for mining the midrange of his instrument. Roney's reach is broader, with a warmer and more liquid tone, but a more virtuosic approach, even as he continued to apply lessons learned from the predecessor about the meaning of space.
Willis was also a standout, working some of the same territory as Davis alum, Wynton Kelly, but with his own soft touch maintaining an element of cool that contrasted with some of the heat coming off the rest of the stage. Javon Jackson's output as a leader has been met with mixed reviews, but his talent as a player is unquestionable, soloing at length on the equally classic "All Blues" and, if anything, channeling Joe Henderson rather than John Coltrane, who appeared on the album. While Cobb's website advertizes Buster Williams as the bassist, Webber did a terrific job subbing, providing an unshakable yet elastic bottom end.
l:r: Larry Willis, Javon Jackson, Wallace Roney, Vincent Herring, John Webber, Jimmy Cobb
He may not have taken many solos, but it was a terrific opportunity to hear Cobb stretch out and go for it more fervently, as opposed to the more refined approach he demonstrated with Gambarini the previous night. Switching between brushes and sticks, he created the same sense of understated tension-and- release that so defined his work on the original album, but here he played with far more fire. Like the slightly older Roy Haynes (Haynes was born in 1925, Cobb in 1929), Cobb's energy and attention would be impressive for a man half his age, but is all the more so for a drummer who recently joined the octogenarian club.
With so many Miles tributes, the fact is that Cobb, as the last remaining member of the Kind of Blue sessions, has the greatest credibility in putting together a group to pay homage to the biggest seller in jazz history. It was the first smoking set of the festival, and will be a tough one to beat.
Cobb's So What Band may have been the festival's first smoking act, but S.M.V.the triumvirate of electric bass icons Stanley Clarkereturning to Ottawa after his packed-park Return to Forever reunion show last yearMarcus Miller, who's no stranger to Ottawa either, and Victor Wooten, last seen a few years back with his regular group, Béla Fleck and the Flecktoneswas the first to kick serious ass. And it's highly likely that it'll go down as the most powerful funk performance of the 2009 edition of OIJF.
l:r: Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten
With three virtuosic bassists together in a quintet that also included drummer Derico Watson (who's appeared on Wooten's last couple of releases) and Me'Shell NdegeOcello/Chris Botti alum/keyboardist Frederico Gonzalez-Peña, the potential for a chops-fest was high. Heavily attended (approximately 10,500), with people driving up for the show from as far away as Texas, and with no small contingent of aspiring and professional bassists in the crowd (when asked if he was a bassist, one member of the audience turned around and said, "No, but these 16 guys behind me are"), the teaming of some of the most influential bassists from three generations also had the potential for a train wreck of epic proportions, as three low- end fighters duked it out musically onstage.
But while there was no shortage of monster chops and staggeringly high velocity playing, S.M.V. was more about community and collaboration. Surprisingly, not only were there no train wrecks, but a show all about the bottom end remained clearly defined, with Clarke, Miller and Wooten splitting up duties and working parts that came together without ever getting clutteredeven when one of them was holding down things down while the other two played unison runs at light speed.
It was also a funkfest, with the grooves deep and wide. With nearly all the material culled from the trio's debut, Thunder (Heads Up, 2008) even sticking with the running order for the first five tunesit was a booty-shaking evening for some, a master class for others.
With Clarke the elder statesman, what was perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the performance was seeing just how each successive generation was affected by those that came before, taking the innovations and adding to them to create their own voices. Clarke was one of the first to make slapping and finger popping a popular technique; Miller grabbed onto that, but added a more full-bodied sound and his own harmonic mindset to the picture; Wooten capitalized on the strengths of both Clarke and Miller, and expanded the vernacular with his remarkable two-handled tapping, and even more prodigious right hand technique that evoked sounds not normally associated with the instrument.
Everyone got a chance in the spotlight, not just throughout the performance, as they passed solo and in tandem improvisations around like a hot potato, but in extended sections that included an especially mind- numbing feature for Wooten, "Hillbillies on a Quiet Afternoon." Miller's solo not only placed a spotlight on his bass playingand the first of what will, no doubt, be many tributes to the late "King of Pop," Michael Jackson, who passed away suddenly the previous day, playing "Wanna Be Startin' Something" and "Beat It"but his not inconsiderable skill with bass clarinet as well. And while the majority of the set was all about electric bass, Clarke brought out his double-bass for Miller's definitive '80s Miles Davis tune, the greasy "Tutu" (proving that it is possible to be funky on the acoustic instrument), and a solo segment that, while impressive as ever, was largely a repeat of his solo from the Return to Forever tour last yearperhaps the only criticism, as it would have been nice to hear something new and less structured to drive the crowd wildwhich it did.
l:r: Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten
But as much as S.M.V.'s performance was exciting, also including an extended solo from Gonzalez- Peñ that was a dynamic respite from, as AAJ photographer John Fowler put it, "the storm that came before and the one that's coming," it was also the closest thing to a rock and roll aesthetic as will likely be seen at this year's festival. The show might have been engaging had the three bassist been seated on stools across the front of the stage, but it was the coming together as a stage center tour de force trifecta, and the bassists' moving around the stage to work together in various combinations, that made the show as thrilling to watch as it was to hear.
Since emigrating to Canada in 1998 from his home in Budapest, Hungary, pianist Robi Botos has been gathering accolade after accolade, winning (amongst them) the Montreux Jazz Festival Jazz Piano Prize, not to mention playing with a bevy of artists including the late Michael Brecker, Toots Thielemans and Roberta Gambarini. But he's not the only musical member of the Botos family. Father Louis is a drummer who still plays gigs on Norwegian cruise ships, and has spawned two additional generations of drummersson Frank, who also emigrated to Canada and works regularly with Robi, and Frank's young son. And that's not all. Louis' son Lojas is a bassist who, like his father, remains in Budapest, but came to Canada to play with his brothers in The Botos Trio, an exhilarating performance at the afternoon Connoisseur Series that will go down, as shows in past years like that of guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel at OIJF 2004, that brought the house down and were talked about for years to come.
Robi is an astonishing talent who came to piano at an early age and now, at only 30, is mature beyond his years with an ability to write meaningful material and put a new, fresh face on a number of well-known standards. At first reminiscent of Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea in his solo intro to his own "Soon," it quickly became apparent that the pianist has an encyclopedic knowledge of the jazz tradition, channeling a number of sources including Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Kenny Barron, the latter a personal favorite and whose "Voyage" was as good an example of Robi's open- ended and unfettered approach to not only soloingwhere he proved a master of building on motifs, with each one carrying a kernel of an idea that would lead to the nextbut of on-the-fly arrangement as well.
Of course he'd not be able to drive songs into new places if it weren't for the empathic support of brothers Lojas and Frank. It was as if there were a visible cord running between the three as they played, a palpable connection that, while creating some intensely exciting moments, also resulted in passages of great nuance and beautynot to mention some apparent "gotcha" moments, as one brother would suggest an idea and the others would catch on almost instantaneously, but look at each other with surprise and clear affection.
Robi's compositionsmany of them documented on The Botos Brothers (Independent, 2000)- -were as challenging as those from early Connoisseur Series performances, but as complex as they were, they also possessed an effortless sense of composure; unpredictable yet somehow inevitable. Robi largely favors his right hand, keeping his left hand for comping, but he also built his own voice out of the various channeled references with unique use of the piano pedals and dampening of the strings inside the piano to create concurrent staccato melodies and an ethereal backwash. Lojas swung hard, but was a supple soloist and, on the closing number, proved capable of some unexpected funk as brother Frank dug in with a solid backbeat. Frank was equally flexible, and his solo featuresespecially those when he traded eights with Robiwere stunning, often favoring his snare and using space to great effect.
l:r: Robi Botos, Lojas Botos, Frank Botos
Space, in fact, was also a defining characteristic of the group and Robi in particular. Virtuosic he may be, but his appreciation of the power of a decaying note or chord drove not just gorgeous ballads like his reharmonized "Someone to Watch Over Me," but a brighter and equally reworked version of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo." And no matter how far the trio took a familiar song, respect for its essence was clearly paramount. The crowd was more than enthralled; it was so enthusiastic that the applause often went on for minutes, as the appreciative Botos Brothers appeared a touch overwhelmed. It was a spirited and inspired performance that, yet again, raise the bar for a Connoisseur Series that seems to get better each day.
Saturday nights at Confederation Park are usually reserved for dance parties, and the double bill of New Orleans' Trombone Shorty and the legendary Al Green couldn't have been a better pairing for a capacity crowd that approached the ten thousand mark. Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews whose nickname came from when he first began playing trombone as a child and the instrument was taller than he wasis quickly growing into a fixture on the New Orleans scene, playing with artists including Kermit Ruffins, Donald Harrison, Ellis and Jason Marsalis, and Irvin Mayfield.
Left to his own devices, however, Trombone Shorty's recent music leans hard on New Orleans funk with a rock edge, delivering an instrumental version of The Guess Who hit "American Woman" early in the set, driven by guitarist Pete "Freaky Pete" Murano and encouraging people to hit the dance section of the park. Shorty and Orleans AvenueMurano, bassist Michael "bass" Ballard, drummer Joey "In and Out" Peebles, percussionist Dwayne "Big D" Williams, baritone saxophonist Dan Oestreicher and tenor saxophonist Clarence "Trickséy" Slaughtermay have been a little less polished, a little less than perfectly tight, but the excitement was infectious and not only was Trombone Shorty a charismatic front man, but his band mates were equally magnetic, especially Murano and the two saxophonists, who delivered some fine solos throughout the set.
Shorty wasn't just a good trombonist; he had a fine, soulful voice and even picked up trumpet for a few tunes. His tribute to Michael Jacksona medley of the more relaxed "Rock With You" and more up-tempo and booty shaking "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"was clearly thrown together in soundcheck, but the audience didn't care. And while the emphasis was on the funk, Trombone Shorty knows his history, delivering a surprisingly tender version of Louis Armstrong's classic, "What a Wonderful World."
Any shortcomings the group may have had in terms of tightness were more than made up for in energy and intent. Shorty had the crowd in the palm of his hand, encouraging plenty of audience participation and not just filling the dance area, but getting the entire crowd on its feet early in the set, singing along, waving their arms and clapping on command. A great time was truly had by all, and if his show was any indication of how he's bringing it each and every night, there's little doubt that a lot more will be heard from Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, and very soon.
Trombone Shorty may have warmed up the capacity audience, but like the night before with S.M.V., it was clear they were in the park for Al Green, and the legendary soul/R&B singersurprisingly only 63 years old, having started out very young, with his first album released at the age of 19didn't disappoint. He may be a senior, but after a rocking fanfare by his crack band, Green emerged with surprising verve and didn't let up until the 90-minute set was over, an animated performer who captivated the crowd from the moment he took the stage. Throwing roses into the crowd and holding onto a few himself for much of the show, it was a dancing love fest, with a crowd that seemed to know every hit he sangand he delivered a seemingly endless stream of them, though he did play some material from his latest album, Lay It Down (Blue Note, 2008).
With a career as long as Green's, the challenge of making sure that everyone in the audience goes home hearing the song they came for is an almost insurmountable challenge, but in addition to full-length versions of early hits like "My Girl," the singerwhose range doesn't appear to have been affected the least by the passing of time, his seductive falsetto reaching nearly stratospheric notes throughout the set delivered a medley that was more like sound bites, though the brevity of the material didn't matter to the crowd. On their feet for the entire set, the audience sang along, clapped along, responded to every cue from Green, and just flat out had a wail of a time.
Green's groupa large ensemble with horns, two keyboardists, two guitarists, bass, drums, percussion, singers and even two male dancerswas well-oiled, not a note out of place, with a rhythm section that kept the engine running at optimum efficiency. Both guitarists got the chance to solo, including some Hendrix references as one launched into playing with his teeth. The crowd went wild.
But at the end of the day it was all about supporting Green, and support Green they did. 90 minutes and countless hits later with no encore, the group wrapped up soon after Green left the stage and began tearing down just as quickly after the applause died down. Clearly this is a group on a mission and a grueling schedule, but for those 90 minutes, the rigors of the road didn't seem to matter. All that counted was assuring the delivery of an outstanding performance by a true legend that surely left everyone in the audience sated...and happy.
Coming up on days 4-6 of the Ottawa International Jazz Festival: Amina Claudine Meyers, Gary Burton Quartet Revisited with Pat Metheny, John Roney and the Silverbirch String Quartet, Julian Lage Group, Maria Schneider Orchestra, Enrico Rava/Stefano Bollani Duo, Andy Milne/Benoit Delbecq Duo and Sylvain Kap Quartet.
Days 1-3 | Days 4-6