2013 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival: Ottawa, Canada, June 21-26, 2013
Thankfully, the answer was yes. When the quartet was first announced, reuniting James and Sanborn for the first time since Double Vision (Warner Bros., 1988), the question was: would it be a retread of an album (on which Gadd also appeared) that sold very well, to be sure, but was more aligned with the smooth jazz contingent? While the quartet did revisit some material from that record at its Ottawa show, with this stripped-down acoustic quartet, the group demonstrated that sometimes it's not the song, it's the arrangement. Truthfully the ambling "You Better Not Go to College" that opens Quartette Humaine could, with its easygoing vibe and catchy melody, be interpreted in a smooth context, but here, with no synths to be found, it was just a pleasantly melodic tune, driven by Gadd's effervescent swing on brushes.
It's quite likely that, with Gadd rarely touring and last seen in Ottawa with guitarist Eric Clapton, a good percentage of the fair-sized crowd consisted of both aspiring and professional drummers looking for a few lessons on how it's done from one of the instrument's undisputed masters. Unfortunately, with Gadd positioned at the very rear of the stage and seated so low in his kitand beyond being surrounded by that kit, with chairs, music stands and people in the wayit was almost impossible to see more than his face (expressive though it was, on occasion) and the occasional high-flying stick hitting a cymbal. Still, Gadd, in combination with Colleya masterful bassist who may not normally be a part of this particular musical clique, but who, once again, proved himself more than capable in any contextcreated a formidable rhythm team; even if you couldn't really see Gadd, the chance to hear him stretch out and go for it in a live context was reward enough.
Except that Sanborn and James also played their asses off, in particular Sanborn, a player who has somehow managed to successfully fit into any context as wellhis sadly gone and unavailable Night Music late night TV series representing the last time network television really took some risk and allowed a musical program to sometimes bring together the most unlikely partners from across the entire musical spectrum. Sanborn may have made massively accessible (and, in a time when records actually sold big numbers) massively successful records, but he has also released more outré recordings like Another Hand (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1991) to make clear that, when he aims for the commercial market, it's a choicenot a restriction.
Make no mistake, James and Sanborn's show was eminently accessible, with plenty of booty-shaking grooves, like the funky "Deep in the Weeds," which featured an especially tasty solo from Colley, who rarely gets to demonstrate his inner funk but who clearly has it. This was accessible music with plenty of depth and, for those who'd shaped their opinions of James and Sanborn on the basis of their smooth jazz work, time to consider reassessing the situation.
Across the street at the OLG stage, guitarist Gilad Hekselman was already playing in the time it took to get out of the park and cross the street into another, waiting to get through a tight entry line where bags were being checked. A little overboard, perhaps, but the laws are the laws, and while it was only possible to stay for 25 minutes or so of the guitarist's performance with drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Rick Rosato it was a terrific 25 minutes. The last encounter with Hekselman was in 2009 in Montreal, when he was a member of clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen's quartet, and so much has clearly changed since then. He was promising, to be sure, but even then, as he executed cascade over cascade of Mick Goodrick-informed arpeggios and broader intervallic leaps, he still retained some of the influence of the vastly influential Kurt Rosenwinkel on his sleeve.
Not that Hekselman has lost any of these attributes but, in his TD Ottawa Jazz Festival performance, his roots have become far more subsumed into a much more personal style. The guitarist's latest, This Just In (Jazz Village, 2013) is demonstrative of that growth, and a significant evolutionary step over his previous recording, Hearts Wide Open (Le Chant du Monde, 2011). This Just In is augmented, on a couple of tracks, with saxophonist Mark Turner, but it's also largely a trio record.