Jazz for all
Stellar lineup has something for everyone
How star-studded is the lineup at this year’s TD-Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival? So strong that web ads for the June 20-July 1 event leave out pianist Brad Mehldau — widely regarded as a leading jazz light of the thirtysomething generation.
The ad gives top billing to Herbie Hancock — unsurprisingly so, given that the 68-yearold pianist this year took home the Best Album Grammy for River, his tribute to Joni Mitchell. What’s more, Hancock’s June 22 show is his only Canadian festival performance this summer.
Hancock shares the top of the ad marquee with Gladys Knight and Madeleine Peyroux, two female singers who appeal mightily outside the jazz hardcore as well as within.
Then there’s mention of the rebanded 1970s jazz-fusion supergroup Return to Forever. Festival executive producer Catherine O’Grady says RTF has sold faster than any headliner in festival history. Finally, the ads mention Wynton Marsalis and Charlie Haden — jazz A-listers to be sure.
And none of this is to mention the shows of Afro-pop superstar Salif Keita, pianist Oliver Jones or clarinetist Buddy De Franco.
The festival has depth beyond its biggest attractions, with numerous indoor shows.
Avant-gardists are in for treats from the bands of guitarist Dom Minasi, bassist Carlos Bica, pianist-harpist Iro Haarla and the reeds trio of Tim Berne, Chris Speed and Lotte Anker. World-music buffs will want to take in the Israeli group Common Bond, Amir Amiri, master of the Iranian hammered dulcimer, and Toronto guitarist Michael Occhipinti’s Sicilian Jazz Project.
Those with a historic bent won’t want to miss the first Ottawa performance by saxophonist Lee Konitz, a hip jazz force since he played with Miles Davis in 1949. The lineup of contemporary Canadian jazz is not as strong as it could be, but the shortcomings are made up by Nordic Connect, a dazzling quintet featuring trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and her saxophonist sister, Christine, and by saxman Joel Miller’s band Mandala.
Here are our recommendations, plus those of critic Alex Hutchinson. Herbie Hancock Sunday, June 22, 8:30 p.m. Confederation Park
Hancock — Grammy winner, and named to Time’s list of most influential people — is jazz’s man of the hour. After 45 years he’s still making vital, in-the-moment music. While River was a relatively mellow tribute to Joni Mitchell, Hancock usually lives dangerously on stage, challenging himself and his bandmates to improvise out of their comfort zones. Two young female singers, Sonya Kitchell and Amy West, will join his powerhouse band, which includes saxophonist Chris Potter and bassist Dave Holland. Renaud Garcia-Fons Trio Monday, June 23, 4:30 p.m. Library & Archives Canada
Born in France but of Catalonian roots, Garcia-Fons comes naturally upon his love of flamenco, Mediterranean and Oriental music. Blessed with astounding technique, he makes his five-string acoustic bass sing like no other, manipulating it like a viola, guitar and hand drum. Of all the shows at Library & Archives, I pick this one to dazzle. Joel Miller Mandala Saturday, June 28, 6:30 p.m. Confederation Park
Montreal saxophonist Joel Miller has been pegged for years as a composer worth hearing, and he just keeps broadening his art. These days, Miller’s group, Mandala, makes multi-hued jazz of a different kind, with finely crafted writing for three horns, wordless vocals, strains of roots music and acoustic guitar, and burbles of electronica. Few Canadian composers embrace this jazz-without-limits sensibility so thoroughly and personally. Brad Mehldau Trio Sunday, June 29, 8:30 p.m. Confederation Park
In 2002, I had doubts that Mehldau’s highly nuanced music would work in the expanse of Confederation Park.