Weekend Wrap-up at Ottawa Jazzfest

Written by: Jay McConnery

Friday evening brought fresh temperatures and electric nerves to the Ottawa Jazz Festival at Confederation Park. The (almost) iconic Joel Plaskett took the stage with a slightly newer version of the Emergency, and wrestled with inconsistencies between his brand of punchy Can-Rock and the intangible expectations of Jazz Festival performance.  

It was an abnormally quiet outing. The smaller than expected turnout may have added to the feeling of deflation, but regardless, Joel treated the audience to some acoustic renditions of Thursh Hermit classics, and a cherry-picked a set of hits from his vast catalogue. 

Saturday brought excitement in the form of Peregrine Falls- an eclectic duo that brought comparisons to several Ottawa bands, and returning main stage heroes. Headliners Snarky Puppy offered the most impressive set I’ve seen this year, with the 8 piece collective from Brooklyn pleasantly bending minds and winning hearts un-phased.

The set was playful, and masterfully programmed, bounding between complex and dynamic group movements and virtuosic solos and interplay. The set was the best sounding performance I’ve seen this year, with a crispiness usually reserved for smaller venues.  

The Laurier stage welcomed Groenland who offered some prototype orchestral indie folk rock, in a dimly let engaging setting. The instrumentation was an nice break from the terse intensity of the Puppy. The audience appreciated the deliberate interplay and dense vocal climaxes.

The weekend concluded with the eccentric compositions of Beirut on a rainy evening, with Southern troubadours The Wood Bros. killing it on the Laurier stage.

Steve Miller Band and Ikebe Shakedown at Ottawa Jazzfest

Steve Miller Band at Ottawa Jazzfest

Steve Miller Band - Ottawa Jazzfest Jun. 25, 2015

Written by: Jay McConnery

Flanked by psychedelic Pegasus, the Steve Miller Band galloped through their vast catalogue of classic rock and blues hits Thursday night at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, while spectators shuffled and vaped contentedly. Scraggly haired uncles from around the region gathered instinctively, like so many coastal salmon, tattered and patch-covered jean jackets hauled out of mothballs, and secret one-hitters tucked in neatly.

Security kept things under control, but each small rebellion was cherished. The vibe was happy and celebratory across the park. Every number Miller presented transported the audience back to damp wood paneled basements, or trips in the family station wagon or camp fire sing-alongs.

These songs are truly engrained in the fabric of 70s and 80s mainstream, and it was clearly a real treat for this impressive audience to hear Miller’s trademark rasp with a great young band. Abracadabra represented the group’s most contemporary success, released in 1982, though the group also included a few T-Bone Walker covers being a Jazz Fest and all.  

After the memories finished washing over, many headed over to catch Brooklyn’s Ikebe Shakedown at the Laurier Stage which offered some punchy soul, both danceable and original. The group built and maintained a connection with the audience by relentlessly churning out irresistible grooves which flirted with Afro and Midwest Funk styles but maintained a vibe of its own. I was again reminded that the best moments of Jazz-Fest occur when you’re cashing in your sleep tickets and invest in something new.

Huey Lewis and the News at Ottawa Jazzfest

By: Jay McConnery

Wednesday night at the 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival welcomed 80's stalwarts Huey Lewis and the News to the Main stage.. The performance opened with rising, pulsing throb of 'Heart of Rock and Roll' as members of the 'News' took the stage with dramatic accent. Appearing unweathered, both in attire and performance, hot-shot Huey swung across the stage pendulously, rising in unison with the show's choreographed energy.

Predictable highlights included Huey's 'Power of Love' and Forefavourite 'If This Is It'. A new guitarist filled the Chris Hayes role competently, massaging Huey's thrusts while adding some textured groans and swells during the Bruce Hornsby penned 'Jacob's Ladder'.

The crowd was somewhat sedate, cheering loudly when a few front row dancers were asked to sit by volunteer security, improving their entitled unencumbered view. They were, however, quick to rise up shortly thereafter, when cocky Huey called them hither. Who could resist such a beckon?

Overall a fun set, with a breakout performance from the lighting director who was almost Farley-esque in his enthusiastic toe-tapping knob-twiddling behind the board. Some might question the integrity of a 80s hit-machine on this bill, but a legend belongs on any stage.   

Blind Boys of Alabama w/ Dirty Dozen Brass Band at Ottawa Jazzfest

Dirty Dozen Brass Band with Blind Boys of Alabama at Ottawa Jazzfest

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It seemed like a recipe for a perfectly combined set of music, a mashup of a New Orleans jazz brass band backing a southern gospel vocal group would be a no brainer but the production was a little unexpected.  The show was split up like a showcase for bands, which placed the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the start of the show on half of the stage, with 4 vacant chairs on the other half.  It appeared like they would be joined by the Blind Boys after a couple of numbers, but this half of the bill were solo for around 40 minutes.

They were warming up the audience, calling them to their feet and engaging them to sing along in numbers like "When the Saints Go Marching in".  There was plenty of participation from the less than packed audience, and it still felt a little small mostly because the stage was only half occupied.   A short break was announced as the Blind Boys would be arriving to the stage soon.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band with Blind Boys of Alabama at Ottawa Jazzfest

When the Blind Boys from Alabama appeared on the stage to the welcoming audience, they also began to perform a set alone on their half of the stage.  It seemed like all that warming up from the Dirty Dozen had dissipated and the Blind Boys would need to work the audience back up onto their feet.

Eventually, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band exited the stage leaving the Blind Boys to finish the show.  There was one of those predetermined encore fake-outs that is always part of the live music formula.  Band leaves the stage, crowd screams out for more, band returns acting like the crowd willed them back for more.  In this case, the Blind Boys were led through the curtain opening behind the drums and hid for about 20 seconds before reappearing, along with the Dirty Dozen Brass to play one more.

This was a fun show loaded with great performances, and it could have hit a larger peak had both bands dominated the stage together for the majority of it.