Kamasi Washington at Ottawa Jazz Festival

20 minutes after the soft-opening of the 2016 edition of the Ottawa Jazz Festival kicked-off, the first song of nearly a 2 hour set by Kamasi Washington and his dynamically led band had finished their first number.  Kamasi thanked and welcomed the crowd to tremendous applause, and began his evening long pattern of personal storytelling.  Of how he met each of his band mates, how they affected him musically, and why they are here.

It’s not what you have in life, it’s what you do in life that’s important

He introduced a song that he wrote about his grandmother while also inviting his father, who "taught me everything I know" to the stage.  Kamasi mentioned that his mother always said "It's not what you have in life, it's what you do in life that's important", and he followed that theme throughout the evening.  What he did up until this point was to get real good at what he does. At playing the sax, at composing music, at producing albums, and on display this night, band leading while directing focus on some of the works of the masters in his ensemble.

Kamasi told the story of meeting trombonist Ryan Porter back when he was in school.  This story described how he heard the most emotional playing he'd ever heard in the hallway. Expecting to find an old 87 year old man who lost 3 wives and 7 grandchildren, he was surprised when he came upon Ryan.  He asked "what happened to you man? where's all this coming from?". Ryan responded "This morning, I wanted to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Turned out, I was out of bread."
That's when Kamasi knew he had to play with this guy.  Then he introduced a song composed by Porter and tore the place up.

Miles Mosely, who balanced against his upright bass which also sported his Twitter callsign @milesmosely on the massive pick guard, was introduced as the greatest bassist on the planet, "though I've heard there is someone on Mars".  Miles was then featured for one of his own songs on an upcoming album "Abraham" (due in September).  He started working the bass with a bow, then added some wah pedal (that's when it was evident that he had a string of electronics to play with as well), added a bit of distortion, began shredding a bit, started singing while grooving as the band joined in to complete this powerful fucking jam.  It was incredibly dynamic. It started so delicate and quiet and just exploded into fireworks.  

The drummers were also featured prominently, and both were stars in the stories of Kamasi.  Tony Austin as the 4 year-older super cool guy, when Kamasi was only 8 (they watched ninja turtles together), and Ronald Bruner Jr. was the baby prodigy drummer when Kamasi thought his own three-year-old self was the supreme shit on drums only to be surpassed by a baby at a birthday party.  "Hey, let the baby play your drums."  "Ah shit! no man. He's still in diapers.  What if something happens?"

Both were given some time together on stage to "talk. as drummers do". Both tossed out impressive solos after passing beats back and forth.  The dual drummer setup has been done many times, but these two literally made stereophonic sounds they way they countered each other. Imagine hearing one snare in your left ear, and one in your right, back and forth at differing rhythms…that's what they sounded like, except they had around 30 pieces (give or take) of drums between the two.

Kamasi's father, Rickey Washington, performed between Kamasi and vocalist Patrice Quinn for most of the evening.  When he wasn't playing flute or soprano sax, he was grooving and grinning to the music. Patrice spent most of the evening dancing and sometimes providing some scatted unison over some of the horn lines.  She was reminiscent of a dancing Donna (grateful dead) however, this lady can SING.   She performed the song written about Kamasis grandmother, and at least 2 others. One other was called "the rhythm changes", and it actually may have a few times throughout that song and the evening in very complicated ways.

Brandon Coleman really filled in the grooves and many times sounded like a funky guitarist on that Nord keyboard or Rhodes maybe.  Speaking of guitar, yes, he also picked up one of those keyboards you hold like a guitar.  The left hand seemed to be controlling pitch and voicing but it looked alot like he was fingering notes on a guitar. Not sure how that thing works but it was really fascinating.

Kamasi Washington's mashup of funk, soul, R&B all rooted with master-level jazz was a super treat.  It didn't feel anything like any other night of standard jazz. It was pure spectacle, incomprehensible talent that made everything seem effortless.  It was powerful musically and emotionally.  If there were no seats, the crowd would have been bouncing all night.  Chair dancing came naturally. 

What he did in life tonight was open the audience members attention up to his ensemble, his history, his family, and where his music comes from, where it's going, and where they are all going.   It seems clear that this was a special night and the intimate vibe of a smallish venue may be difficult to experience again as this band leader continues to impress everyone that is fortunate enough to experience him perform.

Built to Spill, Wilco, and Everyone Orchestra - Ottawa CityFolk Festival

Wilco - CityFolk Festival Jeff Tweedy - Wilco

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The growth of Folkfest to Cityfolk is almost staggering to where we are today. Each step in the evolution has provided me with bittersweet memories. This latest jump was far better than any expectation one could come up with. Surely I miss Britannia and especially Sir Charles Tupper when Folkfest had the perfect combination of high quality acts with a small hometown feel but this is now the big-time thanks to the wonderfully redesigned Lansdowne layout. 

The harmonies from Lucious perfectly fit everyone gathering their bits. Upon reflection of our day’s music, this band ended up being slotted perfectly because a tone was set. Attention was grabbed and formulas were going to be thrown out the window. Lucinda Williams and the Buick 6 provided the perfect sundown soundtrack, unlike any I have really seen before. It was a mesmerizing set of Bakersfield outlaw country. Towards the end of that we headed to see our resident player ‘ersh perform with Terra Lightfoot and I melted at one of my favourite performances of the day while they pummeled In The Pines. It was joyously sparkling with angst. 

Built To Spill - CityFolk Festival Built to Spill

Built To Spill then stepped up to the plate and drove us into an alternate existence. “Where am I again?” – usually you have to imbibe for a band to take you on such a journey but not with these guys. They drip psychedelia and their interplay is underrated for how far they get out there. I laughed when I felt ripped off things were over after they covered How Soon Is Now. 

We somehow make it to the main stage for Wilco and adjusted our mindsets realizing they were performing most (if not all) of their latest album Star Wars. By the way, I love Wilco but to be honest I am really pissed off they had the nerve to name an album Star Wars. Thankfully a knee bending Where Do I Begin into Cold Slope every question I had. Those two numbers should remain a part of Wilco’s repertoire for years.

Forget The Flowers and Handshake Drugs exploded after the material from the new album while a nod to the recent past may have provided Wilco’s shining achievement during this set, The Art Of Almost. That was most likely the song of the show. Tweedy played a Les Paul during I’m Always In Love which really gave that song punch and benefited I’m The Man Who Loves You later in the set. Impossible Germany described the course of the set and before I knew it everything was over and I was making my way to all the people I lost during the last 30 minutes on the main stage. Sure enough, they were at Everyone Orchestra. ‘ersh was pounding keys, Andrew Barr was layering rhythms and the conductor looked like the mad hatter from Alice In Wonderland while he showed each of us what our dream job is. This was easily the best band of the day and one of the best improvisational collaborations I have ever seen.

Everyone Orchestra - CityFolk Festival Everyone Orchestra

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CityFolk have really upped the ante on what we may see come through town. It’s entirely possible this becomes my go-to Festival each year. It’s a shame the sound at the Ravenlaw Stage could use some help but that is a minor complaint considering how the grounds are set up perfectly. The bar has been set high for Cityfolk and I am already looking forward to the line up for 2016.

The Barr Brothers Join CityFolk for Some Afternoon Jams

The Barr Brothers - CityFolk Festival

The Barr Brothers revisited Ottawa's CityFolk Festival to close off their current tour for a fab, yet short one hour set that could be described as a standard set of their tunes from both "The Barr Brothers" and "Sleeping Operator".  It was a mostly soothing set that matched the afternoon vibe rather than their higher energy shows when presented with a more complete evening set. The tail end of the set brought out some jams out with "Half Crazy" that could have lead into a crazy extra half hour or so of extended jammy times.

Don't miss The Barr Brothers return for a full show in Gatineau  at the Salle Odyssée on Dec. 4th.  

St. Paul & The Broken Bones On Fire at CityFolk

Tonight was well worth getting into the Horticulture building early to catch St. Paul & The Broken Bones at the Ottawa CityFolk Festival.  The crowd for Van Morrison was so freaking large, and the sound was so freaking subdued that it was pretty easy to make a night out of simply seeing Paul Janeway channel every soul singer ever tonight inside and experience the drive and capacity of his vocal pipes.

Backed by a 7 piece band comprised of trumpet, trombone, baritone sax, vintage guitars, bass, organ and drums, Janeway had directed the band on every power hit with precision.  These guys brought their souls from Birgmingham, Alabama to Ottawa for the first time Friday night and were clearly astounded by the possibly unexpected support and crowd enthusiasm for their set.  Janeway spent many moments with a shit-eating grin, taking in the crowd's massive response to the end of nearly every tune.  

These weren't just tunes, they were epic arrangements with hooks and grooves which built up to some powerful moments.  It must take alot of professionalism to suit up and perform with such zest in a room that had just the right temperature to incubate yeast or yogurt. It was very warm and sweaty, as evidenced by wet 3-piece suits and dripping the dripping foreheads of the musicians.  

St. Paul & The Broken Bones

Janeway dropped to the floor so many times with mic in hand to belt out words much like Otis Redding might have done if he were to take on CityFolk festival, or even John Belushi's greatest moments in the Blues Brothers.  Nearly any time the lyrics and vibe referenced love, he directed it at people in the crowd pulling them in even further.  It was kinda "one of those nights" that will be remembered as a special evening in the history of the festival.

With so many iphones and androids rising above the heads of the crowd, one might expect some sort of speech about recording or paying attention to devices but Paul took full advantage, playing into the phones lenses, singing directly into them. It would be absolutely amazing if someone out there got them all together and made a super cut.  This must happen at every show.  He absolutely loved to bring everyone close and share his talent for the benefit of their social graphs.

They pretty much played their entire one and only album "Half The City" along with a number of soul covers.  One stand-out unexpected cover came in the form of "I Want You" (Beatles).  The guitarist switched to a Gibson ES which would mimic John Lennon's Epiphone used on the original recording for perfect tone.  They certainly took advantage of the loopy moments of the song without stretching it out too much since it was part of their 3 song encore.

Keep an eye out for St. Paul & The Broken Bones as there's no doubt they will return once again for another festival in Ottawa after this performance.

Avett Brothers Reunite with Ottawa at CityFolk Festival

It didn't take long to appreciate the new venue for the Ottawa Folk Festival which couples well with the new brand CityFolk Festival and also hosted the Avett Brothers for a supremely prodigious main event set.  The new location at revitalized Landsdown park features a broader spectrum of folk music, invites the inhabiting folk and accentuates the city's ability to host incredible live music of genres that aren't as diverse as many might describe what the Bluesfest has become.

It's fair to say that the organizers have been adjusting Bluesfest year-to-year in order to continue it's success as a world-class festival to a position where it can please everyone on some level, based on pop trends rather than a more focused demo.  The CityFolk festival appears to be more contained within a realm of more common musical styles that likely promote the purchase of a full festival pass rather than a sales model of short 3-4 day packages.  It might not be a remote idea to imagine a rebranding of Bluesfest in the near future if CityFolk festival succeeds with this year's bold alteration.  It's clearly off to a great start.

There is an outdoor venue that is meant to hold a large outdoor crowd as one would expect at an outdoor music festival.  A welcomed partitioning of standing area and lawn chairs really made moving around much easier, without having to negotiate various sized plots of land taken up by crazy chairs in random locations.  This also helps foster a more engaging connection between the musicians and the audience without having to urge folks to stand up.  

There are 2 indoor venues that have the feeling of being in an open space utilizing two legacy buildings to host more live music as side-stages while providing an opportunity for continued entertainment in the event of rain.  However, the main interior venue only has a capacity for 750 music lovers, despite clearly having plenty of space to hold more.  Bylaws ftw!  

There were a couple of hundred people outside while Wintersleep were playing a late set after the Avett Brothers engaging performance tonight, who would not make it inside.  In order to be assured entrance, one will likely have to leave the main stage area possibly a half-hour before the main performance has finished.  

Speaking of the main performance, the Avett Brothers returned to the festival for their third peformance to a very happy crowd. With perfect weather (and well beyond any expectations for Ottawa mid-September), and contrary to their last visit performing in the pouring rain, the Avetts seem to have kicked up their ability to exist as a rootsy-indie-folk-rock band.

Avett Brothers - CityFolk Festival

It's hard to describe them as they encompass themselves within an arrangement of acoustic instruments like banjo, cello, piano, acoustic bass and guitar while extending their reach with a semi-acoustic electric guitar, organ, drums and a Rhodes for a slice of funk.  Their fundamental version of Laundry Room for the Cardinal Sessions is a great example of a song that benefits from their ability to layer more musicians and parts, preserving their unique hooks and providing more energy.

There were some moments that proved their evolution in the last few years with their knack in stretching out the feel and vibe of their performance.  There were a few solid moments of improv, including a drum solo that wasn't pretentious, some controlled guitar feedback, plenty of guitar poses and rock-and-roll bouncing around the stage directing the crowd to dance, and clap along in-concert.  This wasn't as easy to pull off in the rain two years ago btw.

Wintersleep

Wintersleep completely poured a musical experience all over those lucky enough to pull themselves away from the main event into the Ravenlaw Stage area.  This crowd was serious about Wintersleep, they were all there for the band and weren't just taking advantage of having paid for a festival pass.  If there's anything worth seeing inside this building, be sure to get their early or risk missing a sweet experience *cough* (St. Paul & The Broken Bones - friday at 10:00 pm) *cough

The CityFolk Festival doesn't just retain the charm of a smallish yet powerfully memorable music festival, but it really seems to be anchored by it.  With it's new prospects,  this version of FolkFest 3.0 matches the zeal towards a positive communal impact.