Since it's the Ottawa Jazzfest, one might expect non-stop jazz throughout it's lifecycle, but it's sometimes difficult to figure out what style of music the brand is pushing. Much like the Ottawa Bluesfest and the Ottawa Folkfest, the brands don't necessarily have to match what is being put on. Everything is in game, and that's a good thing and why they are so big and last so much longer than they used to.
The two constant threads are live music (aside macbook toting DJ's of course) and evolution. Here's a suggestion for unification that will really nail ottawa on the live music map of the planet. Merge all 3 music festivals into one summer long event that has three phases. The Ottawa International Music Festival (or something way more uniquely cool sounding like Bonnaroo - or something that acronyms really well like TIFF. OIMF?). With breaks of course, broken down into the June Edition (jazzfest), the July Edition (bluefest), and the Augtember edition (folkfest) like they already are.
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite were definitely brand-on. Rather than hooking onto many of the styles he can stage a show to, he and Charlie put together an hour and twenty minutes worth of deep feeling, muscle relaxing blues. The set of tunes injected a range of energy somewhere in the toe-tapping, leg-moving, and bouncing-up-and-down spectrum.
This production of blues would fit extra nicely at the Ottawa Bluesfest brand next week as well, but there doesn't seem too much room for blues while so many diverse styles are available. Each of the festivals have the same opportunities, and the Jazzfest brought Ben Harper's blues to Ottawa at a beautiful stage on a night with the scientifically measured perfect temperature and humidity for live music.
The show mostly featured their album together, with Ben mostly on a lap guitar, Charlie blowing smokey blues through one of those regular harmonicas that everyone has bought at least once...but have never committed to learning, and both sharing vocals. The setlist was loaded with their recent album which will probably add a few purchases in their publishers pockets, and included a couple of Charlie Musselwhite's songs extending to Muddy Waters and Led Zepplin/Memphis Minnie.
Around 10-ish, they offered their thanks and goodbyes for the "we're done!" fake-out that wastes alot of time and energy to get everyone off of the stage only to return moments later. Prince does this shit 5 or more times at his shows!
Two encore songs in and it was possible that he might take on his Marvin Gaye summoning cover of Sexual Healing when other the band members moved off the stage leaving Ben and Charlie together. The setup seemed right because of the opening quick little lick Ben flicked, yet it really turned out to be very well received mellow tune from their album "You Found Another Lover (I Lost Another Friend)", closing out with another album tune, "All That Matters Now".