Ottawa International Jazz Festival Concert Review
- For his concert Friday night in the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival?s Great Canadian Jazz series, Montreal tenor saxophonist Joel Miller brought with him an A-list American ringer. The pianist in Miller?s quartet was not just any U.S. citizen. On the bench was no less than Geoffrey Keezer, a former wunderkind who has played at a world-class level for the last two decades. He and Miller are roughly the same age ? in their early 40s ? and they know people in common. What sets them apart is that Keezer has stints playing with jazz legends like Art Blakey, Ray Brown and Art Farmer on his resume.
It speaks to Miller?s level as a bandleader, composer and player than he can bring Keezer into the fold and have him function as a complete and utter peer rather than an overwhelming musical monster. Miller, Keezer, Montreal-based, Ottawa-raised bassist Fraser Hollins and Brooklyn-based, Canadian expat drummer Greg Ritchie functioned as a unified quartet that was greater than the sum of its musicians.
Yes, during solo after amazing solo, Keezer uncorked careening spontaneous melodies and real-time, virtuosic rhapsodizing. But he, the rock-solid Hollins and the deft, sensitive Ritchie also wrapped Miller in the musical equivalent of a group hug as the saxophonist delivered his own burly, exuberant solos.
The group focused on material from Miller?s recent CD Swim, all penned by the saxophonist but for one exception. While he was in his mid-20s, Miller was pegged as a jazz composer to watch. Now in his prime, he?s fulfilled expectations with a wide range of forthright, appealing tunes that tap equally into the jazz tradition and contemporary sounds from other musical genres.
Introducing his groovy, likeable piece Afternoon Off, Miller simply said, ?It?s about this,? and he gestured out to the sunshine and warmth that filled the park before his band played a soundtrack to the flawless weather.
Just as pretty was Drop Off, a spacious ballad, while the racing Nos Etoiles was a song to spark listeners? imaginations and make them dream.
Explicitly devoted to swinging was the set?s opener This and That, which provided lots of rhythmic meat to chew on. The only tune not composed by Miller was Time of The Barracudas, by Gil Evans, but the ever-creative Miller had arranged it to feature Hollins and Ritchie, as well as some thrilling unison work for saxophone and piano.
Several other Miller tunes featured elaborate soli creations for himself and Keezer. They were generous and fantastic melodic bonuses, examples of Miller going the extra mile musically beyond more by-rote composers.
Just two days into the festival, the Great Canadian Jazz series ? U.S. pianist notwithstanding ? may well have seen its best show.