A fresh breeze from Scandinavia swept into Ottawa for the 29th annual Ottawa Jazz Festival as the foursome from Finland comprising the Ilmiliekki Quartet wowed the audience with their unique brand of Nordic cool.
The concert July 2nd at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage was the perfect venue for this quartet, made up of trumpet and melodica player Verneri Pohjola, pianist Tuomo Prattala, bass player Antti Lotjonen, and Olavi Louhivuori on the drums.
According to notes from the Finnish Embassy, since the group’s formation in 2002, the Ilmiliekki Quartet “has garnered almost every jazz award Finland has to offer.” The quartet was named Group of the Year in 2003 and 2004, and Pohjola was named both musician of the year and best trumpet player in 2004.
To listen to Pohjola’s hard-driving solo style, it is easy to see why he stands out from the crowd. But without the compelling bass and drum combination of Lotjonen and Louhivuori, rounded out and nicely anchored by pianist Prattala, the music would not be as melodic or as captivating.
This exciting Finnish group loves to improvise. They do not, however, “take off on traditional jazz tunes” but like to tackle classics by Radiohead, Tom Waits, Bjork, and other luminaries.
Hopefully the Ilmiliekki Quartet will be back next year for the 30th anniversary of the jazz festival so we can see more of their unique style of music.
Also on July 2nd, enthusiastic jazz lovers hoisted umbrellas in teeming rain at Confederation Park as the “Concert Under the Stars Series” featured the brilliant saxophonist Wayne Shorter and his fellow jazz musicians.
Shorter worked with Horace Silver, Art Blakey, and Maynard Ferguson in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but it was when he joined Miles Davis’ classic quintet in the mid-1960s that he made his mark as one of the most gifted players and composers in jazz.
Although Shorter is in his 70s, his style is amazingly contemporary. The group had a superb stand-in for pianist Danilo Perez in the very accomplished piano player Geoffrey Keezer, along with regulars Brian Blade on the drums and John Patitucci on bass.
Risk-taking is part of Shorter’s musical life. The group plays in a way that fuels an interactive style. The result is nothing short of brilliant, challenging acoustic jazz. They have dropped the style of traditional jazz which includes solos, opting for a more back and forth style of four equal partners, interacting with each other.
If not for the downpour this would have been an electrifying event. As it was, Ottawa jazz enthusiasts who braved the weather certainly got their money’s worth and more.
Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings and Doctor’s Review among many others. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.