“Where’s the jazz?” I heard someone comment recently about this year’s TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. I guess at first site it seems true—the festival this year boasts some larger scale acts such as Feist and Kenny Rogers who don’t bring jazz imagery to mind.
But look beyond the surface and you will see a festival that, year after year, really entertains the question: “what IS jazz?” And personally, I like the Jazz Fest because they understand me as a fan of jazz in 2017. They understand that my love of Herbie Hancock also makes me love soul music, such as the many times Jazz Fest brought the spectacular Sharon Jones to our city, and even the queen herself, Ms. Aretha Franklin.
They understand that my love of John Coltrane also makes me love funky, beautiful, free jazz music, such as Kamasi Washington’s incredible performance last year (read that story here). They understand that my love for New Orleans style jazz is not limited to the traditionals, but also extends to funky new artists like Trombone Shorty or the Dirty Dozen Brass, both of whom were hosted recently. And best of all, they understand that I love groups like Snarky Puppy who take all of the above and mash it together.
This year is no exception. This is undeniably the most diverse and beautiful lineup of any festival this year. Below I’ve created a list of my top 10 acts for fans of jazz, soul and funky vibes at the ’17 Ottawa Jazz Fest.
Ottawa Jazz Fest takes place at Confederation Park from June 22 to July 2nd, with artists performing on the grounds or at the nearby National Arts Centre. See the full venue and purchase your passes here.
Top 10 picks: Ottawa Jazz Festival
National Arts Centre Theatre
Monday, June 26th at 7:00pm – Tickets here
Fans of classic soul and R&B know Mavis well- her voice that can go from honey-drip to wildfire in one phrase was a major part of The Staples Singers’ success. Chances are you’ve heard Mavis sing even if you’re not sure. Maybe you’ve heard Staples Singers’ classic tunes “I’ll Take You There” or “Respect Yourself” play on the jukebox somewhere. Or maybe you’ve heard her incredible vocals in The Band’s final performance of the classic “The Weight” shown in their Last Waltz documentary. Since her equally talented sister passed in 2013, which closed any potential for future Staples Singers performances, Mavis has seemed to come onto the scene even stronger as a solo artist. Her humble acoustic performances with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco took the internet by storm a few years ago, and the recent release of her 2016 album “Livin’ on a Highnote” has been well received by soul fans everywhere. The NAC theatre is a perfect spot for Mavis to take the city by the horns this year–we can’t wait!
CHARLES BRADLEY & HIS EXTRAORDINAIRES
TekSavvy Main Stage
Friday, June 30th at 7:00pm — Tickets here
In 2012, I went to see Daptones Record’s Charles Bradley perform one of his two shows at Bluesfest. I was a big fan of his debut album at the time, and thought I was on the cutting edge… so I arrived 45 minutes early to get a good spot. Unfortunately 45 minutes wasn’t early enough, as hundreds of fans stood around, many holding signs, shouting his name and amping one another up. It was an amazing sight to see so many people I’d never seen excited about soul music. But even as huge fans of the album, I don’t think any of us knew what we were in for. Charles’ energy was incredible, and his humbleness shone as he broke down crying before the encore, hugging fans at the front and exclaiming repeatedly how lucky he was to live his fantasy every night.
Any skeptics who went to that show were surely fans by the end. Unfortunately, last October those same fans, who have since grown with Charles over 2 more albums and a fantastic documentary, were horrified to find out that Charles had to cancel his Bronson Center show due to health issues. With the recent loss of our Sharon Jones, we’re still a bit touchy. For me, finding out that Charles was coming back was not only exciting, but a hopeful indication of good health. Charles–we’re ready if you are!
MACEO PARKER & THE RAY CHARLES ORCHESTRA FEATURING THE RAELETTES
TekSavvy Main Stage
Monday, June 26th at 8:30pm – Tickets here
For fans of funk music, the name “Maceo” is a staple. His work with James Brown and (every branch of) Parliament is considered some of the most important in funk history. He is not only an incredible sax player, but a pioneer of funky rhythms and harmonies that created the framework for all funk to come. However, it seems that he’s coming to Ottawa with a different vibe in mind, with his tribute to Ray Charles. For long term fans of Maceo’s work this may definitely seem like a departure. However, for any fan of Ray Charles and his orchestra-led work like “Modern Sounds in Country & Western,” this sounds like a match made in heaven, especially considering that Maceo has never put out an album without a Ray cover (so the affection is obvious). Truthfully, I have been searching desperately online to find out if his two partners for the show; the Ray Charles Orchestra or The Raelettes, contain any original members, but I guess I will have to go to the show to find out for sure!
ST. PAUL & THE BROKEN BONES
TekSavvy Main Stage
Thursday, June 22nd at 8:30pm – Tickets here
St. Paul & The Broken Bones shocked soul fans across the world a couple years ago when hundreds of videos began to appear on YouTube, showcasing a raw, minimalist, and tough-as-nails approach to soul music by a band that was NOT on the Daptones label. Even more, the lead singer loved to dance. For Ottawa, it was timely, because shortly after the hubbub the band appeared at CityFolk in 2015. For a new band, their performance there blew me away. They recently released a new record called “Sea Of Love” which shows a fuller and more mature sound, but it will be interesting to see if they can deliver it with the same raw intensity we saw before. Looking forward to finding out!
ROBERT GLASPER EXPERIMENT
Tartan Homes Stage
Monday, June 26th – Tickets here
R&B keyboardist Robert Glasper has been slowly gaining steam through the 2000s, even beating the dreaded sophomore slump and signing a deal with Blue Note records. However, it wasn’t until Black Radio volumes 1 and 2 that maybe of us started to take notice. I like to think that this was because he and his band had matured into a slinky, stanky, post-R&B powerhouse, but let’s be honest: the cameos were a huge help! Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Common, Brandy, Anthony Hamilton, Musiq Soulchild–these were huge namedrops! These albums have definitely put Robert Glasper Experiment on the map, but However, I’m glad that despite Glaspers’ recent successes, Ottawa Jazz Fest are treating us right with a late night performance–always a must for a sweaty dance party.
Tartan Homes Stage
Friday, June 30th at 10:30pm – Tickets here
Jacob Collier is an anomaly. In fact, many of us are constantly trying to determine if he’s human at all. His ability to build entire songs out of funky, thick vocal parts is incredible, all done with a voice that can be as sweet and melodic as Rudolph Wainwright and as low and gritty as Isaac Hayes the next. Next comes his prowess as an instrumental jazz musician- he’s proven himself incredibly skilled at jazz piano, as well as very capable on the bass guitar, drums and assorted percussion. In fact, just last year he released a song with Jazz Fest favourites Snarky Puppy, showcasing that both his talents as a vocal looper and as an expressive piano player translate perfectly in real-time. For fans of weird, wacky, funky and beautiful, Collier is your man this year.
Tartan Homes Stage
Wednesday, June 28th at 10:30pm – Tickets here
True jazz or not, jazz-laced hip-hop is a love of mine, and from what I’ve experienced, a huge love of Ottawa’s. Nomadic Massive have shown their promise as a talented, hard-working group reminiscent of The Roots for years. What’s more to say? The last time they came through town they slammed Ritual (RIP), and it’s great to see them back. For fans of thoughtful and hypnotic hip-hop music with fast raps, organized chaos and funky instrumentals, this is the band to see!
Tartan Homes Stage
Friday, June 30th at 7:30pm – Tickets here
Hailing from São Paulo, Brazil, Bixiga 70 are a ruthless afro-latin powerhouse. With complex rhythms and horn lines that cut like a knife, these guys take instrumental afrobeat to a new pace and energy. For fans of brass dance bands like Hypnotic Jazz Ensemble, afrobeat trads like Fela Kuti, or afrobeat moderneers like Antibalas, these guys cannot be missed! This may be the sweatiest, craziest late night show this year- bring an extra t-shirt and your best dancing shoes.
SHABAKA & THE ANCESTORS
Tartan Homes Stage
Tuesday, June 27th at 10:30pm – Tickets here
Last year spiritual jazz fans rejoiced when Kamasi Washington was able to bring his The Epic through the festival. This year is no different- for fans of pulsing, rhythmic, spiritual jazz- Shabaka & The Ancestors may be your favourite act of the festival even if you’ve never heard of them. Shabaka Hutchings is an incredible saxophone player and arranger, and it’s obvious that he brings all the pioneers into these arrangements, from Coltrane and Miles to Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders- The Ancestors toy with it all. The great thing about this kind of jazz is that it’s free playing at its finest while being accessible even to the modest jazz listener- a great introduction to soul fans looking to dive further into the jazz canon.
HIROMI DUET: FEATURING EDMAR CASTANEDA
National Art Centre Studio
Tuesday, June 27th at 7pm – Tickets here
This is an interesting one for me, because I’ve sat in awe at online performances by both of these artists over the past few years, but never expected to see them combine forces. Pianist Hiromi Uehara is known for her blazing fast fingers and expressive passages, and has performed in recent years with many greats like Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Anthony Jackson. I always appreciate her ability to fuse genres together, and her synth work is definitely intriguing. On the other hand, Edmar Castaneda on the other hand, is an incredible harp player who has been rewriting public perception and understanding of what the harp can achieve. His work is experimental but always pretty. I’m really excited to see what these two will do together, and the NAC seems like a great choice of venue for these two instruments to shine.
THE PEPTIDES – Pop soul with nailed harmonies, political undertones and the most theatrical show in Ottawa Tartan Homes Stage
Tuesday, June 27th at 7:30pm
TROPIKOMBO– The sambafunk band to give “world music” its name back- blistering hornlines and rhythms from dance music around the globe Mercury Lounge
Thursday, June 22nd at 10pm
BANK STREET BONBONS – These guys are everything the “brass band” genre is good at, borrowing spirits from klezmer and latin music but always keeping that N’Orleans bounce Tartan Homes Stage
Friday, June 30th at 1pm
ED LISTER’S PRIME RIB BIG BAND – There’s not enough swing bands in Ottawa, let alone those that play original arrangements and keep the energy up. Check these guys out! Tartan Homes Stage
Sunday, July 2nd at 2pm
ROMMEL RIBIERO – A great player of guitar and cavaquinho, Rommel always delivers the groove with rhythms borrowed from Brazillian and reggae music Tartan Homes Stage
Wednesday, June 28th at 11am
SLACK BRIDGES – Soul music with greasy rhythms and pretty chords. Tartan Homes Stage
Thursday, June 29th at 11am
Garett Bass is an Ottawa musician and showgoer. Not stuck to one genre, he has played and enjoyed soul, jazz, reggae, folk, hip-hop and ska music since moving to Ottawa in 2005.