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Ottawa Jazz Festival report: Tension and release from three masters

James Hale’s report on day 2 of the 37th TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, featuring Now This: Joey Baron, Marc Copeland, and Gary Peacock. (June 23, 2017)

When, three songs and almost 60 minutes into Now This’ performance, drummer Joey Baron bore down on a brief fusillade of snare and cymbal, it sounded like the skies had opened on a sweltering summer night. Certainly, no small amount of dynamic tension had been released, considering how sparingly Baron and bandmates pianist Marc Copland and bassist Gary Peacock had tread for the preceding hour.

All three—Copland, 69, Peacock, 82, and Baron, 61—are veterans of minimalist musical expression, and they left so much space in their first three pieces that it seemed remarkable that no one ever dropped the thread of the harmonic structure. Yet, wisps of George Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy” continued to rise from Copland’s keyboard, despite how far Peacock took the bassline from the tune. They steered Miles Davis’ “Blue In Green” somewhat closer to its original form, although Peacock’s strong counter-melody—almost an ostinato at times—began to take on its own life.

Peacock, of course, is used to this kind of interplay as one-third of pianist Keith Jarrett’s trio. The difference in Now This is that Baron is a more naturally disruptive force than Jack DeJohnette, the third member of Jarrett’s trio. While his work with Copland and Peacock may take him closer to the ultra-spare work of the late Paul Motian, chaos and risk-taking always lie close to the surface of Baron’s playing. When his instinct to break things up showed itself, as it did in that brief outburst, and later in the Davis composition, it was a welcome balance to the exquisite calm that dominated this masterful performance.

James Hale

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