In Canada, the myth about top-rank musicians has long been that, once they relocate to Toronto, they become part of a homogenous whole, playing and recording music that all sounds the same.
Don't believe it.
Tenor saxophonist Mike Murley literally blew that fable away with a stunning reinterpretation of the Irish war lament "Shule Aroon" that held echoes of John Coltrane's "Alabama," with drummer Ted Warren roiling behind him and bassist Jim Vivian strumming a pedal point darkly. Both Murley and Vivian moved to Toronto from Atlantic Canada (Murley from Nova Scotia, Vivian from Newfoundland and Labrador), and while they assimilated themselves into a group of musicians who have dominated jazz in Canada over the past 30 years, their Celtic roots are often on display.
Murley's septet is strong at every position, particularly piano, with David Braid finding distinctive voicings and soloing beautifully.
Outdoor concerts often hold the threat of inclement weather, and the Ottawa Jazz Festival has had more than its share of mainstage shows where weather played a factor: from the frigid rain that drenched a huge audience during a Wayne Shorter/Herbie Hancock show to a literally steamy field of grass that faced The Bad Plus one sultry Sunday afternoon. That said, no one in the media trailer—where a number of us took refuge from a hard downpour during David Byrne/St. Vincent—could recall a show being interrupted for 20 minutes to allow a lightning storm to abate. But, then, how many other festivals feature a headliner (singer Kellylee Evans) who was recently struck by lightning while standing in her kitchen? The memory of the 2011 stage collapse at Ottawa's Bluesfest during a Cheap Trick concert was also fresh in everyone's memory.
The break didn't do anything to lessen the impact of what had gone before—more than 60 minutes of tightly arranged, hard rocking fun from the former Talking Heads frontman and 30-year-old Annie Clark, the compellingly oddball guitarist and singer from Oklahoma. Backed—and sometimes surrounded—by a New Orleans-style horn section, Byrne and Clark performed a strong mixture of songs from their joint album Love This Giant and other pieces, like Clark's "Cruel."
Although many of the faithful braved the lightning and heavy rain, when the show resumed, its momentum had been sapped. What should've been an over-the-top encore (a much anticipated Talking Heads party song; in this instance "Burning Down The House") was somewhat anti-climactic.