Day 9 of the Ottawa Jazz Festival was spent under another gorgeous summer day and members of the public had the opportunity to see the likes of Cyndi Cain, Cold Specks, Aretha Franklin, and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble take centre stage.
Halifax-based singer-songwriter Cyndi Cain opened the evening on the Main Stage to warm up the crowd for Aretha Franklin’s highly-anticipated performance. At the start of her set, Confederation Park was already packed with festival-goers who had arrived early for a good spot and were eagerly awaiting the Queen of Soul. Cain, who was dressed for the occasion in a lovely silver cocktail dress, is a true homegrown powerhouse recognized for her incredible voice. She made great use of her set of pipes throughout her 60-minute set and projected just the right amount of on-stage energy as she performed songs from her latest album “Soul Food”. Her set list included her personal favourite Soul Food along with Love On My Mind, Ooh Ooh, I’m With You Babe, and it ended on a high note with the catchy Track Five.
Over on the Laurier Avenue Canadian Music Stage, Cold Specks gave their second Ottawa show after having been a part of last year’s lineup at the 2013 Ottawa Bluesfest. This time around, a small crowd was present to see the doom soul singer-songwriter Al Spx, recognized for her arrestingly unique voice, perform. It was a shame that there weren’t more people in attendance to experience this Canadian musical gem live. The talented lead singer of Cold Specks delivered sorrow-filled songs off of her debut album “I Predict a Graceful Expulsion”, which was short-listed for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize, as well as new material from the upcoming sophomore album “Neuroplasticity” set to be released on August 26, 2014. The group started off with the beautiful Elephant Head featured on the first album and followed with the new track Bodies At Bay. Cold Specks continued with Hector, Old Knives, Let Loose The Dogs, the chilling When The City Lights Dim, Absisto, and Blank Maps that she performed solo. Despite a brief moment of awkwardness during which the guitarist had trouble tuning, Cold Specks gave a stunning performance that deeply resonated with those who were in attendance.
Following Cold Specks, festival-goers migrated over to the Main Stage to catch the headlining performance of the night. Aretha Franklin, who cancelled her appearance at last year’s Ottawa Jazz Fest due to health concerns, unsurprisingly attracted a sold-out crowd of fans who jumped at the opportunity to see the living legend live. Seeing Confederation Park filled with about 12,000 concert-goers gathered in one place for the 18-time Grammy award winner was an impressive sight. Backed by the excellent 21-piece Aretha Franklin Orchestra, the Queen of Soul delivered material from her many studio albums including the hits Higher and Higher, Find Me An Angel, Jump To It, It’s My Turn, Think and Chain of Fools. Visibly in good shape, she appeared healthy, although understandably lacking some of the energy of her younger days. In a planned move, she then faked an exit, which caused some confusion in the audience. In her short absence, Madison McFerrin, Bobby McFerirn’s daugther, took the stage to sing Pharell William’s single Happy. Aretha returned to join McFerrin and then followed with Old Landmark, Sweet 16, Ain’t No Way and Moody’s Mood For Love. Sitting at the piano, she then gave a moving rendition of her late friend and niece Whitney Houston’s hit song I Will Always Love You. After this touching tribute, Aretha performed her successful hit RESPECT complete with crowd participation and concluded with The Way We Were and the popular Natural Woman. Although she gave an honourable performance, technical issues prevented festival-goers from hearing Aretha clearly, the volume being too low throughout most of the 90-minute set.
Day 9 of the Ottawa Jazz Festival closed on a high note with an incredible performance courtesy of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. The modern jazz, funk, hip-hop 8-piece band of brothers based out of Brooklyn, New York, is no stranger to Ottawa, having performed at intimate venues across the city on several occasions in the past. The minute they hit the stage, the musicians high-fived audience members, a sign of the energy that would define the entire set. It was one of those shows where you just can’t stand still and are carried away by the contagious sound of music. The talented group of guys performed some of their most popular tracks including War, Ballicki Bone, Kryptonite, Mars and Party Started in which they proclaim “I get the party started” to which the audience responds “We get the party jumping”. They interacted with festival-goers at every occasion making everyone participate throughout their set. The contagious feel-good music, combined with the musicians’ excellent showmanship and all-around charisma made for a super fun show during which band members and festival-goers alike danced and crowd-surfed, a rarity for the normally-tame Jazz Festival! The audience couldn’t get enough and asked for an encore, that the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble happily delivered with Making It Hot.
The 2014 Ottawa International Jazz Festival continues until July 1 at various locations in the downtown core.