Norah JonesTD Ottawa Jazz FestivalReviewed Tuesday With her sultry voice and delicate piano work, Norah Jones is easy on the ears.That’s perfectly fine for a theatre or a club, but at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, the gentle nature of the music made it a challenge for the sold-out audience.If you were in the middle section of the plaza, comfortably numb in a folding chair, it was a delight. The music of Norah and her versatile combo hung in the air like the smoke of a campfire, lulling one into a sense of well-being.But if you were at the back of the site, it was a challenge, not exactly because of a lack of volume but because of the chatter of everyone else, including festival volunteers, on-duty police officers and even people who paid good money for tickets. If they didn’t recognize a song, their conversation continued.Seated at her grand piano, Jones eased into the show with Just A Little Bit and It Was You, a pair of mesmerizing mellow songs from her latest album, Begin Again. In the middle of the second tune, a cheer disrupted the mood as some of the folks at the back applauded security for trying to get one stubborn fan to sit down. It didn’t work but they appreciated the effort.Jones, meanwhile, spoke little, except to greet the audience, share their happiness that it wasn’t raining and comment on how the show was unfolding: “Two new songs, two old songs, two new songs, two old songs — that’s kinda what I’m doing,” she said.Songs of late nights and lost love lent a sense of longing that was enhanced by the dexterous but understated interplay between Jones and her bandmates (Pete Remm on organ, Josh Lattanzi on bass and Greg Wieczorek on drums). Jones also demonstrated a refreshing versatility by switching instruments. Highlights included her hits Come Away With Me and Don’t Know Why, when the crowd actually paid attention, but also the offbeat gems like the folky, acoustic Sunrise and the electric Hey You, which also grabbed attention.Earlier in the evening, Ottawa singer Rebecca Noelle gave a magnificent performance in front of an attentive crowd. A rising star on the Canadian scene and a favourite of Ottawans, she has an incredible multi-octave voice, a skilled band and can always be counted on for a top-quality show.This time, she was even better. The Barrhaven-raised diva was more relaxed, more confident and totally in the groove with her band, all of them bunched at the side of the stage to make room for Jones’s Steinway.
Norah Jones performs at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on Tuesday.
Jean Levac /
Her band, by the way, was an all-star crew of local players, including Brian Asselin on saxophone, his drum-playing twin brother, Jeff, keyboardist extraordinaire Clayton Connell, soul-busting backup singer Deedee Butters, fiery guitarist David Gaw, trumpeter Fred Paci and funk-forward bassist Ken Seeley.Despite their slightly awkward stage placement, Noelle had no trouble connecting with the crowd and making the most of the space. She performed songs from her 2016 album, Soulstice, along with a handful of well-chosen cover tunes, including a radiant cover of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On that saw her incorporate some inventive scat singing, and a surprisingly beautiful take on The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. She ended with one of her own songs, the invigorating Come of Age.At one point, Noelle scanned the area for her parents, who were unable to get tickets but wanted to see their daughter perform. She spotted them outside the fence.“The wind is gently blowing the flags, there’s no bugs because it’s windy and my parents are peeking over the porta potties,” she remarked. “It’s perfect.”email@example.com ALSO IN THE NEWS:Jazzfest preview: Eclectic Brad Mehldau takes inspiration from hard bop, Bible, Trump eraJazzfest preview: Ottawa saxophonist Alison Young balances jazz exploits with rocking out in Corey Hart’s bandJazzfest preview: Christine Jensen leads the festival’s signature gender-balanced big band Tuesday