062115 Chris Botti/Timber Timbre, Ottawa, ON

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June 21st, 2015 was another long day of music down at Ottawa’s Confederation Park/City Hall grounds courtesy of the good old jazz festival.  This was day three of a very well-stacked festival lineup – one that had me already see The Roots, Bruce Cockburn, and backup vocalist extraordinaire (aren’t they all?) Lisa Fischer, and one that had acts like Steve Miller, Jaga Jazzist, and Snarky Puppy still to come – and while on it’s own there’s little chance that this evening’s lineup would have drawn me out of the house, with so much gold in the overall lineup I had purchased a pass so I made use of it.

There are some out there who would be aghast that I would consider balking at Chris Botti (though I doubt that those sort of folks are regular readers of these critiques of reminiscence) but I would, I have, and I likely will again.  Chris Botti is a trumpet playing bandleader and jazz populist not quite on par with Kenny G (in tone, ickiness, or popularity) but not overtly dissimilar either.  He is inoffensive without being bland, inside without being straight-up, well-known without being famous, and a fine player who manages to remain unimpressive.

He also hires a band full of Chris Botti-like musicians who play things other than trumpet and he leads them through jazzed-down versions of popular commodities like Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and pieces by Dusty Springfield, Ennio Morricone, and Al Green.  For his deep dives into the jazz world audiences can expect familiar hum-alongs like The Nearness of You and My Funny Valentine so like I say: popular.  Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t bad but I don’t generally shell out money for “not bad”.

To stretch the boredom a little longer I went from the mainstage to the After Dark tent to see a band who’s name amuses me.  I sort of wish that I had come up with the phrase “Timber Timbre” as a band name or a song title of something, but I suppose it’s a blessing that I didn’t.  Shall I explain?  Maybe I should explain.

“Timbre” is a musical term that basically means “the sound of a sound”.  Shall I explain?  I guess I should.  Like, a trombone and, say, a pipe organ can play the same notes but if you heard the same melody played on a trombone and then on an organ you’d surely be able to tell which was which.  Why?  Because you recognize the “timbre” of each instrument and your ear can tell them apart.  Really, when you get down to the brass tacks (tax?) of it, timbre refers to everything about a sound except for it’s pitch and it’s volume.  In other words: timbre the sound of a sound.

So why do I think “Timber Timbre” is so clever?  Because of the curious and counterintuitive way that timbre is pronounced, which is a secret that is whispered into a person’s ear when they are handed a music degree.  And the big secret?  The “i” in timbre is pronounced as if it were an “a”.  Thus “timbre” rhymes with “amber” (or for the Monty Pythonites out there: “Bamber”).  I know it’s weird, but the French have it figured out.  It’s their word for “stamp”, and they pronounce it rather “a”-ish.

And so, Timber Timbre is properly pronounced like “Timber Tamber” and it makes me chuckle, though not out loud and it’s not really a chuckle.  It’s more like a sliver of cleverness that tickles my soul but even more likely I just like that it’s an inside joke.  I certainly didn’t spend five years at university to not come away with a few inside jokes*.

And you know, with a headstart like this if Timber Timbre were the sort of band that grabbed my gears and made my brain swell then I would be their greatest champion, their largest supporter, their biggest unpaid promoter but alas, I find them boring.  Like, mind-numbingly so.  So much that their name doesn’t save them even a bit.  As a matter of fact the name makes me angry with them, as it is wasted on a band that doesn’t live up to it’s subtle, teensy-weensy bit of creativity.  

But hey, it’s their name.  

I don’t recall how long I stayed – I can’t imagine that I stuck around until the end – and as the long, long day depleted itself I made a lazy exit along the canal to my trusty and rusty abode, consoling myself with thoughts of better jazz fest days to come.

*A viola player dies and finds himself banished to Hell.  He takes his seat in the string section of a large orchestra and starts playing along with the Strauss waltz that Satan is conducting them through.  After a few minutes he turns to the viola player seated next to him and asks, “When do we get to the 2nd ending?”

The other player gazes at him forlornly and replies, “There is no 2nd ending in Hell!”

(With thanks to Professor Alan Gillmor)

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