Gabi Hartmann Glowed with Careful Sophistication at Ottawa Jazz Fest

OLG Stage, June 27

Photo: Kamara Morozuk

BY Luke PearsonPublished Jun 28, 2024

Sponsored by the French Embassy here in Ottawa, it was an hour of official Francophonia in the OLG tent's 7:30 slot on Thursday, the cosmopolitan vocal jazz stylings of Gabi Hartmann offering a brief window to sunnier climes on an otherwise chilly evening. Looking bohemian in a peasant-by-way-of-modern-Paris outfit, she cast quite a spell for one of her first Canadian appearances (her debut full-length recently released to favourable notice), turning the tent into a giant NPR tote bag with her beguiling magic.

Yes, it was an evening of tasteful, continental jazz, the kind where everything sounds like a standard but somehow isn't, full of gently plucked acoustic guitar and lilting strains that would blend convincingly into a Mediterranean café today or anytime over the last fifty years. Hartmann and her band tap into this timeless stream effortlessly, taking you to the beach and the bar, the village and the city, with a mix of playfulness and cultural sophistication it's easy to imagine the embassy signing off on.

Things tend to sound fuller in the confined space of the OLG tent, and it was the obvious choice for Hartmann, whose delicate playing and subtly controlled tones would have gotten swept away on the big stage where belters fare better. In the tent you could hear every liquid note. Indeed, the mix was crystalline, with guitarist Abdoulaye Kouyate's resonant, clean tones sounding especially exquisite — slower tempos and few effects leave a lot of room for mistakes, but his solos chimed and rang like shimmering bells in the church of jazz, every bend immaculate. Aurélien Tomasi deserves props as well, pulling triple duty on sax, clarinet and flute, the latter of which was the source of many a mystery-evoking trill, a moody shorthand that made it sound like someone was discovering secrets in Tomb Raider every three minutes, but no big deal.

Hartmann, well-traveled and studied, is clearly a student of jazz as well as an artist, and when she casually played a song by the legendary Lhasa de Sela towards the end of her set there were intense murmurings of pleasure and approval in the crowd. Indeed, it's hard to think of a better touchstone for Hartmann than de Sela, the celebrated American-Canadian songwriter who grew up in Mexico and spent much of her life in France; a real avatar of worldly sophistication. It was a well-judged calling card, fitting in kind with the performance, and it felt lucky to catch Hartmann early in what feels like a promising career. 

Latest Coverage