Ottawa Jazz Fest Got a Jolt of Meathead Machismo from Moon Hooch

OLG Stage, June 22

Photo: Kamara Morozuk

BY Luke PearsonPublished Jun 25, 2024

After losing Thundercat to Bluesfest last year, there was perhaps some behind the scenes bemusement at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in the knowledge that Moon Hooch could have theoretically just as easily performed a set at Escapade this year (the EDM festival across town that runs concurrently and can be heard thumping distantly in the background from time to time).

It's doubtful there would have been many other Greenwich Village jazz school grads there, but the Brooklyn sax and drums trio could probably have gotten by on style and energy alone. Gym bods, sunglasses at night, jump-kicks; there was an amusingly bro-tastic vibe to these brass house boys, complete with a signature stunt where a traffic cone is attached to a saxophone (miked and everything!) like some alternate frat party universe where jazz and beer pong collide. It was party vibes pretty much immediately, complete with what could reasonably be called a mosh-pit for a few songs, something a few people there had perhaps never seen in real life — scare quotes rang out in one amusing private query overheard in the audience: "I think it is, dear."

There was some legitimate, textbook jazz fusion going on here. Jazz and EDM aren't exactly strangers — house has an especially rich history — but to go beyond simple genre-splicing and attack EDM sounds at the level of phoneme, to see the arcane brass origins in the quintessential dubstep wub sound for instance, is pretty genius, and to hear Wenzl McGowen coaxing it tone-perfect from his horn is a real trip. Let us also not forget the humble air-horn, another classic bit of EDM flavour, so redolent of Jersey Shore and white tee-shirts whipping above the crowd. Indeed, brass sounds have been in the DNA of EDM party culture for a while, and these guys see it with x-ray vision (fellow horn player Michael Wilbur and drummer Jules Jenssen round out the group).

Mix in some trap beats and big, Imagine Dragons-style rock drumming, and the Moon Hooch sound is honestly a pretty potent and timely mix. Perhaps the more difficult alchemy is flirting so boldly with seemingly simplistic pop idioms while maintaining the requisite level of sophistication for a discerning jazz audience, but the trio walked the line expertly, with plenty of solos and some especially nice interlocking harmonies complimenting the pulsing dance rhythms. Nothing dissonant or particularly challenging (except perhaps for some great foghorn blasts at one point that recalled briefly last year's brilliant but harrowing Colin Stetson performance), but fusion doesn't always have to be obtuse and inaccessible. People knew it too; it was a big and very engaged crowd, another solid win for the After Dark tent.

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