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Whitehorse, Yukon, is not the first place you think as a jazz mecca. But vocalist Fawn Fritzen doubts she would have ever starting singing jazz if it hadn't been for Whitehorse's supportive and nurturing arts scene.
"I really believe that if I hadn't moved to Whitehorse I wouldn't have pursued [singing] professionally."
And successfully enough that Fritzen has just released her second album, Pairings, featuring many high-profile Canadian jazz musicians. After two packed shows in Whitehorse, she's now in southern Canada for a series of CD release shows, including in Ottawa.
This CD has Fritzen singing in duos (voice/bass, voice/drums, voice/piano, and even voice/saxophones) with musicians including Steve Amirault, Dave Restivo, Reg Schwager, George Koller, Kurt Schwonik, Kelly Jefferson, Richard Underhill, and Shirantha Beddage. It combines popular jazz standards (Cole Porter) and some which should be better-known (Francesca Blumenthal) – and even includes a rare tune by The Guess Who. Fritzen also contributes four of her own originals, one of them inspired by CBC Tonic host Tim Tamashiro's ideas about "drinky" jazz.
At her Ottawa concert on Wednesday, May 11, she'll perform with two of the musicians on the CD: pianist Dave Restivo and bassist George Koller.
Fritzen was in Ottawa earlier this week. OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor got together with her to learn about the unexpected path that led her into jazz and to this new album.
In particular, Fritzen explained how she chose the different material on the CD, and how excited she was to have found lesser-known gems to record on it.
It's a swingin', bumpin' jazz month in May in Ottawa-Gatineau, with a nod to the jazz tradition and to the future.
Swing dancers will get many chances to show off their footwork, jazz musicians will visit from across Canada, and local musicians will display new and evolving projects. There's contemporary jazz, Latin rhythms, and vocals ranging from modern to the Great American Songbook.
Toronto pianist Dave Restivo, Toronto drummer Nick Fraser, and Yukon vocalist Fawn Fritzen release new CDs, a new monthly jazz series starts, and Montreal pianist Oliver Jones begins his farewell tour.
There's a bumper crop of visiting Canadians, including saxophonist Pat LaBarbera, vocalist Kate Hammett-Vaughn, trumpeter Rachel Therrien, reed player Ted Crosby, vocalist Florence K, bassist Brad Cheeseman, vocalist Amanda Martinez, guitarist Kim Ratcliffe, drummer Aubrey Dayle, harmonica player Carlos del Junco, bassist Henry Heillig, guitarist Eric St. Laurent, the Kite Trio, guitarist Alex Pelchat, bassist Stéphane Diamantakiou, trumpeter Paul Serralheiro, and percussionist Ivan Bamford. Ottawa drummer Ken Harper will bring in Toronto bassist Artie Roth and saxophonist Bob Brough.
These May jazz highlights are brought to you by Charles Buckingham, Marcie Campbell, Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra, Wayne Eagles, Dominique Forest, Caroline Gibson, Normand Glaude, Chris Halford, and Keith Hobbs. We greatly appreciate their support!
And on top of that, you can hear from some of Ottawa's most talented younger players, at the university and high school level.
On April 9, guitarist Garry Elliott and pianist Steve Boudreau expanded their long-standing Ottawa duo into a quartet, with two musicians from Montreal.
OttawaJazzScene.ca was at their GigSpace concert to record the result.
They added in bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Camil Belisle, to create new sounds and, as Elliott told OttawaJazzScene.ca, allow him to dig in more while playing.
"We wanted to get a chance to play our music with different musicians, just to get a different take on it, and stretch out a bit," Elliott said.
Boudreau said he liked "a lot of things that they added. It was different from other people would have added. I think that Adrian as a bass player is a really tasteful, melodic bass player, but he also has a really strong meaty time feel... And Camil, really super-swinging and really catches a lot of little details in the melodies. Between them, it was a very different experience."
"Some of these songs we've been playing for a while now and it's refreshing to hear a different take on them."
Watch our video report about that show, with two of the songs played that evening along with an interview with Elliott and Boudreau about their responses to what they collectively created.
Miles Ahead 
directed by and starring Don Cheadle
1 hour, 40 minutes
at the ByTowne Cinema, April 29 to May 5
If I could have just closed my eyes and only listened to the soundtrack, or only watched the concert sequence in its last five minutes, I would have really enjoyed this film
But instead I sat through several car chases, a gunfight at a boxing match, and people being beaten up and shot at – all a complete invention – for what was supposed to be a biopic of one of the greatest jazz trumpeters, band-leaders, and composers of all time.
This was not, to my mind, an accurate or fair depiction of Miles Davis.
These are the facts: from 1975 to 1980, Miles Davis stopped performing, stopped recording albums, and even stopped playing his trumpet. This interregnum started because Davis was mentally and physically and spiritually exhausted, needing to create a fresh artistic vision. But, unlike other times in his life when he recovered after a short time and went on with renewed creativity, this time he fell into a morass of drugs (particularly cocaine), one-night stands, and depression. As Davis explains in his autobiography, his house was filthy and full of cockroaches, and he shut out most of his old friends. He was also continuing to suffer from health problems, including a painfully arthritic hip.
It's also true that Davis had a violent streak; he admitted he beat up his first wife, Frances Taylor Davis, a number of times. She eventually left him in 1965 when his paranoia and violent arguments became too much for her. He could also be verbally very nasty, although he was also generous and very loyal to his friends.
He was (deservedly) a proud man, and he was left angry and embittered by too-frequent racist treatment, including being assaulted for no reason by the police.
National Arts Centre, Theatre
Saturday, April 23, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
The first thing Michael Kaeshammer told the audience at the NAC Theatre is, “We're going to have a little bit of fun. I love playing the piano, and it's always fun to hang out with these guys.”
And that fun is what he and his band delivered for two sets, each more than an hour long, of energetic, upbeat music.
Kaeshammer was a man in motion: standing as much as sitting at the keyboard of his grand piano, and playing both on the keys and on the strings inside. In the opening number, he had one hand playing the piano keyboard and the other playing the Fender Rhodes set up behind him, adding a swampy organ sound to the mix. On “Stop That Train”, he swept from one end of the keyboard to the other, playing with his entire body. Other times he would walk around the stage, enjoying listening to his band perform, or chatting with the audience, sometimes at length.
Playing his favourite boogie-woogie, blues, and New Orleans jazz numbers, including songs from many of his albums, Kaeshammer was accompanied by five experienced jazz musicians from Toronto and Montreal. Drummer Roger Travassos, bassist Devon Henderson, trumpeter William Sperandei, tenor saxophonist Dany Roy, and trombonist Muhammad Abdul Al-Khabyyr are all musicians he'd played with for several years, and will be on his next album, No Filter, to be released in September.
Almost every seat in the main floor of the theatre was occupied, with a few people also in the balcony. The audience gave the band a warm reception from the beginning, with people clapping in time to the very first number, singing along in the second set, and consistently applauding strongly.
Michael Kaeshammer has two sides to his musical personality: the extroverted jazz musician highly attuned to his audiences, and the creative homebody.
When he steps onto the stage of the NAC Theatre on Saturday, the audience will see the first side – and hear the results of the second.
Kaeshammer and his sextet will be playing music from the Canadian vocalist and pianist's extensive repertoire, but not just the classic boogie-woogie, blues, and jazz he was originally known for. Over the last few years, he has steadily been including more originals on his albums, and he told OttawaJazzScene.ca that writing those songs at home “is actually what gives me the most in music”.
He won't say exactly which originals he'll perform on Saturday, however: that's not the way he organizes his concerts. His strong, buoyant piano and vocals are a given, as is the tight playing of the five accomplished jazz musicians from Toronto and Montreal backing him. But which songs or in which order – that will be decided on the night.
The way he works is “let's see what happens when we're in the room. Because you can't tell – even when I know the room, I mean I've been in l'Astral a number of times, I've seen the other theatres at the NAC, but you just don't know how your night's going to unfold, until ... and being open to that is the most fun part about it, honestly. It really is the most exciting part about it.”
Song of Lahore 
directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken
ByTowne Cinema, April 22-26
The documentary film Song of Lahore is a fascinating mix of endearing commonalities and striking differences. The love of jazz displayed by everyone in this film – whether they live in Lahore, Pakistan, or New York City – brought me into the film and kept me gripped by the story. But the cultural differences and obstacles which the Pakistani musicians face: those left me flabbergasted and shocked.
The film is about the men – most with a long tradition of musical performance in their families – who are part of Sachal Studios, a musical recording outfit in Lahore, and how they used jazz to reach out again into the world and to help revive live music in their own community.
The Sultans of String with Anwar Khurshid
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, April 14, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
The Sultans of String played to the crowd – with a great deal of success – at their high-energy show at the NAC Fourth Stage Thursday evening. The room was packed, and, from the first song onwards, the group's wide-ranging mix of musical sources clearly connected with much of the audience.
The Sultans were primarily playing from their latest album, Subcontinental Drift, which adds an extra voice and musical tradition – Pakistani-Canadian musician Anwar Khurshid and his sitar – to their existing mix of Gypsy jazz, Arabic and Cuban rhythms, and flamenco. On the right of the stage, Khurshid sat on a raised stage with his sitar; in the middle were bassist Drew Birston, violinist Chris McKhool, and guitarist Kevin Laliberté, each with an amp and a substantial pedal/effects board; and on the left was percussionist Rosendo 'Chendy' Leon, who fitted in an amazing number of drums, cymbals, and percussion instruments into a small space.
In classical Indian music, the violin, guitar, and percussion (though tablas instead of cajons) do feature prominently, so it wasn't a big jump to combine sitar with the Sultans' standard instrumentation – and the reverse was true, too, with the sitar adding a metallic sharpness reminiscent of pedal steel to a few of the Sultans' older hits.
And with nearly 200 years of British rule, there has been considerable cultural exchange already in the Indian subcontinent. The second song in the show demonstrated this – “The Rakes of Mallow” is a song which, when Khurshid originally played it for them, McKhool and Laliberté immediately recognized as an Irish fiddle tune. In fact, it's also a traditional Pakistani tune – by adoption. The version they played in the show had a bit of both traditions: first the traditional Irish interpretation on violin and guitar, followed by Khurshid joining in with his high-energy version on sitar, with vocals in Urdu.
Growing up in Ottawa, violinist Chris McKhool took in a wide variety of concerts at the National Arts Centre – everything from the NAC Orchestra to Bruce Cockburn to Ravi Shankar.
On Thursday, his band, the Sultans of String, will perform at the NAC for the first time – playing a similarly varied repertoire, with a basis in jazz.
The Sultans are known for combining Gypsy jazz, Arabic rhythms, Cuban percussion, and rumba flamenco to create their energetic music. Two of their albums were nominated for Juno Awards, including Symphony!, their collaboration with a symphony orchestra, in 2015.
For this show and for their latest album, they've gone one step further – adding classical Indian music and the sitar to the mix. But it's still all based on improvisation and jazz – with a strong world music flavour.
“Jazz and world music are so closely related because, the way we're playing it, they're both improvised music. So much of it is created in the moment and using deep listening skills,” McKhool told OttawaJazzScene.ca.
The Toronto-based group, which celebrated its tenth anniversary on April 1, started when McKhool met guitarist Kevin Laliberté, soon adding in bassist Drew Birston and Cuban percussionist Rosendo 'Chendy' Leon. Each had a jazz background, but added other musical influences as well. Over four previous albums, McKhool and Laliberté wrote much of the group's material, bringing in guest artists who included trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and saxophonist Ernie Tollar to add specific colours.
But their latest album, Subcontinental Drift, took a very different path. Over an almost two-year period, they co-wrote many of the pieces with Toronto sitar player Anwar Khurshid.
- Polished performances from the Carleton University student Jazz Ensemble
- Garry Elliott and Steve Boudreau add new voices and viewpoints to their music
- Classical and jazz dance together at the 2016 Ottawa Chamberfest
- Students fuse genres to create new music in year-end Carleton University concert
- Raise a glass (or several!) to jazz in Ottawa in April
- 2016 Jazz Juno Awards winners: Allison Au, Robi Botos, and Emilie-Claire Barlow
- Born To Be Blue stays true to Chet Baker's music, but romanticizes his life (movie review)
- Vocalese with Steve Berndt and Christine Fagan: "A jazz adventure" (video)
- Olivier Babaz shines a world of music on his new jazz album
- Brazilian drumming inspires Rob Frayne's latest percussive project, DrumSwamp
- Only applause broke the silence as the Sonoluminescence Trio played the Record Centre
- Ottawa Jazz Festival announces summer line-up, including Chick Corea, Dan Brubeck 4tet, Wynton Marsalis, The SF Jazz Collective, and Colin Stetson
- Rob Frayne recruits for a jazz band on a mega-scale
- David Mott on the Sonoluminescence Trio in performance (video)
- Jazz to head to the NAC's Back Stage during construction
- James McGowan and Jesse Stewart improvise music from many streams
- First impressions: Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes with Miguel de Armas
- Have your ears stretched in March with jazz from unexpected places
- Rob McConnell's music is "the boss" at Sunday's CYJO concert
- The Harley Card Trio creates a layered and nuanced collaboration at Brookstreet
- David Renaud looks for grace and love in his new duo CD with Brian Browne
- René Lavoie pays hommage to Cannonball Adderley, the saxophonist who changed his life
- Laila Biali is letting her audiences hear songs in the making, in the spirit of jazz
- A wild night at Irene's with the Alive! Ensemble and the music of Grant Green (review)
- From all over the globe, the Florian Hoefner Group unites in presenting luminous jazz (review)
- HML Trio's weekly Brookstreet Options jazz jam celebrates three years of 'good music and a great hang' this week
- Nick Fraser stretches the boundaries of drumming with Justin Haynes' scores (review)
- Crossroads concert scribbled on genre boundaries while remaining true to Lynn Miles' songs (review)
- Vocalist Jeri Brown and drummer Jesse Stewart: 'things that I haven't heard before'
- Hear both the roots and the future of jazz in February
- 2016 Juno jazz nominations move westward, and in unexpected categories
- Linsey Wellman declares his bilingual Manifesto (video)
- Fraser Hollins picks long-time musical friends for his Jazzfest show: Brian Blade, Jon Cowherd, and Joel Miller
- Karen Oxorn reflects 60 years of loving music in her concerts this weekend (podcast)
- An immersion in music from Pauline Oliveros and friends
- Standing Room Only packs the dance floor at its first Ottawa tea dance
- The Ken Harper Trio creates organic rhythms at Irene's
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