At Laila Biali's concert at the National Arts Centre on February 27, the audience will be able to influence music in the making.
The Canadian jazz pianist and vocalist is heading into the studio next month to record a new album, and several of the original songs she's planning to include are still being developed. On her current Ontario/Quebec tour, she's been trying out the new songs, and using audience reaction to fine-tune them.
“I feel like audiences are being invited into a unique time, which I think a lot of artists wouldn't necessarily allow people to observe or experience. Usually they would just really flesh out the songs first whether it's in extended rehearsal time or actually going into the studio and creating demos and really figuring out what works and what doesn't work.”
“We're working it out on the bandstand. And we're OK with that, because that feels exciting and it feels like it's in the spirit of jazz. So that's been both daunting but also really fun – and actually, frankly, very helpful. Very helpful to be experimenting and trying things and seeing what works and what maybe doesn't or isn't as strong.”
When OttawaJazzScene.ca spoke to Biali on February 12, she had just finished playing two consecutive Thursdays with her trio – George Koller on bass and Larnell Lewis on drums – at the Jazz Bistro in Toronto. “A couple people did very specifically say 'We like the new songs',” she said, although “sometimes it's hard to tell”.
Alex Moxon's Alive! Ensemble
Sunday, February 7, 2016 – 9 p.m.
It was a wild night at Irene's on Sunday, as Ottawa guitarist Alex Moxon revived his Grant Green tribute.
Green was a renowned jazz/bop guitarist who flourished in the 1960s and 70s. He was particularly influential in soul jazz and organ trio music. Moxon took two of Green's best-known albums, Alive! and Live at the Lighthouse, and rearranged the songs for his quintet – with Clayton Connell on keyboards, Linsey Wellman on alto sax, Marc Decho on electric bass, and Michel Delage on drums.
He'd only played the material in performance once before, a year ago in his Nachtmusik series with several of the same musicians. In preparation for that show, Moxon had completely transcribed the two albums and created individual parts for the musicians. But that was only the start: he emphasized that they weren't playing the album's music note for note – rather, they were reinterpreting and extending it.
Florian Hoefner Group
Kildare Room, St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts
Saturday, January 30, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
In this era of far-flung jazz partnerships, the Florian Hoefner Group is still exceptional. Hoefner himself was born and raised in Germany, and now lives in St. John's, Newfoundland. Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake was born and raised in Vancouver, and now lives in New York City. Drummer Peter Kronreif is from Salzburg, Austria, and is also now in NYC. Double bassist Sam Anning lives in Melbourne, Australia.
But despite the thousands of kilometres often separating them, these four musicians showed a remarkable musical unity and fluency together in their Ottawa concert. The Winterlude show was sponsored by the German Embassy, and was part of a cross-Canada CD release tour for Hoefner's just-released third album, Luminosity.
The connection – unsurprisingly – is through New York, the jazz melting pot, to which Hoefner moved in 2008 and where all of them lived for some years. Hoefner has played with Anning and Kronreif since 2011. Blake joined them for this album and the tour.
Hoefner has only performed in Ottawa once before, at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge two years ago together with Anning and Kronreif, but Blake is well-known here as a saxophonist's saxophonist. Blake's more recent performances in Ottawa with Robi Botos, Alan Jones, and Bryn Roberts showed him to be a forceful, fluent player, but also one who enhances the entire group's sound and works to support the other musicians. You could see that same approach in this concert.
The downstairs Kildare Room at Saint Brigid's was packed for the concert, with hopeful listeners who had not pre-registered waiting at the door hoping to get in up until the concert started, almost half an hour late. That the tickets were free certainly helped, but the enthusiastic response of the audience to the music showed a stronger connection than that.
This Thursday, February 11, is the third anniversary of weekly jazz jams at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata – and the HML Trio will be keeping the music going, as they have from the beginning.
There are not many jams that last without a break for that long, and with the same host band. But the Ottawa jazz trio – Jamie Holmes on drums, Alex Moxon on guitar, and J.P. Lapensée on electric bass – has built a steady following for the Thursday jam, week in and week out.
Pianist and accordionist Doug Slone attends the Brookstreet jams at least monthly, and says they're a “rewarding experience”.
The trio's “musicianship is impeccable, embracing a range of genres and styles. As accompanists they constitute the dream backup band for any soloist. The hosts, Jamie, Alex and J.P., are always willing to try something new and different, including different arrangements or tempos. Jamie is the active outreach to the audience; he’s a friendly and welcoming host to all new faces and would-be jammers.”
On the third week of every month, Slone said, the HML jam has become the venue for a popular meet-up group 'The Burbs', and has drawn a sizeable following.
Saxophonist Chris Maskell goes to the jams as often as he can when he's not studying at McGill.
“I have fond memories of many great moments that have happened at the jams, like our old tradition of ending each night with Coltrane’s 'Impressions'. I always enjoy playing with the HML Trio, as we can push each other a good deal. Also, playing with jammers that I’ve never met before also allows me to discover weaknesses in my own playing that could be covered up while I’m in my comfort zone.”
IMOO #136: Nick Fraser presents the absurd and wonderful solo drumset music of Justin Haynes
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO)
Sunday, February 7, 2016 – 7 p.m.
Black Squirrel Books & Café
Drummer Nick Fraser isn't afraid to take musical chances. Although an experienced composer himself, he asked his friend and musical compatriot, guitarist Justin Haynes, to write some solo drumset music for him – and got perhaps even more than he bargained for.
He told the audience at IMOO that Haynes got “quite obsessed about it”, and produced 20 scores, some of which Fraser still hasn't had a chance to look at. Fraser unveiled five scores at IMOO, starting by reading a tongue-in-cheek “composer's statement” from Haynes – the first in a series of light-hearted introductions to the pieces which got the audience laughing and interested.
Both Fraser and Haynes grew up in Ottawa, but moved to Toronto many years ago. Fraser plays both avant-garde and more traditional jazz music, while Haynes' recordings have ranged from singer-songwriter to chamber music to highly experimental.
The pieces Fraser played Sunday stretched the boundaries of jazz drumming: the first, for example, was the extrapolation of a solo by iconic jazz drummer Max Roach, rewritten for snare drum only. Fraser introduced the piece by saying, “Don't worry, it's not very long,” and that was true for all the pieces. Each was concise; Fraser explored each new idea thoroughly but without letting it drag. Each had its own particular set-up – for example, he changed snare drums between the first and second pieces – and feel.
The second piece, “Everything happens at once” had a large, elaborate graphic score, where the music was expressed through pictures and through graphs of its movement – more a guideline than prescriptive. It had Fraser playing different sounds per limb – for example, his left foot controlled a volume pedal with a recording of him playing the drums, his right foot played a toy synthesizer, and his hands played rhythms based on randomly-generated word lists – while he sung wordless melodies.
It turned out to be an intriguing conglomeration of overlapping sounds, with a fast underlying beat, and an overall echoing, ringing feel. From the description, I had expected something cacophonous, but it turned out to be relatively melodic.
For the third, Haynes asked Fraser for his back copies of Modern Drummer magazine; he clipped out all the “most-difficult looking bars” and put them together and instructed Fraser to play them slowly with brushes – and also had him replace the right-hand part with an electric guitar to create the aural illusion of a duo. It had a definite thrash rock feel, with lots of sustained notes.
Petr Cancura's Crossroads series with guest Lynn Miles
NAC Fourth Stage
Thursday, February 4, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
Billed as a cross between jazz and folk, this concert was as much about their kissin' cousins, country music and blues – in an evening which remained true to Lynn Miles' songs even as it scribbled on genre boundaries.
It was the second in Petr Cancura's Crossroads series at the National Arts Centre, in which the jazz composer and saxophonist has collaborated with Ottawa singer-songwriters to create jazz interpretations of their music. He picks songs from their albums, rearranges them for jazz quartet plus singer, refines the arrangements in extensive rehearsals, and then presents the results in this NAC Presents series.
His target? victim? co-conspirator? this time was prominent Ottawa folksinger Lynn Miles, who clearly gave as good as she got in the partnership. There was lots of banter on-stage, generally friendly though occasionally barbed. It complemented the music, which comfortably fitted itself around the songs.
“I like to hear things that I haven't heard before,” says Ottawa percussionist Jesse Stewart – and that's an experience he and the audience are likely to share this Friday as he performs a drums and voice duet with renowned jazz singer Jeri Brown.
The two shows at GigSpace will be the first time Stewart and Brown have performed publicly together. And that freshness is typical of most of Stewart's concerts this spring, in which he will be trying out new instruments and new types of collaborations.
Stewart can only remember one other concert where he played with a vocalist, although he has played many times in duets with other instrumentalists. But collaborating with Jeri Brown puts him in very good company.
The Montreal singer is blessed with a four-octave range and a musical sensibility that encompasses everything from musical theatre to jazz standards to free improv. She's been nominated four times for Juno Awards. She has worked with everyone from Ellis Marsalis to Fred Hersch to Joe Lovano to Vic Vogel.
Brown has embraced the tradition with tributes to vocalists such as Nina Simone, Betty Carter, and Ella Fitzgerald – but also consistently recorded and performed new compositions by composers like Kenny Wheeler, David Murray, D. D. Jackson, Kenny Werner, Fred Hersch, and Erik Truffaz.
Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias has also collaborated with Brown, releasing an album together in 2010.
“I think very highly of her work,” Stewart said. “I don't just think that Jeri is a great jazz vocalist – I think she's one of the great jazz vocalists. I think she's really, really astonishingly good at what she does.”
Although Stewart had previously listened to her recordings, the first time they met in person was last weekend, when he drove down to Montreal for a rehearsal.
“It was actually very easy. She's very easy to play with, because she's such a good musician, with such great ears and such a wonderful improviser. It was a very easy fit – to my ears, anyway.”
They jammed a bit, he said, but “we didn't actually play that much. Mostly we just talked. It was nice to get to know one another musically but also just to get to know one another personally a little bit.”
Updated February 23
February is Black History Month, and traditionally features concerts with black musicians in the jazz tradition. You can certainly hear that this month in Ottawa-Gatineau – but also much else in a busy jazz month with a wide variety of shows by local musicians and impressive touring artists. And there's a jazz festival as well.
Local musicians will be performing singly up to big bands. They'll hark back to the tradition, cross over into other genres, and try things which are quite new. Look for everything from tributes to Cannonball Adderley or Charlie Parker or Grant Green, to vocal harmony interpretations of Carol King, to jazz standards, to music from giant 1m and 1.5m diameter gongs reverberating through City Hall.
From visiting musicians, you'll get Chicago jazz grooves, original music for solo drumset, Senegalese percussion, songs inspired by the city of Montreal, a piano/percussion duet inspired by ritual folk music from Cuba, a “total sensory experience” with drums and two pianos, jazz guitar in many genres – and more.
Jazz names to look for this month include Jeri Brown, Harley Card, Nick Fraser, Mike Rud and Sienna Dahlen, The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Laila Biali, Fraser Hollins, Joel Miller, Brian Blade and Jon Cowherd, Mike Murley, Carol Welsman, John Geggie, David Virelles and Roman Diaz, the Montréal Guitare Trio, and Petr Cancura. However, for some of the more popular shows, if you have not already bought your tickets, you may be hoping for a repeat performance.
February opened with lots of brass, from the 17-piece Stan Clark Orchestra. The orchestra has moved to a new location, the downtown Metropolitan Brasserie, after the closure of Maxwell's last month. They played big band classics there on February 1 with guest vocalist Johnny Vegas.
At noon on Wednesday, February 3, drummer Ken Harper, who made a splash with his Sunday shows at Irene's in January, premieres his new group, Sidewinder, with blues guitarist Tony D, bassist Dan Grewal, and percussionist Rob Graves, in a concert at Southminster United Church. The band mixes blues, New Orleans grooves, Afro-Cuban, and soul, and draws on the music of Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Jimi Hendrix.
These February jazz highlights are brought to you by Anne Jolicoeur. We greatly appreciate her support. Please join her and consider becoming an OttawaJazzScene.ca donor to help support our independent and in-depth reporting.
The 2016 Juno Award nominations, announced this morning, include one Ottawa jazz group, and many jazz or jazz-related artists who have appeared in Ottawa. But not all their nominations are in jazz categories – even for the jazziest artists.
Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra released its latest CD, Resistance, here in September, and then toured it across Europe. It's nominated in the World Music category.
Emilie-Claire Barlow debuted several of her songs from her new album, Clear Day, with the NAC Orchestra in December. That album is nominated in two categories: Vocal Jazz and Producer of the Year, where Barlow and her co-producer, Steve Webster, are co-nominated for two songs, “La Llorona” and “On a Clear Day”.
Other vocal jazz nominees include Alex Pangman (who was warmly received at Merrickville's Jazz Fest in October), trumpeter/vocalist Tara Kannangara (at Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge in May and in February with Elizabeth Shepherd), and Jaclyn Guillou. But most unexpected entry in this category is drummer Dan Brubeck, whose Live from the Cellar album celebrates the music and lyrics of his father and mother, Dave and Iola Brubeck, and features bassist and vocalist Adam Thomas.
In January 2015, improvising saxophonist Linsey Wellman invited listeners to participate in the live recording of his bilingual, solo CD, Manifesto. On January 27, the one-year anniversary of the recording, he invited listeners back to DAÏMÔN in Gatineau for its release. The event, which included a 35-minute solo saxophone performance, marked the official start of his CD release tour.
OttawaJazzScene.ca attended the event, where Wellman talked to us on-camera about his philosophy, the development of his music since his first solo saxophone CD, Ephemera, and his relationship with listeners and live performance. Our video story also includes excerpts from the performance.
For more details in both official languages visit LinseyWellman.com
– Brett Delmage
The Manifesto CD release tour
- Montréal – 31 janvier/January (185 Van Horne)
- Guelph – 4 février/February (Silence)
- Toronto – 5 février/February (The Music Gallery – emergents)
- Hamilton – 6 février/February (HAVN – Zula presents)
- Linsey Wellman invites jazz fans to hear his new CD being recorded
- Linsey Wellman: a jazz improviser explains how he constructed his CD
Montreal bassist and composer Fraser Hollins thinks of people first when developing his musical projects.
“Relationships are so important, you know, and I think those things translate into the music. I don't think so much, 'I want to have a certain instrumentation'. It's really about the people. When I did my first record, I just knew exactly who I wanted to have on the record. It was the most important thing to me: I want these guys.”
And his latest, star-studded project, which Ottawa audiences will hear on Friday, February 5 at the NAC Fourth Stage, is a perfect example. In Hollins' quartet are two Americans, drummer Brian Blade and pianist Jon Cowherd, and another Canadian, saxophonist Joel Miller – and they're all musicians he has known and loved playing with for many years.
With those players, “I just knew if I put those elements together, it would really work.”
Joel Miller he's known since they were both students in Montreal more than two decades ago, and has played with frequently. Jon Cowherd he roomed with and played with during his almost five years studying in New York City, starting in 1999. Brian Blade he met through Cowherd, and played with as well.
But getting all four on stage together has proved much more difficult. Next Friday's concert in Ottawa will be truly a “rare opportunity” to hear them – it will only be the second time they've performed publicly as a quartet.
A rare opportunity to repeat “une soirée magnifique”
The first was in June, 2012, at the Montreal Jazz Festival, in two back-to-back shows at the Upstairs Club. “Just getting the opportunity to play with those guys was blissful,” Hollins said.
The reviews were blissful as well: a Montreal Gazette reviewer described the show as “two sets of swinging, cerebral music that showcased everyone’s talents”. In La Presse, reviewer Alain Brunet said it was “une soirée magnifique dont les fruits méritent d’être exhibés davantage”.
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