It's difficult to imagine Bamboo Groove being released by anyone but Peter Liu.
The Ottawa jazz vocalist has put so much of himself – his Chinese heritage, his love of traditional jazz standards, and his emotional connection to the music – into the new CD. Even the title reflects his favourite plant.
He'll debut it on Friday, in a concert at the NAC Fourth Stage which will also feature Ottawa jazz musicians with whom he has been performing this music for the last three years, and whom he says were indispensable to the sound.
On the CD, ten tracks are from the Great American Songbook. But the other three, while sung in a similar style, are in Mandarin and Cantonese. The theme song from a Chinese movie, a folk song from Taiwan, and the intro to a romantic TV drama from Hong Kong: each of them is a song Liu has loved for decades, and each has been “jazzified” for the album.
What the English and Chinese songs have in common, Liu says, is how well they convey emotion, and how they speak to “not only the importance, but the power of love in our lives and the complications that can come from that. How difficult the feeling of yearning can be, and how beautiful it can be as well, and also some difficulties with that. I'm always drawn to songs that have stronger emotional content.”
But counterbalanced by the modern jazz feel of Ottawa pianist Peter Hum, who arranged all the pieces on the album. Hum “has a very strong modern jazz sensibility and I'm coming from a more traditional [jazz] perspective. For this CD one of the challenges was to blend those two approaches to jazz, and to produce something that's both creative and also melodic and harmonic.”
ZenKitchen launched its new Wednesday Night Jazz on September 24, expanding its live jazz performances beyond its successful Sunday night jazz.
Hosted and organized by Ottawa's own Jazz Hero Roddy Ellias, the new series features top Canadian guest musicians, many of them Juno Award winners and nominees: Bernie Senensky, Roddy Ellias' own trio, Joel Miller, Jeri Brown, Mike Rud, Dave Young, John Geggie, Lorne Lofsky, and Diane White. Read all about these upcoming shows in our previous story.
Many listeners have continued to sing the blues about the closure of Café Paradiso. That popular, former restaurant and jazz venue presented a decade of jazz by both local and touring jazz musicians until it closed suddenly in 2012. But it was not without its faults. The owner requested patrons to keep their noise down to “a dull roar” - and unfortunately they frequently complied.
By contrast, ZenKitchen's Wednesday Jazz Club has been presented as a different kind of experience – one where the music comes first. "We request patrons to refrain from talking during the sets to allow everyone to experience this fantastic music," states the series' information page at ZenKitchen.ca
Could ZenKitchen be Café Paradiso's replacement?
OttawaJazzScene.ca reporters were there – at one of ZenKitchen's regular dining tables – for their very first Wednesday evening show. We brought our video and audio recording equipment, so we could carefully capture the performance just as other listeners/diners and you might experience it. Watch our video to enjoy musical excerpts from that show, see interviews with the people making this happen, and hear what listeners of all kinds thought about the evening.
Judge the experience for yourself: virtually, and in-person – and please email us to let us what you think.
– Brett Delmage
Updated 2014 September 30 to add video interviews and concert excerpts
On Friday, a benefit concert in Ottawa for the late Canadian trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler raised $900, with more expected from those who couldn't attend.
The benefit was organized by guitarist Roddy Ellias and pianist Peter Hum. They recruited Mark Ferguson on trombone, Alex Bilodeau on bass, Michel Delage on drums, and Christine Fagan on vocals. Together, they honoured Wheeler and his major influence on jazz and big band music. In two sets, they played a wide range of compositions by Wheeler, to a very attentive, quiet, and appreciative full house at Zola's Restaurant in Bells Corners.
Scott Thomson and Susanna Hood: The Muted Note
Raw Sugar Café
Sunday, September 21, 2014 - 7 p.m.
Award-winning Canadian poet P.K. Page had her work interpreted as a one-woman play, as a documentary film, and as a print/calligraphy exhibition.
Now composer Scott Thomson has translated a number of Page's imagery-laden poems into music and movement. In collaboration with choreographer and vocalist Susanna Hood, he has produced a new album, The Muted Note, containing compositions based on Page's poems.
This month they began their cross-Canada tour, presenting the music as a dance/music collaboration, with Thomson on trombone and Hood singing and using her body to express the emotion in the words. On September 21, they appeared in Ottawa, performing several pieces from the album in the first half of the show, and then improvising with Ottawa saxophonist Linsey Wellman in the second half.
Many of Thomson and Hood's shows are only as a duo, but this week in Montréal (October 2 to 5), they're enhancing the show with three more dancers and three more musicians, as part of l'OFF Festival de Jazz. The expanded show was also presented in Toronto in early September.
At the Ottawa show, the duo presented six pieces based on Page's poems. Hood sung the words and interspersed them with wordless singing and movement, while Thomson played trombone. It was a quiet, intimate show, well-suited to the cramped space in the Raw Sugar Café (some furniture was moved to give Hood enough space to dance), and kept the audience raptly attentive throughout.
Nathan Hiltz's Organic, featuring Bernie Senensky
Thursday, September 25, 2014 – 7:30 p.m.
I love jazz organ music. There's something about the deep throb of a organ – whether a Hammond B3 or a church organ – that adds richness and immediacy to the music. And a lot of groove.
But there aren't that many real Hammond organs out there – or organists – so it was a treat to hear the Toronto quartet Organic in Ottawa for its first appearance Thursday.
Guitarist Nathan Hiltz and pianist/organist Bernie Senensky started playing together every Sunday night at a downtown Toronto club seven years ago. Senensky loved the sound of the club's Hammond B3; Hiltz was influenced by guitarists like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green who had regularly played with organists.
A few years later, they added tenor saxophonist Ryan Oliver and drummer Morgan Childs, and they've been performing weekly as Organic ever since. You could see and hear that familiarity in the quartet's playing: there was an ease and suppleness in how they switched leads and supported each other.
A new Wednesday evening “vocal-centric” jazz series at Santé Restaurant launched earlier this month, with a full room listening to vocalist Karen Oxorn and guitarist Tim Bedner. It continues in the weeks ahead with an uncommon lineup of talented male jazz vocalists.
The new series, curated by Bedner. arose from a series of sessions his trio played at the restaurant during the Ottawa Jazz Festival in June, as part of the Downtown Rideau BIA's festival-related programming. Prior to that, Santé Restaurant presented eight mainstream and Latin jazz duos in 2012.
On Wednesday, September 17, when I heard Nicole Ratté perform with Bedner, the restaurant was approximately half-full of diners, who were reasonably quiet and appreciative, allowing me to clearly hear the music where I sat, almost at the back of the room.
Dominique Forest will be featured tonight. She's presenting a sneak preview – indeed the first live performance – of a few original songs from her upcoming first CD, which she will release in January. Bedner has been working with her on the project and was very excited when speaking about them, describing them as “beautiful, beautiful songs.”
In October, Bedner will play with a number of experienced male jazz vocalists singing in a variety of jazz styles, starting with Steve Berndt on October 1, followed by Jerry Sociedade (Oct. 8), and Floyd Hutchinson (Oct. 15).
Audiences will be able to hear two voices of Bernie Senensky in two cities this week – grooving in an organ quartet, and more intimately in a piano-guitar duet.
The Toronto pianist is best known for the 20 years he spent playing with and writing for jazz legend Moe Koffman. But he's performed with many more musical greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Williams, Art Pepper, and Elvin Jones. He's played piano duets with Oscar Peterson and Marian McPartland, and been a member of groups including Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, the and the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra.
This will be his first Ottawa appearance in years – in two very different shows. On Wednesday, he'll be on piano, opening the new Wednesday jazz listening series at ZenKitchen. On Thursday, he's playing organ with the Toronto quartet Organic at Zola's.
On Friday and Saturday, he's at the Résonance Café in Montreal: first with Organic, and then with his Organ Quartet, including Roddy Ellias.
Speaking to him on the phone Saturday, he was enthusiastic about both.
The ZenKitchen show is a duet with guitarist Roddy Ellias. It will feature “some original music but there also will be some familiar music and it will be more intuitive.” While the music will be more spare, that “doesn't mean every tune will be very slow – it's going to be all kinds of things.”
“I love Roddy's playing: we've played together a few times and I've known him for years,” Senensky said. When Ellias was in Toronto a few months ago, he sat in as guest with another organ group which Senensky plays with, “and that was really great. I think we have a great rapport.”
“We've both been playing this music for many decades so that breeds a closeness and a knowledge of the genre and the style. And it's beautiful the way the guitar and the piano can resound together, played by the right people.”
Senensky has had decades of experience playing with great jazz guitarists, starting with Lenny Breau, and including Herb Ellis, Sonny Greenwich, and Bucky Pizzarelli – and especially Ed Bickert.
Pianist David Braid, guitarist Mike Rud and singer Sienna Dahlen, pianist Emie R. Roussel, and singer Jill Barber are the new jazz additions to NAC Presents for 2015. The complete series lineup was announced this morning.
Additionally, Ottawa double bassist John Geggie returns for a single Geggie Invitational concert next April, this time with a two-reed front line with saxophonists Kelly Jefferson and Frank Lozano, along with drummer Jim Doxas.
NAC Presents is the National Arts Centre series showcasing popular music by Canadian musicians. In The OttawaJazzScene.ca Jazz Favourites Poll this spring, NAC Presents was chosen by Ottawa-Gatineau jazz fans as their favourite jazz series in 2013.
The NAC announced a total of 50 performances today for the series' fourth season, including folk, indie, pop, francophone – and jazz – shows. Some had previously been announced, including Brooklyn/Ottawa multi-instrumentalist Petr Cancura (October 30), Montreal pianist/composer Marianne Trudel (October 25), and throat singer/improviser Tanya Tagaq (November 7).
Those announced today include:
Montreal guitarist Mike Rud is a popular visitor to Ottawa, frequently playing guitar duets and with larger groups. But the one lineup Ottawa audiences have never seen is that on his album, Notes on Montreal. which won the 2013 Juno for Best Vocal Jazz Album. On January 22, he'll appear with Dahlen, as she recreates her vocals from that album and sings Rud's songs, which pay tribute to the great literature about Montreal.
Vancouver jazz singer Jill Barber was last seen in Ottawa in June at the Jazz Festival, performing in Dominion Chalmers United Church. Her NAC date on March 7 will be in a comparably large space: the NAC Theatre. She will be presenting songs from her sixth album, Fool’s Gold , which is primarily jazz but with a few touches of country.
Updated October 15 to update dates and add more musicians.
See the OttawaJazzScene.ca video of the first night of this series.
Wednesday evenings have just become much more special for Ottawa jazz fans. Starting September 24, ZenKitchen is introducing a high-profile series of jazz shows, featuring many musicians rarely heard in Ottawa.
Curated by guitarist Roddy Ellias, the series will run weekly at the Centretown gourmet vegan restaurant. It will bring in well-known jazz artists from Montreal and Toronto, including Joel Miller, Dave Young, Lorne Lofsky, Bernie Senensky, Jeri Brown, and Mike Rud, as well as high-profile Ottawa-based musicians like Diane White and John Geggie – and Ellias.
The list includes several Juno Award winners, and musicians who have played with Canadian jazz icons like Oscar Peterson, Rob McConnell, and Moe Koffman.
Although food and drink will be served, “The focus will be on listening”, Ellias said.
ZenKitchen co-founder Dave Loan said that this series will be building on the success of the Sunday jazz programming which the restaurant has been running for the past two years – but with a slightly different concept.
Going into its fourth year, Merrickville's Jazz Fest is facing the problems of success.
The festival, which runs from October 16-19 this year, sold out three shows in 2013. It received almost twice as many applications from musicians in 2014 compared to 2013. And it's added one more concert over last year to an already-packed schedule. (continued below)
- Merrickville's Jazz Fest Day 1: full houses and happy listeners and dancers
- Brian Browne is MJF's first and busy artist-in-residence this year
- Blossom Dearie tribute is 'hip' at Merrickville's Jazz Fest (video)
- Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers bring The Big Easy to Merrickville
- Adam Daudrich Trio at MJF: melodic and propulsive with a solid bass
|A few of the musicians you can hear at Merrickville's Jazz Fest this year all photos ©Brett Delmage, OttawaJazzScene.ca|
Its 2014 program features 17 concerts at locations around downtown Merrickville, including:
- a tribute to unique vocalist Blossom Dearie
- acclaimed Ottawa pianist Brian Browne
- the quartet of Montreal bebop drummer Norman Marshall Villeneuve, with long-time Montreal jazz musicians Dave Turner, Eric Lagacé, and Félix Stüssi
- Toronto swing and gypsy jazz vocalist Denielle Bassels, and
- the trio of Montreal pianist and composer Adam Daudrich
along with shows by a wide range of Ottawa-Gatineau jazz musicians.
John Heward and Barre Phillips 80th Birthday Celebration
Guelph Jazz Festival
Macdonald Stewart Art Centre
Wednesday, September 3, 2014 – 8 p.m.
Montreal jazz drummer John Heward is also renowned Canadian painter and sculptor John Heward, and he shows a similar experimental bent in both his artistic pursuits.
For the week of the Guelph Jazz Festival, the main floor walls of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre featured several of his artworks: canvas painted and twisted into large-scale dramatic pieces. When he performed at the art centre as the first evening show of the festival – with some of his favourite musicians – there was a similar feeling of drama, uncertainty, and flair.
The concert and show were to celebrate Heward's 80th birthday – but only his 31st year as a professional musician. He played the drums as a teenager, but then concentrated on the visual arts. In 1983, at 49 years old, he bought a set of drums, and started playing improvised music. He's played in various avant-garde groups in Montreal, including Nicolas Caloia's Ratchet Orchestra, and PO (“Provocative Operations”). He leads the free jazz group Murray Street Band.
- Guelph 2014: Pugs & Crows didn't live up to its talent (review)
- Local improvisers put on the spot at IMOO season opener (review)
- Guelph 2014: Lee Pui Ming and Dong-Won Kim astonish the audience (review)
- Guelph Jazz Festival helps kids find their voices through technology
- OttawaJazzScene.ca - Into the next five years
- Guelph Jazzfest celebrates Sun Ra, features Vijay Iyer and Randy Weston for its 21st year
- The Christian McBride Trio fulfills the tradition; the Darius Jones Quartet fights with it
- Bobby McFerrin never forgets to experiment (review)
- Collaboration in two acts: Newport Festival Now 60 & the Norma Winstone Trio
- Real jazz is a big hit in Confederation Park, with Kirk MacDonald and Dianne Reeves
- Virtuosity in improvisation and composition: Colin Stetson & Hamid Drake, Darcy James Argue (review)
- Jane Bunnett and Maqueque bring Cuban passion to Ottawa
- Jane Bunnett spotlights the spirit & energy of female Cuban musicians in Maqueque
- The Patrick Smith Trio recreates history (video)
- Kellylee Evans celebrates Canada Day with 2 free concerts with the NAC Orchestra
- Branford Marsalis to open Music and Beyond; Oliver Jones also featured
- Myriad3 creates dramatic, percussive music (review)
- Kirk MacDonald explores symmetry in music
- CYJO celebrates its 5th anniversary with flair and many past faces
- Jazz Festival jams at new Albion Rooms treat listeners to fine musical moments
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