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"Let's play!" Jane Bunnett and Miguel de Armas combine their jazz and Afro-Cuban energy

When Ottawa pianist Miguel de Armas and Toronto saxophonist Jane Bunnett got together to play for the first time a few years ago, they didn't want to stop.

Miguel de Armas is celebrating 5 years of composing and performing in Canada with this show  ©Brett Delmage, 2015Bunnett still remembers their after-dinner jam at her house in Toronto. “We just kept doing tune and tune after tune. It was like, Omigod, as I was winding down, Miguel was winding up! He was this incredible atomic energy. It's why we love Cubans. This is why they're just amazing. They're so full of energy and creative spirit and collaboration, and let's go for it. We played and played, probably for a couple of hours, to my neighbours' chagrin, and definitely after midnight.”

At their Ottawa concert this Saturday, the music will be limited to 75 minutes, but the zest for playing will be there as much as ever.

Bunnett is one of the best-known proponents of Afro-Cuban jazz in North America; her ground-breaking and award-winning recording, Spirits of Havana, released in 1991, was the first major collaboration of North American and Cuban musicians. De Armas had an extensive professional jazz career in Cuba before coming to Canada.

Saturday's concert will be their first public performance together.

The show will also mark de Armas' fifth anniversary in Canada. He came here to marry Yasmina Proveyer, a Canadian who now acts as his manager and spokesperson. De Armas quickly found a musical niche in Ottawa, performing at festivals and clubs here and in Montreal and southern Ontario. He's made a point of playing with a wide variety of musicians, both inside and outside the Latin community.

Read more: "Let's play!" Jane Bunnett and Miguel de Armas combine their jazz and Afro-Cuban energy

 

The Caroline Cook Trio shares jazz grooves in a warm mid-winter show

Jazz Grooves for the February Blues
The Caroline Cook Trio

Les Brasseurs du Temps, Gatineau
Saturday, February 4, 2017 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

On the set list for this concert, each song had a rhythm marked against it: bossa, medium swing, jazz waltz, groove, jazz shuffle, gypsy jazz, and more. But they all had this in common: an approachable vibe which warmed the audience on a blustery winter evening.

Vocalist Caroline Cook enjoyed listening to the other two members of her trio - Normand Glaude on bass and harmonica and  Kevin Barrett on guitar - in her trio show at BDT. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

This was the first time that Ottawa vocalist Caroline Cook had played professionally with Toronto guitarist Kevin Barrett, whom she met when he was on the faculty of the JazzWorks Jazz Camp. As she told the audience, “I said to Kevin we're going to play together one day – and we did!”

Together with Ottawa double bassist Normand Glaude, they had originally planned to do a house concert in Manotick. When that series was cancelled, Cook moved the show to BDT, where she had previously held several successful shows.

It was very much the jazz trio show it was billed as, rather than vocalist with accompanists. In fact, Cook wasn't even on-stage for the first song of each set. Instead, she left the opening numbers to Barrett and Glaude – and particularly Glaude's harmonica and the evocative melodies he can coax from it.

Read more: The Caroline Cook Trio shares jazz grooves in a warm mid-winter show

 

One-third of 2017 Juno jazz nominees don't live in Canada

In a year of national celebrations showing Canadians' pride in and attachment to their country, the national music awards have nominated a surprising number of jazz ex-pats living in the United States.

See the list of 2017 Juno Award nominees in the jazz and related categories

Saxophonist Mike Murley is nominated in the 2017 Juno Awards for Mealwood's long-anticipated album, Twenty, while pianist David Braid is nominated for his chamber jazz album, Flow. Both are Canadian residents, living in Toronto. ©Brett Delmage, 2015The 2017 Juno Award nominations were released this morning. Among those selected in the three Juno jazz categories were NYC residents Darcy James Argue, Bria Skonberg, Brandi Disterheft, Renee Rosnes, and Seamus Blake – as well as Quinsin Nachoff, who divides his time between Toronto and NYC. That's more than one-third of the 15 nominees in the jazz categories.

In 2016, only one of 15 musicians or groups nominated in the jazz categories was based in the U.S. In 2015, two of 15 were American-based.

Most of the remaining 2017 nominated jazz artists are from the greater Toronto area.

To be eligible for a Juno award, musicians must directly submit their albums for judging. For each category, the Junos establishes a 10-person expert judging panel, whose first task is to make a first selection from all the submitted albums (which could be as many as 40 or 50) to five nominees. Each panel member then ranks the nominated albums in a second round of voting, and the album with the most votes wins.

As usual, the jazz categories cover a wide range of styles, from Argue's large-scale orchestrations to samba-flavoured vocal duets to jazz fusion. Notable are Metalwood's reunion twenty years after their Juno award-winning debut and fourteen years since their last release, and the Order of Canada Band, composed of renowned jazz musicians who have been awarded that national honour, paying tribute to Oscar Peterson's compositions.

Almost all the nominees are different from those nominated in 2015 or in 2016.

See the full list of jazz award nominees

 

Beeched Wailers attract keen listeners and players for 1st jam night at Bar Robo

Beeched Wailers' Tuesday Jazz Jam
Bar Robo
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 – 8:30 to 11 p.m.

View photos of the Beeched Wailers' jam on January 24, 2017 by Brett Delmage

Bar Robo was filled with jammers on the stage and waiting to play on the first Tuesday of the bi-weekly Beeched Wailers jam ©2017 Brett DelmageThe Beeched Wailers drew a full and enthusiastic crowd of players and listeners to the first night of their new jazz jam location on January 24. They'll be back for a second night tonight (February 7).

The jam has moved to what Wailers' trumpeter Nick Dyson described as “more comfortable surroundings”: Bar Robo in Chinatown, which is in the same location as the former Raw Sugar Café. It has a sleek vibe and good sight lines, as well as a proper stage and decent acoustics. The beer, coffee, and soft drink prices are reasonable, and the bar also offers an interesting line in exotic meat and veggie hot dogs.

While the jam remains on Tuesday evenings, it will now run every second week rather than weekly.

On the first night, jammers – including high school and university students – were already lining up to play at 8 p.m. The Wailers played one song and then relinquished the stage until 10:15 p.m., when they performed their traditional closing set.

Read more: Beeched Wailers attract keen listeners and players for 1st jam night at Bar Robo

 

Sung Ra extravaganza inspires standing ovation

Sung Ra
with Rakestar Arkestra, Tone Cluster Choir, and Christine Duncan
Church of the Ascension, Ottawa
Sunday, January 22, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.

It was an evening of joyful, exuberant singing, dancing, and instrumental performance – with some stretching of the musical edges and even some preaching, as Ottawa's Rakestar Arkestra along with the Tone Cluster choir and vocalist and conductor Christine Duncan – 30 musicians in total – paid tribute to the music of its inspiration, American jazz icon Sun Ra.

Rakestar Arkestra baritone saxophinist John Sobol gave a rousing welcome to Sung Ra ©2017 Brett DelmageThe Church of the Ascension was packed, with last-minute arrivals having problems finding seats. Listeners were treated to two sets of a fast-moving, multi-layered music that was rooted in the jazz tradition and then rocketed into the ionosphere.


View photos of Sung Ra's concert on January 22, 2017 by Brett Delmage

View photos of Sung Ra's dress rehearsal on January 21, 2017 by Brett Delmage


The concert was the vision of Ottawa percussionist and composer Rory Magill, a founding member of Rakestar, who had also previously written choral pieces for Tone Cluster. Magill contributed two pieces to the show – in particular, the opening piece, “Ready”, in which the the choir introduced the audience to Sun Ra in beautiful, close-knit harmonies.

Baritone saxophonist John Sobol intoned a welcome to open the show, followed by the choir, directed by Kurt Ala-Kantti, brightly singing “Ready”. The music was presented in a steady journey through space throughout two sets and kept the audience riveted to the stage. The compositions were primarily by Sun Ra, rearranged by Rakestar for this show, but also included originals by Magill and David Broscoe.

Christine Duncan led the choir in extraordinary sound-making: sometimes melodic, sometimes rhythmic, sometimes recreating the animal noises from a Middle Eastern market. She also sang as a soloist with Rakestar, creating some astounding vocal pyrotechnics. In “Today is the Shadow”, she delivered a full-on revivalist sermon , raising everyone's spirits for the end of the show.

Don Cummings' Hammond organ reverberated through the church, sometimes caressing, sometimes deeply ominous. Tone Cluster's pianist, Vincent Mar, added piano and organ embellishments on many pieces, particularly “Ready”, which beautifully accompanied the choir. Mike Essoudry on drums energized the music, as well as playing sinuous clarinet. Scott Warren not only provided unusual percussion and drums; he also contributed other-worldly recorded sound clips, and acoustic augmentations. Magill's bright xylophone playing added a magical feel throughout. The four saxophonists (Broscoe, Sobol, Rob Frayne, and Linsey Wellman) fired up the music both in unison, and with extended, impassioned solos.

Read more: Sung Ra extravaganza inspires standing ovation

 

Doug Martin gets in the groove in his second Havana Jazz Festival appearance

When Ottawa saxophonist and composer Doug Martin stepped out before several hundred listeners in Havana, Cuba, in December, he realized he had to pick up his game. It was his second time playing the Havana Jazz Festival – but it was in much bigger halls than his first time in 2014.

Doug Martin (second from right) was impressed with the Cuban musicians he performed with at the Havana Jazz Festival: (l-r) Miguel de Armas jr,  Alain Ledrón,  Arturo Cruz - photo by Roberto Proveyer, 2016“I thought, OK, I've got to take a step upward here because I don't usually get to play venues like that. So I had to come up to the mark and I think we did very well at that. I felt very relaxed and in the groove, in the zone.”

And he'll be using that experience in Ottawa this Friday, playing the same material in a show at the 80-seat Live! on Elgin hall.

In Havana, Martin teamed up with three Cuban musicians: bassist Arturo Cruz, drummer Alain Ledrón, and pianist Miguel de Armas jr., who is the son of Ottawa-based jazz pianist Miguel de Armas. Martin had played with de Armas jr. and Cruz in 2014 as well.

“I think we did two better shows this time than we did last time.”

They performed Martin's original music inspired by his first two trips to Cuba, which he released as a CD, Spirit of Survival, last summer. The pieces on that CD are a tribute to the Cuban people and their “admirable” optimistic approach to life in spite of hardship, but are not Afro-Cuban in style.

Martin said he was reminded again how good the Cuban musicians were, and in particular de Armas jr. “He's a marvelous player!”

Read more: Doug Martin gets in the groove in his second Havana Jazz Festival appearance

 

Gentiane MG: "stretching to explore the unknown"

On Friday, Montreal jazz pianist Gentiane MG (short for Michaud-Gagnon) makes her Ottawa debut in a duo concert at the Record Runner Rehearsal Studios. She's performing with Ottawa-born tenor saxophonist Chris Maskell; both are currently in the master's program in jazz performance at McGill University. They'll be playing standards and some of their own compositions.

Montreal pianist Gentiane MG recently paid tribute to Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk, the three pianists she thinks have contributed the most to the evolution of jazz piano playing and composition (photo by Jean-François Hayeur)Gentiane is from Saguenay, Quebec, and discovered the piano at five years old. She originally studied classical piano, winning two Quebec competitions and reaching the finals in the Canadian Music Competition – but then moved into studying jazz and improvisation. She studied jazz performance at McGill University with a $15,000 Schulich Scholarship, finishing her undergrad degree in 2014. She received a Graduate Excellence Fellowship Award to work on her master's, and study with renowned French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc.

For several years, she's been playing with bassist Levi Dover (who has also performed with Maskell) and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel in her trio, and performing regularly on the Montreal jazz scene. This month, she's playing at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill every Tuesday with different musicians and a different repertoire each week.

Friday's concert is the second in the Live @ Record Runner series at the new Record Runner Rehearsal Studios in mid-west Ottawa.

Read the interview with Gentiane MG

 

Christine Duncan audaciously rethinks choral music in her Element Choir

Updated January 21, 2017
The most unusual choir in Canada will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year.

Christine Duncan conducts the Element Choir in Dominion Chalmers United Church at Chamberfest 2013 © Brett Delmage, 2013It has no fixed membership, although many vocalists have been part of it for years. It has formed and reformed in cities across Canada. It doesn't use sheet music, but instead creates its music in the moment. And it uses all the possibilities of the human voice – singing, yes, but also growls, shrieks, water and air ambient noises, and many more sounds.

The Element Choir is the brainchild of Toronto vocalist Christine Duncan, who is its conductor and spark-plug – and it reflects her own audacious spirit as a vocalist and musician.

This week, Duncan is in Ottawa to conduct a local choir – Tone Cluster – as part of the large-scale “Sung Ra” concert with the Rakestar Arkestra. For Sunday's concert, most of the music will be composed rather than the completely free improv of an Element Choir show, but Duncan will use the same system of conducting cues and many of the same musical ideas.

It's a system she's been developing since 2007, and using to perform stand-alone and with musicians like Tanya Tagaq. But it came about almost by accident – as part of a release concert for a CD project. “It was a very bizarre and random thing,” Duncan says.

Read more: Christine Duncan audaciously rethinks choral music in her Element Choir

 

Sung Ra spectacle adds voices, costumes, and dancing to the Rakestar Arkestra

Rory Magill can't hide his excitement, as he prepares for the biggest and most impressive concert he's organized in a decade.

Rory Magill and Christine Duncan discuss the music before the Sung Ra rehearsal January 8 ©Brett Delmage, 2017On Sunday, January 22, Magill and the seven other instrumentalists in the Rakestar Arkestra will join the 35-voice Tone Cluster choir and vocalist Christine Duncan to create “Sung Ra: The Songs of Sun Ra”. They'll fill the Church of the Ascension in Ottawa East with costumes, fancy hats, dancing – and entertaining, full-bodied jazz which can jump from melodic to awe-inspiring

View photos from the January 8 rehearsal with Rakestar, Tone Cluster, and Christine Duncan

The concert is a tribute to the unique jazz composer and bandleader Sun Ra, who in the decades between the 50s and 80s created “cosmic jazz” with his own mythology. To his jazz roots he added elements of avant-garde classical music; he was a pioneer in using electronic keyboards; and he believed in the power of spectacle, with his Arkestra usually dressed in bright, flamboyant costumes, and occasionally including dancers or jugglers or stilt-walkers. That's the spirit Magill wants the January 22 show to have.

“Sun Ra's concerts were always festooned with amazing costumes and ornaments and so on, and this is theatrics as he would do it. It's full-dress this time."

It's a concert which Magill has wanted to present for years. He's been working intensely on it since last year – writing grant proposals, composing music, and inviting other musicians to participate. He received a Canada Council grant for the project last summer – “a huge morale boost” – along with support from the City of Ottawa and the Juno 2017 committee.

Read more: Sung Ra spectacle adds voices, costumes, and dancing to the Rakestar Arkestra

 

First Jazz Night at The Brass Monkey presents three bands to an appreciative audience

There was a big smile on Jumpin' Jimmy Leroux's face on January 12. Leroux coordinates the music on Thursday nights at the Brass Monkey, a brightly-lit basement pool hall and performance space on Greenbank Road in Ottawa's suburban west end.

Diane Ross and Jim Mattson were clearly musically at ease together as the second act of the evening ©2017 Brett DelmageView photos by Brett Delmage

That evening was an experiment, the hall's first jazz night instead of the local rock bands Leroux usually programs for his new talent showcase. And to his delight, it attracted about 35 interested listeners to hear three Ottawa-area jazz groups, filling almost all the seats available. They enthusiastically applauded the music, and even Leroux's between-set jokes.

“It's a cold Canadian night,” Leroux told the audience, “and the easiest thing is to stay home on your couch. But here you came out to support music. Thanks!”

Up first on stage was Easy Living, a quartet providing smooth and easy-going versions of jazz standards including “But Not For Me” and “Summertime”. Vocalist Fiona George provided a flowing and clear version of “My Little Boat”, with guitarist Jim Mattson, bassist Len Leclair, and drummer Dan Quinlan warming the place with bright samba rhythms.

Read more: First Jazz Night at The Brass Monkey presents three bands to an appreciative audience

 

Ottawa-Gatineau celebrates Canadian jazz in January for 2017

OttawaJazzScene.ca donors received full advance details of these shows and more than a hundred other jazz performances this month as a token of our appreciation for helping us shine a spotlight on the scene. Become a donor!

2017, Canada's 150th birthday, is a year to celebrate our own culture, including Canadian jazz. And this month will give you many opportunities to do that in Ottawa-Gatineau.

Christine Duncan will add vocal innovation to her performance with the Rakestar Arkestra January 22 ©2013 Brett DelmageLocal and Canadian jazz groups predominate in January – and several are taking interesting chances. The Rakestar Arkestra has a major concert planned with vocalist Christine Duncan and the Tone Cluster choir. Vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton is trying out a new repertoire of strictly Canadian jazz music with her trio. Record Runner Rehearsal Studios is presenting its second concert featuring a pianist not heard before in Ottawa in duo with an Ottawa native.


These January, 2017 jazz highlights are brought to you by OttawaJazzScene.ca readers Peter Liu, Karen Oxorn, Jesse Stewart, and Gaby Warren. We thank them for their support that makes this article possible.


It's also been a month that's continue to evolve and become more crowded even after the New Year’s fireworks. As we've been compiling this update,notifications of new shows and line-up changes have been popping up frequently.

On Sunday, January 8, Florquestra will play a rare late-afternoon show at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield. The group combines an encyclopedic knowledge of Brazilian rhythms with a French melodic sensibility, in an always-exciting presentation.

Read more: Ottawa-Gatineau celebrates Canadian jazz in January for 2017

 

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