A three-concert series featuring South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim is the highlight of new additions to the 2015 Montreal Jazz Festival announced today.
Ibrahim's last Canadian performance was at the Guelph Jazz Festival in 2012. That festival describes his music as a “deeply soulful blend of gospel, kwela, and Ellington-inspired jazz that is elegant in its simplicity” and his compositions as “deeply lyrical”. Ibrahim was mentored by Duke Ellington in the 1960s and early 70s, and played with the Ellington Orchestra. In the 1970s, he founded the Cape Jazz sound: his music was used to support the black revolt against apartheid.
At Guelph, he played solo piano: an hour-long, uninterrupted piece, flowing between standards and his own works, but always beautiful and compelling.
At Montreal, he will play a solo show in the intimate Salle de Gésu on Thursday, July 2; and on July 3 will appear there with his Mukashi Trio (piano, cello, and flute/clarinet/saxophone), a chamber jazz group which released a well-received CD in 2014. “Mukashi” means “Once Upon A Time” in Japanese.
On July 4, Ibrahim will present his longstanding project, Ekaya, which he first launched in 1983. It's a septet, with tenor, alto, and baritone sax, trombone, and bass, drums, and piano. The Montreal jazz festival describes it as “an encounter between both instruments and cultures, between the oral musical tradition of South Africa and the vibrant legacies of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.”
Other 2015 Montreal jazz festival jazz concerts announced today:
Alex Moxon loves taking his favourite jazz albums apart and seeing what makes them tick – and then reinterpreting them in live shows.
This Sunday, the Ottawa guitarist and composer will pay tribute to Grant Green, a renowned jazz/bop guitarist from the 60s and 70s, with a quintet playing two of Green's albums from front to back. The show is the first in a new monthly jazz series in Lowertown.
The series, at the Das Lokal restaurant on Dalhousie Street (north of the ByWard Market), is scheduled for the last Sunday of each month, and will feature local jazz and improvising musicians playing a variety of jazz and singer-songwriter projects, each crossing genres at least a bit.
That includes the Green show, which will have touches of funk and soul. “This music is all pretty funky. No swingin'. It's sort of a 60s funk vibe.”
Green was particularly influential in soul jazz and organ trio music, Moxon said; he's “soulful, he's understated, and he's got very nice hornlike phrasing.”
Moxon first encountered Green's albums while researching material for his own group The Chocolate Hot Pockets. “Initially I heard an album he put out called Ain't It Funky Now?. It's all James Brown covers and things like that, arranged for a jazz group. I thought, 'Oh wow! That's super great!' ”
And it spoke to him. “His playing is ... he gets right to the heart of what he's talking about. There's no fluff. It's just like, this is the music. Deal with it.”
The quintet will perform the entirety of two Green albums, both live recordings on Blue Note. First up will be Alive! (1970), followed by Live at the Lighthouse (1972). “I've been waiting a long time to have an excuse to play that kind of music.”
Mary Margaret O'Hara, Peggy Lee, and Aidan Closs
Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 6
Dominion Chalmers United Church
Sunday, February 15, 2015 – 7 p.m.
I first heard vocalist Mary Margaret O'Hara and cellist Peggy Lee play together in 2012. Their Beautiful Tool project, which also incorporated several other talented Vancouver musicians, opened that year's edition of the Guelph Jazz Festival. I was immediately highly impressed with the group sound and inventiveness of Lee and the other instrumentalists, but I found O'Hara frustrating – in particular because I had consistent difficulty understanding her words, whether sung or spoken.
I decided not to review that concert because the art gallery they performed in is notorious for “eating” and distorting vocals, and I might not have been fair to the show. Given O'Hara's performance this Sunday at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, perhaps I was being overly cautious.
Keep On Keepin' On 
with Clark Terry and Justin Kauflin
directed by Alan Hicks
Wakefield International Film Festival, February 21-22, 2015
Keep On Keepin' On will receive its Ottawa-Gatineau premiere at the Wakefield International Film Festival, with two showings on February 21 and 22.
Parents find this out all too quickly: it's not what you say, it's what you do when it comes to raising children. How you act is more important than what you tell them.
And that's also what makes this recent documentary about the great jazz trumpeter Clark Terry so intensely believable and so emotionally strong. In the film, you can see Terry working with his students, passing on his love and knowledge of particular songs and of jazz in general, and connecting with his longtime musical colleagues. In archival clips, you can see him in action in his heyday, playing his heart out and clearly communicating his joy in the music.
Terry is now 94. He came to fame playing in Count Basie's band, and then spent almost a decade in what he referred in as the “University of Ellingtonia” with Duke Ellington, before becoming the first African American staff musician at the NBC TV network in 1960. In 1991, he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master; in 2010, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; in 2013, he was inducted into the Jazz at Lincoln Center Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame. He has performed on more than 900 recordings, including several collaborations with Oscar Peterson.
Biographies of him say that he established a lasting reputation in his long career for “his wide range of styles (from swing to hard bop), technical proficiency, and infectious good humor” – and that's what comes through in this film, despite Terry's increasing physical frailty throughout. In 84-minutes, it tells a compelling story, both about Terry's illustrious career, but also about how he's kept on going into his 90s.
But it wouldn't be so strong if it wasn't also about one of his long-time students, jazz pianist Justin Kauflin. They first met at the William Paterson School of Music in New Jersey, where Terry taught as a visiting professor, and Kauflin has kept returning for private lessons even when Terry moved to Arkansas. The film shows Kauflin trying to establish his own career but even more importantly finding his own voice as a musician, and the intense work he puts into this despite setbacks.
The Lost Fingers
Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 4
Dominion Chalmers United Church
Friday, February 13, 2015 – 9:30 p.m.
Around the end of the 1960s, as rock became preeminent and jazz started to decline in popularity, some record executives had the bright idea of making jazz vocalists more “with it” and “hip” by having them sing modern rock hits.
In 1970, Columbia Records president Clive Davis forced vocalist Tony Bennett to make an album called The Greatest Hits of Today. The story goes that Bennett was so upset at the choice of material that he actually vomited before the first recording session for the album. Reviews were not kind, particularly for the totally unsuitable "Little Green Apples".
Some rock and pop songs – particularly those with strong melodies – can be adapted into beautiful and intriguing jazz versions, but not all of them. So when I read the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival description of this show and realized that the Lost Fingers would be dedicating almost all the concert to gypsy jazz versions of rock, house, disco, and pop songs, a little warning light went on in my brain.
Updated February 19, 2015
In Ottawa, February is the coldest month, but it's got plenty of hot music scheduled! Here are a few jazz highlights in the next month from OttawaJazzScene.ca's more extensive listings.
On Thursday, Florquestra is back, adding its Brazilian rhythms to la Chasse-Galerie's celebration of francophone music in the Market. And it's the second week of Zakari Frantz' new Jazz Thursdays downtown, which will feature some of Ottawa-Gatineau's brightest jazz musicians and highlight new projects each week.
On Friday evening, put on your dancing shoes and swing to two local bands who only occasionally play around town. At the Unitarian Church, Mango Upstart brings its Latin rhythms to raise funds for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, while in Sandy Hill, Sonic Blue performs for swing dancers.
This Saturday (February 7), three well-known local jazz pianists – Steve Boudreau, Mark Ferguson, and Clayton Connell – are teaming up to help GigSpace buy its own piano. Expect a mix of their own compositions and standards, playing with lots of verve.
If you love organ music, you might want to attend the Saturday afternoon symposium sponsored by the Royal Canadian College of Organists on the history and technology of electronic organs. The talks at Christ Church Cathedral will be divided into “The Profane: Tonewheel (Hammond) & Transistor Organs” (with local Hammond enthusiast and jazz/R&B musician Don Cummings), and “The Sacred: Modern Digital Organs”.
Or, if your tastes run more to the avant-garde, trumpeter Peter Evans is guaranteed to stretch your ears on Saturday evening. Evans plays everything from Baroque music to the freeest of free jazz, and is a prominent member of the New York City scene. He was featured on trumpet in Blue, the controversial note-for-note reproduction of a Miles Davis recording by the avant-bebop group, Mostly Other People Do The Killing (he was a founding member of that group and left them just recently). Evans' solo set will be preceded by solo sets by two prominent Ottawa jazz musicians: Adam Saikaley on Rhodes and Linsey Wellman on alto sax.
Jean-Michel Pilc Trio (National Arts Centre Fourth Stage)
Matt Wilson Quartet (National Arts Centre Fourth Stage)
Late-night jam sessions (Arc The Hotel)
2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 2
Saturday, February 7, 2015 - 7 p.m., 9 p.m., 10:30 p.m.
It was remarkable how many times people I talked to about Saturday evening's winter jazzfest performances mentioned how much fun the shows were. I wasn't initially going to use that word in this review – one wants to be original, after all – but in fact, simple fun, both on the bandstand and in the audience, was an important part of both shows, by the Jean-Michel Pilc Trio and by the Matt Wilson Quartet.
Not that either concert was simple. They both involved highly talented musicians playing full-out and creating complicated and unexpected patterns on the fly.
But on top of all of that musical thought and dexterity was a deep love of and enjoyment in performing the music. Whether it was Matt Wilson's big grin or Jeff Lederer dancing as he played his tenor sax or the smiles flashing among Pilc's trio, you could see an underlying joy and playfulness.
Megan Jerome Together Ensemble
2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 1
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Friday, February 6, 2015 - 5 p.m.
Megan Jerome went to a funeral on the morning of the day of her Winter Jazz Festival appearance. It was for her late mother's best friend, and it symbolized a change in the last few years in the music she'd been composing – to happier and less fraught.
The concert also featured a new, full-bodied sound for Jerome, with her Together Ensemble – Jerome on Wurlitzer, Don Cummings on full-size Hammond organ (and giant Leslie speaker), Fred Guignon on electric guitar, and husband Mike Essoudry on drums. The ensemble has been playing around town since late last fall, and the instruments provided a strong base for Jerome's soprano and the artful lyrics in her songs.
Jerome's music can't be easily categorized: the nearest might be alt-cabaret with jazz touches. Her background is in jazz piano, Essoudry plays everything from mainstream jazz to avant-garde improvisation, Cummings performs in both jazz and R&B/soul circles, while Guignon has primarily played in folk groups.
But it was a far richer blend than your average singer-songwriter show: Jerome's vocals floated over intricate patterns from Cummings' organ and Guignon's guitar, which both counterpointed and echoed her voice and provided a strong underlying groove and power
Nancy Walker Quintet
2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 1
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Friday, February 6, 2015 - 7 p.m.
It's surprising how relatively infrequently Toronto jazz musicians make it up to Ottawa for shows – you wouldn't think the two cities were in the same province and only five hours apart. But, in the last three years, pianist Nancy Walker has only been sporadically in Ottawa and not at all as a leader, despite having picked up an enthusiastic Ottawa fan base from many years of playing in the Geggie house band for the jazz festival jams.
What finally brought her back here was her recently-released album, ‘Til Now Is Secret [Addo, 2014]. This concert primarily featured pieces from that CD, and four of the five musicians who played on it (drummer Jim Doxas sat in for Ethan Ardelli, who wasn't available for this date).
It was a strong set-list – all originals by Walker – and they were given an intense and propulsive treatment by the quintet. There was no one star in the show: Walker, Doxas, bassist Kieran Overs, guitarist Ted Quinlan, and reed player Shirantha Beddage all contributed noticeably to the sound.
Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago are moving into new hands as of February 9. Ottawa bassist Alex Bilodeau will curate the long-standing late-night jazz showcase and jam, taking over from saxophonist Zakari Frantz.
Frantz is moving on to a new series he's created: Jazz Thursdays at the Lunenburg Pub, which started January 29. The shows at the Rideau-Street-area bar will highlight local jazz musicians and their projects.
The changeover at Le Petit Chicago is friendly: Bilodeau has been a regular participant in the late-night jams at the Gatineau bar. On Facebook, Frantz welcomed Bilodeau as the new curator. “A graduate of McGill University, Alex is one of the region's freshest talents & definitely no stranger to the LPC stage. Expect him to raise the bar with some new jazz/hip hop inspirations and a new sound to welcome in the spring!”
Bilodeau told OttawaJazzScene.ca that he planned to have the host bands – from the Ottawa/Gatineau region – rotate monthly. “You will definitely see some of my own projects performing for the monthly residencies but the plan is to bring in other exciting jazz groups as well.”
For the remainder of February, the host band will be Bilodeau on bass, Richard Page on saxophone, and Michel Delage on drums, performing jazz classics by Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, as well as band members' original music.
In March, the Ed Lister Quartet, with Lister on trumpet, Marc Decho on bass, Pierre Chrétien on keyboards, and Mike Essoudry on drums, will perform, with “more of an electric aesthetic”, Bilodeau said. On March 23, that quartet will be joined by special guests Richard Page and Lee Hollingsworth.
The Jazz Monday format won't change: “The band hosting that month will perform during the first set and the second set will be an open jam.”
You can hear music in the making, this Tuesday and Wednesday, in an art space in downtown Gatineau.
Ottawa jazz musician Linsey Wellman will be recording a new solo saxophone album live over two evenings, and is inviting jazz fans to listen for free. The only requirement: show up on time – in fact, early – so you don't disturb the recording.
Wellman performs in a wide variety of contexts, from mainstream jazz to Punjabi folk/fusion to calypso to Balkan marching band to prog-noise, but is best known for playing avant-garde or free jazz and as a co-founder of the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO). In 2010, he released his first solo album, Ephemera, a suite of guided improvisations for saxophone.
The working title for this new CD is Manifesto, and Wellman says it reflects the solo performances he's been doing over the past few years. It's a “culmination of a lot of performing and a lot of ideas and a lot of the things that I've been doing. I don't think people will be surprised by what comes out. People who have heard me play a lot – there's some stuff people will have heard. There's at least one or two things that I haven't recorded but that I've played in solo saxophone settings.”
At least one of the pieces is a natural outgrowth of the material on Ephemera, he said, and the format is similar: both solo alto saxophone pieces of about the same length.
“But there's a lot of new material. I'm going to guess that this one is a little more 'out'. There's a little bit more textural playing than this one than on Ephemera, which had a lot of shifting tonal centres, whereas this one there's going to be a fair bit of textural playing. Clicking keys, a lot of multiphonics, and extra extended technique-sort of sounds. But not all that: there's definitely going to be some melodic sections, too.”
On both Tuesday and Wednesday, Wellman will play two approximately 20-minute sets, performing “Manifesto”, the material which he has been composing for the album. He will follow that with a third set, of about the same length, which will be entirely improvised.
That third set could go anywhere. “Who knows? If it's good it might find its way onto a recording. Or maybe it's so much better than the other stuff, that that's what I want to put on a recording. I'm excited about doing that, because my solo playing to date has been very scripted. I mean obviously there's a lot a freedom in what I've written and a lot of it is more guidelines but it's been very scripted and I'm excited about the idea of just playing free for at least a section of the show.”
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