2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 4: Hamid Drake with Colin Stetson, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
NAC Fourth Stage, Laurier Avenue Canadian Music Stage
Monday, June 23, 2014
Any time someone tells you that jazz is dying or that it only attracts the 50+ audience, you could point them to the concerts on June 23 and 24 at this year's Ottawa Jazz Festival.
On June 23, Snarky Puppy attracted a shoulder-to-shoulder standing-room-only crowd to the festival's outdoor stage in front of City Hall. And most of the listeners I saw there, clearly grooving to the intricate and well-executed jazz-rock mix with a huge dynamic range, were in their 20s or early 30s.
Earlier that evening, Colin Stetson's solo show at the NAC Fourth Stage was completely sold out. According to reports I heard from several listeners in attendance, disappointed fans of all ages were left at the door.
So I decided to show up early for Stetson's show with Hamid Drake the next evening, and was not at all surprised that the Fourth Stage again ended up packed, with most of the festival's Youth Summit members standing near the door. In fact, if the show hadn't partially overlapped with Hiromi's concert in the NAC Studio, I expect it would have attracted even more listeners.
The show was billed as “Hamid Drake with Colin Stetson” – an important distinction, because the show more closely reflected Drake's performance style than Stetson's. In fact, Stetson warned the audience at the beginning of the show that this would not be a repeat of Sunday night.
The bright sounds and beats of summer heated up GigSpace Thursday night, as Jane Bunnett and her new AfroCuban band, Maqueque, played their first two of four Ottawa shows. They return for 7 and 9 p.m. shows tonight.
The Toronto saxophonist/flutist has teamed up with five young women musicians from Cuba for this new band. Their music combines AfroCuban rhythms with four soaring voices, for a dynamic and melodic show.
Bunnett and vocalist Daymé Arceno each contributed several songs for the shows. They even included a soulful version of Bill Withers' “Ain't no sunshine when she's gone”, reimagined with a Latin beat, for this performance. Bunnett told the audience that she heard the tune on Holger Petersen's blues show on CBC as she was preparing to record the group's album, and realized how perfectly it would fit the group.Each song gave lots of room for all the musicians: Yissy García with impressively intense and exact drumming, Yusa providing melodic bass solos that crossed into guitar territory, Danae playing rippling and beautiful piano solos, Magdelys switching effortlessly among the percussion instruments surrounding her to give the music its AfroCuban edge, Daymé's show-stopping vocals bouncing the energy level of the room up by several notches, and Bunnett's soprano sax and flute adding both sweetness and sharpness to the music.
The jazz face which Cuba has shown to the outside world has been primarily male. But Jane Bunnett is working to change that with her new group, Maqueque.
The Toronto jazz flutist/saxophonist is famed for her decades-long championing of Cuban music, and for being a mentor to many well-known Cuban jazz musicians who have come north to learn and to perform. But until now, those Cubans she mentored in Canada were all male.
This new group, though, consists of five young women musicians from Cuba, plus Bunnett – the first all-female group she's led. They've just released their first CD and are currently touring across Canada.
The band's name, “Maqueque”, means “the spirit or the energy of a little girl,” Bunnett said. “We went to the lead vocalist – well I can't really say she's the lead but she's the foundation of how the whole group started – Daymé went to her grandmother who's very steeped in the Afro-Cuban religion and asked her for a good name for the group when we formed. And she came up with about five different names and that was the one that I really liked. I liked the sound of it and then I liked the idea of the feisty young little girl. I picture how I was as a child – I was feisty!”
The Cuban musicians are young: with one exception, they're in their very early 20s. All graduates of Cuban music conservatories, they come from several different Cuban provinces, including Santiago de Cuba and Havana, each of which has a different musical tradition and vibe. They play a wide range of instruments: drums (Yissy García), percussion (Daymé Arceno), tres guitar and fretless bass (Yusa), piano (Danae), and batás and congas (Magdelys).
And four of the five are also strong vocalists. “They all could stand up on a stage and sing as lead singers. They're all very, very strong voices. So when they pool their voices together, it gives a very dynamic sound that happens within the band. It's very different.”
That makes the band's sound distinctive, she said: tight vocal harmonies within a Cuban jazz perspective.
Bunnett said she was excited about the group both because of its musical potential, and because of the message it sent of possibilities for young female musicians.
Jazz musicians often refer to favourite albums, or quote tiny passages. But most don't get so far into their favourites that they try to play the entire album as is.
Saxophonist Patrick Smith initially didn't like what turned out to be his favourite album. But as he kept listening to it, he realized what a great ensemble record this 1960s classic really was. And that inspired him to persuade two other local young jazz musicians to join him in paying the most sincere compliment they could to that record and to those late musicians: to play the album in public from front to back, paying tribute without copying.
On Friday, June 13, the trio, with Ben Heard on double bass and Keagan Eskritt on drums, did exactly that for patrons of Gaia Java, a small coffeehouse in Stittsville which often offers jazz on Friday nights. They received a warm response.
In our video of that concert, you can hear the trio playing and listen to them explain what they learned from the experience. And you can learn the name of the album, too!
And you can hear all three musicians live on Friday, July 4, at Pressed – but in different combinations, and playing their own original music.
Kellylee Evans is used to having quiet Canada Days with her family. This year, she'll be on the main stage of the National Arts Centre, with almost 400 other musicians around her.
The Ottawa-based jazz vocalist will be the headliner with the NAC Orchestra for its annual Canada Day concerts, playing in the air-conditioned 2,323-seat Southam Hall. Both concerts, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. are free.
When she talked with OttawaJazzScene.ca, she was bubbling with excitement, because this was her very first official Canada Day gig. “I'd got used to not doing anything on Canada Day. I've lived here for so long, and I don't think I'm on the National Capital's radar.”
“I never knew the NAC did anything [on July 1]. So when they wrote me I was shocked ... and happy. What an honour! And it was absolute like yes, right away.”
Besides the 50-odd orchestra musicians, Evans will also be joined by her jazz trio – and the Unisong Choir, composed of 72 local and over 250 visiting choristers from across the country. “It's a really tight space.”
Evans' share of the program will be four songs, each of which has been rearranged for the orchestra. She will perform “Free”, a song she wrote in honour of Nelson Mandela, with the Unisong Choir. She said she picked that song and “Feeling Good”, from her Juno-winning album, Nina, because both are “message songs, songs that I felt would be really great for Canada Day.”
The remaining two are from her most recent album, I Remember When: the title track and “My Name is”. That song was inspired by two Eminem songs, “so the NAC Orchestra is going to be playing music inspired by Eminem – I'm sure that's a first!”
Updated June 8, 2014
Music and Beyond will feature two celebrated jazz musicians – American saxophonist Branford Marsalis and Canadian pianist Oliver Jones – in its July lineup.
The Ottawa-based chamber music festival opens with a gala featuring Marsalis on Saturday, July 5, at Dominion Chalmers United Church. Marsalis will play a selection of classical pieces in the first half, and perform with his jazz quartet in the second.
On July 15, Oliver Jones will show three sides of himself as musician. The renowned Montreal pianist will perform solo, with his jazz trio, and with classical musicians. The concert, also at Dominion Chalmers, will also feature the Nepean All-City Jazz Band.
Julian Armour, the festival's artistic and executive director, told OttawaJazzScene.ca that, while he is a long-time jazz fan, “Our goal is not to do anything that belongs at the Jazz Festival – or anywhere else – but to do something that's totally different. Branford is creating this show just for us, and so is Oliver.”
He said he had always admired Marsalis' classical playing, and the concert had been two years in the making. “What's really great about a guy like that coming is that he's coming from quite a different world. He's going to play exactly the notes and the way it's written, but the way he plays classical music is so refreshingly different that it's a really nice thing for us to showcase.”
Having Marsalis as the opening show of the festival “was to just really go out to all of Ottawa to say 'Here's a name that you're familiar with, here's a concert that you'll love' so that we'll open in a really fun, inviting way.”
Armour was particularly pleased that Marsalis would be performing an uncommon concerto for alto saxophone and string orchestra, by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov
Myriad3 also played the Montreal Jazz Festival on Saturday, June 28. They were a contestant in the festival's Grand Prix contest for Canadian jazz groups.
2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 7: Myriad3 (Great Canadian Jazz), Earth, Wind & Fire (Concerts Under the Stars)
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Myriad3 is the Toronto-based trio of pianist Chris Donnelly, drummer Ernesto Cervini, and bassist Dan Fortin. If not precisely a super-group, this group consists of three prolific composers who had thriving separate jazz careers well before getting together in 2012.
Although I had enjoyed hearing Donnelly and Cervini before, at Café Paradiso and elsewhere, I had missed the first time they'd played Ottawa this March – so I was particularly looking forward to this concert.
Their hour-long show primarily featured music from their new album, The Where, which was only released a few weeks ago, plus a few numbers from their first album,Tell [Alma Records, 2013]. All three contributed compositions, but they fit well into a unified whole, each piece becoming a conversation among all three.
Listening to them, I was immediately reminded that their instruments – piano, bass, drums – are essentially percussive. Beginning with forceful piano chords and hard drumming in “First Flight”, they consistently used individual quick notes on bass and piano, rather than sustained notes, to develop their melodies. It gave their music a strong forward push, and a danceability that was unfortunately not acted upon by the audience.
Their one non-original hinted at a possible origin for this style: Donnelly had rearranged Oscar Peterson's arrangement of the Duke Ellington classic, “C Jam Blues”, and you could certainly hear the Peterson-style strong bass lines and hard swinging in both piano and bass in that number.
Their songs also had a huge dynamic range: moving from full-out to quiet and back again, sometimes very quickly: Fortin's “The Strong One” changed from formal and stately to all-out frantic in only a minute or so. Donnelly's “For All the World” swept the listeners up in its momentum and its intersecting patterns. It steadily built from its initial single notes and simple chords on piano to insistent piano chords and hard drumming, until it resolved into light notes again. Cervini's “Fractured” (dedicated to trumpeter Nadje Noohuis) was a mosaic of sound, with contrasting riffs building and changing throughout.
The title of Kirk MacDonald's new album is Symmetry, and listening to it you can hear all the connotations of that word: poise, proportion, and beauty.
“The underlying goal of all of that really is to compositionally find balance. Balance the elements so that we're seeing all sides ... two sides of the coin, or ying and yang,” MacDonald told OttawaJazzScene.ca.
Ottawa audiences can hear this new music for the first time on Wednesday, June 25, as MacDonald's quartet performs in Confederation Park for the Ottawa Jazz Festival. The group will also play at the Rex as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival on June 26.
After several big band albums, the Juno-Award-winning saxophonist moved back to a smaller group for this album. It's his first quintet CD in almost 25 years. He teamed up with three musicians with whom he's played for many years: pianist Brian Dickinson and bassist Neil Swainson, both from Toronto, and American drummer Dennis Mackrel.
They'll be playing with MacDonald in Ottawa and Toronto next week. But the CD is augmented by another voice: renowned American trumpeter Tom Harrell.
Harrell was one of the first musicians MacDonald considered when planning the CD in early 2013. “I first heard him in the late 70s. I was just knocked out with his playing and I'm a huge fan of his writing.”
They had met again in 2012 when Harrell came to Humber College to do a clinic with his group, “and we talked a bit and I gave him a few recordings to listen to, and I thought, 'OK, that'll be the end of it'. [laughs] And he got back in touch and said 'Listen, I really love your recordings and your writing and your playing and it would be nice to ...' Basically he just reached out and said thank you for the music, [he] really enjoyed it.”
That inspired MacDonald to develop a project which could combine both their musical voices.
2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 3: Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra's Fifth Anniversary Concert
Jean Pigott Place, Ottawa City Hall
Sunday, June 22, 2014 – 3 p.m.
“The Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra is 5 1/2 years old now, but who's counting? Well, actually we are!”
CYJO director Nicholas Dyson sounded proud and delighted at the success of his creation, as the young musicians in the orchestra presented their fifth anniversary concert at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Their concert was the last in a series of six presented by youth big bands at the 2014 festival.
As part of the celebration, the orchestra reprised several numbers from previous concerts, including a full-bodied rendition of “Mermaid Beach” by local composer Mark Ferguson. Other numbers ranged from classics made famous by Duke Ellington and Buddy Rich, to pieces by Canadian composers Maynard Ferguson and Paul Tynan, to the modern “That's How We Roll” by Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band.
Over CYJO's five-year history, Dyson has consistently featured big band charts by Canadian and local composers, most recently by Ottawa jazz composer Rob Frayne. And as he has done at every concert, Dyson told the audience about each piece and who had performed it, sharing his clear love of big band music.
2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 2: Festival jam session
The Albion Rooms, Novotel Hotel
Saturday, June 21, 2014 – 10:30 p.m. to almost 2 a.m.
I heard almost all of the late-night jam session Saturday night, and was treated to some fine musical moments with local and visiting musicians, including pianist Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus, guitarist Alex Goodman and his trio, alto saxophonist Matt Woroshyl, trumpeter Itamar Borochov, and tenor saxophonist Jonathan Greenstein.
The jams are happening in The Albion Rooms, a restaurant in a walled-off section of the lobby of the Novotel Hotel (on Nicholas Street, just south of Rideau Street and north of Arts Court). The Albion Rooms are also the late-night dining spot for the Fringe Festival; however, there seemed to be little conflict between the two roles, with almost everyone in the main room aware of the music and mostly listening.
This July and August, you can hear Ottawa vocalist Kellylee Evans, high-profile Montreal jazz musicians Michel Donato and François Bourassa, and local Latin group Rimbombante, all in free outdoor concerts in Aylmer.
The Festival de Jazz Desjardins, now in its 28th year, is again featuring Ottawa and Quebec jazz musicians, performing on four consecutive evenings in a park in the Aylmer sector of Gatineau, Quebec.
This year's festival runs from July 30 to August 2, 2014, and opens with Kellylee Evans on Wednesday, July 30. A crowd-pleasing performer who can't help moving with the joy of her music, Evans won a Juno in 2011 for Nina, her tribute to Nina Simone. She also placed second in the highly-competitive Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition in 2004.
She has repeatedly sold-out ever-larger stages at the National Arts Centre; her two free concerts at the 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival filled almost an entire block of rue Ste-Catherine with listeners. Her latest album, I Remember When, features well-known hip-hop songs taken into the jazz sphere.
Rimbombante (Thursday, July 31) is an Ottawa-based group whose Spanish name denotes something flamboyant or having a strong resonance. Its music is inspired by Latin America, and it combines Latin, jazz, and world music influences. Led by saxophonist Dean Pallen, who is also its main composer, the group's members include several well-known local Cuban, Mexican, and Brazilian instrumentalists. This summer, Rimbombante is planning to record its second album. Car Crash.
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