Saorsa (Patrick Smith, Dan Pitt, Harrison Vetro)
Keagan Eskritt and Roddy Ellias
Wednesday, December 21, 2016 – 9 p.m.
Two up-and-coming Ottawa musicians demonstrated another growth spurt in their music in a eye-opening, two-part performance at Pressed in December.
Saxophonist Patrick Smith and drummer Keagan Eskritt grew up here in Ottawa, played in local student bands, participated in the jazzfest's Jazz-Ed program taught by master guitarist Roddy Ellias, and won scholarships and awards. For the past few years, both have been studying jazz performance at the University of Toronto – but over the holidays they came back, and performed for a home-city crowd.
The show opened with a 45-minute duo performance by Eskritt and Ellias, followed by an hour-long set by Saorsa, an improvising jazz fusion group which Smith has formed with two fellow U of T students, guitarist Dan Pitt and drummer Harrison Vetro.
Ellias is one of Eskritt's mentors and they've played together several times before. They opened the show with a lyrical set of guitar and drums, very much in the jazz tradition but with strong original voices of their own.
Three very different Christmas shows were presented by Ottawa's jazz and improvising musicians this month.
On December 14, Ottawa's Latin big band, Los Gringos, performed their Gringos-style adaptations of holiday favourites, with lots of horns, in their annual Christmas show. On December 16, Ottawa jazz aficionado and vocalist Gaby Warren hosted the JazzWorks Christmas jam for the 16th consecutive year, together with his friends – an accomplished group of Ottawa musicians. And on December 18, radio host, composer, and saxophonist Bernard Stepien and his orchestra presented the 10th annual rendition of A Very Ayler Christmas, a mixture of free jazz and carols, presented by the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO).
We recorded one Christmas-themed song from each show, and present the videos below.
Inside the Scene is made possible through the generous support of OttawaJazzScene.ca's donors.
Renée Landry Wishes You A Swinging Christmas
Live! on Elgin
Saturday, December 17, 2016 – 8:30 p.m.
Back in 1960, Ella Fitzgerald released an album called Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas. It quickly became a classic, because of Fitzgerald's joyful and clear vocal interpretations and Frank de Vol's well-chosen and swinging orchestral jazz arrangements. It was an album which celebrated the season and the well-known holiday songs – without being arch or ironic. Instead, it let you enjoy the songs for the well-crafted gems that they are.
Ottawa vocalist Renée Landry reinvoked the magic of that compilation on Saturday, with her second annual “Swinging Christmas” concert. Backed by a sextet of Ottawa musicians who understand classic jazz well, she sang the songs from the Ella album plus three of her own – keeping the joy and avoided the cutesy.
It's a project which she said she and the musicians had been working on since October, with arrangements by saxophonist Richard Page and Landry. The 90-minute show was by no means a copy of the album – for one thing, there weren't any strings in these arrangements – but Page retained De Vol's strong jazz vitality. And the songs were presented in almost the identical order as on Ella's album, with one of the CD's bonus tracks added and one song moved to the encore.
Rémy Bélanger de Beauport
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) #151
House of Common, Ottawa
Sunday, December 18, 2016 – 7 p.m.
The cello is, in essence, a wooden resonating box with a neck and strings played by a bow or fingers. The tradition is to use it to produce beautiful, elevating sounds that unroll like ribbons and sigh like lovers.
Judging by his Ottawa concert on Sunday, Rémy Bélanger de Beauport does not follow this tradition.
The Quebec City cellist astonished and delighted his listeners at the last IMOO concert of 2016 with a short but very intense set of free improv. In the course of 15 minutes, he actively undercut everything they might expect from cello music, even in an improvised jazz context.
Melody was absent. The very first notes he played were jagged and raw, produced by very fast bowing, with some of his strings muted by a metal clip. de Beauport let his dissonant sounds echo around the room, soft and loud, sounding like buzzing bees and then attenuating down to barely audible vibrations.
His bow lightly rubbed the cello strings, and then pressed in again, creating at first atonal cries and then sounds like a foghorn and then high dissonant harmonics. He added occasional plucked notes to the bowing – and then increased the speed again before finally letting the last notes ring out into the space.
The audience asked for a second piece, and de Beauport obliged with harsh machine-like screeches, created by pressing a metal tuning fork within the strings. Then he threaded one bow through the strings and used a second bow to bow the first, creating a hard, crackling sound. As he sped up this two-bow performance, it almost sounded like not-quite-distinct conversation. He pressed his fingers along the strings as he continued bowing to continuously change the pitch, and then finally let the sounds fade out.
For earlier in December, see More jazz than Jingle Bells in the second week of December
Even as we get closer to Christmas, there's lots of opportunities to clear your musical palate with jazz.
It's now become a 16-year tradition: Ottawa vocalist and jazz aficionado Gaby Warren hosts the JazzWorks Christmas jazz jam. Warren has an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz – and not just his specialty, Afro-Cuban jazz – and can amaze you by recounting the musicians whom he's heard in person. Each year he brings this experience to picking his song list – mostly jazz classics with just a touch of seasonal music – and then performs them with a group of fine jazz musicians.
His group's 45-minute set starts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 16, at the Georgetown Pub in Ottawa South – don't be late! After that, the stage is open for jamming.
On Saturday, December 17, you can celebrate the season with two high-profile concerts. At Live! on Elgin, vocalist Renée Landry pays tribute to Ella Fitzgerald's famous 1960 album, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas, backed by six experienced musicians from Ottawa's younger jazz crowd. At the show, she's also releasing an EP, A Christmas Night, with her music and lyrics, produced by pianist Clayton Connell and with arrangements by Richard Page. The show is currently sold out.Watch for your opportunity to win a copy of this CD from us.
GigSpace, Ottawa's intimate jazz venue, is marking its fifth anniversary with two “Jazzin’ the Holidays” fundraisers on December 17 with Toronto-area vocalist and pianist Micah Barnes. Barnes is best-known for the years he spent singing in The Nylons; more recently, he has recorded a series of critically acclaimed solo jazz recordings. This spring, he released New York Stories, which evokes “the rich musical history of the Big Apple with songs that describe a long distance romance using the rhythms of the Cotton Club, the Brill Building, The Apollo Theatre and classic Broadway”.
The Record Centre
Sunday, December 11, 2016 – 4 to 5 p.m.
Every note was Canadian when 45north played the Record Centre Sunday afternoon.
The Ottawa jazz sextet specializes in music by fellow Canucks – both straight jazz and jazz fusion interpretations of pop and rock songs. So Joni Mitchell's “Both Sides Now” was followed by Mike Murley's “Stanstill”, and David Braid's “Cowboy Bebop” by the Powder Blues Band's “Doin' It Right”.
The combination – lively and upbeat, with horns – was a good antidote to the looming dark and frigid weather outside. The band played to customers who came and went and a varied group of listeners who stayed and clapped enthusiastically – adding to the beat during some songs as well as afterwards. Near the end of the show, a youngster in a blue snowsuit (and a 'Canada' toque) peered through the outer door from the sidewalk in fascination for almost 10 minutes, but couldn't be coaxed inside to hear the band directly.
The Ottawa Jazz Festival made a sliver of a surplus in 2016 after cutting its payments to musicians by more than a third, while staff and contract costs remained stable.
At the festival's annual general meeting on November 28, festival treasurer Lee Tessmer reported that “after two challenging years, we're back in the black”. The festival had a net income of $3,449 this year, after losses of $123K in 2015 and $141K in 2014.
But the tiny surplus did not come from greater ticket sales, which were down by almost 10% in 2016 from the previous year. (The weather during this year’s festival was primarily warm and sunny, with rain on only two days with ticketed concerts.) Similarly, grants were down 29% and corporate sponsorship down 24%, and advertising revenue was zero.
Instead, the festival cut costs – and particularly for musicians' fees. In 2016, it spent $954,671 on programming, compared to $1,459,246 in 2015 and $1,496,535 in 2014. This was despite 2016 being the festival's 35th anniversary.
The festival spent marginally more on non-musician wages and contract services, from $493K in 2015 to $497K in 2016. In 2015, according to the most recent Canadian Revenue Agency filings, the festival had three employees earning from $40,000 to $79,999, and one employee earning from $80,000 to $119,999.
Updated December 12, 2016
No need to feel hemmed in musically in the second week of December! There continues to be lots of jazz choice, with a few Christmas cookies as well.
On Thursday, December 8, you have a rare chance to hear three major jazz voices from Chicago in the All Star Ritual Trio at the Mercury Lounge. Saxophonist David Murray was a hit with audiences at the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival with his big band featuring R&B vocalist Macy Gray; he's also a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet and has worked with greats like Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, McCoy Tyner, Max Roach, and Randy Weston.
Percussionist Kahil El’Zabar is an AACM member and the leader of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, which played Ottawa annually for years. He's worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Simon, Nina Simone, Pharoah Sanders, among others. Bassist Harrison Bankhead plays everything from straight-ahead to free jazz; OttawaJazzScene.ca was very impressed with his interpretive ability when we heard him with Nicole Mitchell in 2013. He's played with Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell, Hamiet Bluiett, and many more.
Expect a deep understanding of the jazz tradition – and the ability to turn that tradition on its head. Ottawa saxophonist Petr Cancura's trio will play an opening set.
Also on December 8, you can hear four groups whose music ranges from free jazz to experimental music at Daïmôn in Gatineau. The show is called “Électrons Libres”, and it pairs sound artists and instrumentalists together for improvised sets. The show features Ottawa improvisers Instant Places (Laura Kavanaugh and Ian Birse) playing a short set with saxophonist Linsey Wellman, plus the touring American duo Elka Bong (Al Margolis and Walter Wright). Margolis is an experimental violinist and clarinetist whose works cover both fairly spontaneous studio constructions and more process-oriented composition, while Wright plays drums and electronics and includes electro-acoustic music and videos in his performance. Just don't expect to hear any Art Blakey here...
Harold Shenkman Hall, Shenkman Arts Centre
Friday, December 2, 2016 – 8 p.m.
Ranee Lee doesn't just sing: her voice is a flexible instrument that can softly caress a lyric – or jump, growl, and bop the night away..
At 8 p.m. on Friday, she sashayed onto the stage at the Shenkman Arts Centre, and, from then until 10:45 p.m., the energy never flagged. In two sets totaling 2¼ hours, the Montreal jazz vocalist performed jazz standards to pop ballads to lesser-known gems in a show which flowed easily and kept the audience entranced.
Lee's career has lasted more than 50 years – and the experience showed in how she gave each song an arrangement and the attention which allowed it to shine. She could project lyrics with blistering precision and speed, as she did in her opening number, or slowly bring out their beauty in a thoughtful “Lullaby of the Leaves”.
She used her expressive voice and her hands to underline the meaning of the lyrics – but also to incorporate her vocals as part of the overall sound. In that, she was well supported by her band of experienced Montreal jazz musicians: her husband, guitarist Richard Ring, plus drummer Dave Laing, double bassist Dave Watts, and pianist Taurey Butler. There was a comfortable, swinging vibe on stage, and an easy, quick communication among the musicians.
The concert was advertised as showcasing Lee's latest CD, What's Going On . I thought the pieces from that CD were among the highlights of the show, particularly when she was joined by the members of the Birds on a Wire string quartet, who contributed rich and lovely melodies to the mix.
Cellist Jane Chan was featured on “White Gardenia”, a plaintive ballad which Lee's long-time musical associate Roger Peace especially contributed to the album, along with Butler. Chan added full, melancholy cello lines and a solo, which underlined the lyrics' story of lost love, as did Ring's evocative guitar solo. Lee sang the elegy with care and deep emotion, letting her voice ring through the hall.
You don't have to be stuck in a Christmas carol jail this month. There's lots of non-seasonal jazz to keep you happy.
From big bands to jazz vocals, from creative exploration to jazz influenced by Gershwin or Shostakovich, there's a variety of interesting music available in December in Ottawa-Gatineau – as well as Christmas cheer!
The month opens with a holiday classic, with the Jerry Granelli Trio performing their annual Tales of a Charlie Brown Christmas at Dominion Chalmers United Church. Drummer Granelli is the only remaining musician who played on that iconic recording of Vince Guaraldi's music, and he's teamed up with two Canadian musicians – Chris Gestrin on piano and Simon Fisk on bass – to recreate it, this year with the The Cross Town Youth Chorus providing the vocals. You want comfort music – you've got it!
Also on December 1: the local jazz band Stay Tuned plays “accessible jazz” to raise money for refugees at a show at the Sheba's Cove restaurant in Westboro. There's no cover or minimum, but donations to assist refugees getting settled here in Ottawa will be welcomed. Or, if you like swinging across the dance floor, the Starlighters big band will be playing a Christmas-themed dance at the Ron Kolbus Centre on December 1.
More than 45 years ago, Ranee Lee chose Canada for love – and she's never regretted it.
The award-winning Montreal jazz vocalist will make a rare appearance in Ottawa on Friday at the Shenkman Arts Centre, performing music from her latest CD with an all-Canadian band, including a string quartet. And when OttawaJazzScene.ca spoke to her on Monday, she praised the many Canadians who contributed to that CD and to her career as a whole.
Canada has given her “every opportunity”, Lee said. “It's given me my life.”
“I don't like the attitude of small fish, big fish. I don't like that attitude, because I believe we all have to swim accordingly. I feel that the opportunities to raise a family, to be diverse enough to act, to sing, to dance, to play instruments – all of which was afforded me this opportunity through having my roots planted in Canada now.”
“I've toured most of the world as a Canadian ambassador, representing our art form in many countries. Just two months ago, we were in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a jazz festival there. So my Canadian roots have reached far and wide. And due to that, and the fact that I have a long history with McGill University as a vocal teacher there, I was given the Order of Canada. And you can't live anywhere else and get that!”
“So I believe that by fortune of birth I was given the opportunity to be born in the United States, which I don't regret. I had a wonderful childhood and a great family, and still do, and I got to see the best that the world could offer me, the best career that I could ever choose for myself.”
Lee has had a highly successful career as a musician, musical theatre performer, actress, and educator. She has released 12 jazz albums for the Canadian label Justin Time, and won a Juno for best vocal jazz album in 2010. In 2006, her joint album with pianist Oliver Jones was named Album of the Year at the National Jazz Awards. She was awarded a Dora Mavor Moore award for her performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, and produced and starred in the musical Dark Divas about the lives of seven renowned female jazz vocalists. She was named to the Order of Canada in 2006.
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