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Nick Fraser stretches the boundaries of drumming with Justin Haynes' scores (review)

IMOO #136: Nick Fraser presents the absurd and wonderful solo drumset music of Justin Haynes
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO)
Sunday, February 7, 2016 – 7 p.m.
Black Squirrel Books & Café

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Drummer Nick Fraser isn't afraid to take musical chances. Although an experienced composer himself, he asked his friend and musical compatriot, guitarist Justin Haynes, to write some solo drumset music for him – and got perhaps even more than he bargained for.

Up jumped spring! Nick Fraser applied his skills as a percussionist to a spring, guitar, vintage drum pad, and his drumset for an eclectic and satisfying performance of Justin Hayne's whimsical scores ©Brett Delmage

He told the audience at IMOO that Haynes got “quite obsessed about it”, and produced 20 scores, some of which Fraser still hasn't had a chance to look at. Fraser unveiled five scores at IMOO, starting by reading a tongue-in-cheek “composer's statement” from Haynes – the first in a series of light-hearted introductions to the pieces which got the audience laughing and interested.

Both Fraser and Haynes grew up in Ottawa, but moved to Toronto many years ago. Fraser plays both avant-garde and more traditional jazz music, while Haynes' recordings have ranged from singer-songwriter to chamber music to highly experimental.

The pieces Fraser played Sunday stretched the boundaries of jazz drumming: the first, for example, was the extrapolation of a solo by iconic jazz drummer Max Roach, rewritten for snare drum only. Fraser introduced the piece by saying, “Don't worry, it's not very long,” and that was true for all the pieces. Each was concise; Fraser explored each new idea thoroughly but without letting it drag. Each had its own particular set-up – for example, he changed snare drums between the first and second pieces – and feel.

The second piece, “Everything happens at once” had a large, elaborate graphic score, where the music was expressed through pictures and through graphs of its movement – more a guideline than prescriptive. It had Fraser playing different sounds per limb – for example, his left foot controlled a volume pedal with a recording of him playing the drums, his right foot played a toy synthesizer, and his hands played rhythms based on randomly-generated word lists – while he sung wordless melodies.

It turned out to be an intriguing conglomeration of overlapping sounds, with a fast underlying beat, and an overall echoing, ringing feel. From the description, I had expected something cacophonous, but it turned out to be relatively melodic.

For the third, Haynes asked Fraser for his back copies of Modern Drummer magazine; he clipped out all the “most-difficult looking bars” and put them together and instructed Fraser to play them slowly with brushes – and also had him replace the right-hand part with an electric guitar to create the aural illusion of a duo. It had a definite thrash rock feel, with lots of sustained notes.

Read more: Nick Fraser stretches the boundaries of drumming with Justin Haynes' scores (review)


Crossroads concert scribbled on genre boundaries while remaining true to Lynn Miles' songs (review)

Lynn Miles sings her songs in new jazz arrangements by saxophonist Petr Cancura and featuring bassist John Geggie (and guitarist Roddy Ellias, not shown) ©2016 Brett Delmage

Petr Cancura's Crossroads series with guest Lynn Miles
NAC Presents
NAC Fourth Stage
Thursday, February 4, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of Petr Cancura's Crossroads concert with Lynn Miles

Billed as a cross between jazz and folk, this concert was as much about their kissin' cousins, country music and blues – in an evening which remained true to Lynn Miles' songs even as it scribbled on genre boundaries.

It was the second in Petr Cancura's Crossroads series at the National Arts Centre, in which the jazz composer and saxophonist has collaborated with Ottawa singer-songwriters to create jazz interpretations of their music. He picks songs from their albums, rearranges them for jazz quartet plus singer, refines the arrangements in extensive rehearsals, and then presents the results in this NAC Presents series.

His target? victim? co-conspirator? this time was prominent Ottawa folksinger Lynn Miles, who clearly gave as good as she got in the partnership. There was lots of banter on-stage, generally friendly though occasionally barbed. It complemented the music, which comfortably fitted itself around the songs.

Read more: Crossroads concert scribbled on genre boundaries while remaining true to Lynn Miles' songs (review)


Vocalist Jeri Brown and drummer Jesse Stewart: 'things that I haven't heard before'

“I like to hear things that I haven't heard before,” says Ottawa percussionist Jesse Stewart – and that's an experience he and the audience are likely to share this Friday as he performs a drums and voice duet with renowned jazz singer Jeri Brown.

Montreal vocalist Jeri Brown joins Jesse Stewart for the first time in two shows at GigSpace on February 5. ©Brett DelmageThe two shows at GigSpace will be the first time Stewart and Brown have performed publicly together. And that freshness is typical of most of Stewart's concerts this spring, in which he will be trying out new instruments and new types of collaborations.

Stewart can only remember one other concert where he played with a vocalist, although he has played many times in duets with other instrumentalists. But collaborating with Jeri Brown puts him in very good company.

The Montreal singer is blessed with a four-octave range and a musical sensibility that encompasses everything from musical theatre to jazz standards to free improv. She's been nominated four times for Juno Awards. She has worked with everyone from Ellis Marsalis to Fred Hersch to Joe Lovano to Vic Vogel.

Brown has embraced the tradition with tributes to vocalists such as Nina Simone, Betty Carter, and Ella Fitzgerald – but also consistently recorded and performed new compositions by composers like Kenny Wheeler, David Murray, D. D. Jackson, Kenny Werner, Fred Hersch, and Erik Truffaz.

Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias has also collaborated with Brown, releasing an album together in 2010.

“I think very highly of her work,” Stewart said. “I don't just think that Jeri is a great jazz vocalist – I think she's one of the great jazz vocalists. I think she's really, really astonishingly good at what she does.”

Although Stewart had previously listened to her recordings, the first time they met in person was last weekend, when he drove down to Montreal for a rehearsal.

“It was actually very easy. She's very easy to play with, because she's such a good musician, with such great ears and such a wonderful improviser. It was a very easy fit – to my ears, anyway.”

They jammed a bit, he said, but “we didn't actually play that much. Mostly we just talked. It was nice to get to know one another musically but also just to get to know one another personally a little bit.”

Read more: Vocalist Jeri Brown and drummer Jesse Stewart: 'things that I haven't heard before'


Hear both the roots and the future of jazz in February

Updated February 23
February is Black History Month, and traditionally features concerts with black musicians in the jazz tradition. You can certainly hear that this month in Ottawa-Gatineau – but also much else in a busy jazz month with a wide variety of shows by local musicians and impressive touring artists. And there's a jazz festival as well.

Clarinetist and saxophonist David Renaud, and pianist Brian Browne release their CD, 'First Love' on February 27.  ©Brett Delmage

Local musicians will be performing singly up to big bands. They'll hark back to the tradition, cross over into other genres, and try things which are quite new. Look for everything from tributes to Cannonball Adderley or Charlie Parker or Grant Green, to vocal harmony interpretations of Carol King, to jazz standards, to music from giant 1m and 1.5m diameter gongs reverberating through City Hall.

From visiting musicians, you'll get Chicago jazz grooves, original music for solo drumset, Senegalese percussion, songs inspired by the city of Montreal, a piano/percussion duet inspired by ritual folk music from Cuba, a “total sensory experience” with drums and two pianos, jazz guitar in many genres – and more.

Jazz names to look for this month include Jeri Brown, Harley Card, Nick Fraser, Mike Rud and Sienna Dahlen, The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Laila Biali, Fraser Hollins, Joel Miller, Brian Blade and Jon Cowherd, Mike Murley, Carol Welsman, John Geggie, David Virelles and Roman Diaz, the Montréal Guitare Trio, and Petr Cancura. However, for some of the more popular shows, if you have not already bought your tickets, you may be hoping for a repeat performance.

February opened with lots of brass, from the 17-piece Stan Clark Orchestra. The orchestra has moved to a new location, the downtown Metropolitan Brasserie, after the closure of Maxwell's last month. They played big band classics there on February 1 with guest vocalist Johnny Vegas.

At noon on Wednesday, February 3, drummer Ken Harper, who made a splash with his Sunday shows at Irene's in January, premieres his new group, Sidewinder, with blues guitarist Tony D, bassist Dan Grewal, and percussionist Rob Graves, in a concert at Southminster United Church. The band mixes blues, New Orleans grooves, Afro-Cuban, and soul, and draws on the music of Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Jimi Hendrix.

These February jazz highlights are brought to you by Anne Jolicoeur. We greatly appreciate her support. Please join her and consider becoming an donor to help support our independent and in-depth reporting.

Discover all of February's jazz highlights


2016 Juno jazz nominations move westward, and in unexpected categories

The 2016 Juno Award nominations, announced this morning, include one Ottawa jazz group, and many jazz or jazz-related artists who have appeared in Ottawa. But not all their nominations are in jazz categories – even for the jazziest artists.

Emilie-Claire Barlow showcased songs from her Juno-nominated CD, Clear Day, in a holiday show with the NAC Orchestra in December. The CD is nominated in two categories. ©Brett Delmage, 2015Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra released its latest CD, Resistance, here in September, and then toured it across Europe. It's nominated in the World Music category.

Emilie-Claire Barlow debuted several of her songs from her new album, Clear Day, with the NAC Orchestra in December. That album is nominated in two categories: Vocal Jazz and Producer of the Year, where Barlow and her co-producer, Steve Webster, are co-nominated for two songs, “La Llorona” and “On a Clear Day”.

Other vocal jazz nominees include Alex Pangman (who was warmly received at Merrickville's Jazz Fest in October), trumpeter/vocalist Tara Kannangara (at Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge in May and in February with Elizabeth Shepherd), and Jaclyn Guillou. But most unexpected entry in this category is drummer Dan Brubeck, whose Live from the Cellar album celebrates the music and lyrics of his father and mother, Dave and Iola Brubeck, and features bassist and vocalist Adam Thomas.

Read more: 2016 Juno jazz nominations move westward, and in unexpected categories


Linsey Wellman declares his bilingual Manifesto (video)

In January 2015, improvising saxophonist Linsey Wellman invited listeners to participate in the live recording of his bilingual, solo CD, Manifesto. On January 27, the one-year anniversary of the recording, he invited listeners back to DAÏMÔN in Gatineau for its release. The event, which included a 35-minute solo saxophone performance, marked the official start of his CD release tour. attended the event, where Wellman talked to us on-camera about his philosophy, the development of his music since his first solo saxophone CD, Ephemera, and his relationship with listeners and live performance. Our video story also includes excerpts from the performance.

For more details in both official languages visit

    – Brett Delmage

The Manifesto CD release tour

  • Montréal – 31 janvier/January (185 Van Horne)
  • Guelph – 4 février/February (Silence)
  • Toronto – 5 février/February (The Music Gallery – emergents)
  • Hamilton – 6 février/February (HAVN – Zula presents)

Related stories

Watch our video story


Fraser Hollins picks long-time musical friends for his Jazzfest show: Brian Blade, Jon Cowherd, and Joel Miller

Read the review of this concert

Montreal bassist and composer Fraser Hollins thinks of people first when developing his musical projects.

Fraser Hollins picked long-time friends for his quartet, which performs at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival on February 5. ©2013 Brett Delmage

“Relationships are so important, you know, and I think those things translate into the music. I don't think so much, 'I want to have a certain instrumentation'. It's really about the people. When I did my first record, I just knew exactly who I wanted to have on the record. It was the most important thing to me: I want these guys.”

And his latest, star-studded project, which Ottawa audiences will hear on Friday, February 5 at the NAC Fourth Stage, is a perfect example. In Hollins' quartet are two Americans, drummer Brian Blade and pianist Jon Cowherd, and another Canadian, saxophonist Joel Miller – and they're all musicians he has known and loved playing with for many years.

With those players, “I just knew if I put those elements together, it would really work.”

Joel Miller he's known since they were both students in Montreal more than two decades ago, and has played with frequently. Jon Cowherd he roomed with and played with during his almost five years studying in New York City, starting in 1999. Brian Blade he met through Cowherd, and played with as well.

But getting all four on stage together has proved much more difficult. Next Friday's concert in Ottawa will be truly a “rare opportunity” to hear them – it will only be the second time they've performed publicly as a quartet.

A rare opportunity to repeat “une soirée magnifique”

The first was in June, 2012, at the Montreal Jazz Festival, in two back-to-back shows at the Upstairs Club. “Just getting the opportunity to play with those guys was blissful,” Hollins said.

The reviews were blissful as well: a Montreal Gazette reviewer described the show as “two sets of swinging, cerebral music that showcased everyone’s talents”. In La Presse, reviewer Alain Brunet said it was “une soirée magnifique dont les fruits méritent d’être exhibés davantage”.

Read more: Fraser Hollins picks long-time musical friends for his Jazzfest show: Brian Blade, Jon Cowherd, and Joel Miller


Karen Oxorn reflects 60 years of loving music in her concerts this weekend (podcast)

When she arrived for her interview with on Monday, Ottawa jazz singer Karen Oxorn was toting a bag of her favourite LPs.

Karen Oxorn shows some of her musical inspirations for "From 0 to 60: A Birthday Celebration in Song" at GigSpace on January 29, 2016. ©2016 Brett DelmageShe'd recently bought a new turntable and got back into listening to vinyl, she told editor Alayne McGregor, and she wanted to show off some of the music which had influenced her over the years. She pulled out one of the first records she ever bought – Elton John's first album – as well as an LP by her favourite vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, and the soundtracks to the musicals Funny Girl and My Fair Lady, and talked about the memories they inspired.

The musical journey encompassed by those LPs and more will be reflected in her two concerts this weekend, which will also celebrate her 60th birthday. On Friday, January 29, she'll perform with pianist Steve Boudreau at GigSpace in Ottawa, and Saturday at the Baldachin Inn in Merrickville.

Oxorn has specialized in interpreting the Great American Songbook, but with her own touches and a great deal of care and polish. She's organized and performed in tributes to many of her favourite vocalists of yesteryear – including Blossom Dearie, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday (twice).

But the sources and inspiration for this show are broader, including different interpretations of songs by different jazz vocalists. recorded our chat with Oxorn. You can listen to the entire interview below. Here are some highlights of what Oxorn said about the two shows and her plans for 2016, 2017, and her next 20 years. 

On women being considered invisible after age 45: “[These days], society as a whole is looking for the art of things and less concerned about what somebody looks like, how old somebody is. They want to really see what they have to bring to it and the experience that enriches what they do. So I think for me – and also having started so late in music, I was already in my 40s – I don't think that's been an impediment.

Read more: Karen Oxorn reflects 60 years of loving music in her concerts this weekend (podcast)


An immersion in music from Pauline Oliveros and friends

Jesse Stewart, Gayle Young, and Pauline Oliveros listen intently and react musically at their Ottawa concert January 16. ©2016 Brett Delmage

Pauline Oliveros and Friends
Canadian New Music Network Forum 2016
First Baptist Church
Saturday, January 16, 2016 – 8 p.m.

View photos of Pauline Oliveros and friends

American accordionist, composer, and musical theorist Pauline Oliveros has been rethinking and overturning ideas about avant-garde composition and improvisation for the last five decades. She's influenced many performers, composers, and free jazz improvisers with her ideas on deep listening – including some of those who performed with her in her Ottawa concert on Saturday.

The concert was an extraordinary blending of many voices, with nine musicians collaborating in a completely free improvisation on a wide variety of instruments. And the result was not just ear-opening and often beautiful music; it also exemplified Oliveros' music-making theories.

Read more: An immersion in music from Pauline Oliveros and friends


Standing Room Only packs the dance floor at its first Ottawa tea dance

The dancers came out for Standing Room Only's first tea dance in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon. In fact, there were so many in the audience that the Pantry, which was selling pots of tea and sweets to thirsty dancers, temporarily ran out of china tea cups and had to hurriedly find more.

©2016 Brett Delmage

The big band is in its 10th year of running regular tea dances every winter at the Old Almonte Town Hall, but this was its first foray into Ottawa. Several dancers told that they liked the slightly larger dance floor in Scotton Hall at the Glebe Community Centre, and its good acoustics. Many dancers dressed up for the event, with sparkling dresses and shoes on the women and men in dark suits and blindingly white shirtfronts.

With only 13 members plus veteran singer Pauline Proulx, the band was slightly down from its regular strength. They played their standard big band repertoire, with numbers made famous by Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington plus some Latin numbers and the occasional foray into the 50s.

At the end of this inaugural event, both dancers and musicians said they hoped that SRO would hold another dance at the Glebe Community Centre. The band will hold its next big band dance in Almonte this Sunday, January 24, from 1 to 4 p.m.

    – Alayne McGregor

View photos of Standing Room Only at the Glebe Community Centre


The Ken Harper Trio creates organic rhythms at Irene's

Rob Graves and Ken Harper inspired each other into extra invention and intensity ©2016 Brett Delmage

The Ken Harper Trio with guest Rob Graves
Irene's Pub
Sunday, January 17, 2016 – 9 p.m.

View photos of The Ken Harper Trio at Irene's

Ottawa jazz drummer Ken Harper is leading his trio in a month of Sundays at Irene's this month – with different guests and a different sound each week. caught up with Harper on January 17, his third of five evenings, when he played with percussionist Rob Graves and the other members of his trio: Alex Moxon on guitar and effects, and Mark Fraser on double bass.

It was an evening of surprising textures and varied rhythms, as Graves and Harper inspired each other into extra invention and intensity. They opened with an impromptu and extended improvised piece, with drums and congas in deep conversation while Fraser added melodic riffs on bass. It grabbed the audience's attention with its almost hypnotic feel.

Graves played (in Moxon's words) “everything” – two congas, a small double drum, another hand drum, a cow-bell, a triangle, a string of bells, a clave, a small cymbal, various shakers, and possibly a few more instruments which we missed. He constantly switched among instruments, responding to the other musicians.

Most of the show featured jazz classics: Dizzy Gillespie's “Night in Tunisia”, Duke Ellington's “Caravan”, and a soft, sensual version of Horace Silver's “Cape Verdean Blues”, among them. The group added in several blues, and ended with a Stevie Wonder number. A noticeable Afro-Cuban feel informed much of the music, as well as a strong collaborative feel. “Sunny”, for example, featured bright notes on triangle from Graves accenting a grooving melody on guitar from Moxon, followed by an inflected bass solo, and then a strong drums/percussion duet aka duel.

Particularly impressive was a slower number, Bill Frisell's “Strange Meeting”, with thoughtful solos from each band member.

Read more: The Ken Harper Trio creates organic rhythms at Irene's


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