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Finding the patterns in Tim Berne's free jazz (review)

Tim Berne's Snakeoil
Salle Gésu
Montreal Jazz Festival
Friday, July 5, 2013 – 10:30 p.m.

Sometimes, listening to free jazz, I start imagining it as the soundtrack to a film or a book. The quieter duets could be the conversational interludes; the more cacophonous, abstract sections would fit chase scenes. As music that's not bound to a melody nor to a prearranged form, free jazz allows the listeners to recognize their own patterns inside what the musicians are playing.

For Tim Berne's quartet performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival on Friday, I kept thinking of thrillers by American noir writer Cornell Woolrich: the music and Woolrich's thrillers shared the same features of dark, ominous sections, and heart-grabbing unexpectedness – but also beauty of language, whether written or musical.

And there was a lot of beauty there, nestled among some atonality, complicated rhythms, and unearthly harmonies.

This was Berne's first appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival as a leader, and he brought the same three musicians who also appeared on his 2012 ECM album, Snakeoil: Oscar Noriega (clarinet), Matt Mitchell (piano) and Ches Smith (drums, percussion, and vibraphone). All three of them are active in the NYC/eastern U.S. jazz and improvised music scene, and they've played together in different other arrangements as well.

Read more: Finding the patterns in Tim Berne's free jazz (review)

 

A romantic evening: The Thomas Enhco Trio and the Steve Kuhn Trio at the Montreal Jazz Festival (review)

Thomas Enhco, Solo and Trio
Cinquième Salle - Place des Arts
Montreal Jazz Festival
Tuesday, July 2, 2013 - 7 p.m.

Steve Kuhn, Steve Swallow, Joey Baron
Salle Gésu
Montreal Jazz Festival
Tuesday, July 2, 2013 – 10:30 p.m.

Thomas Enhco is a young pianist from France who will celebrate his 25th birthday this year. Judging from his concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival, and the enthusiastic reception he received there, he already has considerable aplomb and skill playing jazz.

Thomas Enhco  ©Brett Delmage,2013

The festival placed him in a new venue, the Cinquième Salle, an intimate space which can hold about 400 listeners, in strongly-raked seating surrounding the thrust stage. It had excellent sightlines and acoustics: you could hear the piano from near the back as though you were next to the stage. You could, unfortunately, also hear the photographer who chose to use high-speed continuous shooting in the first five minutes of the show (not from OttawaJazzScene.ca) – which audibly angered several audience members. Enhco ignored the interruption completely.

Regrettably, the lighting didn't equal the sound. For much of the concert it was dramatic and harsh rather than clear. The performers were back-lit and half-outlined against black, which made it harder to see them play.

For about the first 20 minutes Enhco played solo: a mixture of originals and a deconstruction of the standard “You don't know what love is”, which only briefly referenced the melody in a few places, creating repeated patterns based on the chords of the song. Partway during the third song, “La fenêtre et la pluie”, he was inconspicuously joined on stage by Chris Jennings on bass (from Alberta) and Nicolas Charlier on drums (from Belgium).

Read more: A romantic evening: The Thomas Enhco Trio and the Steve Kuhn Trio at the Montreal Jazz Festival (review)

 

Christine Jensen, Ingrid Jensen, Gary Versace at the Montreal Jazz Festival (review)

Christine Jensen gave was totally involved, whether playing or listening   ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Christine Jensen, Ingrid Jensen, Gary Versace
L'Astral
Montreal Jazz Festival
Monday, July 1, 2013 – 6 p.m.

View photos of this concert

Sometimes it's wonderful to see musicians in new combinations, risking the unfamiliar. But sometimes familiarity not only has its charms, but leads to wonderful music.

Montreal saxophonist Christine Jensen invited what she referred to as “her closest musical friends and family” to play with her at her well-attended concert at L'Astral. She and her sister, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, wrote most of the compositions; they teamed up with three long-time musical friends: Gary Versace on piano and Fender Rhodes, Fraser Hollins on bass, and Jon Wikan (Ingrid's husband) on drums.

Christine joked that, because of Ingrid's packed schedule during festival season (including in Ottawa on Friday), they'd held their rehearsal at midnight the previous night. But they smoothly flowed into their first number, “Blue Yonder”, a piece Christine premiered in 2012.

Read more: Christine Jensen, Ingrid Jensen, Gary Versace at the Montreal Jazz Festival (review)

 

2013 Montreal Jazz Festival celebrates pianists – and the late Dave Brubeck

The Montreal Jazz Festival is celebrating pianists this year, with its 2013 edition dedicated to the late pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, a three-concert residency by Vijay Iyer, and a Pianissimo series.

In 2013, Vijay Iyer will be one of many pianists featured at the Montreal jazz festival but not at the Ottawa festival. ©Brett Delmage, 2006“Mr. Brubeck was a proud partisan, champion and habitué of our event, which he honoured with 14 concerts between 1981 and 2011, and during the 30th edition of the Festival, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the legendary Time Out,” the festival said in a press release about their indoor concert lineup.

The festival will close with a tribute to Brubeck on July 7, performed by the Brubeck Brothers Quartet together with with Montreal musicians Lorraine Desmarais, Adrian Vedady, and Chet Doxas, “celebrating a repertoire that is quite simply the living memory of jazz”.

Other notable pianists performing during the festival will include Geri Allen (in the ACS Trio), Aaron Parks (with Kurt Rosenwinkel), Jason Moran, Craig Taborn, Barry Harris, Bill Charlap, Jacky Terrasson, Steve Kuhn, Lawrence Field, Laurent de Wilde, and Oliver Jones. From Cuba will come Chucho Valdés, and jazz prodigy Harold López-Nussa.

NYC pianist Vijay Iyer will play a series of three Invitational concerts in the acoustically-supportive Salle Gesù. On July 4, he will reprise his album, Accelerando (named the 2012 Jazz Album of the Year in the International Critics Poll in DownBeat Magazine), in a trio with bassist Justin Brown and drummer Stephan Crump. On July 5, he'll perform a duet with iconoclast Craig Taborn, and on July 6, he'll play a solo concert.

Of course, as the largest jazz festival in the world, the Montreal jazz festival is offering much,much more: every type of jazz – and pop, soul, and blues as well. It runs from June 28 to July 7 this year. Ottawa fans will be able to hear its last seven days without missing any of the Ottawa jazz festival.

Read more: 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival celebrates pianists – and the late Dave Brubeck

 

Almonte's JazzN announces new house concerts, reflects on successful first year

On June 22, the JazzNhouse series held its last concert of the year in Almonte, and announced its 2013-14 lineup.

The series brings jazz, generally musicians from the Ottawa-Gatineau scene, to listeners in the west end of Ottawa. The concerts are held in private homes in the Almonte/Carleton Place area. 

The 2013-14 series is:

  • September 21, 2013: Zakari Frantz Trio
  • October 26, 2013: Adrian Cho and Diane Nalini
  • November 30, 2013: Rimbombante
  • January 11, 2014: Peter Liu Trio
  • February 22, 2014: Craig Pedersen Quartet
  • April 5, 2014: Christine Fagan Trio
  • May 17, 2014: Patrick Smith Trio
  • June 28, 2014: Peter Woods and Brian Browne

A few days before the announcement, OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor talked to JazzNhouse organizer Arnie Francis about why he started the series and where it's going.The following is an edited version of our conversation.

Read more: Almonte's JazzN announces new house concerts, reflects on successful first year

 

AlphaSoul jazzfest jams get jammed

Players and listeners wait to be admitted into the Ottawa Jazz Festival jam at AlphaSoul Cafe. The Cafe was already jammed to capacity of 60 people. ©Brett Delmage, 2013Ottawa Jazz Festival jam sessions continued their popularity throughout the festival this year, despite the change in location to the AlphaSoul Cafe in Hintonburg, 3.5 km west of downtown and the festival's stages.

The "small but vocal group of Jazz Festival audience members" whom festival executive producer Catherine O'Grady said earlier were "disappointed by the prospect of a jam-less festival" have supported the new venue evening after evening. They have overflowed its maximum capacity of 60 people most evenings from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.

The number of headline musicians showing up to jam has been somewhat less that previous years, but world-class players, including saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, guitarist Gilad Hekselman (playing drums!), and cellist Matt Brubeck have continued to show up to jams, to the delight of listeners. The participation of excellent local musicians is up this year, introducing jam-goers to people they can listen to throughout the year. Pianist Miguel de Armas was a particular hit.

Read more: AlphaSoul jazzfest jams get jammed

 

Alan Jones embraces risk with his all-Canadian, all-star sextet

The Canada-U.S. border can be surprisingly porous when it comes to musical ties.

Take, for example, Alan Jones – a drummer, composer, and educator who's an important part of the jazz scene in Portland, Oregon. Jones is bringing his All-Canadian Sextet to the Ottawa Jazz Festival on Friday, and to the Jazz Bistro in Toronto on Saturday.

All-Canadian? Actually, yes. Five of the six star jazz musicians in this group live in the U.S., but every one is a Canadian citizen.

Alan Jones (image used by permission of the artist)Saxophonist Seamus Blake, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, and pianist Jon Ballantyne reside in the NYC area. Jones and bassist Tom Wakeling are in Portland. Only saxophonist Phil Dwyer lives in Canada, on Vancouver Island, and even he did live in the U.S. for a while in the 1980s.

So what you'll see on the festival stage will be mostly musicians who for family or musical reasons have chosen to live the expatriate experience. Jones himself is a perfect example: he's lived in various cities in Canada, the U.S., and Europe before settling down in Oregon a few years ago, and he argues that that roving was important to his musical development.

But what might not be quite as obvious is the long-standing musical ties behind this group. Jones has been playing with all but one of these musicians for decades – and those ties started in and were strengthened by experiences in Canada.

As he says, these are “my favourite Canadian musicians”. He picked the instrumentation of the sextet and wrote his compositions based on their capabilities, rather than picking the instruments and then finding musicians to play them.

Read more: Alan Jones embraces risk with his all-Canadian, all-star sextet

 

The Stretch Orchestra makes jazz bend

For once, Kevin Breit at 6'5 tall (l) overshadows 6'8 tall Matt Brubeck (r). Yes, that's why they're called the Stretch Orchestra. ©Brett Delmage, 2011

It's fitting that the Stretch Orchestra won a Juno Award last year in the Instrumental category – because that's the Juno category that's least classifiable.

The group, which appears at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on Thursday, is simply difficult to categorize – even while having an unmistakable and cohesive sound of its own. Its music can range from groove, to blues, to ballads and waltzes, to pure free improv, to fiery guitar solos. Its instrumentation is unique: no one else combines guitars and mandolin with cello and with drums and waterphone – or necessarily plays those instruments in the same way!

And while its members – guitarist Kevin Breit, cellist Matt Brubeck, and percussionist Jesse Stewart – all have impeccable jazz credentials, they've also played regularly in a wide variety of other genres. Brubeck was in Kent Nagano's Berkeley Symphony Orchestra from 1989-2003, and has played on albums by Tom Waits, Sheryl Crow, and the Dixie Chicks; Breit tours and records regularly with Hugh Laurie in Laurie's New Orleans-influenced blues band, as well as backing up singers like Holly Cole or Rosanne Cash. Stewart is notable for his performances on instruments made of water, fire, ice, and stone, and his work in contemporary experimental music.

That experience in music other than jazz has given the group more freedom to experiment, Brubeck said. “I think that the stretchy elasticity, especially in terms of idiom and style I associate with this band, means that I can write something in the abstract and then think, 'How would this tune go if we were reggae?' In other words, I can just think kind of melodically, harmonically, whatever, at the piano, at the cello, and then later, maybe even through the trial and error of rehearsal, figure out what does this little form stylistically demand, and go from there. Other projects that I'm involved with are a little more neatly packaged stylistically as to what they are.”

But that variety may be very appropriate for the iPod generation, he said. “I teach people who don't own CDs. Or only know a couple tracks from this record and that record, because, they hear one thing they like and they download it, right? So I don't think this is any sort of intentional thing, but I think we do reflect people's really diverse listening interests in music.”

Read more: The Stretch Orchestra makes jazz bend

 

Two exceptional percussionists play the Ottawa Jazz Festival this week (video)

Two exceptional improvising percussionists: Ottawa's own Jesse Stewart, and Chicago's Hamid Drake, will play at the Ottawa Jazz Festival's Improv Invitational Series this week.

Hamid Drake plays in the French American Peace Ensemble with William Parker, Kidd Jordan, and François Tusques on Sunday, June 23 at 6 p.m.

Jesse Stewart plays with the Matt Brubeck and Kevin Breit in the Juno-award-winning Stretch Orchestra  on Thursday, June 27 at 8 p.m.

OttawaJazzScene.ca attended Stewart and Drake's first joint concert at GigSpace in March. Although you won't hear them play together this week, our video with excerpts from their concert will give you a real feel for their skill and versatility as percussionists and improvisers, together and apart.

    – Brett Delmage

Watch the video

Read more: Two exceptional percussionists play the Ottawa Jazz Festival this week (video)

 

David Byrne talks about music and the music biz, in all its eclectic glory (book review)

How Music Works
by David Byrne
McSweeney's, 2012, $37.95
reviewed by Alayne McGregor

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I had, of course, listened to the Talking Heads, but I had never seen their ex-lead singer, David Byrne, in person until a few years ago. Byrne was on a book tour to promote a collection of essays about cycling – Bicycle Diaries – and spoke at the Ottawa Writers Festival. The book turned out to be an interesting mixture of the personal and the larger picture. In person, Byrne was modest and interesting to listen to without being dogmatic.

He's just written a second book – this time about music – and again it contains a mixture of personal experience and larger-scale musings on music as a social phenomenon and a creative spur. And its publication happens to coincide with a concert appearance by him in Ottawa, on Sunday, June 23, at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Now, Byrne is a rock musician with worldbeat and art song influences. He doesn't play jazz. But a lot of what he has to say has great relevance to jazz listeners and musicians, because the music business and the experience of listening are common to all music fans. You may listen to different styles and different instruments and in different environments, but how you find that music or get to that concert poses the same challenges and provides the same joy.

Read more: David Byrne talks about music and the music biz, in all its eclectic glory (book review)

 

Roberto López combines Colombian rhythms and jazz into danceable music

Listening to Roberto López's Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra, you may experience moments of surprising unfamiliarity.

At first, this music may remind you of Afro-Cuban or Brazilian jazz: similar rhythm patterns, musical genres, and instruments – and similarly approachable and highly danceable.

Roberto Lopez (photo by Richard Deckers)But the accents will be different, the patterns subtly altered, because of where López's musical influences come from – Colombia, half-way between Cuba and Brazil.

You can hear the difference for yourself on Saturday, June 22, at 6 p.m., when López brings the orchestra to the main stage of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. It will be the first stop on a cross-Canada tour promoting the orchestra's first CD, Azul. The tour will also include a stop at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 3.

López grew up in Bogotá, Colombia, studied jazz at Concordia University in Montreal, and has now lived and played music in Canada for almost two decades. He has combined his Colombian heritage and his jazz training to create a unique polyglot – taking Columbia traditional music and music by famous Columbian composers, and then adding his own jazz compositions inspired by this music.

His orchestra is similarly cross-cultural. It features well-known Montreal jazz musicians like saxophonist Joel Miller, bassist Fraser Hollins, and trombonist Dave Grott. But it also features many Colombian instruments: López himself on tiple, tambora, and guacharaca and two percussionists on alegre, tambora, congas, and campanas.

This cross-fertilization started soon after López first arrived in Canada. As he was absorbing jazz standards, his fellow students were asking him about Colombian music. That inspired him to learn more about the music which had surrounded him while he was growing up – for what eventually turned out to be years of research.

Read more: Roberto López combines Colombian rhythms and jazz into danceable music

 

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