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Allison Au strives for perfection, but embraces imperfection

Allison Au will give audiences a sneak peek of her upcoming album when she appears at Merrickville's Jazz Fest on October 18.

Saxophonist Allison Au brings her quartet (including pianist Todd Pentney) and new music to Merrickville's jazz fest on October 18 ©Brett Delmage, 2015The Toronto alto saxophonist and composer's first CD – a mixture of melodic and transparently multi-layered originals – was nominated for a Juno for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 2013. Au says the her second, to be released this fall, will continue in the same accessible style, but with some new keyboard sounds.

“We use a lot of Rhodes. We used one piece with a [Hammond] B3 organ in the last album, but we've tried to incorporate more in this album. And Todd [Pentney] being the keyboard player, he's added some synth overdubs in the new album as well. I'm trying to experiment more with the production side of what a jazz album could be.”

There might be a bit more groove, too, she says, and she's tried “to make the pieces a bit more cohesive and have more consistent themes throughout, like writing one complete piece.”

“I think I wanted to stretch the template of a quartet instrumentation. So with the keyboards I can add a different colour. And I'm just trying to play with those colours in a way that I didn't really have a chance to with the first album.

The Merrickville show, on the Sunday afternoon, will be predominantly material from the new album plus possibly a few standards – and a new arrangement she is currently working on. “I'm trying to create a lot of variety.”

Read more: Allison Au strives for perfection, but embraces imperfection


Mike Rud walks the edge with his new “Miniatures” CD

Jazz guitarist Mike Rud spent the last two years preparing the material for his new album, Miniatures. But now that the CD is released, he's taking even more risks with the material, “chipping away at the edges of the phrases” and making spontaneous changes.

Mike Rud got laughter and applause at the Ottawa CD release show for his new CD, Miniatures, at The Record Centre ©Alayne McGregor, 2015Rud's last Juno-winning album, Notes on Montreal, was a large-scale production, with even a string quartet. This CD is stripped down: just his voice and his guitar, but he's arranged the music so that it sounds like much more. In most of the pieces, he sings one melodic line and simultaneously plays a completely different one on guitar. The idea is to simulate a small group by himself.

The material includes many jazz standards, some of his own compositions, and his adaptation of Johann Sebastian Bach's Invention No. 8 – rewritten into a song about learning music called “You Have to Practice Slow”.

OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor talked to Rud about this project last March, before he recorded it. But since then, the project has developed further and in some unexpected ways.

Rud was back in Ottawa on Friday, September 25 for a mid-afternoon CD release show at the Record Centre. The show filled the store with about 30 listeners, almost all of whom stayed throughout and were intently listening, applauding, and swaying to the music.

It was the third release show for the CD. Rud formally released in his home town of Montreal on August 30, and a few weeks earlier in Vancouver.

McGregor talked to Rud after the concert about how the CD has evolved and where he's taking it next.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: What reaction have you've got so far to the album?

Read more: Mike Rud walks the edge with his new “Miniatures” CD


Jazz for all tastes in Ottawa-Gatineau in October

Updated October 5, 2015
Read OttawaJazzScene.ca's story about jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau in November, 2015

It's a mixed bag of jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau in October – some big band, some Latin, some vocalists, some avant-garde, and some mainstream jazz.

Mike Tremblay releases his first CD under his own name at a concert at Trinity United Church on October 18. The concert was recorded live at GigSpace, with Tremblay, bassist Ben Heard, and guitarist Tim Bedner (not shown) ©Brett Delmage, 2015Visiting artists from across Canada and the U.S., including Jill Barber, Sophie Milman, and Steve Grossman, will add some glamour, while local musicians will show off their chops – including one CD release. And the National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra will even get into jazz, with a concert series celebrating Jazz-Age music, including by Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, and Charlie Chaplin.

Subscribe to our weekly jazz news and events newsletter to get the full details about these and other upcoming jazz events!

And there's a jazz festival mid-month. Merrickville's Jazz Fest (October 15-18) will showcase a wide variety of accessible jazz, with four Toronto groups (vocalist Alex Pangman, saxophonist Allison Au, vocalist and pianist Fern Lindzon, and the brash jazz fusion of Snaggle) – and many Ottawa-area musicians presenting recent projects.

Local highlights at Merrickville will include vocalists Diane White, Steve Berndt featuring Brian Browne, and Dominique Forest; Latin from the Carlos Alberto Santana Jazz Trio and the Miguel de Armas Latin Jazz Quartet; and mainstream jazz from groups like The Jazz CO-OP and The Horizon Quintet. The final night will feature Richard Page’s Night On The Town Band with their infectiously fun, propulsive music. Read about the full line-up in our story.

Read more: Jazz for all tastes in Ottawa-Gatineau in October


Alex Pangman embraces traditional swing, this "lovely, melodic, lyrical" music

Toronto jazz vocalist Alex Pangman loves the excitement and vibrancy of traditional swing music. Ever since her teens, she's been collecting recordings from the first part of the 20th century – and then celebrating that music in her performances.

Alex Pangman (photo by Steve Payne, used by permission)A three-time National Jazz Awards nominee, Pangman was mentored by blues guitarist and trumpeter Jeff Healey – a huge fan and collector of old-time swing music himself – who produced the first two of her seven albums.

On October 17, Pangman and her Alleycats will be one of the headliners at Merrickville's Jazz Fest. It's an uncommon Ottawa-area appearance. She got audiences dancing in the park at the 2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, but her only other recent show here was at a swing dance in 2012.

Pangman talked with OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor last week about her music, the musicians she's enthusiastic about playing with, and how she's now feeling “fit as a fiddle” after several major lung challenges. The following is an edited version of the conversation.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: What do you call the type of music that you sing?

Pangman: Hmmm... I've called it many things over the years. I think I would call it traditional swing.

It's very much rooted in the music from the 1930s. We play it as authentically as we know how, and we don't tart it up with rock drums or any of that.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: Could you give me a start and end date for the music you perform?

Pangman: I would say about 1920 to about 1945. I like a lot of other kinds of music, but this is the one that I professionally focus on.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: Of the music that you perform, is it all music that was written then, or is it music in that style?

Pangman: I would say that it's 90% music that was written then. The other 10% would be stuff that I have written in that style, inspired by the writers and the artists of the Great American Songbook and the songwriters of Tin Pan Alley. I think it is important to at least put your thumb-print in there as a songwriter once in a while.

Read more: Alex Pangman embraces traditional swing, this "lovely, melodic, lyrical" music


Music in Motion: The Miguel de Armas Latin Jazz Quartet

 ©Brett Delmage, 2015

There's a physical excitement and vibrancy to Afro-Cuban jazz that transcends cultural and language barriers.

You can see that when Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas and his Latin Jazz Quartet perform, and even more in the full scale Afro-Cuban celebration that he's hosting at Shenkman Arts Centre on Saturday - which includes dancers.

OttawaJazzScene.ca was at the quartet's regular monthly show at Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge this month, when they were joined by several of the guest musicians – Caridad Cruz on vocals, Roberto Jerez on violin, Alejandro Vega on guitar – who will also perform at Saturday's celebration at Shenkman Arts Centre.

View photos of the September 4 Brookstreet show

Read more: Music in Motion: The Miguel de Armas Latin Jazz Quartet


GigSpace's new piano gets a melodic try-out from Bernie Senensky and Roddy Ellias (video)

This summer, a very special new resident arrived at GigSpace: the Yamaha C3 piano which they were able to purchase with the $18,000 in their 88 Keys fundraiser.

GigSpace really did their homework making sure the piano would sound great, including asking three-time jazz Juno nominee Bernie Senensky to thoroughly play it this summer before they bought it.

On September 13, Senensky was in Ottawa to play an afternoon concert at GigSpace with guitarist Roddy Ellias – and he got to try out the piano in its new home.

OttawaJazzScene.ca was there to hear the piano for ourselves and share its story with you. Senensky explained to us how he tested the piano, and you can see him play his own composition on it in our video story.

Watch the video


Mark Ferguson's Next Chapter unfolds beyond jazz

When I first asked Mark Ferguson about his new CD, he emphasized that it was not mainstream jazz, but instead had a lot of different elements. I was intrigued.

While Mark Ferguson's new CD, The Next Chapter, is primarily for piano trio, it also contains five evocative trombone interludes. ©2014 Brett DelmageOn Friday and Saturday, he will release his CD, called The Next Chapter, in two concerts at GigSpace. And listeners will be able to hear how he has combined a quieter strain of jazz with classical elements – but also a touch of Latin and a bit of bebop. It's as multi-faceted as Ferguson himself.

Ferguson is a pillar of Ottawa's jazz scene, whether as an arranger, composer, pianist, trombonist, or a university educator. He's written for big bands, intimate vocal showcases, and his beloved Latin jazz groups, and performed with many different groups, both in Ottawa and further afield.

He has also produced and performed on many jazz CDs. But this CD is the first that's just his.

“I've collaborated with people before, and I've produced a lot of CDs for singers over the years. But this is the first one where I'm doing all my own music. It's my project from beginning to end. So yes, this will be the first one that I've done all just for me.”

It's primarily a piano trio album, featuring Ferguson on piano, John Geggie on double bass, and Scott Latham on drums and vibraphone.

Read more: Mark Ferguson's Next Chapter unfolds beyond jazz


Nicole Ratté celebrates 10 years of teaching the joy of jazz

This week, Nicole Ratté is celebrating the tenth anniversary of her jazz vocal courses – courses which are uniquely hers.

Nicole Ratté ©2011 Brett Delmage

They're bilingual – breaking the English/French language barrier – and they're based on her own experience of learning jazz essentially from scratch.

Ratté is now a long-time vocalist on the local jazz scene, regularly singing in restaurants and in larger projects such as the concert this spring celebrating Billie Holiday's centennial. But back in 1996, she was a total jazz novice.

She's warmly voluble and enthusiastic describing how she learned jazz and then realized she could pass that knowledge on to other vocalists, even those who have never sung in public before.

Before she attended the JazzWorks jazz camp, she said, “I didn't know a thing about jazz before I went to camp in 1996 to '98. It took me a long time to understand how it worked because it was very unclear. By singing with groups of people whom I met at jazz camp over a period of years, I just started to understand how it was working. And that's what I wanted to teach.”

She started teaching jazz vocalists in 2004. “It was totally unexpected and it was a change of career for me. I was a project coordinator in a hi-tech company before and then I had to take a leave from that.”

The director of a music school where Ratté was taking lessons knew she was doing jazz, and asked her if she would be interested in teaching jazz one on one – the usual type of private vocal lessons.

But as Ratté started thinking about how to do that, she realized it would be difficult to cover all the material she wanted to in only a one-hour lesson each week, and instead decided to start a workshop, based on the masterclasses she had enjoyed at jazz camp.

Read more: Nicole Ratté celebrates 10 years of teaching the joy of jazz


Peter Hum: Alpha Moment (CD review)

Alpha Moment by Peter Hum (front cover photo by Bruce Deachman). The CD will be released in Ottawa in a concert at the NAC Fourth Stage on Thursday, September 24.Alpha Moment
Peter Hum
Independent, 2015

Over the last year, I've heard Peter Hum in concert several times. Although he's often had a major role in arranging the music being played, he is usually seen off to the side, in the darker edges of the stage, letting others take the spotlight and talk about the music.

This approach is also present in his second album, Alpha Moment. While the compositions clearly reflect Hum's complex style, his piano playing is not particularly featured in this album. It's certainly there in the mix, but the leads and the solos are primarily by saxophonists Kenji Omae and Nathan Cepelinski and guitarist Mike Rud.

Instead, Hum's voice comes through in his writing and arranging. This CD demonstrates Hum's talent for layering instruments and contrasting voices: for example, Omae's more full-bodied sax style against Cepelinski's more finely-edged lines. His compositions flow and and develop, with considerable dynamic range throughout.

The CD also celebrates melody, supporting and developing those melodic threads throughout each piece, changing them in a way that works naturally from the initial statement.

Hum released his first album, A Boy's Journey, in 2010. This second album was mostly recorded in December, 2011, but has taken almost four years to release. Listening to both, it's clear that the two are companion CDs, with overall a similar sound.

Read more: Peter Hum: Alpha Moment (CD review)


Jazz fans hit up the 'burg for first night of Beeched Wailers new jam spot

Jam regulars Andrew Ferderber (drums) and Tariq Amery (sax) connect on a musical creation ©Brett Delmage, 2015

View photos of the jam by photojournalist Brett Delmage

The inaugural Beeched Wailers jam at their new space in Hintonburg on September 8 was packed with listeners and local musicians. The music and socializing spilled on to the sidewalk for the first part of the warm evening, and the music was still going strong well past midnight.

In their upbeat opening set, the Wailers celebrated the local jazz scene. Five of the six songs the group played were by local musicians, including by band members Nick Dyson and Tyler Harris. Dyson said later that all those numbers were ones that they recorded in August for their upcoming CD. They ended with a classic by one of the group's favourite composers: “The Sticks” by Cannonball Adderley.

Then musicians quickly stepped up to jam. Other than an initial Leonard Cohen tune which would have been a better fit at an open mic night elsewhere, the music was interactive and extended jazz. Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and lots of standards allowed locals to stretch out and have fun.

There were many faces familiar from the Wailers' former location. Newer, younger players were also supported and encouraged to play, in the fairly loose, comfortable atmosphere – although a bit tighter organization might have allowed more people to play.

The jams continue every Tuesday, starting at 9:30 p.m.

Read more: Jazz fans hit up the 'burg for first night of Beeched Wailers new jam spot


Major changes for JazzWorks jazz jams: new location and new night

The longest-running jazz jams in Ottawa are making some major changes this fall, to get a better listening experience.

The previous JazzWorks jam location at the Carleton Tavern was long and narrow. Even with a second speaker half-way back the music was difficult to hear. ©Brett Delmage, 2011The JazzWorks monthly jams are moving to the Georgetown Pub in Ottawa South, and to Fridays instead of Thursdays. The first jam in the new location will be held this Friday, September 18.

JazzWorks executive director Judy Humenick told OttawaJazzScene.ca that the main reason was to improve the sound and the sightlines.

“As much as the Carleton Tavern has been wonderful, and they've been a great home for us for the last several years, the actual layout of the space doesn't work as well for vocalists. Because of the shape of the room – it's a long, narrow, room – it's a tricky room to have a jam session in.”

The jams had been hosted by the Carleton Tavern in Hintonburg since September, 2009. Humenick said that JazzWorks had looked at moving the stage and other fixes, but could not figure out any way to make it substantially easier for people to hear and see. “It's very tricky to set up the sound and everything. In the long run we decided we were better to make the shift.”

Read more: Major changes for JazzWorks jazz jams: new location and new night


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