This Sunday's tribute to Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass has an Ottawa link to the Canadian big band leader's legacy.
On February 28, the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO) will perform McConnell's arrangements for his band – giving Ottawa listeners a chance they haven't had in many years to hear those arrangements live. But the show will also include a chart by Ottawa big band composer Mark Ferguson, who studied with McConnell in the early 90s, and was highly inspired as a musician by playing in the Boss Brass.
The Boss Brass was one of the most successful Canadian big bands ever, particularly in its heyday in the 1970s and 80s. Under McConnell's leadership, the collection of top-flight Toronto jazz musicians won three Grammys (from 17 nominations) and three Juno awards. It defined the Canadian sound for big band music for decades.
Ferguson subbed in with the band three times in concerts in Ontario and Quebec. The experience was fantastic, he said. “It was like a dream come true, because that was the band that I used to listen to when I was a teenager. So Rob was my hero before I ever met him. So to get to work with him and to play in his band was quite a thrill!”
He said he first met McConnell when he was 19. “I went to a Phil Nimmons clinic and actually drove back with him from Fredericton to Toronto in his car, so I got to know him really well. And then he hired me for a few things when I moved to Toronto after that.”
The Harley Card Trio (with Petr Cancura and Alex Bilodeau)
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Friday and Saturday, February 26-27, 2016
Toronto guitarist Harley Card has brought his electric guitar, a stack of his own compositions, and a deep background in jazz standards up to Ottawa this weekend, for his Friday and Saturday shows at the Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata.
He's teamed up with two well-known Ottawa musicians – Petr Cancura, this time on tenor and soprano sax, and Alex Bilodeau on double bass – for shows combining his and Cancura's compositions with lyrical standards, all generally on the quieter and more atmospheric side.
OttawaJazzScene.ca was there for their second and third sets on Friday. There were some careful consultations on the bandstand before some of the numbers, and the result was a finely-layered and nuanced collaboration with many intertwined lines. Bilodeau provided melodic bass solos as well as consistent strong riffs underpinning the music; Cancura created strong interjections, light flutters, and deep long lines on his saxophones exploring melodies and textures; and Card played fluid and expressive guitar producing both delicate melodies and intricate, constantly-morphing patterns.
When David Renaud and Brian Browne sat down to record their clarinet-piano duo album, the music just flowed out.
“The arrangements on this album are just spontaneous. Some of the keys were spontaneous. I just wanted Brian to do what he does, and play along with him. We played off each other. Sometimes I'd hear him pick up on something I did. Sometimes I was playing off what he did. It's a conversation back and forth,” Renaud said.
The CD is called First Love. It's Renaud's first album under his own name, and the first recording the two veteran Ottawa jazz musicians have made together. It will be formally released this Saturday, February 27, in a concert at the Steinway Piano Gallery in Ottawa's east end.
It's a mixture of jazz standards and hymns, with the theme of passion and love – both romantic and spiritual love – never far away from any of the songs.
But despite how well the initial sessions went in 2013, it's taken Renaud another 2½ years to be completely satisfied with his clarinet side of the music, and be ready to release the album. He reworked several of the clarinet tracks (some within the last six months) until they met his expectations, and then remixed them with Browne's original piano tracks.
That didn't affect the feel of the album, Renaud said. “Even though I played it later, it really sounds like we're having a conversation. He did play to me and my habits. And I'm playing to him. So even though some of the tracks were done in different times, we're still playing off each other.”
“I'm happy with the end result. I've pined and fussed over it for a long time before releasing it. I think, clarinet being my main instrument, I took a lot of this personally.”
He finally gave it a soft release early this year, printing the physical CDs and releasing the album on-line.
Renaud is equally at home in classical and jazz orchestras in Ottawa, or playing New Orleans music with Dr. Jazz and swing music with the Starlighters, or in many smaller jazz ensembles. He plays clarinets in several keys, and every type of saxophone, from soprano to baritone, and is also a well-respected piano technician.
When René Lavoie first heard a Cannonball Adderley album, he thought “Man, I've got to learn how to play saxophone”.
On Saturday, February 27, the Ottawa-area saxophonist and flutist will pay tribute to the music of the renowned alto saxophonist who recorded with Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Lavoie first heard Cannonball Adderley's music as a teenager, and it set him on his path as a saxophonist and Latin jazz performer.
The GigSpace concert will also feature J.P. Allain on piano, Normand Glaude on bass, and Megan Jerome on vocals. It will commemorate the 40th anniversary of Cannonball Adderley's sudden death in 1975, and will concentrate on Adderley's music from 1958 to 1965, when he was helping define bop and soul jazz.
But, in particular, Lavoie will celebrate two albums by Adderley which changed his life.
The first was Cannonball Adderley And The Bossa Rio Sextet With Sergio Mendes. As Lavoie tells it, the 1962 album came about when the Brazilian pianist and composer, about 18 or 19 years old at the time, was with his group in New York City. “And Cannonball just happened to go and listen to these guys and a couple weeks later they made a record.”
He first encountered the record around 1973, when he was still in his teens. “You've got to listen to Cannonball Adderley,” he was told. “And in my mind, it was like, 'How good can this guy be with a name like Cannonball? Who is this guy?' [laughs]”
When that record was played for him, “I told myself, I've got to learn how to play saxophone.”
What amazed Lavoie was “just the entire musicality that he conveyed. It was just like mind-boggling for me. I was playing bossa novas and things like that, but I'd never heard a bossa nova played like that. The fact that he was playing bebop lines on bossa rhythms, it was just really good.”
On the record, “they do a lot of bossa novas and sambas that are not that familiar. People don't play them as often as some of the Jobim things. But they're very exciting and they're a lot of fun.”
At Laila Biali's concert at the National Arts Centre on February 27, the audience will be able to influence music in the making.
The Canadian jazz pianist and vocalist is heading into the studio next month to record a new album, and several of the original songs she's planning to include are still being developed. On her current Ontario/Quebec tour, she's been trying out the new songs, and using audience reaction to fine-tune them.
“I feel like audiences are being invited into a unique time, which I think a lot of artists wouldn't necessarily allow people to observe or experience. Usually they would just really flesh out the songs first whether it's in extended rehearsal time or actually going into the studio and creating demos and really figuring out what works and what doesn't work.”
“We're working it out on the bandstand. And we're OK with that, because that feels exciting and it feels like it's in the spirit of jazz. So that's been both daunting but also really fun – and actually, frankly, very helpful. Very helpful to be experimenting and trying things and seeing what works and what maybe doesn't or isn't as strong.”
When OttawaJazzScene.ca spoke to Biali on February 12, she had just finished playing two consecutive Thursdays with her trio – George Koller on bass and Larnell Lewis on drums – at the Jazz Bistro in Toronto. “A couple people did very specifically say 'We like the new songs',” she said, although “sometimes it's hard to tell”.
Alex Moxon's Alive! Ensemble
Sunday, February 7, 2016 – 9 p.m.
It was a wild night at Irene's on Sunday, as Ottawa guitarist Alex Moxon revived his Grant Green tribute.
Green was a renowned jazz/bop guitarist who flourished in the 1960s and 70s. He was particularly influential in soul jazz and organ trio music. Moxon took two of Green's best-known albums, Alive! and Live at the Lighthouse, and rearranged the songs for his quintet – with Clayton Connell on keyboards, Linsey Wellman on alto sax, Marc Decho on electric bass, and Michel Delage on drums.
He'd only played the material in performance once before, a year ago in his Nachtmusik series with several of the same musicians. In preparation for that show, Moxon had completely transcribed the two albums and created individual parts for the musicians. But that was only the start: he emphasized that they weren't playing the album's music note for note – rather, they were reinterpreting and extending it.
Florian Hoefner Group
Kildare Room, St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts
Saturday, January 30, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
In this era of far-flung jazz partnerships, the Florian Hoefner Group is still exceptional. Hoefner himself was born and raised in Germany, and now lives in St. John's, Newfoundland. Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake was born and raised in Vancouver, and now lives in New York City. Drummer Peter Kronreif is from Salzburg, Austria, and is also now in NYC. Double bassist Sam Anning lives in Melbourne, Australia.
But despite the thousands of kilometres often separating them, these four musicians showed a remarkable musical unity and fluency together in their Ottawa concert. The Winterlude show was sponsored by the German Embassy, and was part of a cross-Canada CD release tour for Hoefner's just-released third album, Luminosity.
The connection – unsurprisingly – is through New York, the jazz melting pot, to which Hoefner moved in 2008 and where all of them lived for some years. Hoefner has played with Anning and Kronreif since 2011. Blake joined them for this album and the tour.
Hoefner has only performed in Ottawa once before, at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge two years ago together with Anning and Kronreif, but Blake is well-known here as a saxophonist's saxophonist. Blake's more recent performances in Ottawa with Robi Botos, Alan Jones, and Bryn Roberts showed him to be a forceful, fluent player, but also one who enhances the entire group's sound and works to support the other musicians. You could see that same approach in this concert.
The downstairs Kildare Room at Saint Brigid's was packed for the concert, with hopeful listeners who had not pre-registered waiting at the door hoping to get in up until the concert started, almost half an hour late. That the tickets were free certainly helped, but the enthusiastic response of the audience to the music showed a stronger connection than that.
This Thursday, February 11, is the third anniversary of weekly jazz jams at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata – and the HML Trio will be keeping the music going, as they have from the beginning.
There are not many jams that last without a break for that long, and with the same host band. But the Ottawa jazz trio – Jamie Holmes on drums, Alex Moxon on guitar, and J.P. Lapensée on electric bass – has built a steady following for the Thursday jam, week in and week out.
Pianist and accordionist Doug Slone attends the Brookstreet jams at least monthly, and says they're a “rewarding experience”.
The trio's “musicianship is impeccable, embracing a range of genres and styles. As accompanists they constitute the dream backup band for any soloist. The hosts, Jamie, Alex and J.P., are always willing to try something new and different, including different arrangements or tempos. Jamie is the active outreach to the audience; he’s a friendly and welcoming host to all new faces and would-be jammers.”
On the third week of every month, Slone said, the HML jam has become the venue for a popular meet-up group 'The Burbs', and has drawn a sizeable following.
Saxophonist Chris Maskell goes to the jams as often as he can when he's not studying at McGill.
“I have fond memories of many great moments that have happened at the jams, like our old tradition of ending each night with Coltrane’s 'Impressions'. I always enjoy playing with the HML Trio, as we can push each other a good deal. Also, playing with jammers that I’ve never met before also allows me to discover weaknesses in my own playing that could be covered up while I’m in my comfort zone.”
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
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.
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.
Petr Cancura's Crossroads series with guest Lynn Miles
NAC Fourth Stage
Thursday, February 4, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
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.
“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.
The 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.”
- Hear both the roots and the future of jazz in February
- 2016 Juno jazz nominations move westward, and in unexpected categories
- Linsey Wellman declares his bilingual Manifesto (video)
- 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)
- An immersion in music from Pauline Oliveros and friends
- Standing Room Only packs the dance floor at its first Ottawa tea dance
- The Ken Harper Trio creates organic rhythms at Irene's
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