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Merrickville's Jazz Fest closed on Sunday, October 19, with a celebration of polished jazz vocals, complementing the afternoon's instrumental concerts from Brian Browne and Peter Woods, and Norman Marshall Villeneuve's Jazz Message.
A Tribute to Blossom Dearie
The main evening event was a tribute to Blossom Dearie, in a revival of the show featuring three local vocalists – Karen Oxorn, Caroline Gibson, and Marcie Campbell – which debuted in 2010 at the National Arts Centre. All three were in good voice and again easily conveyed their love of the iconic American vocalist/pianist and her repertoire. It was a fresh performance that was a little shorter and had a smaller band than the original.
Blossom Dearie knew how to deliver a lyric so that it made people laugh, or even get a bit uncomfortable. In between more conventional standards, she interspersed witty songs by Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough and herself, which ended up being the pieces she was best remembered for.
And Marcie Campbell would have done Dearie proud with her dead-on rendition of “Bruce”. Her helpful advice to a female impersonator without dress sense had the entire audience chortling. She also scored with Dearie's signature tune, “I'm Hip”, delivered with a bop feel in the music and gentle satire in the lyrics.
Dearie's own “Blossom's Blues” is bluesy in form, and quite blue in content. Caroline Gibson, assisted by Mark Ferguson on trombone and Brian Browne on piano, had lots of fun playing with the risqué lyrics, and got the audience laughing at them, too. Browne also cracked a few smiles, as he underlined lines like “My nightly occupation is stealing other women's men” with strong blues chords, and Gibson paid credit to him by changing “Ray” to “Brian” in “Ray Brown told me that I was built for speed.”
Denielle Bassels Quintet
Probably the biggest surprise at this year's Merrickville's Jazz Fest was Toronto vocalist Denielle Bassels. She was an unknown quantity when she walked onto the stage of the Baldachin Ballroom on Saturday, October 18, but her charisma and her quintet's swinging music quickly grabbed the audience's attention.
Playing to a packed room, the quintet combined swing, jazz, gypsy jazz, and a touch of funk. They took jazz standards, songs made popular by Nina Simone and Edith Piaf, a movie theme, and a pop song, and then added originals by Bassels and guitarist Andy Mac. The jazzified result got several audience members dancing, and then everyone on their feet for a standing ovation, followed by an encore.
They opened with “Gypsy Summer”, the title track of their recently-released EP. You could immediately see this was going to be a high energy show, with Bassels' scatting soaring over Mac's fast Django Reinhardt-influenced guitar, and Jacob Gorzhaltsan's bright clarinet solos curlicuing over and under.
The first jazz singer Bassels heard and loved was Nina Simone. She included several Simone numbers in the show, including some lesser-known ones. “Forbidden Fruit”, the story of Eve and the apple, was introduced with a slinky groove on Gorzhaltsan's tenor sax and Mac's guitar. Bassels sung it in a call-and-response gospel style, clearly dramatizing the story, accented by growls on tenor. The result was very catchy, and the audience responded with strong applause.
Montreal pianist Marianne Trudel's new jazz CD – which she releases October 19, and debuts in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre on October 25 – is about paying attention to life, about being in the moment.
Entitled La Vie Commence Ici (Life Begins Here), it's her reaction to a life in which “we're constantly stimulated by so many things. We're often doing two, three things at the same time, talking on the phone, checking email, doing this and that. It's hard to get a feeling of full presence and attention to one thing and attend at the same time, to be fully present in the moment and at peace.”
Looking at the people around her on Montreal's Metro, “everybody's on their iPhone doing stuff. Nobody looks at each other. Nobody is even aware of what's going on around them, and it frightens me. I don't like it , and I'm guilty of it, too.”
“So La Vie Commence Ici means in this specific moment, right now, there is La Vie happening. Life is there and we need to be aware and thankful and respectful.”
For Trudel, music is her way to “be present, open, in real relation with my band.” It's how she's related to music – a full immersion – since she was six years old and first put her hands on the keys of a piano.
So it's not surprising that the music on her new CD is rich, multi-threaded, and melodic, with intricate compositions leavened by improvisation. It's not music you only give half your attention to.
OttawaJazzScene.ca's first day at Merrickville's Jazz Fest ended on a high note. In fact a very high note, part of a rousing trumpet line, It was followed by clapping, cheering, and hooting.
The final act of that Friday, Marc Decho's Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers, had just played a 100-minute, sold-out show celebrating the music of New Orleans. They were an immediate hit: audience members danced to the music and clapped along to the mixture of old-time gospel and blues, all delivered through a jazz and Dixieland lens.
And very powerfully: the front line of Ed Lister on trumpet and Richard Page on clarinet and baritone sax could really punch out the melodies and swing, strongly supported by Lucas Haneman on guitar, Decho on double bass, and Mike Essoudry on drums. Despite it being an all-acoustic set-up, the music was clear and well-balanced and worked well in the Goose and Gridiron Pub with its low ceilings and snug space.
They'd only played a few bars of their first number, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee", before the floor started to shake as both the audience and the band stomped along with the bluesy trumpet and clarinet lines, and the bright accents on mandolin from Haneman.
Highlights of their set included an extended version of "Jesus on the Mainline", which opened with Decho getting the audience to clap in rhythm, and then featured an intense baritone solo from Page, fast trumpet from Lister and syncopated guitar from Haneman, and an echoing drum solo from Essoudry – all adding to energy that got several listeners up dancing. In "St. James Infirmary", Lister deployed his trumpet mutes to good effect, using them to add to the tragic mood and to give a Dixieland sound. In "Basin Street Blues", Lister and Page seemed to be pushing each other to higher and wilder heights, ending up laughing at their own energy.
The most unusual number was "People Get Ready" by 70s soul/R&B/funk icon Curtis Mayfield – I had initially pegged it as a traditional hymn. It featured an evocative trumpet line over inflected mandolin and bass.
In a fifty-year career, Norman Marshall Villeneuve has brought the message of bebop to Canada.
The 76-year-old drummer, who brings his Jazz Message to Merrickville this Sunday afternoon, has been across the border many times, including playing for months in the United States with his cousin, pianist Oliver Jones. And he almost got to go on tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
But, although he tells young jazz musicians to go south to build their careers, Villeneuve has built his just fine staying in Montreal and Toronto, playing with almost every major jazz musician in their scenes, and many international touring stars.
As he reminiscences, the names and stories just pile up: Jackie McLean, Ray Draper, Julius Watkins, Charlie Rouse. Blossom Dearie, Lorenzo Conyers of the Ink Spots, Paul Gonsalves, Cat Anderson. Peter Leitch, Sadiq Hakim, Barry Harris. He was called in to play three nights at the Chicken Deli in Toronto with saxophonist Sonny Stitt when “nothing was happening” with the first night's drummer – and “we just hit it off like good friends right away”.
And the Canadian musicians who built the jazz scenes in Montreal and Ottawa: pianist Oliver Jones, bassist Charlie Biddle, guitarist Nelson Symonds, saxophonist Vernon Isaac.
In Merrickville, listeners will hear the results of that experience – and how it's taught him to keep the music understandable and what “people want to hear.”
"Art Blakey is my hero"
Villeneuve's role model – right from the beginning – has been drummer Art Blakey and his band the Jazz Messengers. “He's my hero, my mentor.”
Adam Daudrich is excited to be performing with renowned bass player Ron Seguin for his piano trio show Saturday afternoon at Merrickville's Jazz Fest.
In June, Daudrich started playing with Seguin: “He's a joy to work with. He has a very different beat. He articulates the bass differently, his sustain is longer, his intonation is more modern.”
And he and Daudrich have something in common: they're both originally from Ottawa, and have spent years playing jazz in Montreal. “I knew that he was a legend. He's very well-respected here and in Ottawa. So when I played the gig with him, I really liked his beat, so I said I'm going to hire him, to see what he brings to the mix.”
Seguin's credits include working with many well-known American musicians including Steve Grossman, Dave Liebman, Tony Scott, Dewey Redman, Ben Monder, and Greg Burk, as well as Canadians Peter Leitch, Pat LaBarbera, Phil Dwyer, Kirk McDonald, and Ben Charest. He recorded two albums with the legendary Montreal guitarist Sonny Greenwich. After many years in the Montreal scene, he moved to Italy in the mid-1990s but has recently returned to Montreal and has been playing there regularly.
Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias, who brought Seguin to Ottawa for a show in 2010, described him then as “one of my favourite bass players and musicians. He's a joy and inspiration to play with.”
Four years ago, three Ottawa vocalists paid tribute to one of their favourite jazz singers, Blossom Dearie, singing
some of her most famous songs, both ballads and teasing upbeat numbers. Their show at the NAC Fourth Stage was enthusiastically received.
But that was it – until this month, when Karen Oxorn, Marcie Campbell, and Caroline Gibson will revive the show as the closing concert for Merrickville's Jazz Fest. OttawaJazzScene.ca videoed the original concert in 2010. We have combined clips from that show with a recent interview with Oxorn and Campbell, looking back to the first show and forward to its revival. Watch it to get a taste of what you will be able to see and hear on October 19 at Merrickville's Jazz Fest.
– Brett Delmage
Ottawa master pianist Brian Browne will be artist-in-residence at Merrickville's Jazz Fest this year. It's a first both for the festival and for him.
He'll be giving a masterclass on Sunday morning, performing with long-time jazz partner Peter Woods in the afternoon, and playing on two numbers in the Blossom Dearie tribute concert that night.
“It's going to be fun. It's going to be a long day ... that's one thing I know. I'm going to be there from the morning to the night. A full-day gig. But I guess that's what it means being artist-in-residence – I have to be in residence all day!”
Festival co-organizer Peggy Holloway said that a Merrickville resident suggested the artist-in-residence concept, including a masterclass – which fit in with her own commitment to increasing music appreciation by young people in their community.
“Brian was the first artist that came to mind as he has always been so supportive of our festival, always so willing to appear for us and we really wanted to acknowledge his accomplishments and his contribution to the Jazz world! With his reputation we aimed for the top!”
“There's only five of us but, man, it sounds like a freight train! It's really heavy, and because it's acoustic and the level of improvisation is really high, it's really fun, too.”
Marc Decho has always loved the music of New Orleans – its blues, its gospel, and, of course, its jazz. He's brought those musical strands together in his new band, the Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers. It will have its third – and biggest so far – outing this Friday at Merrickville's Jazz Fest.
Earlier this year, the Wakefield-based bassist stumbled across a link for WWOZ, a jazz and heritage radio station from New Orleans. Since then, he said, the station's on-line live streams have been a constant companion – and an inspiration to form a band to play high-energy, full-blown New Orleans traditional music.
He got together four local jazz colleagues, and organized a single Sunday night show at Stella Luna, a small gelato store in Ottawa South, on June 1.
“That first show was so well-received – the whole band was ecstatic and we were so happy the way it turned out, and Stella was packed and there were people swing dancing, and it was crazy!”
Stella Luna quickly invited them back for a second show, on August 3, which was equally popular. For that show, Decho gave the band its current name – which has many antecedents.
The “Crescent” in the name refers to New Orleans, the “Crescent City”. “Barbecue” is a homage to one of Decho's favourite bands from that city, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. “Stompers” evokes foot-stomping, and the band's heavy groove. And “Sun Crescent” refers to the street Decho lives on.
And, most importantly, he said, the name is “a clear indication that this is definitely going to be a New Orleans-style fun party band.”
For Rob Frayne, his instrument is, and always will be, the tenor sax.
But this Friday will be the first time he's played the sax in a concert in almost a decade, after a long period of recovery and readjustment. He'll be at GigSpace, performing with long-time friends, and his tenor sax will add to the strong Dizzy Gillespie-influenced groove in the music he's written for the show.
For well over two decades, Frayne has been a powerhouse in Ottawa's jazz scene: as a composer, arranger, teacher, and instrumentalist. He led groups like the groundbreaking Chelsea Bridge, co-founded the JazzWorks jazz camp, and played with everyone from Kenny Wheeler to the Gil Evans Orchestra to the Shuffle Demons. More recently, his Dream Band, featuring some of the best jazz musicians in Canada, filled the NAC Fourth Stage for two nights in 2012 and was one of the bands playing tribute to Jacques Émond on the closing night of the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Ten years ago (November, 2004), Frayne's car was hit by a truck, and he was badly injured. The left side of his throat is still paralyzed, and he has reduced lung capacity – which makes it harder to play the tenor.
The GigSpace concert is the first time Frayne will actually publicly play his saxophone in a group, “which is kind of neat, because I didn't quite think I'd be able to. I realized over the last few months that after I changed everything – like my reed, my mouthpiece, my horn, the way I breathe, my neck strap – everything – that I could play a bit of music on it.”
As soon as he was able after the collision, Frayne was playing bass and piano: “I was trying to find some way of playing, something. And then I realized, after about five or six years, that I liked the saxophone the most.”
He laughs, a bit ruefully. “I should have been able to guess that, but you'd think, let's adapt, let's move on. It turns out, I'm going back to the sax. And now I feel a lot like a teenager, or even someone at university in a practice room, trying to play two notes or one note...”
Although he'd been working on relearning the sax for the last decade, with “a concerted few months every so often”, he said, it was in the last year that he decided to divide up the components he needed to play, and fix them each one by one.
Joel Miller's show in Ottawa tonight will have an extra advantage – quiet.
The Montreal saxophonist and his trio will be performing selections from his Juno-Award-winning album, Swim, plus new material, at ZenKitchen. And he's looking forward to an audience which will be listening, not talking.
For its Wednesday Jazz nights, ZenKitchen has a listening-first policy, discouraging talking during sets. “That's fantastic!” Miller says. “Obviously that helps immensely with everything that we're doing. Especially if people are captivated and people are focused, then it just makes it come alive so much more. It's something we really look forward to, and we're always trying to make that happen. It's such a big difference for us.”
It's particularly important for the acoustic jazz that the trio will be playing, in an intimate space like ZenKitchen. And it helps listeners, too: “Ultimately it will be a happier thing all around.”
With Miller will be bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Greg Ritchie, who played with him on Swim [Origin, 2012]. The pieces on that album are melodic modern jazz, with Miller's rich tenor twining through and around Hollins' lyrical bass and Ritchie's cymbal-rich and multi-layered drumming – and Geoffrey Keezer's intricate piano. Ottawa audiences had a chance to hear that grouping in an outdoor show at the 2012 Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Playing those pieces without piano, as they will tonight, “opens things up a bit”, Miller said. “For example, with the drummer, Greg, it gives him more space to fill in.”
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