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Fawn Fritzen matches originals with vocal jazz classics in a finely-tuned show

Fawn Fritzen Trio
Steinway Piano Gallery Ottawa
Wednesday, May 11, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Judging from her Ottawa CD release show, Fawn Fritzen is a jazz vocalist to watch.

In two one-hour sets, Fritzen charmed her audience with a nicely-judged mixture of jazz standards, gospel numbers, and originals, delivered with both sincerity and considerable animation. She sang a beautiful lullaby in Mandarin (her first language), and added lyrics in both French and German to standards in English, in a wide-ranging set list which never flagged.

Fawn Fritzen and David Restivo ©Brett Delmage, 2016

The show was the second-last stop on a six-city tour of Ontario and Quebec (she's in Montreal tonight) – a rare chance to hear Fritzen, because she's based in Whitehorse, Yukon. She was showcasing her just-released second CD, Pairings, which consists of duets between her and a variety of Canadian jazz instrumentalists.

Two of those instrumentalists, both from Toronto, were on tour with her: David Restivo on piano and George Koller on double bass. Both have considerable experience performing with jazz vocalists, which showed in their sensitive playing and easy rapport. Several songs, including George and Ira Gershwin's “Do Do Do”, opened dramatically with Koller's signature growling bowed bass, and he also contributed occasional scatting and background vocals. Restivo in particular enhanced the ballads with sparkling solos and thoughtful intros.

Fritzen told the audience about her two-year quest to make Pairings, initially grabbing opportunities to record when musicians visited Whitehorse, and then finishing it off in Toronto. She sang most of the songs on the album, many of which were not recorded with piano or bass. Those featuring guitar or saxophone she adapted for piano, but she was especially inventive with the Cole Porter number “Begin the Beguine”, which is a percussion-voice duet on the album. For the concert, Koller (“my secret weapon”) drummed on the front and top of his double bass, adding a repeated, propulsive rhythm underneath her sensuous vocals.

Read more: Fawn Fritzen matches originals with vocal jazz classics in a finely-tuned show

 

Ed Lister's hard-swinging tribute Wednesday to Duke Ellington's classic music

Ed Lister still vividly remembers the music which first inspired him as he discovered jazz.

And that's why the 20-something Ottawa trumpeter is leading a quintet paying a modern and exuberant tribute to Duke Ellington at 12 noon on Wednesday – in a show called “Pay the Duke”.

Ed Lister is best known in Ottawa for his funkier jazz bands like the Chocolate Hot Pockets, but he has never forgotten his initial love of Duke Ellington's music ©Brett Delmage, 2012“Sometimes in the modern music we all get wrapped up in, sometimes we forget some of the classic stuff that I feel led us to this point. So it's “Pay the Duke” ... I guess my idea behind the title was just to show some respect for the music that started off the whole jazz, swing thing.”

The concert is part of the Doors Open for Music at Southminster series at Southminster United Church in old Ottawa South. Most of the Wednesday noon-hour concerts in the weekly series feature classical music, but each year there's a few jazz shows as well.

Lister said he first heard Duke Ellington's music when he was about 12 or 13, “a couple years after I started playing trumpet”, through his father, a big jazz fan. “I immediately got into Wynton Marsalis and then [through him] Duke Ellington.”

Even though he didn't fully understand Ellington's compositions at the time, “I just liked the swing. I liked the groove on it, you know, like it was intricate music but it still grooved. It was something. He was quite ahead of his time, back then.”

Read more: Ed Lister's hard-swinging tribute Wednesday to Duke Ellington's classic music

 

Fawn Fritzen takes a fresh approach to jazz standards

Whitehorse, Yukon, is not the first place you think as a jazz mecca. But vocalist Fawn Fritzen doubts she would have ever starting singing jazz if it hadn't been for Whitehorse's supportive and nurturing arts scene.

Fawn Fritzen (l) vividly describes the process which led to her new album, Pairings, in an interview with OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor. Her Ottawa release concert for the album is on Wednesday, May 11, at the Steinway Piano Gallery ©2016 Brett Delmage"I really believe that if I hadn't moved to Whitehorse I wouldn't have pursued [singing] professionally."

And successfully enough that Fritzen has just released her second album, Pairings, featuring many high-profile Canadian jazz musicians. After two packed shows in Whitehorse, she's now in southern Canada for a series of CD release shows, including in Ottawa.

This CD has Fritzen singing in duos (voice/bass, voice/drums, voice/piano, and even voice/saxophones) with musicians including Steve Amirault, Dave Restivo, Reg Schwager, George Koller, Kurt Schwonik, Kelly Jefferson, Richard Underhill, and Shirantha Beddage. It combines popular jazz standards (Cole Porter) and some which should be better-known (Francesca Blumenthal) – and even includes a rare tune by The Guess Who. Fritzen also contributes four of her own originals, one of them inspired by CBC Tonic host Tim Tamashiro's ideas about "drinky" jazz.

At her Ottawa concert on Wednesday, May 11, she'll perform with two of the musicians on the CD: pianist Dave Restivo and bassist George Koller.

Fritzen was in Ottawa earlier this week. OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor got together with her to learn about the unexpected path that led her into jazz and to this new album.

In particular, Fritzen explained how she chose the different material on the CD, and how excited she was to have found lesser-known gems to record on it.

Read more: Fawn Fritzen takes a fresh approach to jazz standards

 

Jazz swings through May

It's a swingin', bumpin' jazz month in May in Ottawa-Gatineau, with a nod to the jazz tradition and to the future.

Standing Room Only (SRO) had the dance floor swinging at its first Ottawa dance in January. They're back on May 14. ©2016 Brett Delmage

Swing dancers will get many chances to show off their footwork, jazz musicians will visit from across Canada, and local musicians will display new and evolving projects. There's contemporary jazz, Latin rhythms, and vocals ranging from modern to the Great American Songbook.

Toronto pianist Dave Restivo, Toronto drummer Nick Fraser, and Yukon vocalist Fawn Fritzen release new CDs, a new monthly jazz series starts, and Montreal pianist Oliver Jones begins his farewell tour.

There's a bumper crop of visiting Canadians, including saxophonist Pat LaBarbera, vocalist Kate Hammett-Vaughn, trumpeter Rachel Therrien, reed player Ted Crosby, vocalist Florence K, bassist Brad Cheeseman, vocalist Amanda Martinez, guitarist Kim Ratcliffe, drummer Aubrey Dayle, harmonica player Carlos del Junco, bassist Henry Heillig, guitarist Eric St. Laurent, the Kite Trio, guitarist Alex Pelchat, bassist Stéphane Diamantakiou, trumpeter Paul Serralheiro, and percussionist Ivan Bamford. Ottawa drummer Ken Harper will bring in Toronto bassist Artie Roth and saxophonist Bob Brough.


These May jazz highlights are brought to you by Charles Buckingham, Marcie Campbell, Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra, Wayne Eagles, Dominique Forest, Caroline Gibson, Normand Glaude, Chris Halford, and Keith Hobbs. We greatly appreciate their support!


And on top of that, you can hear from some of Ottawa's most talented younger players, at the university and high school level.

Read more: Jazz swings through May

 

An expanded quartet rethinks the music (video)

On April 9, guitarist Garry Elliott and pianist Steve Boudreau expanded their long-standing Ottawa duo into a quartet, with two musicians from Montreal.

OttawaJazzScene.ca was at their GigSpace concert to record the result.

They added in bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Camil Belisle, to create new sounds and, as Elliott told OttawaJazzScene.ca, allow him to dig in more while playing.

"We wanted to get a chance to play our music with different musicians,  just to get a different take on it, and stretch out a bit," Elliott said.

Boudreau said he liked "a lot of things that they added. It was different from other people would have added. I think that Adrian as a bass player is a really tasteful, melodic bass player, but he also has a really strong meaty time feel... And Camil, really super-swinging and really catches a lot of little details in the melodies. Between them, it was a very different experience."

"Some of these songs we've been playing for a while now and it's refreshing to hear a different take on them."

Watch our video report about that show, with two of the songs played that evening along with an interview with Elliott and Boudreau about their responses to what they collectively created.

Watch the video

 

Miles Ahead, but not in reality (movie review)

Miles Ahead [2015]
directed by and starring Don Cheadle
1 hour, 40 minutes
at the ByTowne Cinema, April 29 to May 5

If I could have just closed my eyes and only listened to the soundtrack, or only watched the concert sequence in its last five minutes, I would have really enjoyed this film

In Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle portrays Miles Davis as primarily a strung-out, unstable, and washed-up character, and hardly shows Davis' acknowledged charisma and intelligence and musical talent.But instead I sat through several car chases, a gunfight at a boxing match, and people being beaten up and shot at – all a complete invention – for what was supposed to be a biopic of one of the greatest jazz trumpeters, band-leaders, and composers of all time.

This was not, to my mind, an accurate or fair depiction of Miles Davis.

These are the facts: from 1975 to 1980, Miles Davis stopped performing, stopped recording albums, and even stopped playing his trumpet. This interregnum started because Davis was mentally and physically and spiritually exhausted, needing to create a fresh artistic vision. But, unlike other times in his life when he recovered after a short time and went on with renewed creativity, this time he fell into a morass of drugs (particularly cocaine), one-night stands, and depression. As Davis explains in his autobiography, his house was filthy and full of cockroaches, and he shut out most of his old friends. He was also continuing to suffer from health problems, including a painfully arthritic hip.

It's also true that Davis had a violent streak; he admitted he beat up his first wife, Frances Taylor Davis, a number of times. She eventually left him in 1965 when his paranoia and violent arguments became too much for her. He could also be verbally very nasty, although he was also generous and very loyal to his friends.

He was (deservedly) a proud man, and he was left angry and embittered by too-frequent racist treatment, including being assaulted for no reason by the police.

Read more: Miles Ahead, but not in reality (movie review)

 

Michael Kaeshammer and his audience have fun with energetic and varied music

Michael Kaeshammer
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Theatre
Saturday, April 23, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The first thing Michael Kaeshammer told the audience at the NAC Theatre is, “We're going to have a little bit of fun. I love playing the piano, and it's always fun to hang out with these guys.”

And that fun is what he and his band delivered for two sets, each more than an hour long, of energetic, upbeat music.

Michael Kaeshammer was a man in motion at his NAC concert Saturday, frequently playing both inside the piano and on its keyboard. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Kaeshammer was a man in motion: standing as much as sitting at the keyboard of his grand piano, and playing both on the keys and on the strings inside. In the opening number, he had one hand playing the piano keyboard and the other playing the Fender Rhodes set up behind him, adding a swampy organ sound to the mix. On “Stop That Train”, he swept from one end of the keyboard to the other, playing with his entire body. Other times he would walk around the stage, enjoying listening to his band perform, or chatting with the audience, sometimes at length.

Playing his favourite boogie-woogie, blues, and New Orleans jazz numbers, including songs from many of his albums, Kaeshammer was accompanied by five experienced jazz musicians from Toronto and Montreal. Drummer Roger Travassos, bassist Devon Henderson, trumpeter William Sperandei, tenor saxophonist Dany Roy, and trombonist Muhammad Abdul Al-Khabyyr are all musicians he'd played with for several years, and will be on his next album, No Filter, to be released in September.

Almost every seat in the main floor of the theatre was occupied, with a few people also in the balcony. The audience gave the band a warm reception from the beginning, with people clapping in time to the very first number, singing along in the second set, and consistently applauding strongly.

Read more: Michael Kaeshammer and his audience have fun with energetic and varied music

 

Michael Kaeshammer plays the music he loves and that's in his fingers

Read the OttawaJazzScene.ca review of this concert

Michael Kaeshammer has two sides to his musical personality: the extroverted jazz musician highly attuned to his audiences, and the creative homebody.

Michael Kaeshammer (photo provided by the NAC)When he steps onto the stage of the NAC Theatre on Saturday, the audience will see the first side – and hear the results of the second.

Kaeshammer and his sextet will be playing music from the Canadian vocalist and pianist's extensive repertoire, but not just the classic boogie-woogie, blues, and jazz he was originally known for. Over the last few years, he has steadily been including more originals on his albums, and he told OttawaJazzScene.ca that writing those songs at home “is actually what gives me the most in music”.

He won't say exactly which originals he'll perform on Saturday, however: that's not the way he organizes his concerts. His strong, buoyant piano and vocals are a given, as is the tight playing of the five accomplished jazz musicians from Toronto and Montreal backing him. But which songs or in which order – that will be decided on the night.

The way he works is “let's see what happens when we're in the room. Because you can't tell – even when I know the room, I mean I've been in l'Astral a number of times, I've seen the other theatres at the NAC, but you just don't know how your night's going to unfold, until ... and being open to that is the most fun part about it, honestly. It really is the most exciting part about it.”

Read more: Michael Kaeshammer plays the music he loves and that's in his fingers

 

Song of Lahore shows jazz triumphing over intolerance (movie review)

One of the many Pakistani jazz musicians from Sachal Studios showcased in the documentary Song of Lahore.

Song of Lahore [2015]
directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken
ByTowne Cinema, April 22-26

The documentary film Song of Lahore is a fascinating mix of endearing commonalities and striking differences. The love of jazz displayed by everyone in this film – whether they live in Lahore, Pakistan, or New York City – brought me into the film and kept me gripped by the story. But the cultural differences and obstacles which the Pakistani musicians face: those left me flabbergasted and shocked.

The film is about the men – most with a long tradition of musical performance in their families – who are part of Sachal Studios, a musical recording outfit in Lahore, and how they used jazz to reach out again into the world and to help revive live music in their own community.

Read more: Song of Lahore shows jazz triumphing over intolerance (movie review)

 

Sitar, violin, guitar & cajon entice the audience at high-energy Sultans of String show

The Sultans of String with Anwar Khurshid
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, April 14, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The Sultans of String played to the crowd – with a great deal of success – at their high-energy show at the NAC Fourth Stage Thursday evening. The room was packed, and, from the first song onwards, the group's wide-ranging mix of musical sources clearly connected with much of the audience.

Kevin Laliberté (guitar) and Anwar Khurshid (sitar) played a two song duet combining their different musical traditions at the Sultans of String concert at the NAC. It was one of the highights of the show. ©Brett Delmage, 2016The Sultans were primarily playing from their latest album, Subcontinental Drift, which adds an extra voice and musical tradition – Pakistani-Canadian musician Anwar Khurshid and his sitar – to their existing mix of Gypsy jazz, Arabic and Cuban rhythms, and flamenco. On the right of the stage, Khurshid sat on a raised stage with his sitar; in the middle were bassist Drew Birston, violinist Chris McKhool, and guitarist Kevin Laliberté, each with an amp and a substantial pedal/effects board; and on the left was percussionist Rosendo 'Chendy' Leon, who fitted in an amazing number of drums, cymbals, and percussion instruments into a small space.

In classical Indian music, the violin, guitar, and percussion (though tablas instead of cajons) do feature prominently, so it wasn't a big jump to combine sitar with the Sultans' standard instrumentation – and the reverse was true, too, with the sitar adding a metallic sharpness reminiscent of pedal steel to a few of the Sultans' older hits.

And with nearly 200 years of British rule, there has been considerable cultural exchange already in the Indian subcontinent. The second song in the show demonstrated this – “The Rakes of Mallow” is a song which, when Khurshid originally played it for them, McKhool and Laliberté immediately recognized as an Irish fiddle tune. In fact, it's also a traditional Pakistani tune – by adoption. The version they played in the show had a bit of both traditions: first the traditional Irish interpretation on violin and guitar, followed by Khurshid joining in with his high-energy version on sitar, with vocals in Urdu.

Read more: Sitar, violin, guitar & cajon entice the audience at high-energy Sultans of String show

 

The Sultans of String create an improvised collaboration with Indian sitar

Growing up in Ottawa, violinist Chris McKhool took in a wide variety of concerts at the National Arts Centre – everything from the NAC Orchestra to Bruce Cockburn to Ravi Shankar.

Subcontinental Drift by the Sultans of StringOn Thursday, his band, the Sultans of String, will perform at the NAC for the first time – playing a similarly varied repertoire, with a basis in jazz.

The Sultans are known for combining Gypsy jazz, Arabic rhythms, Cuban percussion, and rumba flamenco to create their energetic music. Two of their albums were nominated for Juno Awards, including Symphony!, their collaboration with a symphony orchestra, in 2015.

For this show and for their latest album, they've gone one step further – adding classical Indian music and the sitar to the mix. But it's still all based on improvisation and jazz – with a strong world music flavour.

“Jazz and world music are so closely related because, the way we're playing it, they're both improvised music. So much of it is created in the moment and using deep listening skills,” McKhool told OttawaJazzScene.ca.

The Toronto-based group, which celebrated its tenth anniversary on April 1, started when McKhool met guitarist Kevin Laliberté, soon adding in bassist Drew Birston and Cuban percussionist Rosendo 'Chendy' Leon. Each had a jazz background, but added other musical influences as well. Over four previous albums, McKhool and Laliberté wrote much of the group's material, bringing in guest artists who included trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and saxophonist Ernie Tollar to add specific colours.

But their latest album, Subcontinental Drift, took a very different path. Over an almost two-year period, they co-wrote many of the pieces with Toronto sitar player Anwar Khurshid.

Read more: The Sultans of String create an improvised collaboration with Indian sitar

 

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