We are reporting from one of our favourite festivals, the Guelph Jazz Festival and Colloquium, this week.
For its coming of age this week, the Guelph Jazz Festival is bringing in well-known performers from around the world – and as far out as Saturn.
The festival, which runs from Wednesday to Sunday (September 3-7), is turning 21. To celebrate, it's shaken up its 2014 lineup with performers who are returning after long absences, including pianists Randy Weston, Vijay Iyer, and D.D. Jackson. But its biggest musical focus will be on Sun Ra, the late composer and bandleader, to celebrate the centennial of his arrival on Earth.
Sun Ra famously claimed he came from Saturn, and his cosmic music and other-worldly costuming was one of a kind. His Arkestra, now led by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, will perform “Hymn to the Universe” on Saturday evening (September 6), in a collaboration with Quebec dance company Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie.
But there's more. For those interested in Sun Ra's life and work, the festival is offering a whole series of free talks and panels exploring his legacy, including a keynote address entitled “Sun Ra on Earth” by Columbia University professor and Sun Ra biographer John Szwed, and “Black Utopia LP” by American filmmaker and visual artist Cauleen Smith, who has intensely researched Sun Ra's work and influence. Four other researchers will discuss his Afrofuturist philosophy, which “fuses Egyptian iconography with the sounds, texts, and imagery of space travel and technology”; three will examine his myth-making and spirituality; and another will look as Sun Ra as a jester.
2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 11: Christian McBride Trio, Darius Jones Quartet
National Arts Centre
Monday, June 30, 2014
It was an evening of “inside” versus “outside” at the National Arts Centre, on the last evening of the Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Playing “inside”, primarily standards with a few originals, was the trio of bassist Christian McBride, with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. They looked extremely snazzy as they hit the stage, each wearing a well-cut suit, and McBride sporting a pair of cream-coloured horn-rimmed glasses. It was a visual cue to the music they were about to play: strongly in the tradition, and very professional. And, of course, swinging.
The NAC Studio was packed to overflowing for this concert, and not all the long line-up of listeners got in. McBride could have easily filled a much larger venue. Those who did get in got value for their money: the trio played for almost two hours. Each song was given lots of room for exploration, lasting about ten minutes each.
2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 10: Bobby McFerrin
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Vocalist Bobby McFerrin is undoubtedly sui generis: he's crossed the boundaries of jazz, pop, and most recently gospel, over and over again. But with his emphasis on improvisation, experimentation, and reinterpretation, I think most jazz fans would be happy to welcome him as one of us.
The almost-capacity crowd in Confederation Park was certainly delighted to see him: they started the evening off with a standing ovation, sang along in one song, and – most importantly – shut up when the band was playing. It was an evening of great communication, on and off-stage, and highly enjoyable music.
McFerrin began the evening scatting, popping out syllables and lightly bumping his chest to add extra percussive effect, as he did throughout the evening. He was assisted by accented playing by a tight backing band, including some soaring lines from Gil Bruce Goldstein's accordion and fierce playing by Armand Hirsch on electric guitar.
His second number brought the gospel theme of the evening to the fore. McFerrin's latest album is called spirityouall, and features traditional gospel numbers, a Bob Dylan song, and several originals by McFerrin, all with a hopeful religious theme.
2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 8: Newport Festival Now 60, Norma Winstone Trio
National Arts Centre (Studio and Fourth Stage)
Friday, June 27, 2014
I was curious exactly how this Newport Festival all-star group was going to celebrate the festival's 60th anniversary – in a concert less than two hours long.
Trying to be historically representative would require playing tiny snippets of many songs – not that much fun for the audience. Even trying to reflect all the major styles and types and movements in jazz that have been showcased on that festival's stage since 1954 would have been effectively impossible!What the septet ended up presenting was an upbeat show of many standards and a few originals – mainstream jazz played with verve, enthusiasm, and quite a dollop of skill. Arguably, that did indeed reflect Newport's spirit and the quality of what it's offered over the decades.
2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 6: Kirk MacDonald Quartet (Great Canadian Jazz), Dianne Reeves (Concerts Under the Stars)
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Confederation Park echoed to the sounds of jazz for the Wednesday night of the Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Not rock, or blues, or pop – although Dianne Reeves did sing some 80s pop hits, substantially revamped into jazz standards. But in the feel, the style, and the groove, the music was pure jazz, in its most enjoyable and accessible aspect – made accessible to the widest possible range of listeners.
Each Ottawa Jazz Festival evening in the park begins with the Great Canadian jazz series. This evening's Canadian group was the Kirk MacDonald Quartet: three Toronto jazz musicians with long pedigrees (MacDonald on tenor sax, Brian Dickinson on piano, and Neil Swainson on bass), plus American drummer Dennis Mackrel, with whom MacDonald has been playing regularly for the last several years.
You could hear the ease with which they followed and underlaid each other's lines, and the respect with which they treated each other. If MacDonald's fluid tenor sax was a strong presence, so was Dickinson's incisive piano, Swainson's melodic bass lines, and Mackrel's tasteful drumming.
2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 4: Hamid Drake with Colin Stetson, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
NAC Fourth Stage, Laurier Avenue Canadian Music Stage
Monday, June 23, 2014
Any time someone tells you that jazz is dying or that it only attracts the 50+ audience, you could point them to the concerts on June 23 and 24 at this year's Ottawa Jazz Festival.
On June 23, Snarky Puppy attracted a shoulder-to-shoulder standing-room-only crowd to the festival's outdoor stage in front of City Hall. And most of the listeners I saw there, clearly grooving to the intricate and well-executed jazz-rock mix with a huge dynamic range, were in their 20s or early 30s.
Earlier that evening, Colin Stetson's solo show at the NAC Fourth Stage was completely sold out. According to reports I heard from several listeners in attendance, disappointed fans of all ages were left at the door.
So I decided to show up early for Stetson's show with Hamid Drake the next evening, and was not at all surprised that the Fourth Stage again ended up packed, with most of the festival's Youth Summit members standing near the door. In fact, if the show hadn't partially overlapped with Hiromi's concert in the NAC Studio, I expect it would have attracted even more listeners.
The show was billed as “Hamid Drake with Colin Stetson” – an important distinction, because the show more closely reflected Drake's performance style than Stetson's. In fact, Stetson warned the audience at the beginning of the show that this would not be a repeat of Sunday night.
The bright sounds and beats of summer heated up GigSpace Thursday night, as Jane Bunnett and her new AfroCuban band, Maqueque, played their first two of four Ottawa shows. They return for 7 and 9 p.m. shows tonight.
The Toronto saxophonist/flutist has teamed up with five young women musicians from Cuba for this new band. Their music combines AfroCuban rhythms with four soaring voices, for a dynamic and melodic show.
Bunnett and vocalist Daymé Arceno each contributed several songs for the shows. They even included a soulful version of Bill Withers' “Ain't no sunshine when she's gone”, reimagined with a Latin beat, for this performance. Bunnett told the audience that she heard the tune on Holger Petersen's blues show on CBC as she was preparing to record the group's album, and realized how perfectly it would fit the group.Each song gave lots of room for all the musicians: Yissy García with impressively intense and exact drumming, Yusa providing melodic bass solos that crossed into guitar territory, Danae playing rippling and beautiful piano solos, Magdelys switching effortlessly among the percussion instruments surrounding her to give the music its AfroCuban edge, Daymé's show-stopping vocals bouncing the energy level of the room up by several notches, and Bunnett's soprano sax and flute adding both sweetness and sharpness to the music.
The jazz face which Cuba has shown to the outside world has been primarily male. But Jane Bunnett is working to change that with her new group, Maqueque.
The Toronto jazz flutist/saxophonist is famed for her decades-long championing of Cuban music, and for being a mentor to many well-known Cuban jazz musicians who have come north to learn and to perform. But until now, those Cubans she mentored in Canada were all male.
This new group, though, consists of five young women musicians from Cuba, plus Bunnett – the first all-female group she's led. They've just released their first CD and are currently touring across Canada.
The band's name, “Maqueque”, means “the spirit or the energy of a little girl,” Bunnett said. “We went to the lead vocalist – well I can't really say she's the lead but she's the foundation of how the whole group started – Daymé went to her grandmother who's very steeped in the Afro-Cuban religion and asked her for a good name for the group when we formed. And she came up with about five different names and that was the one that I really liked. I liked the sound of it and then I liked the idea of the feisty young little girl. I picture how I was as a child – I was feisty!”
The Cuban musicians are young: with one exception, they're in their very early 20s. All graduates of Cuban music conservatories, they come from several different Cuban provinces, including Santiago de Cuba and Havana, each of which has a different musical tradition and vibe. They play a wide range of instruments: drums (Yissy García), percussion (Daymé Arceno), tres guitar and fretless bass (Yusa), piano (Danae), and batás and congas (Magdelys).
And four of the five are also strong vocalists. “They all could stand up on a stage and sing as lead singers. They're all very, very strong voices. So when they pool their voices together, it gives a very dynamic sound that happens within the band. It's very different.”
That makes the band's sound distinctive, she said: tight vocal harmonies within a Cuban jazz perspective.
Bunnett said she was excited about the group both because of its musical potential, and because of the message it sent of possibilities for young female musicians.
Jazz musicians often refer to favourite albums, or quote tiny passages. But most don't get so far into their favourites that they try to play the entire album as is.
Saxophonist Patrick Smith initially didn't like what turned out to be his favourite album. But as he kept listening to it, he realized what a great ensemble record this 1960s classic really was. And that inspired him to persuade two other local young jazz musicians to join him in paying the most sincere compliment they could to that record and to those late musicians: to play the album in public from front to back, paying tribute without copying.
On Friday, June 13, the trio, with Ben Heard on double bass and Keagan Eskritt on drums, did exactly that for patrons of Gaia Java, a small coffeehouse in Stittsville which often offers jazz on Friday nights. They received a warm response.
In our video of that concert, you can hear the trio playing and listen to them explain what they learned from the experience. And you can learn the name of the album, too!
And you can hear all three musicians live on Friday, July 4, at Pressed – but in different combinations, and playing their own original music.
Kellylee Evans is used to having quiet Canada Days with her family. This year, she'll be on the main stage of the National Arts Centre, with almost 400 other musicians around her.
The Ottawa-based jazz vocalist will be the headliner with the NAC Orchestra for its annual Canada Day concerts, playing in the air-conditioned 2,323-seat Southam Hall. Both concerts, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. are free.
When she talked with OttawaJazzScene.ca, she was bubbling with excitement, because this was her very first official Canada Day gig. “I'd got used to not doing anything on Canada Day. I've lived here for so long, and I don't think I'm on the National Capital's radar.”
“I never knew the NAC did anything [on July 1]. So when they wrote me I was shocked ... and happy. What an honour! And it was absolute like yes, right away.”
Besides the 50-odd orchestra musicians, Evans will also be joined by her jazz trio – and the Unisong Choir, composed of 72 local and over 250 visiting choristers from across the country. “It's a really tight space.”
Evans' share of the program will be four songs, each of which has been rearranged for the orchestra. She will perform “Free”, a song she wrote in honour of Nelson Mandela, with the Unisong Choir. She said she picked that song and “Feeling Good”, from her Juno-winning album, Nina, because both are “message songs, songs that I felt would be really great for Canada Day.”
The remaining two are from her most recent album, I Remember When: the title track and “My Name is”. That song was inspired by two Eminem songs, “so the NAC Orchestra is going to be playing music inspired by Eminem – I'm sure that's a first!”
Updated June 8, 2014
Music and Beyond will feature two celebrated jazz musicians – American saxophonist Branford Marsalis and Canadian pianist Oliver Jones – in its July lineup.
The Ottawa-based chamber music festival opens with a gala featuring Marsalis on Saturday, July 5, at Dominion Chalmers United Church. Marsalis will play a selection of classical pieces in the first half, and perform with his jazz quartet in the second.
On July 15, Oliver Jones will show three sides of himself as musician. The renowned Montreal pianist will perform solo, with his jazz trio, and with classical musicians. The concert, also at Dominion Chalmers, will also feature the Nepean All-City Jazz Band.
Julian Armour, the festival's artistic and executive director, told OttawaJazzScene.ca that, while he is a long-time jazz fan, “Our goal is not to do anything that belongs at the Jazz Festival – or anywhere else – but to do something that's totally different. Branford is creating this show just for us, and so is Oliver.”
He said he had always admired Marsalis' classical playing, and the concert had been two years in the making. “What's really great about a guy like that coming is that he's coming from quite a different world. He's going to play exactly the notes and the way it's written, but the way he plays classical music is so refreshingly different that it's a really nice thing for us to showcase.”
Having Marsalis as the opening show of the festival “was to just really go out to all of Ottawa to say 'Here's a name that you're familiar with, here's a concert that you'll love' so that we'll open in a really fun, inviting way.”
Armour was particularly pleased that Marsalis would be performing an uncommon concerto for alto saxophone and string orchestra, by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov
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- What you - and we - learned from the OttawaJazzScene.ca Jazz Favourites Poll
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