Adam Saikaley looked slightly bemused after his set at the Record Centre Tuesday morning. It was about the earliest he'd ever performed jazz piano, he told OttawaJazzScene.ca.
Saikaley's 10 a.m. set opened the Ottawa Jazz Festival's Jazz Ramble event at the record store. It was a quiet and graceful evocation of mostly 60s jazz classics, including pieces by Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock, and ending with “Body and Soul” – and a fine start to 24 hours of music, celebrating the strength of Ottawa's jazz scene.
The free event, the first ever by the festival, showcased Ottawa-area jazz musicians, performing everything from standards to funk to free improv to poetry. Fans could hear both well-tried and brand-new groups, but not necessarily playing in their comfort zones, or at times of the day they were used to.
It was a cornucopia of interesting music – something for almost all tastes.
The ramble attracted a constantly-changing group of listeners. There was a noticeable shift in the audience after every set, with listeners leaving and new ones entering, but there was always at least a dozen listeners even in the early hours of the morning.
In the late afternoon and evening, the place was packed with jazz fans, many spilling out onto the sidewalk. Toddlers danced to the music with their parents smiling beside them; a few of the older seniors really appreciated the chairs and stools set out by the store. Many people were recognizable from local jazz jams, but there were also many new faces.
The Nick Fraser Quartet with Tony Malaby, Andrew Downing, and Rob Clutton
Too Many Continents
Nick Fraser / Tony Malaby / Kris Davis
Clean Feed, 2015
Toronto drummer Nick Fraser has had a productive and innovative partnership with NYC saxophonist Tony Malaby over the past few years, including multiple tours together in Canada and the U.S. In 2013, Fraser released his first album with Malaby, Towns and Villages. He's now followed that up with two more joint albums.
Too Many Continents, with Malaby and Canadian-born pianist Kris Davis, was released late last fall with a U.S. tour. It received its Canadian release with a mini-tour in May which included Ottawa. That tour also was the official release of Starer, in which Fraser and Malaby work with two of Fraser's most frequent musical collaborators: cellist Andrew Downing and bassist Rob Clutton.
In their live shows, Fraser and Malaby consistently push the edges, in intense improvisations. They don't do straight ballads or bebop; the pieces they play don't have defined heads or specific places for solos. Instead they take compositional sketches, and use those sketches as points of departure for group improvisation.
It's an approach they excel in, and they've followed it in both these albums. The result is about as near as you get in a studio album to completely free jazz, with opportunities to go in many different directions.
Which doesn't mean these two albums sound alike, despite being recorded relatively close together. With different collaborators, they have very different sounds.
Too Many Continents is very much informed by Kris Davis, whose intricate and percussive piano lines both anchor and energize this music. For example, on “I Needed It Yesterday”, she opens with fast intricate piano lines vibrating in place, and later builds up the tension in the piece with strong piano chords underneath Malaby's coruscating sax lines. Throughout the CD, she uses the piano as much or more as a rhythmic instrument than as a melodic one.
Amos Hoffman Quartet
Black Squirrel Books, Ottawa
Friday, June 3, 2016 – 9:30 p.m.
The word had got out that this was going to be an interesting show. Black Squirrel Books had brought out every sofa, seat, folding chair, and step stool it had – and there were still listeners sitting on the floor at the front or leaning against the coffee bar. The bookstore was full, with well over 50 people concentrating on the music.
They had come to hear Israeli jazz guitarist and oud player Amos Hoffman and three Toronto jazz musicians: pianist Noam Lemish, bassist Justin Gray, and drummer Derek Gray. And their anticipation was well justified, as the quartet performed a dynamic and consistently engaging 85-minute-long set.
It was an evening of all originals, plus a jazz arrangement of a traditional Jewish prayer – alternating between pieces by Hoffman and by Lemish. The sound initially harked back to the classic mid-60s jazz of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, but Hoffman in particular added Middle Eastern motifs, as well as the commanding tone of his oud.
The quartet was surrounded by tall bookcases, which had been pushed into a rough backdrop. There wasn't a great deal of room – Derek Gray's drumset in particular was crowded into a corner and he had to sit on his cajon. He had barely enough room for his elbows when he really got going with his brushes and sticks – but the tight corners also added intimacy. The quartet played warmly and with considerable ease, modulating their volume to the space; you could clearly hear every note.
The Prince Edward County Jazz Festival is, in many ways, the exact opposite of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Instead of a few blocks of downtown, it covers a large part of a 1000 km² rural county in eastern Ontario. Unlike Ottawa, the Prince Edward County festival receives no government grants. And it's a pure jazz festival – no rock or pop artists.
Brian Barlow, the festival's creative director for the last 13 years, explained to OttawaJazzScene.ca how the festival has been successful by doing things differently. The interview has been lightly edited and some sections rearranged.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How has the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival evolved over the last 16 years?
Brian Barlow: I think it's spread throughout the county. One of the things that makes it unique as a festival is the large area that it covers. Prince Edward County is fairly large [1,048.3 km²]. When I first got involved, the festival took place mostly in the town of Picton, but now it's all over the county, which is great, including wineries. When we first started, there wasn't a wine industry in the county and now as you may know it's quite a highly-respected wine area.
So we have events at a number of wineries, and in some of the small little villages, and on church steps – It's great. There's music everywhere. So I think that's part of the way it's evolved.
I actually was involved at the very, very beginning in a strange way. I just happened to be shopping in a bookstore in Picton, and a woman found out I was a musician. My daughters were looking for books and that takes forever, so we were talking. And she said, we're thinking of starting a jazz festival. So I did a little bit of consulting the very first year, but I came on board the third year as creative director. I performed I think the second year with my band.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What's your role as creative director?
Barlow: I would like to know that [laughs]. I think they called me that, rather than artistic director, because I think they wanted me more involved in other things other than just booking the musicians.
I take a fairly active role in working with sponsors. We receive no government grants, this festival, and I think that's another thing that makes us unique. We run it like a business. We pay our artists really well.
And so I'm involved in almost all aspects of the festival – sponsors, advertising. There's a committee I work with that chooses the musicians every year. I don't think it's something I would want to do totally on my own, and we get terrific input from that committee, in terms of musicians to chose.
The Prince Edward County Jazz Festival has found a different way of helping student jazz ensembles develop, and the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band (OJJB) was one of the beneficiaries of that approach this year.
Every April, the festival invites four high school bands from across Ontario to participate in a weekend in Picton. But instead of fighting for medals, the bands work together and are mentored by professional musicians.
“I really don't think music should be about competition – that's why I take all of the awards and things like that with a grain of salt, because I don't think that you can really compare. You can't really choose who the best guitar player is,” said festival creative director Brian Barlow.
The festival's student coordinator, trumpeter Blair Yarranton, proposed this new approach seven years ago. “He said that the one thing that bothered him with his school, is that all of the opportunities they had to go to festivals were competitive. He felt there was a real need for a non-competitive school jazz program. So we started that, and it's been hugely successful,” Barlow said.
Updated 10 June, 2016
It's finally summer this month, with warm blue skies and balmy breezes and chilled drinks on outdoor patios. And there's lots of jazz to hear outside and inside, throughout June and all through Ottawa-Gatineau.
Local Ottawa musicians are busy with tributes (for example, to George Gershwin and to Sun Ra) and new material. Jazz artists are visiting from as far away as Israel, North Carolina, Indiana, New York City, and Los Vegas. Whatever your taste in jazz – vocal standards, mainstream, avant-garde, jazz fusion, big bands – you can hear it this month.
And, even better, you can hear the bands who pop up in the good weather: for example, Souper Jazz and its smaller off-shoot Cuppa Soup. They play traditional Dixieland for love and the donations they collect for the Shepherds of Good Hope – and almost always outside. They'll be performing in June at the Italian Week and Fuse festivals, on the Sparks Street Mall and in the ByWard Market, and even at a grocery store.
These June jazz highlights are brought to you by Greg Klowak, Hélène Knoerr, Bee Rootham, Barry Paulson, Gaby Warren, John & Linda Wilson, Alrick Huebener, Caroline Cook, and John Thompson. We greatly appreciate their financial support that helps OttawaJazzScene.ca to continue serving the jazz community every day of the year.
Mike Essoudry is going into the studio next week with his new brass band, the Bank Street Bonbons. And judging from their show at Irene's on Sunday, you can expect a bold and dynamic sound in their upcoming EP.
The Bonbons crowded two alto saxophonists, two trumpeters, and two trombonists into a tiny corner of the Bank Street bar – plus a sousaphone and Essoudry's drumset. The remainder of the rear half of Irene's was filled with listeners jammed around tables and standing and dancing at the back – a happy audience which applauded strongly throughout.
Fast, energetic, and multi-layered, the Bonbons' music gave full voice to all the musicians. One moment you could hear Zakari Frantz and Tyler Harris on alto sax playing wild lines ascending to the ceiling; the next moment, Nick Dyson or Ed Lister would add a punchy and inflected trumpet solo. Behind them, trombonists Ryan Purchase and Mike Schultz contributed trombone riffs, sometimes muted, sometimes all-out. And it was all anchored by the deep bass growls of Keith Walton's sousaphone and Essoudry's propulsive drumming.
The Bonbons performed all four Sunday evenings in May at Irene's, which was their debut as a group. However, many of them were in Essoudry's previous brass band, the Mash Potato Mashers, a marching band which played its last show in 2014.
For four years, the Mashers were a highly popular part of Ottawa's jazz scene, especially at their home base of Irene's. The Bonbons played several Mashers tunes with a similar Balkan jazz feel – but the big difference was that they weren't marching at the same time. They could read the charts in front of them on music stands, instead of having to memorize all the music.
The group also performed newer originals by Essoudry, and several pop songs – including Chilliwack's “My Girl” arranged by Walton, which opened with a rock-steady drumbeat and a dark sousaphone riff, before letting the horns go full at the melody.
For two hours on Sunday afternoon, Southminster United Church was filled with the timeless beauty of jazz – to help those in desperate need.
Twelve Ottawa jazz vocalists and instrumentalists performed to support the work of Ottawa Centre Refugee Action (OCRA), which is helping families fleeing war and crises to resettle here. The concert raised a grand total of $3,772 through ticket sales, donations, CD sales, and a plant and bake sale outside the church.
OCRA organizer Angela Keller-Herzog told the audience that OCRA had committed to support 37 refugees, of which 27 (mostly from Syria and Iraq) had so far arrived. The concert proceeds would be applied to the $50,000 they still need to raise in order to finish this work, she said.
Omar Jammeh, who arrived a month ago in Ottawa after escaping discrimination in Gambia, expressed his deep thanks to the OCRA volunteers who had helped him – especially dealing with the shock of below-freezing temperatures at the end of April. “I've met so many beautiful people.”
On this Sunday afternoon, Ottawa was swelteringly hot – and there was competition from the Ottawa Race Weekend and other events. But the concert still attracted about 120 people, who listened attentively and applauded vigorously throughout.
Jazz fans can hear some of Ottawa's most accomplished jazz vocalists and instrumentalists on the same stage this Sunday from to 1 to 3 p.m.. The fundraising concert will be a 'mini festival' of discovery for listeners: an opportunity to sample eight different vocalists and a guitar-bass duo.
“I like the opportunity to share a stage with vocalists who bring their own style and interpretation to a song; as varied as a fingerprint,” said Sharron Timmons, one of the vocalists featured in the concert. “On the surface, we seem similar, especially as we all often sing from the same standards repertoire. But, upon closer listen, we all offer up our own nuances.”
If listeners fill Southminster Church (it seats about 400), “Sunday Afternoon Jazz in Aid of Refugees” can raise $8,000 for Ottawa Centre Refugee Action (OCRA), a grassroots group of volunteers who came together to help refugees settle in Ottawa. The concert is being organized by vocalist Geri Childs, who will also sing.
OCRA raises funds to support refugees resettle in Ottawa, as well as providing direct assistance. Since December, it says it has supported five Syrian families and one young man fleeing persecution in Gambia. The group's goal is to raise funds to support a total of twelve families.
The featured vocalists and instrumentalists are all donating their performances. The house band (which includes the popular jazz musicians Mark Ferguson, John Geggie, and René Lavoie) is being paid for its continuous work throughout the concert. Local 180 of the Canadian Federation of Musicians donated funds to pay for the band and provided a sound technician.
Musicians who are performing on Sunday have been active and had significant musical projects in recent years. OttawaJazzScene.ca has previously told you about most of them. In order of their listing on the event poster:
Roddy Ellias toured Canadian jazz festivals in 2015 with his latest CD, The Roddy Ellias Trio. The CD was originally presented at GigSpace.
Geri Childs released a CD at a sold-out Fourth Stage concert: Geri Childs sings about long-time friendship in More than Magic CD release (review)
The Prince Edward County Jazz Festival is going anti-theme but remaining 100% jazz in 2016, according to its creative director, Brian Barlow.
Unlike previous years, the festival, which runs August 16 to 21, will not feature any tributes to past jazz icons. “This year, we just chose people that we had wanted for a long time,” he said.
Those jazz musicians include two 2016 Juno Award winners – vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow and pianist Robi Botos – plus saxophonist Phil Dwyer, pianist Mark Eisenman, bassist Jodi Proznick, saxophonist Mike Murley, pianist Bernie Senensky, and a restaging of Joe Sealy's Africville Stories with vocalist Jackie Richardson. The festival's artist-in-residence, trumpeter Guido Basso, will also be featured in several shows.
And, as always, Barlow's star-studded big band will close the festival – this time featuring vocalist Alex Samaras.
In 2015, festival concerts commemorated Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and the 100th anniversary of Billie Holiday's birth; in 2014, George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, Jim Hall, and Dave Brubeck; in 2013, Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, and Oscar Peterson's Night Train album.
“We have done a lot of themes and tributes over the years, and a critic actually said that that must be what this festival only does – tributes and themes. I thought OK, this year, we're not going to do that, and so there's nothing whatsoever,” Barlow told OttawaJazzScene.ca.
He said that the festival's four-person artist selection committee, for example, had wanted to have his daughter, Emilie-Claire, return. “I'm extremely careful about the whole idea of nepotism, so I'm very cautious about that, but the committee had been asking for her for a couple of years to come back.”
She was actually booked before she won the Juno, he said. “That was fun to have that happen.”
Guitarist William O'Neill is a fan of big band music. On May 7, he presented his graduation recital with his big band, in the Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University.
His concert featured his original tunes and arrangements and received a standing ovation.
“What really fostered, again, my love for big band music and big sound music was being a part of the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra. I love the big band style. There's so many options. You can have the power of a freight train or the softness of a soft wind. There are so many elements you can have in this size of group, which I think is just so important and so cool about jazz.”
After his recital, William talked with OttawaJazzScene.ca about how he put together this big band concert. He also spoke about his experience studying music for four years at Carleton University.
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– Brett Delmage
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- Raise a glass (or several!) to jazz in Ottawa in April
- 2016 Jazz Juno Awards winners: Allison Au, Robi Botos, and Emilie-Claire Barlow
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