Michael Kaeshammer has two sides to his musical personality: the extroverted jazz musician highly attuned to his audiences, and the creative homebody.
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.”
Song of Lahore 
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.
The Sultans of String with Anwar Khurshid
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, April 14, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
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.
The 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.
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.
On 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.
Carleton University Jazz Ensemble
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University
Thursday, April 7, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
It was an evening of tight ensemble playing with a touch of showbiz sparkle, as the Carleton University Jazz Ensemble presented its year-end concert Thursday.
The material: mostly jazz classics from the 60s and 70s, particularly by Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Cannonball and Nat Adderley. The style: polished and with considerable verve, with smooth entrances and introductions. The men generally wore suits and the women dresses, and (as was pointed out from the stage), trombonist Eric Cathcart even wore a trombone-themed tie.
The evening opened with the rhythm section of the Studio B Band vigorously pumping out the relentless beat of Hancock's “Cantaloupe Island”, and the horn section and vocalist making a grand entrance a few bars later. In the 70-minute show, there were two bands (Studio B and Studio A), each playing five songs.
Both bands included several vocalists, some doubling on other instruments. Particularly notable was the 7-piece Studio B band's rendition of Cannonball Adderley's “Sack o’ woe”, with Lucia Iacovitti-Villeneuve and Kelsey Hayes both brightly scatting, together and separately. That band closed with Corea's “Armando’s Rhumba”, giving it a brassy intro and strong Latin beat, followed by wordless vocals, and with alternating sparkling piano and horn fanfares closing it out.
At their GigSpace concert on Saturday, Garry Elliott and Steve Boudreau are giving their compositions an opportunity to evolve and get better.
The Ottawa jazz guitarist and pianist have played together as a duo for years, including releasing a well-received CD of quiet and nuanced originals in 2013. But on Saturday, they'll add two new musical viewpoints from Montreal: bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Camil Belisle.
It's a chance to showcase the new music they've written in the last three years, Elliott says, but also to make their older material even better – for the benefit of the audience as well.
“The thing about writing is that you only play [your songs] once in a while. So you don't really explore them in the same way as, say, you would when you play standards. Because you're always playing the standards, so you get to know them really well.”
Back in the heyday of jazz, “the boppers or even Lennie Tristano or the Bill Evans Trio – any of those people – they played their material every night in clubs. We don't really get the opportunity to do that as much any more.”
“So it's not so much putting out too much new material but getting better playing the old material, because we really don't play them enough.”
It wasn't your typical concert. It wasn't even your typical jazz concert, as students in Carleton University's music program showed off their year-end accomplishments in a free concert in Patrick Cardy Studio on April 5. The double bill included free and conducted improvised music, followed by a set of roots and jazz, both played to an appreciative audience which filled the studio.
The first set was the final performance of professor Jesse Stewart's “Improvisation in theory and practice” class. Stewart described the performance as “music that never existed before. It will never exist again.” The first song was conducted, as was the third in a much more dramatic way, while still being improvised by the individual players. “It's structured in the course of the performance in real time by virtue of the conducting and the decisions we collectively make in the moment,” Stewart said.
The class consisted of 17 students from a wide variety of backgrounds, Stewart said. “Some people are coming from a jazz background. Others are coming from a singer-songwriter background, some are coming from a classical background, so in many ways this ensemble is very much about the negotiation of differences. That's the joy and fun of exploring those differences throughout the semester and here this evening.”
It was lights out for the third piece and ensemble's term project, where the players were conducted by light. “We talked about light replacing graphic scores during the course. We will use light almost as a moving graphic score,” Stewart said. The audience was also handed glow rods and laser pointers and encouraged to provide additional input to the performance.
April is the month when the world officially raises a toast to jazz, ending on the 30th with a gala concert in Washington, D.C. hosted by President Obama. In Ottawa, the month is a little more low-key, but there's still lots of jazz, particularly showing off local and Canadian talent.
There's three new jazz films being premiered at the ByTowne Cinema. There's three CD launches – by Toronto vocalist Micah Barnes, by Montreal drummer Mark Nelson, and by the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble. There's a large-scale tribute to the ground-breaking Canadian jazz composer and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and the third in Petr Cancura's Crossroads jazz/folk series. And there's a giant, one-time-only MegaBand being created and trained by Rob Frayne for a mid-April concert.
These April jazz highlights are brought to you by Robert Godin, Tyler Harris, Jonathan Langsner, Brady Leafloor, Mark Miller, Ron Sweetman, and Geoff Zeiss. We greatly appreciate their support!
Visiting musicians to listen for in April include pianist/vocalist Michael Kaeshammer, Montreal saxophonist Tevet Sela, the Sultans of String, Ontario pianist Steve Holt, and Americans trumpeter Byron Stripling with drummer Bob Breithaupt.
And to top it all off, this is the month local students show off what they've learned in the last year with wide-ranging ensemble concerts and graduation recitals.
Toronto saxophonist Allison Au now has a perfect Juno record: two albums, two Junos. This evening, she was awarded 2016 Juno Award for Jazz Album of the Year (Group) for her new release of multi-layered original music, Forest Grove. She had previously won a Juno for her debut album in 2013. Ottawa-area audiences heard Au performing a number of the pieces from Forest Grove at Merrickville's Jazzfest last October.
Toronto pianist Robi Botos won Jazz Album of the Year (Solo) for Movin' Forward, his propulsive combination of originals and standards supported by a strong combination of NYC musicians (saxophonist Seamus Blake, bassist Robert Leslie Hurst III, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts). That music was very warmly received when Botos presented it at last summer's Ottawa Jazz Festival.
And Montreal-based vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow won Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, for Clear Day, her music-in-the-large orchestral project with the Metropole Orkestre. She presented several selections from that album in her concert with the NAC Orchestra last December, and will present it again with orchestra at this summer's Montreal Jazz Festival. She also won a Juno for her previous album, Seule Ce Soir, in 2013.
Au and Botos were later featured together in a Juno Jazz All-Stars performance at the Juno awards banquet in Calgary, along with fellow nominee Al Muirhead on trumpet.
Montreal saxophonist Colin Neufeld and violinist Sarah Neufeld won Instrumental Album of the Year for their joint album, Never Were The Way She Was. Stetson is acclaimed in the jazz community for his improvisations, particularly on bass saxophone, but also plays with many indie groups. He and Neufeld are scheduled to perform together at this summer's Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Ottawa group The Souljazz Orchestra were nominated for World Music Album of the Year for Resistance, but were beaten out by Boogat.
The winners in most Juno categories were announced this evening, but the most high-profile pop/rock categories will be announced Sunday.
Jazz has a habit of promoting legends, particularly about its best musicians. So it's no surprise that the new film, Born To Be Blue, takes the narrative of part of Chet Baker's life and turns it into a story, one that's an even better story than reality.
Baker's biography is inherently glamorous (if not an example that you'd want your children to follow). There's his prodigious natural affinity with the trumpet, which supposedly made Charlie Parker issue the warning to NYC jazz trumpeters like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis that Baker was a “little white cat on the coast who's gonna eat you up”. There's Baker's alternately romantic and tragic long-term addiction to heroin which slowly turned him into a wraith of his original crew-cut, handsome self. There's his mysterious death in 1988, falling from a window of a cheap Amsterdam hotel.
There's the early photos of Baker by famed jazz photographer William Claxton, whose camera turned Baker into movie-star handsome – helped by Baker's instinctive style and ability to play to that camera.
And ultimately there's the beautiful, mellow, melancholy music Baker made with his trumpet and his voice, particularly with his signature tune, “My Funny Valentine”. He and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan revived the little-known Rogers and Hart ballad in 1952 for their first recording for Fantasy Records, and his “cool” yet deeply emotional rendition of that song defined his style and made him hugely popular.
What Born To Be Blue does really well, more than anything else, is capture that music and that style. The music, both the incidental jazz interludes and the actual songs, is simply gorgeous. That's due to Toronto composer and pianist David Braid, who wrote and arranged the jazz score – as well as researching it, transcribing music from recordings, orchestrating, and producing and recording it.
“You just take words and you sing scat or you sing words to jazz solos, to instrumental jazz pieces that never had words originally to them. There's this wealth, and body, of lyrics that have been written to a Lester Young solo or a Miles Davis song that never had lyrics originally written for it.”
“It's a very creative thing,” Steve Berndt told OttawaJazzScene.ca when we met him and vocalist Christine Fagan on the roof of the NAC over the Fourth Stage, where they'll present “Vocalese with Steve Berndt and Christine Fagan” on April 2.
“The sky's the limit. You can write your own lyrics to things. You could scat sing a solo, which I am planning to do. And you can do a lot of different things with harmonies. It's great. Christine and I sing well together. It's been a while we've been planning this show so we're looking forward to it.”
Christine Fagan was equally passionate about this music. “When I put out a CD, it was mostly, when I think back on it, vocalese, because it was taking instrumentals by friends of mine and writing words to them. So it's kind of a question of what songs to leave out for this show because there's a lot of stuff we'd like to be able to do.”
Watch the OttawaJazzScene.ca video story for a wonderful sample of them singing together, and talking enthusiastically and knowledgably about the music they love and will perform with a jazz trio that includes Tim Bedner, Norman Glaude, and Jamie Gullikson on April 2.
Their show will be one of the last jazz concerts at the Fourth Stage before it closes for 14 months for an upgrade, so we also asked them about their impressions of this stage which they've both performed in many times.
– Brett Delmage
Steve Berndt and Christine Fagan will present Vocalese at the NAC Fourth Stage at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 2, 2016. Tickets are $25.
Related story: Christine Fagan: a collaboration with lyrics
Watch video stories about other Ottawa-Gatineau vocalists who brought their personal approach to unique jazz concerts at the Fourth Stage:
- Dominique Forest launches her first CD, C'est a moi, with verve
- Bamboo Groove - Asian-infused jazz and love songs (video)
- Olivier Babaz shines a world of music on his new jazz album
- Brazilian drumming inspires Rob Frayne's latest percussive project, DrumSwamp
- Only applause broke the silence as the Sonoluminescence Trio played the Record Centre
- Ottawa Jazz Festival announces summer line-up, including Chick Corea, Dan Brubeck 4tet, Wynton Marsalis, The SF Jazz Collective, and Colin Stetson
- Rob Frayne recruits for a jazz band on a mega-scale
- David Mott on the Sonoluminescence Trio in performance (video)
- Jazz to head to the NAC's Back Stage during construction
- James McGowan and Jesse Stewart improvise music from many streams
- First impressions: Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes with Miguel de Armas
- Have your ears stretched in March with jazz from unexpected places
- Rob McConnell's music is "the boss" at Sunday's CYJO concert
- The Harley Card Trio creates a layered and nuanced collaboration at Brookstreet
- David Renaud looks for grace and love in his new duo CD with Brian Browne
- René Lavoie pays hommage to Cannonball Adderley, the saxophonist who changed his life
- Laila Biali is letting her audiences hear songs in the making, in the spirit of jazz
- A wild night at Irene's with the Alive! Ensemble and the music of Grant Green (review)
- From all over the globe, the Florian Hoefner Group unites in presenting luminous jazz (review)
- HML Trio's weekly Brookstreet Options jazz jam celebrates three years of 'good music and a great hang' this week
- Nick Fraser stretches the boundaries of drumming with Justin Haynes' scores (review)
- Crossroads concert scribbled on genre boundaries while remaining true to Lynn Miles' songs (review)
- Vocalist Jeri Brown and drummer Jesse Stewart: 'things that I haven't heard before'
- 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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