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Celebrating Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's rich legacy at Brookstreet (review)

Roddy Ellias and Nancy Walker collaborated beautifully ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Tribute to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
with Nancy Walker, Roddy Ellias, Kieran Overs, and Michel Delage
Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge
Friday, May 29, 2015

Jazz composers Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn wrote such a huge range and number of compositions that a tribute to them doesn't have to stick to the obvious. And on the first evening of a two-night run at Brookstreet, Toronto pianist Nancy Walker and Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias chose some less well-known numbers like “My Little Brown Book”, “Day Dream”, and “Rain Check” to complement the classics like “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Upper Manhattan Medical Group”.

Walker and Ellias hadn't played a full show together before this, but, with occasional quick conferring between songs, they collaborated beautifully, easily switching roles between lead and accompaniment or both working to display the melody in different ways. Almost all these pieces were originally performed by Ellington's big band, and in several songs such as “Purple Gazelle”, Ellias' archtop electric had a similar flowing feel to a tenor saxophone solo.

This was the third show in the monthly jazz tribute series at Brookstreet organized by Ottawa drummer Michel Delage, and Delage and veteran Toronto bassist Kieran Overs provided swinging and nuanced rhythms behind Walker and Ellias, occasionally stepping out for short solos reflecting the melody and feel of the songs, and trading fours with the guitar or piano.

Read more: Celebrating Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's rich legacy at Brookstreet (review)


Nancy Walker explores Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn's rich, timeless music this weekend

Nancy Walker knows the appeal of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. When she played in the John Geggie Trio anchoring the Ottawa Jazz Festival's late-night jams for more than a decade, Ellington and Strayhorn's compositions and arrangements were regularly performed.

Nancy Walker (photo by Chris Hutcheson)“Those tunes are great tunes for players to cut their teeth on because they're quite complex, really. And so interesting to play, and very beautiful. Depending on who would get up and sit in, it might have been one of the more well-traveled tunes like 'Caravan' or it might have been something a little deeper into the archives: 'Chelsea Bridge' or tunes along that line.”

And, while she's not returning for the festival jam sessions this year, the Toronto-area jazz pianist will be back in Ottawa this weekend. Together with her husband, bassist Kieran Overs, she'll be at Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge on Friday and Saturday night, celebrating Ellington and Strayhorn.

Although Walker is better known as a composer of her own music, she says she enjoys playing Ellington's and Strayhorn's tunes because “for one thing, there's very little cliché in there. In both cases, when they write together and individually, Ellington compositions and Strayhorn compositions, the melodies are so interesting. Like interesting intervallically.

“And the mood that's created: there's such a sense of mood, and that mood can of course vary. The tunes almost play themselves: the mood is such a big part of the music. And these amazing melodies and just interesting harmony/melody combinations and so on – they're challenging and they're rich. They're really rich. It always feels new, their material. Very timeless.”

No horns?

The shows are part of drummer Michel Delage's monthly tribute series at Brookstreet to well-known composers in the jazz canon. Walker, Overs, and Delage will be joined by Ottawa master guitarist Roddy Ellias – producing a very different line-up than the usual Ellington tribute.

Duke Ellington was one of the great big band leaders and jazz composers of the 20th century. Both he and Billy Strayhorn (his fellow composer and arranger whom Ellington described as “my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine”) played piano, but they primarily wrote for a full big band and showcased many great jazz horn players, such as Johnny Hodges and Clark Terry

So most tributes to Ellington include at least a saxophonist or trumpeter – or many. Will not having a horn player limit what this quartet can play?

Read more: Nancy Walker explores Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn's rich, timeless music this weekend


Bamboo Groove - Asian-infused jazz and love songs (video)

May is Asian Heritage Month. This year Bamboo Groove celebrates their fifth anniversary of playing their unique, Asian-infused jazz.

OttawaJazzScene.ca's Inside the Scene was at leader and vocalist Peter Liu's launch of his first CD, Bamboo Groove, about the journey of love.. Our video story includes an interview with him about the CD – and excerpts from a jazz performance that he sung in four different languages!

    – Brett Delmage

Also, read our full interview with Peter Liu about the making of his CD, Peter Liu: love songs and jazz cross cultural boundaries in Bamboo Groove

Watch our video story


Garry Elliott and Bumpin' Binary make the organ trio fresh and compelling (review)

Don Cummings, Mike Essoudry, Garry Elliott ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Garry Elliott and Bumpin' Binary
GigSpace Performance Studio
Saturday, May 23, 2015

Just a few days after Mad Men ended its TV recollections of the 1960s, three Ottawa musicians brought some of that decade's music back – and made it fresh and compelling.

It was an evening of organ trio music, with guitarist Garry Elliott performing for the first time with the Bumpin' Binary duo: Don Cummings on Hammond organ and Mike Essoudry on drums. And their inspiration came from the giants of that genre, including organist Jimmy Smith and guitarist Grant Green.

There was groove – lots of it. There were sharp contrasts between bright guitar licks and light cymbal taps, and the full organ chords. And there was melody and feeling expressed in the slower numbers.

The organ trio, with Hammond B3, drums and either electric guitar or saxophone, flourished in the 60s with artists like Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and Jack McDuff on organ teaming up with guitarists like Green, Kenny Burrell, George Benson, and Wes Montgomery. After a partial eclipse over the next few decades, it's been revived more recently by musicians like Joey DeFrancesco and Larry Goldings.

Read more: Garry Elliott and Bumpin' Binary make the organ trio fresh and compelling (review)


The young and the experienced collaborate in a fast-moving show

Ben Heard was double-bassed all evening ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Roddy Ellias / Ben Heard / Keagan Eskritt (set 1)
The Chris Maskell Quartet (set 2)
Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Three talented young jazz musicians teamed up with three experienced musicians on Tuesday to perform two sets, each with a very different vibe.

Common to both was young bassist Ben Heard, who arranged the first set with fellow student drummer Keagan Eskritt and master guitarist Roddy Ellias. The three met at the JazzEd sessions which Ellias had taught with local high school musicians in 2013, and kept playing together even after the last JazzEd concert.

Although the trio's set had lots of swing, it was on the quiet, thoughtful side, opening with a flowing version of Henry Mancini's “Days of Wine and Roses”. Ellias contributed a new composition, “Postcard”, a wistful, melodic piece which included exploratory passages; Heard's original, “Spindle”, moved from stately and a bit melancholy to almost flamenco in style, before ending with delicate harmonic notes on the guitar.

They closed in a more emphatic vein with Eskritt's “Smash”, which began with a deep bass riff and hard drumming and then added strongly-accented guitar lines, to produce intense music where notes were held and played before and after the beat. It ended abruptly, and was greeted with appreciative applause from the audience, which filled almost every seat in the café.

For the second set, Ottawa tenor saxophonist Chris Maskell, who will enter his final year studying jazz performance at McGill University this fall, teamed up with Heard and two well-known players on the local scene: drummer Mike Essoudry and guitarist Alex Moxon. They played originals by all members of the group and a good mixture of less-common jazz classics, such as “Punjab” by Joe Henderson and “Take the Coltrane” by Duke Ellington.

Read more: The young and the experienced collaborate in a fast-moving show


Big Band Ottawa plays to keep big band music alive

Big Band Ottawa leader Robert Vogelsang (trombone): 'We're all here because we love to play'  ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Big Band Ottawa
Canadian Tulip Festival
Commissioner's Park, Dow's Lake, Ottawa
Saturday, May 16, 2015

This year, the Tulip Festival showcased big band jazz in honour of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945.

The energy and enthusiasm of Big Band Ottawa – and the interest they created in their audience – showed that this music was far more than a historical artifact.

The big band attracted listeners who stayed – and grew in number – during its two, hour-long sets, and not just people who danced to that music back in the 40s and 50s, either. It included everyone from toddlers to teenagers to 20-somethings to seniors, and of a wide range range of ethnicities.

Big Band Ottawa's leader and trombonist Robert Vogelsang told OttawaJazzScene.ca that the group has been together for four years. Many of the members had played in other, now-defunct big bands, such as Big Band Caravane, and missed playing the music, he said. They rehearse every week and play 10 to 12 shows a year, some private, some for veterans, and some huge shows – for example last year's New Year's show at the National Arts Centre, which sold out with 1000 attendees.

The band's 18 instrumentalists include both professional and amateur musicians, with ages ranging from late teens/early 20s to much later.

Read more: Big Band Ottawa plays to keep big band music alive


The Chocolate Hot Pockets are keeping their Dreamz under wraps

Alex Moxon (l) and Ed Lister (r) at the Chocolate Hot Pockets' show at the Tulip Festival. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Chocolate Hot Pockets have kept their new album almost completely under wraps.

At their CD release show Saturday at Ritual, the Ottawa jazz/neo-soul group will be performing songs that have only been played a few times live – or not at all.

“We've only played maybe half of it live before – and never on the same gig – as we've been developing the tunes. So it's going to be a fresh concert,” said guitarist Alex Moxon.

The four members of the Chocolate Hot Pockets – Moxon, bassist J.P. Lapensée, drummer Jamie Holmes, and trumpeter Ed Lister – spoke to OttawaJazzScene.ca after playing a well-received and energetic show at the Tulip Festival on May 11. And in the 90-minute show, Lister said, only about three songs were from the new CD.

They all said they were excited to finally release Chocolate Dreamz, their second CD, which they recorded last August. The songs are all originals: six each by Moxon and Lister, the two writers in the group.

“It's super-tight now. We were before, but now the music's taken its own direction. I feel like there's more of a focus on this album,” Lister said.

Read more: The Chocolate Hot Pockets are keeping their Dreamz under wraps


Ben Heard eager to finally play all-originals show with friends at Pressed

Three award-winning jazz musicians – whose ages and experience span more than 40 years – will open a double-bill of mostly original jazz at Pressed tonight as a trio.

And you can thank bassist Gene Simmons of the rock band Kiss, for persuading their leader to get interested in playing.

Ben Heard ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Bassist Ben Heard, who leads tonight's group, is completing his final two months at Canterbury High School. He's invited Jazz Hero and Ottawa master guitarist Roddy Ellias, and longtime friend and musical collaborator, drummer Keagan Eskritt, now studying music at the University of Toronto, to play with him for this special occasion.

“It's not an entirely new band so we have some rapport going into things. It's great. I'm really excited,” Heard said.

“We had a big connection right from the start. I always love playing with him, “ Heard says about his friend Eskritt, whom he met in Grade 9 and played with “almost constantly for the past three years.”

In 2013, they both participated in the Ottawa Jazz Festival's first JazzEd program, which is where they met Ellias. He taught the group of promising high school students weekly for several months leading up to the festival.

“At least in my mind, Roddy was another tier, an older generation and had another entire aura of distinction to him. It's so funny because you meet Roddy and he's got his wicked wit and he's really modest. And also just the wealth of knowledge that comes from him. He really did do the more old-school upbringing in jazz. He played,” Heard said. “He's got this HUGE amount of knowledge that I've been lucky to get to learn from him for the past two years.”

But the final performance of the JazzEd band at the Ottawa Jazz Festival wasn't the end of their musical interaction, but a start that led to tonight's performance.

“We started playing, just the three of us, off and on since before Christmas 2013. We went over to Roddy's place. He was always super, super supportive of any compositions I would be doing. When I was working on something I'd [send] it to Roddy and say 'Can you get me input?' and he'd always be super-helpful. So that led to us getting together to play some of these tunes. And then with schedules, especially Roddy, he's a busy guy, we never got around to actually getting the gig. And then this came up.”

Read more: Ben Heard eager to finally play all-originals show with friends at Pressed


Kathryn Ladano takes her bass clarinet from growls to helices of melody

 ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Kathryn Ladano
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) #121
Raw Sugar Café
Sunday, May 17, 2015 - 7 p.m.

Bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano took her instrument from deep bass growls to unearthly treble lines to percussive pops at her Ottawa concert Sunday – in a café of silent listeners absorbed in her music, despite the attractions of balmy spring weather during a long weekend.

The Waterloo-based musician and educator, who studied with bass clarinet master Lori Freedman, is on tour across Canada. She's performing solo but also promoting ...Listen, the just-released album by Stealth, her duo with Richard Burrows of the TorQ Percussion Quartet.

On that album, she said, Burrows primarily plays vibraphone – which made the second half of this concert, a duet with Ottawa percussionist Rory Magill playing the similar xylophone and assorted percussion, particularly fitting.

This show was the second stop on Ladano's tour, and part of the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) biweekly concert series. It attracted IMOO regulars, but also new audience members who stayed for the entire concert.

For the first set, Ladano performed solo: a series of six compositions and improvisations, each lasting about 5 to 8 minutes. She opened with vibrating bass notes, reminiscent of whale songs, and deeper than I'd heard on a bass clarinet – and then moved to lighter, shimmering notes, more like from a bass flute. She filled the entire room with long, vibrating tones, quiet blankets of sound which ebbed and flowed in intensity, dual circling lines of melody, and memorable rhythms.

Read more: Kathryn Ladano takes her bass clarinet from growls to helices of melody


Mike Murley revisits the past and celebrates the new with his septet at Ontario Scene

Kevin Turcotte's intense trumpet lines added to the energy of Mike Murley's Septet at the NAC's Ontario Scene. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Mike Murley Septet
Ontario Scene
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Friday, May 8, 2015

View photos of this performance

What do you get when you put seven fine musicians from Toronto on stage together in Ottawa? A night of satisfying and wide-ranging mainstream jazz, melodic and dynamic.

Jazz, in particular, benefits from more instrumental voices on stage, allowing more interplay and different arrangements – but the economics of touring a large group can be daunting. That's why we see very few visiting big bands, or even a septet like the one saxophonist and composer Mike Murley brought to the NAC Fourth Stage Friday night.

He was there as part of the NAC's Ontario Scene festival, whose mandate is to “celebrate the province’s dynamic culture: a synergy of tradition and innovation, of established and emerging artists”. Murley is certainly an established artist – it's been almost 35 years since he left Nova Scotia for Toronto and since then he's established himself as an essential part of the Canadian jazz scene, winning many Junos and National Jazz Awards. His recordings celebrate both the tradition (jazz standards with guitarist Ed Bickert) and innovation (the electric jazz of Metalwood).

The room was packed and expectant as Murley took the stage, along with Tara Davidson (soprano and alto sax), Kevin Turcotte (trumpet and flugelhorn), William Carn (trombone), David Braid (piano), Jim Vivian (double bass), and Ted Warren (drums). It's the same lineup as when he formed the septet a decade ago, with the exception of Carn, who was subbing for Terry Promane.

Read more: Mike Murley revisits the past and celebrates the new with his septet at Ontario Scene


John Geggie's two-saxophone experiment satisfies the audience

John Geggie's 2015 Invitational Concert with Jim Doxas, Kelly Jefferson, and Frank Lozano
NAC Presents
NAC Fourth Stage
Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jazz is a genre of experimentation. Improvisation is the norm; new combinations are welcomed.

So when John Geggie decided to go chordless – no piano, no guitar – for his annual Invitational concert, I figured it would be an opportunity to hear some interesting interactions and different music. And with saxophonists Kelly Jefferson and Frank Lozano in front, and Geggie on double bass and Jim Doxas on drums driving the rhythm, that's exactly what happened.

"Concerts like this are special because they are ephemeral: even in Canada's smaller jazz scene, musicians in different cities who aren't in the same groups are unlikely to get together often. It made for a special experience for the audience."

Jefferson and Lozano have known each other since they studied jazz at the same time at McGill University, though with Jefferson busy on the Toronto scene and Lozano in Montreal, they haven't had much chance lately to perform together. They both showed up with tenor and soprano saxophones, and deployed them in every possible combination: two tenors, two sopranos, one tenor and one soprano, and one soprano and one tenor.

Although all the musicians except Doxas contributed compositions – one even written on the train coming up – the set-list contained more jazz classics than usual at a Geggie concert. They opened with Ornette Coleman's “The Blessing”, emphasizing the groove in the piece.

Lozano and Jefferson began by blowing in unison on soprano, and then divided: Jefferson first outlining the melody incisively and delicately in the instrument's higher range with Lozano playing a simple line underneath, then Lozano taking over playing in a slightly lower register. The rhythm section supported them with strong forward motion, and then Geggie moved to the forefront with a sparse, deep, almost grumbling bass solo, with Doxas adding light drum thumps and cymbal taps as accents. Jefferson returned with an assertive soprano line and was joined after a few bars by Lozano, and they ended the piece as it began: strong and swinging.

Read more: John Geggie's two-saxophone experiment satisfies the audience


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