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Maureen Kennedy's passion for finding hidden jazz standards

Toronto jazz vocalist Maureen Kennedy is always learning new songs and expanding her repertoire of jazz standards.

At her concert at GigSpace on October 29, Maureen Kennedy will sing some of the many jazz standards she's unearthed (photo by Paul Orenstein)“I have a passion for learning tunes. A real passion for it, and it's kind of nerdy.”

This summer, for example, she learned six new tunes just for one show. She'll be singing all six in Ottawa this Saturday at her quartet show at GigSpace, performing with saxophonist Rob Frayne, pianist Jeff Johnston, and bassist Alec Walkington.

Some she learns from sheet music, and some from listening to recordings of other singers, particularly from the classic vocal jazz era of the 1950s. But, after many years in the business, she's gone well beyond Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, or Sarah Vaughan to “obscure singers that people don't know that well”, such as Irene Kral or Jeri Southern.

“There was such a wealth of singers back in the 50s when singing standards was the popular music of the day. There were a lot of good singers that never became as famous … Teddi King was a really great singer. June Christy. Chris Connor. Singers that people aren't as familiar with. There are just a lot of great singers, and I've checked out a lot of their recordings and just picked up tunes from them.”

By day, Kennedy is a Media Librarian and visual researcher for the CBC in Toronto – where she has been able to access CBC's extensive sheet music collection. “In the days when we did a lot of music on television and radio, the Music Library would just order all this sheet music, and it's such a great collection!”

Read more: Maureen Kennedy's passion for finding hidden jazz standards

 

Maqueque notches up its Afro-Cuban jazz energy with its second album

Jane Bunnett is still amazed at the success of her all-woman Afro-Cuban jazz group, Maqueque.

“Three years ago, this project was a leap of faith. I didn't know if this idea would have any legs. But I thought, 'Let's try it! Let's try to put something together for a recording, all females, and just see what happens.' "

Maqueque got its crowd clapping and cheering for its first shows in Ottawa in 2014 at GigSpace ©2014 Brett DelmageSince then, Maqueque – the Canadian jazz saxophonist/flutist plus five young women musicians from Cuba – has toured all over Canada and the U.S. and as far away as Australia. They played before thousands at the Chicago Jazz Festival last fall, with an almost-unprecedented encore demanded by the crowd. In May, they received at standing ovation at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and then recorded a “Tiny Desk Concert” in the offices of National Public Radio – which has so far garnered almost 29,000 views. And they won a Juno Award for their first album.

The group has just released its second album, Oddara, and will bring it to Ottawa on Wednesday, October 19, for a concert at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans. Besides Bunnett, Maqueque includes Yissy Garcia on drums, Dánae Olano on piano, Magdelys Savigne on batá drums and congas, Elizabeth Rodriguez on violin and vocals, and Celia Jiménez on bass.

Bunnett's heart was in the project, both musically and as an organizer, but she recognized the risks.

Read more: Maqueque notches up its Afro-Cuban jazz energy with its second album

 

The Ken Harper Trio brings commitment and energy to new concert series at Southminster

The Ken Harper Trio with Artie Roth and Bob Brough
Concerts by the Canal
Southminster United Church
Saturday, October 15, 2016 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

This fall, Southminster United Church in Ottawa South began offering Saturday evening concerts, in addition to its popular Wednesday noon concerts. The third show in this new series – and the first jazz concert – featured the long-time trio of Ottawa drummer Ken Harper with two Toronto musicians, Artie Roth on double bass and Bob Brough on tenor sax.

The Ken Harper Trio played mainstream jazz with passion, skill, and creativity at their concert at Southminster United Church  ©Brett Delmage, 2016

With busy schedules and a 450 km distance to travel, this trio doesn't get together to perform as often as they'd like – Harper estimates only about four times a year – but you could hear an easy connection and a like-minded approach in their music.

Harper and Roth met in 1988, when they both started studying music at York University, and later teamed up with veteran saxophonist Brough for this trio. Over the past two years, they've played several Ottawa-area locations: clubs, a house concert, and GigSpace, but this was their biggest Ottawa venue yet.

Other than an announcement mic that wasn’t always turned on or used properly, the concert was all-acoustic, with a beautiful, rounded sound. The musicians made a point of playing to the space, using its resonance, and playing softly enough that their instruments could be heard overlaying and complementing each other. Harper's cymbal sounds were crisp and ringing; Roth's bass was clear and full; Brough's tenor lines were rich and commanding.

Read more: The Ken Harper Trio brings commitment and energy to new concert series at Southminster

 

Samuel Blaser and Gerry Hemingway perform music to feed the soul

Samuel Blaser and Gerry Hemingway
IMOO (Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais) #147
House of Common, Ottawa
Monday, October 10, 2016 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Trombonist Samuel Blaser and drummer Gerry Hemingway opened their Canadian tour on Monday with a bravura performance in Ottawa, a concentrated display of deep communication and innovation.

Trombonist Samuel Blaser and percussionist Gerry Hemingway fed listeners' souls with astonishing music for thanksgiving desert  ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Thanking the audience for coming out on the Thanksgiving holiday, Hemingway noted that, “At least we know you're not hungry. Now we'll feed the other part of your souls.”

And feed them they did, with music which explored the full ranges of their instruments, and moved from the tiniest threads of sound to all-out thunderous fanfares – to the intent interest and appreciation of their listeners.

Blaser (from Switzerland and now living in Berlin) and Hemingway (from the U.S. and now living in Switzerland) are more usually found on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, but are touring across Canada this week. Most of their shows on the tour are with Blaser's quartet, which also includes Russ Lossing on piano, and Masa Kamaguchi on bass. Montreal and Ottawa were the exceptions, where the two were scheduled to perform as a duo as part of local improvised music series.

Blaser and Hemingway are no less formidable as a duo. They're both well-known as free improvisers (Hemingway has been playing creative music for four decades), and have performed together in several of Blaser's groups.

Read more: Samuel Blaser and Gerry Hemingway perform music to feed the soul

 

Sienna Dahlen's expressive music deserves an audience's full attention

Sienna Dahlen and François Jalbert
Court, mais jazz
La Nouvelle Scène
Saturday, October 8, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Sienna Dahlen's music floats comfortably in the intersection of jazz, singer-songwriter, chanson, art song, and cabaret. Her delivery and musicianship clearly show her jazz roots, but her songs are more confessional and intimate – and less swinging – than straight jazz.

God beams, short films, lots of stage fog, and audio distortion distracted from the fine musical performance  ©Brett Delmage, 2016

She's just released a new CD, Ice Age Paradise, a highly personal collection of songs chronicling a difficult time in her life. It was recorded with a nine-person ensemble including horns and strings, and, at shows this fall in Toronto and Montreal, she's presenting the music with the full ensemble.

But for Ottawa, she performed a stripped-down version: just her on vocals and keyboards, and François Jalbert on guitar. Even with simpler arrangements, the songs still ended up sounding rich and expressive, with Dahlen's strong and multi-octave voice well supported and underlined by Jalbert's inventive guitar lines.

Although the material was personal, the presentation was very Canadian: Dahlen switched effortlessly and frequently between English and French, within songs and during her introductions. This was partly because of the location: La Nouvelle Scène is Ottawa's francophone theatre space. But there was a easy naturalness to the interchange; it felt like simply another mode of expression rather than a political point – not surprising for a vocalist who divides her time between Montreal and Toronto.

Only two of the songs were from the new album. Three were from Dahlen's previous album, Verglas, and she also included a song by the late Montreal singer Lhasa de Sela.

Read more: Sienna Dahlen's expressive music deserves an audience's full attention

 

Tim Bedner & Elise Letourneau revisit their Thursday nights at Cafe Paradiso on Saturday

Five years later, fans still remember Thursday jazz nights at Café Paradiso – and are paying to hear that music again this weekend.

'That is what every musician dreams of, getting something on a weekly, steady basis, because you show up every week trying to do better than you did the week before, adding new repertoire, tweaking songs out.'  photo: Tim Bedner at Cafe Paradiso ©Brett Delmage, 2008Three jazz listeners are sponsoring a concert on Saturday at GigSpace, where guitarist Tim Bedner and vocalist/pianist/flute player Elise Letourneau will recreate the music they used to play at that former Ottawa jazz venue.

“We were totally taken aback that someone missed what we were doing on Thursday nights,” Bedner said. “That was good for the heart and soul - that there were folks out there who would miss what we would do, with piano, guitar, voice, and flute. Also the repertoire that we had – favourites for folks that would come out.”

Café Paradiso closed in mid-2012, after a 14-year run, and more than 10 years as a major downtown jazz venue. It was a high-end restaurant which showcased jazz musicians visiting from Toronto, Montreal, and New York City (including Christine Jensen, Kirk MacDonald, David Braid, Sheila Jordan, and Dave Liebman), as well as well-known Ottawa jazz musicians such as Roddy Ellias, John Geggie, Mark Ferguson, and Diane White.

And every week for 4½ years, Bedner and Letourneau would play jazz standards, tunes by guitarist Pat Metheny, music by the Beatles and by Paul Simon, and choice Latin bossa novas.

“That is what every musician dreams of, getting something like that on a weekly, steady basis, because you show up every week trying to do better than you did the week before, adding new repertoire, tweaking songs out,” Bedner said. “Trying to come up with different things each time we play it, or go deeper in the tune, it's valuable! Having that: it's definitely like going back to school again.”

“I've been very, very lucky that I've been able to continue playing weekly at other venues since Café Paradiso. Again it's just getting that connection to music using the creative process of, 'OK here I am again, playing this tune, maybe a little bit differently, hopefully still as musical as I can be.' ”

“I respond well to deadlines, and having a reason to learn a tune or two or three every week was really valuable – having that Thursday night target,” Letourneau said. “It was really good for repertoire building. I thought I had a pretty good repertoire before, but just having that reason to keep adding to it, and having a place to try it out and gauge – 'OK, people seem to enjoy that, or people were kind of indifferent.' Sometimes they were indifferent, sometimes they were just focused on their meals.”

Read more: Tim Bedner & Elise Letourneau revisit their Thursday nights at Cafe Paradiso on Saturday

 

The Canto Trio blends two sax voices and bass in an evening of classic jazz

The Canto Trio
Ascension Jazz Series
Church of the Ascension, Ottawa
Sunday, September 25, 2016 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The Canto Trio – Peter Woods, Devon Woods, and Hélène Knoerr – consists of two saxophonists and one double bassist/vocalist. It's not your typical jazz group, or trio sound.

The Canto Trio: Peter Woods, Helene Knoerr, Devon Woods showed the versatility of a 2-sax, chordless format as they opened the new Ascension Jazz series in Ottawa. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

But this chordless ensemble did a more-than-credible job of performing a well-chosen selection of jazz classics at their concert Sunday, to an appreciative audience.

The concert was also the first in a new jazz series at this church in Ottawa East, and showed off the church's excellent acoustics and friendly ambiance.

Peter Woods, Devon Woods (no relation), and Hélène Knoerr first met and played together at an Ottawa jam session a few months ago. They started chatting, and it turned out that Devon Woods had a large folder of arrangements for two saxophones. In July, the three performed a noon-hour concert at MacKay United Church, where Peter Woods is minister; this was their second full show.

Both Peter Woods and Devon Woods had a tenor sax and a soprano sax, and they played them in all possible combinations (two tenors, two sopranos, soprano/tenor, and tenor/soprano). Sometimes they'd play in unison, and other times they'd play contrasting melodies, entwining and circling around each others' lines – but always they were listening and responding to each other. Devon Woods also brought a vintage metal clarinet dating from the 1930s, and added its richer sound to “Mood Indigo” and “East of the Sun” to good effect.

Read more: The Canto Trio blends two sax voices and bass in an evening of classic jazz

 

Two musicians make their sculpture sing in an Ottawa park

View photos by Brett Delmage of the sculpture launch and performance

Two Ottawa musicians unveiled a sculpture that sings in an Ottawa city park on Saturday.

Jesse Stewart and Matt Edwards created The Listening Tree in St. Luke's Park, on the north-east corner of Gladstone and Elgin. It's a 5-metre-high structure of stainless steel tubes which acts as a transition and gateway to the park. The individual tubes echo the stainless steel traffic signal poles on the adjacent sidewalk, while their combined form resembles the canopy of large trees in the park.

The Listening Tree visually bridges the stainless steel poles on Elgin Street to the park's tree canopy - and makes music in the wind ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Most importantly, this sculpture creates sound – but only when the wind is in the correct direction. Several of the tubes have carefully tuned slots in them which will channel the wind when it comes from the south or west – but most strongly from the southwest, when gusts blow up both Elgin and Gladstone. The result: a series of shifting tones.

“We thought it would be nice to have something that would draw people in a little closer so they could have a more intimate experience with [the park], and we decided to do that through sound,” Stewart said.

But not all the time. “It's not singing today, unfortunately. The wind is not blowing in the correct direction for that to happen, but, actually, we think one of the special things that can happen with this piece is that it's not always singing. You have to be here at a specific time. And so the experience is tied to that time,” Edwards told the audience of local residents, jazz lovers, and city staff and politicians.

“It's not supposed to be always active. It's just supposed to be once in a while, so the neighbours don't complain, but other neighbours get to enjoy it,” said local city councillor Catherine McKenney. When McKenney asked who had heard it during the ceremonies, several members of the audience put their hands up to indicate they had heard the sculpture singing since it had been installed a month before.

When Edwards was recently adding a protective layer of wax to the sculpture, he related, a man came up to him and said, “This amazing thing happened the other day. I came here and I heard it singing! It was a bit of a windy day, and I didn't realize that was going to happen. I've never heard anything like it.”

Stewart said they hoped the sculpture might allow people “to experience a sense of discovery – that they might be here and all of the sudden it will start singing.”

Saturday at 1 p.m. was the official opening. Stewart and Edwards played an short concert to start the ceremony, producing intimate, improvised music on two handpans, a drone-producing Shruti box, an accordion, a bamboo flute, and a frame drum.

Read more: Two musicians make their sculpture sing in an Ottawa park

 

John Stetch dramatically mixes folksong, classical, and TV themes into dynamic jazz

John Stetch
Steinway Piano Gallery, Ottawa
Thursday, September 22, 2016 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

For his current solo piano tour across Canada, John Stetch has reached forward and backwards, to his own roots in music and to a rethinking of the well-known classical repertoire. And the result, at his first tour stop in Ottawa, was a dynamic and engrossing hour of music.

John Stetch kept the audience at the Steinway Piano Gallery engrossed while playing an unsual combination of repertoire -- and not a standard in sight ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Although he's a jazz pianist, the pieces Stetch played Thursday weren't drawn from the standard repertoire. That's a deliberate decision, as he told the audience. He's been to jam sessions in New York City, where he currently lives, and heard other pianists play standards – all too similarly to the way he would.

So he's creating his own sound by playing music other jazz pianists don't: his reinterpretations of classical concertos and sonatas; take-offs on TV theme songs; and music inspired by his Ukrainian-Canadian heritage.

Stetch is originally from Edmonton, and one of his earlier albums was called Ukrainianism [2002]. He played several pieces from that album, based on folk melodies and on Ukrainian history. He also drew from his 2013 Juno-nominated Off With the Cuffs album, in which he took well-known classical compositions by Mozart, Shostakovich, Chopin, and Bach, stripped them back to their roots and reinvigorated them.

Read more: John Stetch dramatically mixes folksong, classical, and TV themes into dynamic jazz

 

Rachel Beausoleil shares the Brazilian popular music you don't know

Samba, bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim: that's Brazilian music to most people. But there's lots of interesting and appealing music from that country rarely heard here.

Rachel Beausoleil and Jasmin Lalande perform in Sol da Capital ©Brett Delmage, 2011At GigSpace on Saturday, Rachel Beausoleil will introduce a much broader picture of Brazilian music to Ottawa.

The Ottawa vocalist has been studying “Música Popular Brasileira” (MPB) for the last five years. She's now writing her PhD thesis about this music, which includes most of the genres that Canadians think of as Brazilian jazz. During three extended trips to Brazil, she's taken classes from master vocalists, attended conferences, and performed with musicians there.

At Saturday's concert, she and her group, Sol da Capital, will present songs by many composers covering the full range of these styles – from ballads to bossa nova, from music written a century ago to modern songs. What these songs have in common is a dedication to quality; rhythmic, harmonic, lyric, and melodic richness is insisted on in MPB, Beausoleil says.

Sol da Capital started when Beausoleil met Brazilian guitarist Evandro Gracelli, who spent a very busy two years in Ottawa, performing and working with many local musicians. During his stay in 2010-11, they formed the group to perform Brazilian music and their own compositions. They've kept up the connection, even when separated by 8000 km, and Beausoleil has continued performing in Ottawa with local musicians familiar with Brazilian music.

Read more: Rachel Beausoleil shares the Brazilian popular music you don't know

 

Marianne Trudel pays a rich tribute to Guelph Jazz Festival founder

Marianne Trudel Quartet with Ingrid Jensen
Guelph Jazz Festival
River Run Centre, Co-operators Hall
Thursday, September 15, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

Marianne Trudel and Ingrid Jensen
Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium
University of Guelph
Friday, September 16, 2016 – 9 a.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage

Marianne Trudel wasn't going to let anything stop her getting to the Guelph Jazz Festival this year.

The Montreal jazz pianist, composer, and improviser suffered a serious concussion this summer, and hadn't played the piano for two months – only starting again 12 days before the festival. Her doctor had recommended she not perform.

Marianne Trudel did not want to miss this year's Guelph Jazz Festival, and gave a full-bodied performance there with her quartet. ©2016 Brett Delmage

But as a long-time performer at Guelph, she did not want to miss the last festival to be curated by artistic director Ajay Heble. “This is my favourite festival in the country,” she told the audience at her Thursday night concert, “and Ajay is a very, very special person, close to my heart. I think he did a merveilleux with this festival, and it's something special to be here for his last show.”

For this concert, she was accompanied by three stalwarts of the Montreal jazz scene: Jim Doxas on drums, Rémi-Jean Leblanc on double bass, and Jonathan Stewart on tenor and soprano sax – plus trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (formerly of BC, now of Queens, NY). They performed six pieces from Trudel's most recent CD, La Vie Commence Ici [2014], all originals of considerable sweep and richness.

The theme of the album is the ability to be fully present in the moment – an ability which Trudel contends many of us have lost. For many years, she said, she was the only musician in Montreal without an iPhone, and getting one, after considerable peer pressure, was her “worst mistake ever”.

Trudel was very much present at this concert. Given the vibrancy of her performance, you would not have known she had been ill.

Read more: Marianne Trudel pays a rich tribute to Guelph Jazz Festival founder

 

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