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Pilar and the Sicilian Jazz Project replaced jazz cool with passion (review)

Pilar and the Sicilian Jazz Project
Ottawa Chamberfest, Chamberfringe series
Saint Brigid's Centre for the Arts, Kildare Room
Saturday, August 1, 2015 – 10 p.m.

In many jazz shows there's a subtle distance between the performers and the material. It's part of the jazz cool: a way of looking at the music both from the inside and the outside, of standing apart.

Pilar and The Sicilian Jazz Project were having none of that, in their late-night Chamberfringe show August 1.

Rarely have I seen performers – and particularly singers – who immersed themselves in the music as much as Franco-Italian vocalist Pilar and Canadian-Sicilian vocalist Dominic Mancuso did in this show. In almost every song, their voices, their faces, their hands, and their entire bodies were communicating the intense emotion in the lyrics and music.

It was an emphatically “hot” concert – both the vocals and the concentrated, jazz-fusion-flavoured instrumentals.

The project is the brainchild of Toronto jazz guitarist/composer Michael Occhipinti, and is based on his own Sicilian family heritage, as well as field recordings made by musicologist Alan Lomax in Sicily in 1954. It's a rethinking of original folksongs through the lens of Occhipinti's jazz sensibility, rhythms, arrangements, and improvisation.

Read more: Pilar and the Sicilian Jazz Project replaced jazz cool with passion (review)


Trio Jérôme Beaulieu doesn't miss a beat in show with drummer Greg Ritchie

Jérôme Beaulieu ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Trio Jérôme Beaulieu
Festival de Jazz Desjardins
Parc de l'Imaginaire, Gatineau (Aylmer)
Friday, July 31, 2015

View photos of this performance

In many ways, Parc de l'Imaginaire, a small greenspace next to the Aylmer Marina, is an ideal place to hear music. Quiet and intimate, it's verdant and shady and cool even in a heat wave. Musicians playing in the park's small covered bandstand can easily be seen from a 270 degree circle in the park.

The Festival de Jazz Desjardins, which has been held there mid-summer for the last 29 years, attracts an interested audience which consistently fills the park and listens carefully – which was a perfect match for Montreal pianist Jérôme Beaulieu's music, whose melodicism reaches out to this audience.

Beaulieu's trio had two crowd-pleasing Ottawa concerts in 2014 – at the National Arts Centre and at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. In the 75 minutes of this show, their first Gatineau concert, they connected with the audience just as strongly.

They had some obstacles: Beaulieu's long-time drummer had another gig and this was the trio's first show with his (temporary) replacement, who necessarily had to work from charts. And the high winds that were the remnants of that day's unsettled weather meant that all the musicians were fighting to keep their sheet music from being blown away, holding it down with multiple clips.

The replacement, on the other hand, was veteran drummer Greg Ritchie, well-known for his work with Christine Jensen and Joel Miller. Ritchie just recently returned to Montreal after a decade playing in the New York City jazz scene. He joined bassist Philippe Leduc in the trio, and adeptly adapted his playing to the music: swinging on a Monk tune; more nuanced brushes behind quiet, intricate piano on a tribute to pianist Chilly Gonzales; intense and propulsive on a Beaulieu original.

Read more: Trio Jérôme Beaulieu doesn't miss a beat in show with drummer Greg Ritchie


Oscar Peterson's 90th birthday to be celebrated Saturday at the NAC

Oscar Peterson will watch over a musical celebration of his 90th birthday on Saturday.

The National Arts Centre (NAC) will commemorate the late Canadian jazz pianist with a free outdoor concert – and right beside the band, keeping an eye on the show, will be the statue of Peterson and his piano at the south-west corner of the NAC building. The sculpture, which is normally accompanied by recordings of Peterson on piano, has become a popular attraction for jazz lovers and tourists in general.

Clayton Connell was excited to be chosen to play piano at the 90th birthday celebration for Canadian jazz icon Oscar Peterson. ©Brett Delmage, 2013The free half-hour concert, at the corner of Elgin and Albert Streets, will start at 1 p.m. on August 15, 90 years to the day after Peterson was born. (in case of bad weather, the concert will be moved to the nearby NAC Fourth Stage.)

The quartet of young Ottawa pianist Clayton Connell will perform music composed by Peterson and jazz standards which have become associated with him. Connell said he will be accompanied by drummer Michel Delage and bassist Ben Heard – and “because Oscar Peterson and [trumpeter] Clark Terry did many records together, we're going to add Kelly Craig to do some of the Clark Terry parts.”

The show will feature Peterson's signature piece, “Hymn to Freedom”, which became an anthem for the civil rights movement in the 1960s, as well as “Brotherhood of Man” from the Oscar Peterson Trio + One album with Terry. Peterson's quieter side will be represented by his tender ballad, “When Summer Comes”, and there are likely to be several numbers from Peterson's We Get Requests album.

Read more: Oscar Peterson's 90th birthday to be celebrated Saturday at the NAC


Brian Barlow's classic big band arrangements are a big hit

There were many smiles during and after the Carleton University Faculty Big Band Concert ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Jazz Camp Faculty Big Band, led by Brian Barlow
Carleton University Jazz Camp
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University
Friday, August 7, 2015 – 7 p.m.

View photos of this concert

If you closed your eyes, it felt like a 50s ballroom in Harlem. You could almost see dancers gliding and swinging across the floor to the energetic music.

With Brian Barlow in command, the Carleton University Jazz Camp Faculty Big Band played classic big band music Friday night, and particularly favourites by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. There were lots of smiles on stage, and many listeners swaying to the music in the audience.

For more than 15 years, Barlow was the percussionist in Rob McConnell's Boss Brass, and that's only part of his decades of experience performing in and arranging for big bands. He currently leads his own big band, for which he originally wrote the arrangements featured at this concert.

Read more: Brian Barlow's classic big band arrangements are a big hit


Renamed Carleton U Jazz Camp Award recognizes founder Mike Tremblay

The Carleton Jazz Camp Award has been renamed in honour of the camp's founder, Ottawa saxophonist and educator Mike Tremblay. The $1000 scholarship is awarded by Carleton University, and goes to an outstanding student attending the camp who will be studying at Carleton in the next year.

Supervisor of Performance Studies Dr. James Wright (r) announces that the Carleton University Jazz Camp award has been renamed after camp founder Mike Tremblay (l) © 2015 Brett DelmageAt the 2015 camp's closing concert Saturday evening, Carleton music professor and Supervisor of Performance Studies Dr. James Wright announced that the university wished to honour Tremblay's success over the last six years in setting up and directing the camp, by retroactively naming the award after him.

The honour to Tremblay was long-overdue, Wright said. The five-day-long camp each August has grown and thrived because of the “ridiculously many” hours Tremblay has put into it, and his skills not only as a musician, but also as a “great organizer and team-builder”.

“It's not about him – it's all about the students, all the time.”

This year, the award was given to guitarist Jacob Clarke, who switched to electric and acoustic bass while at the camp this year.

Tremblay said that when the camp faculty reflected on the students at this year's camp, Clarke was at the top of everyone's list. “He's super-keen.”

Read more: Renamed Carleton U Jazz Camp Award recognizes founder Mike Tremblay


Ottawa jazz family commemorates local art centre's 25th with West Coast cool

The Denison family – matriarch Kay on piano and organ, her son Tom on bass and drums, and the younger generation of Patrick on saxophone, Emily on trumpet and violin, and Lucas on drums – have been a frequent presence in Ottawa's jazz scene for years now.

Emily Denison was one of five Denisons that played jazz to help celebrate the Nepean Creative Arts Centre's 25th Anniversary ©2015 Brett DelmageAnd with Emily and Lucas having taken some of their first jazz lessons at the Nepean Creative Arts Centre (through the centre's partner, the Bells Corners Academy of Music), and Patrick and Tom having taught and adjudicated there, it seemed natural that all four would perform a concert to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the centre.

The “Denison 4+1” concert was organized by pianist Yves Laroche, director of the Bells Corners Academy. Laroche was the “+1” in the August 2 show.

The musical theme was “West Coast Jazz”. The first piece, “Out of Somewhere”, by Jimmy Giuffre, exemplified the cool vibe of that style. It was followed by more upbeat examples: “Whisper Not” by Benny Golson, whose forward momentum was outlined by a bright, edged trumpet solo from Emily; and “Bernie's Tune”, made popular by Gerry Mulligan, which featured a hard, echoing drum solo from Lucas.

On “Lines for Lions” by Bob Curnow and “Moon and Sand” by Alec Wilder, Patrick doubled on flute, creating a quiet, reflective sound and shimmering duets with Emily's trumpet.

Read more: Ottawa jazz family commemorates local art centre's 25th with West Coast cool


Cool down with jazz in August in Ottawa-Gatineau

If the heat and the never-ending election ads have got you down, there's plenty of cool jazz to cheer you up and clear your ears in Ottawa in August.

Marc Morin of the Montreal Guitar Trio. The trio is back August 6 for a joint concert with the California Guitar Trio at Chamberfest. ©Brett Delmage, 2013This week you can hear Chamberfest's jazz crossover concerts, and the evening faculty concerts at the Carleton University Jazz Camp. Next week, there's the duo of Toronto saxophonist Kirk MacDonald and legendary American pianist Harold Mabern, a pairing which won MacDonald a Juno this year.

But there's more: a musical tribute to Sarah Vaughn (and CD launch) by Montreal singer Kimberley Beyea; and a theatrical tribute to the Rat Pack in two different venues. Young up-and-coming musicians continue to present their music before heading back to university next month, and local musicians can be heard in venues simple and fancy on both sides of the river.

On Thursday, August 6, the Montreal Guitar Trio, who created quite a stir at Chamberfest a few years ago with their jazz/flamenco/world crossover music, return for a joint show with the California Guitar Trio (which, despite its name, contains one member from Utah, one from Belgium, and one from Japan). They'll be playing “original compositions and fresh arrangements of progressive rock, world, jazz, and classical music”.

Each year, the Carleton University Jazz Camp holds evening concerts for students and the public, featuring members of its faculty – some of whom are rarely heard in Ottawa. This year, the visitors include several renowned Toronto jazz musicians: trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, drummer Brian Barlow, and alto saxophonist Luis Deniz. They'll join well-known Ottawa musicians like Brian Browne, Roddy Ellias, Mark Ferguson, Mike Tremblay, and Elise Letourneau.

The concerts run from Tuesday, August 4 to Friday, August 7, and include everything from a tribute to Kenny Wheeler to a swinging big band. Read about these shows.

On Wednesday, August 5, a dynamic Montreal trio led by clarinetist and saxophonist Ted Crosby will perform the intricate compositions of pianist Thelonious Monk, clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, and drummer Paul Motian – plus jazz standards – at Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata. Crosby has released three CDs with two other different groups in Montreal.

Read more: Cool down with jazz in August in Ottawa-Gatineau


Prince Edward County Jazz Festival looks back and forward

This year, the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival will look back, with tributes to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue album and to vocalist Billie Holiday, and forward, with shows including three promising young Canadian jazz musicians.

Saxophonist Chet Doxas will join his drummer brother Jim in performing with iconic pianist Oliver Jones at the 2015 Prince Edward County Jazz Festival ©Brett Delmage, 2012The festival, which runs from August 11 to 16, will also include many well-known Canadian jazz musicians not often enough heard in Ottawa: from Vancouver, bassist Jodi Proznick; from Toronto, clarinetist Bob DeAngelis, trumpeter John MacLeod, pianist Robi Botos, saxophonist Perry White, bassist Neil Swainson, and pianist Dave Restivo; and from Montreal, alto saxophonist Rémi Bolduc, pianist Oliver Jones, tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas, and drummer Jim Doxas.

The all-jazz line-up starts next Tuesday, August 11, with an informal talk and film presentation by festival Creative Director Brian Barlow about the making of Kind of Blue. It's followed on Wednesday by a jazz dinner with the Bob DeAngelis Quartet playing the music of New Orleans.

On Thursday, August 13, trumpeter Steve McDade (who played in Manteca, and with Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass), performs a tribute to the timeless music in Kind of Blue, together with Bolduc, Proznick, Restivo, and two up-and-coming musicians: tenor saxophonist Eli Bennett and drummer Ian Wright.

On Friday, Proznick gives an afternoon talk on "Where are the women in jazz?", followed by an evening concert by veteran flugelhornist Guido Basso together with vocalist Shakura S'Aida, supported by Botos, Swainson, White, and Barlow on drums.

On Saturday, Proznick and White start the morning with a duo concert, followed in the afternoon by young bassist Marika Galea's tribute to iconic vocalist Billie Holiday. In the evening, Montreal piano legend Oliver Jones performs – with his regular drummer, Jim Doxas, and with a saxophonist he doesn't usually play with, Jim's brother Chet Doxas.

Sunday begins with a jazz mass, with Barlow leading a quartet including Proznick, Botos, and Chet Doxas. The day concludes with Barlow's big band, featuring Guido Basso and DeAngelis as soloists, playing the music of Rob McConnell, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman.

The daily schedules also include many other smaller concerts, and an after-hours jam session with the Robi Botos Trio.

Read more: Prince Edward County Jazz Festival looks back and forward


Carleton University concerts showcase Toronto musicians rarely seen in Ottawa

Jazz new to Ottawa – plus some long-time favourites – will be featured in a series of evening concerts starting tonight at Carleton University.

The Carleton University Jazz Camp has invited several musicians almost never heard in Ottawa to teach here this week. They'll be showcased in its evening concerts Tuesday to Friday, playing everything from atmospheric modern jazz, to a cappella vocals, to fast-paced mainstream jazz, to a full big band.

Brian Browne will perform solo Tuesday. ©Brett Delmage, 2010Kevin Turcotte will join in the tribute to fellow trumpeter Kenny Wheeler on Wednesday and Friday's big band. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Tonight (Tuesday) is an all-local night. Long-time Ottawa favourite Brian Browne will perform a solo piano concert, followed by a new vocal group, the Juliet Singers.

Concert organizer Mark Ferguson said he loved hearing Browne play solo piano, “because you just never know what's going to come next, and you know that he's going through the same process. He doesn't have a set list in front of him. He doesn't use set lists.”

“He just sits down and starts playing. And he plays these amazing tunes that have nothing to do with each other, but somehow he makes it all fit. So I can't tell you anything about what he's going to play and neither can he. But what I can tell you is that it's going to be great.”

Read more: Carleton University concerts showcase Toronto musicians rarely seen in Ottawa


The Emie R. Roussel Trio balances melody and groove in a happy Festival Desjardins show

Emie R. Roussel (piano) and Sébastien Pellerin (bass) easily commanded the attention of the audience at le Festival de Jazz Desjardins ©Brett Delmage, 2015Emie R. Roussel Trio
Festival de Jazz Desjardins
Parc de l'Imaginaire, Gatineau (Aylmer)
Thursday, July 30, 2015

Quebec jazz pianist Emie R. Roussel attracted an attentive audience and a standing ovation for her 75-minute show in Parc de l'Imaginaire in Aylmer Thursday. Her free concert was the second in this year's Festival de Jazz Desjardins, which runs until Saturday.

Together with her trio, Roussel performed originals, mostly from her 2015 album, Quantum, plus some from her previous CD, Transit. That 2013 CD featured the trio in dramatic conversation with a string quartet, while Quantum added more groove and R&B colours to classic piano jazz.

It was much the same material as Roussel played in her National Arts Centre debut in April. However, to my mind, the music was better integrated in this show, the groove underlining but not overwhelming the more delicate, introspective moments.

“Funambule” (Tightrope Walker) showed the more romantic, dramatic side of the trio, with an emphatic double bass solo from Sébastien Pellerin, and ringing keyboard lines. It received strong applause. On the other hand, drummer Dominic Cloutier introduced “Club” with a strong rat-a-tat drum solo which grew in complexity and intensity. Joined by Pellerin's electric bass and Roussel's Fender Rhodes-like keyboards, that piece strongly reminded me of 70s organ trio music, with a touch of funk – a cheery and crowd-pleasing number.

Read more: The Emie R. Roussel Trio balances melody and groove in a happy Festival Desjardins show


The Drew Jurecka Trio plays swirling rhythms with verve and enthusiasm

Drew Jurecka Trio
Ottawa Chamberfest, Chamberfringe series
Saint Brigid's Centre for the Arts, Kildare Room
Friday, July 24, 2015 – 10 p.m.

The Drew Jurecka Trio's bright music was an immediate hit with its Chamberfringe audience Friday night.

The trio's combination of violin, piano, and double bass was a natural for their upbeat repertoire: mostly jazz standards from the last hundred years, combined with a few Jurecka originals. But it was how they played that material – with verve, style, and enthusiasm – that set the concert alight.

Jurecka is a veteran on the Toronto jazz scene, primarily playing violin but also doubling on many other instruments, including clarinet and saxophone. A long-time member of the late Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards, he currently tours with Jill Barber, and leads his own groups like the Hogtown Syncopators and the Hot Jazz String Quartet. He has also backed Diana Krall, Shirley Horn, and Dianne Reeves.

For 85 minutes, the trio – with Mark Kieswetter on piano, and Clark Johnston on double bass – kept their late-night audience not only awake, but clapping enthusiastically after each song and each solo. There were relatively few jazz regulars in attendance, but there was an immediate connection to the music in an audience which ranged from 20-year-olds to seniors.

They opened with the sweet, romantic “Lady, Be Good!” by the Gershwins, which featured swirling violin lines over a dancing beat on piano and bass. It set the tone for the concert: a warm vibe, infectious rhythms, and lots of smooth interplay among the trio.

Read more: The Drew Jurecka Trio plays swirling rhythms with verve and enthusiasm


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