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Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers bring The Big Easy to Merrickville

“There's only five of us but, man, it sounds like a freight train! It's really heavy, and because it's acoustic and the level of improvisation is really high, it's really fun, too.”

Marc Decho is going all-acoustic with his Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers, which plays Merrickville's Jazz Fest on Friday  ©Brett Delmage, 2011Marc Decho has always loved the music of New Orleans – its blues, its gospel, and, of course, its jazz. He's brought those musical strands together in his new band, the Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers. It will have its third – and biggest so far – outing this Friday at Merrickville's Jazz Fest.

Earlier this year, the Wakefield-based bassist stumbled across a link for WWOZ, a jazz and heritage radio station from New Orleans. Since then, he said, the station's on-line live streams have been a constant companion – and an inspiration to form a band to play high-energy, full-blown New Orleans traditional music.

He got together four local jazz colleagues, and organized a single Sunday night show at Stella Luna, a small gelato store in Ottawa South, on June 1.

“That first show was so well-received – the whole band was ecstatic and we were so happy the way it turned out, and Stella was packed and there were people swing dancing, and it was crazy!”

Stella Luna quickly invited them back for a second show, on August 3, which was equally popular. For that show, Decho gave the band its current name – which has many antecedents.

The “Crescent” in the name refers to New Orleans, the “Crescent City”. “Barbecue” is a homage to one of Decho's favourite bands from that city, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. “Stompers” evokes foot-stomping, and the band's heavy groove. And “Sun Crescent” refers to the street Decho lives on.

And, most importantly, he said, the name is “a clear indication that this is definitely going to be a New Orleans-style fun party band.”

Read more: Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers bring The Big Easy to Merrickville


Rob Frayne is back, with a tenor sax

For Rob Frayne, his instrument is, and always will be, the tenor sax.

But this Friday will be the first time he's played the sax in a concert in almost a decade, after a long period of recovery and readjustment. He'll be at GigSpace, performing with long-time friends, and his tenor sax will add to the strong Dizzy Gillespie-influenced groove in the music he's written for the show.

Rob Frayne is back with a sax, and he's playing it at a GigSpace concert this Friday  ©2014 Brett DelmageFor well over two decades, Frayne has been a powerhouse in Ottawa's jazz scene: as a composer, arranger, teacher, and instrumentalist. He led groups like the groundbreaking Chelsea Bridge, co-founded the JazzWorks jazz camp, and played with everyone from Kenny Wheeler to the Gil Evans Orchestra to the Shuffle Demons. More recently, his Dream Band, featuring some of the best jazz musicians in Canada, filled the NAC Fourth Stage for two nights in 2012 and was one of the bands playing tribute to Jacques Émond on the closing night of the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Ten years ago (November, 2004), Frayne's car was hit by a truck, and he was badly injured. The left side of his throat is still paralyzed, and he has reduced lung capacity – which makes it harder to play the tenor.

The GigSpace concert is the first time Frayne will actually publicly play his saxophone in a group, “which is kind of neat, because I didn't quite think I'd be able to. I realized over the last few months that after I changed everything – like my reed, my mouthpiece, my horn, the way I breathe, my neck strap – everything – that I could play a bit of music on it.”

As soon as he was able after the collision, Frayne was playing bass and piano: “I was trying to find some way of playing, something. And then I realized, after about five or six years, that I liked the saxophone the most.”

He laughs, a bit ruefully. “I should have been able to guess that, but you'd think, let's adapt, let's move on. It turns out, I'm going back to the sax. And now I feel a lot like a teenager, or even someone at university in a practice room, trying to play two notes or one note...”

Although he'd been working on relearning the sax for the last decade, with “a concerted few months every so often”, he said, it was in the last year that he decided to divide up the components he needed to play, and fix them each one by one.

Read more: Rob Frayne is back, with a tenor sax


Joel Miller Trio: quiet audiences make acoustic jazz come alive

Joel Miller's show in Ottawa tonight will have an extra advantage – quiet.

Joel Miller ©Brett Delmage, 2013The Montreal saxophonist and his trio will be performing selections from his Juno-Award-winning album, Swim, plus new material, at ZenKitchen. And he's looking forward to an audience which will be listening, not talking.

For its Wednesday Jazz nights, ZenKitchen has a listening-first policy, discouraging talking during sets. “That's fantastic!” Miller says. “Obviously that helps immensely with everything that we're doing. Especially if people are captivated and people are focused, then it just makes it come alive so much more. It's something we really look forward to, and we're always trying to make that happen. It's such a big difference for us.”

It's particularly important for the acoustic jazz that the trio will be playing, in an intimate space like ZenKitchen. And it helps listeners, too: “Ultimately it will be a happier thing all around.”

With Miller will be bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Greg Ritchie, who played with him on Swim [Origin, 2012]. The pieces on that album are melodic modern jazz, with Miller's rich tenor twining through and around Hollins' lyrical bass and Ritchie's cymbal-rich and multi-layered drumming – and Geoffrey Keezer's intricate piano. Ottawa audiences had a chance to hear that grouping in an outdoor show at the 2012 Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Playing those pieces without piano, as they will tonight, “opens things up a bit”, Miller said. “For example, with the drummer, Greg, it gives him more space to fill in.”

Read more: Joel Miller Trio: quiet audiences make acoustic jazz come alive


IMOOfest 2014 celebrates local talent as well as Canada's top improvisers

The Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais (IMOO) are enthusiastically presenting their third improvised music festival, IMOOfest 2014, at Club SAW on Friday and Saturday, featuring both big name Canadian improvisers and accomplished local talent as headliners.

This unique two-day music festival follows two very different and well-received concerts that launched IMOO's new season in their new home, the Raw Sugar Café, during the past few weeks.

Montreal's Jean Derome is one of the out-of-town headliners at IMOOfest 2014, in a festival which also celebrates and involves local improvisers. ©2013 Brett Delmage“We're still here!” IMOO co-founder Linsey Wellman jubilantly told OttawaJazzScene.ca after their first concert of their fourth season. Created to serve local improvising muscians in the fall of 2011, IMOO presented concerts #106 and #107 last month, and will offer its third IMOOfest this week – not an insubstantial amount of organizing, and a significant track record.

While the concerts are the public face and ultimate reason for IMOO's existence, driving them is a deliberate artistic direction that is in stark contrast to that of the 34 year-old Ottawa Jazz Festival. The OJF's observed direction has been to grow bigger by presenting any and all kinds of music, while reducing exposure for local musicians. IMOO has continued to celebrate the local, and its core value of scriptless music.

Sustaining IMOO's fundamental commitment to giving exposure to local talent, cellist Mark Molnar, reedman David Broscoe, and the IMOO Chamber Orchestra (comprised of both the out-of-town and many local artists) are featured at IMOOfest this year.

Joining them will be notable Canadian improvisors Jean Derome, Joane Hétu, and Lina Allemano’s Titanium Riot (with Ottawa native Nick Fraser). All but one of the artists have performed at acclaimed concerts in past IMOO series concerts or festivals.

“It's hard to be specific [about which act I like the most] because I really love all of the acts that we've booked. Amazing, really amazing. I'm quite chuffed,” said Wellman.

Read more: IMOOfest 2014 celebrates local talent as well as Canada's top improvisers


Peter Liu: love songs and jazz cross cultural boundaries in Bamboo Groove

It's difficult to imagine Bamboo Groove being released by anyone but Peter Liu.

Vocalist Peter Liu with bassist and Bamboo Groove recording engineer Normand Glaude. ©2014 Brett DelmageThe Ottawa jazz vocalist has put so much of himself – his Chinese heritage, his love of traditional jazz standards, and his emotional connection to the music – into the new CD. Even the title reflects his favourite plant.

He'll debut it on Friday, in a concert at the NAC Fourth Stage which will also feature Ottawa jazz musicians with whom he has been performing this music for the last three years, and whom he says were indispensable to the sound.

On the CD, ten tracks are from the Great American Songbook. But the other three, while sung in a similar style, are in Mandarin and Cantonese. The theme song from a Chinese movie, a folk song from Taiwan, and the intro to a romantic TV drama from Hong Kong: each of them is a song Liu has loved for decades, and each has been “jazzified” for the album.

What the English and Chinese songs have in common, Liu says, is how well they convey emotion, and how they speak to “not only the importance, but the power of love in our lives and the complications that can come from that. How difficult the feeling of yearning can be, and how beautiful it can be as well, and also some difficulties with that. I'm always drawn to songs that have stronger emotional content.”

But counterbalanced by the modern jazz feel of Ottawa pianist Peter Hum, who arranged all the pieces on the album. Hum “has a very strong modern jazz sensibility and I'm coming from a more traditional [jazz] perspective. For this CD one of the challenges was to blend those two approaches to jazz, and to produce something that's both creative and also melodic and harmonic.”

Read more: Peter Liu: love songs and jazz cross cultural boundaries in Bamboo Groove


ZenKitchen quietly launches new Wednesday Night Jazz (video)

ZenKitchen launched its new Wednesday Night Jazz on September 24, expanding its live jazz performances beyond its successful Sunday night jazz.

Two to make sound and one to keep it down: Roddy Ellias, Bernie Senensky and Dave Loan launch Wednesday Jazz Nights at ZenKitchen  ©2014 Brett DelmageHosted and organized by Ottawa's own Jazz Hero Roddy Ellias, the new series features top Canadian guest musicians, many of them Juno Award winners and nominees: Bernie Senensky, Roddy Ellias' own trio, Joel Miller, Jeri Brown, Mike Rud, Dave Young, John Geggie, Lorne Lofsky, and Diane White. Read all about these upcoming shows in our previous story.

Many listeners have continued to sing the blues about the closure of Café Paradiso. That popular, former restaurant and jazz venue presented a decade of jazz by both local and touring jazz musicians until it closed suddenly in 2012. But it was not without its faults. The owner requested patrons to keep their noise down to “a dull roar” - and unfortunately they frequently complied.

By contrast, ZenKitchen's Wednesday Jazz Club has been presented as a different kind of experience – one where the music comes first. "We request patrons to refrain from talking during the sets to allow everyone to experience this fantastic music," states the series' information page at ZenKitchen.ca

Could ZenKitchen be Café Paradiso's replacement?

OttawaJazzScene.ca reporters were there – at one of ZenKitchen's regular dining tables – for their very first Wednesday evening show. We brought our video and audio recording equipment, so we could carefully capture the performance just as other listeners/diners and you might experience it. Watch our video to enjoy musical excerpts from that show, see interviews with the people making this happen, and hear what listeners of all kinds thought about the evening.

Judge the experience for yourself: virtually, and in-person – and please email us to let us what you think.

   – Brett Delmage

Watch the video


Ottawa benefit raises $900 for Canadian trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler (video)

The musicians played Kenny Wheeler's compositions intently: (l-r) Michel Delage, Alex Bilodeau, Roddy Ellias, Peter Hum, Mark Ferguson, Christine Fagan ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Updated 2014 September 30 to add video interviews and concert excerpts

On Friday, a benefit concert in Ottawa for the late Canadian trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler raised $900, with more expected from those who couldn't attend.

The benefit was organized by guitarist Roddy Ellias and pianist Peter Hum. They recruited Mark Ferguson on trombone, Alex Bilodeau on bass, Michel Delage on drums, and Christine Fagan on vocals. Together, they honoured Wheeler and his major influence on jazz and big band music. In two sets, they played a wide range of compositions by Wheeler, to a very attentive, quiet, and appreciative full house at Zola's Restaurant in Bells Corners.

Watch the video


A cross-Canada celebration of poet P.K. Page in music and dance

Scott Thomson, Susanna Hood, Linsey Wellman at the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais show. Thomson and Hood will present an expanded version of this show in Montreal this week. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Scott Thomson and Susanna Hood: The Muted Note
IMOO #107
Raw Sugar Café
Sunday, September 21, 2014 - 7 p.m.

Award-winning Canadian poet P.K. Page had her work interpreted as a one-woman play, as a documentary film, and as a print/calligraphy exhibition.

Now composer Scott Thomson has translated a number of Page's imagery-laden poems into music and movement. In collaboration with choreographer and vocalist Susanna Hood, he has produced a new album, The Muted Note, containing compositions based on Page's poems.

This month they began their cross-Canada tour, presenting the music as a dance/music collaboration, with Thomson on trombone and Hood singing and using her body to express the emotion in the words. On September 21, they appeared in Ottawa, performing several pieces from the album in the first half of the show, and then improvising with Ottawa saxophonist Linsey Wellman in the second half.

Many of Thomson and Hood's shows are only as a duo, but this week in Montréal (October 2 to 5), they're enhancing the show with three more dancers and three more musicians, as part of l'OFF Festival de Jazz. The expanded show was also presented in Toronto in early September.

At the Ottawa show, the duo presented six pieces based on Page's poems. Hood sung the words and interspersed them with wordless singing and movement, while Thomson played trombone. It was a quiet, intimate show, well-suited to the cramped space in the Raw Sugar Café (some furniture was moved to give Hood enough space to dance), and kept the audience raptly attentive throughout.

Read more: A cross-Canada celebration of poet P.K. Page in music and dance


Ottawa audience enjoys Organic's groove (review)

Nathan Hiltz and Mike Essoudry, in musical conversation. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Nathan Hiltz's Organic, featuring Bernie Senensky
Zola's Restaurant
Thursday, September 25, 2014 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of this performance

I love jazz organ music. There's something about the deep throb of a organ – whether a Hammond B3 or a church organ – that adds richness and immediacy to the music. And a lot of groove.

But there aren't that many real Hammond organs out there – or organists – so it was a treat to hear the Toronto quartet Organic in Ottawa for its first appearance Thursday.

Guitarist Nathan Hiltz and pianist/organist Bernie Senensky started playing together every Sunday night at a downtown Toronto club seven years ago. Senensky loved the sound of the club's Hammond B3; Hiltz was influenced by guitarists like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green who had regularly played with organists.

A few years later, they added tenor saxophonist Ryan Oliver and drummer Morgan Childs, and they've been performing weekly as Organic ever since. You could see and hear that familiarity in the quartet's playing: there was an ease and suppleness in how they switched leads and supported each other.

Read more: Ottawa audience enjoys Organic's groove (review)


New Santé Restaurant jazz series will highlight male vocalists in October

A new Wednesday evening “vocal-centric” jazz series at Santé Restaurant launched earlier this month, with a full room listening to vocalist Karen Oxorn and guitarist Tim Bedner. It continues in the weeks ahead with an uncommon lineup of talented male jazz vocalists.

Nicole Ratté  and Tim Bedner performed songs in all three official languages: English, French, and Jazz on September 17, in Sante Restaurant's new jazz series. ©2014 Brett DelmageThe new series, curated by Bedner. arose from a series of sessions his trio played at the restaurant during the Ottawa Jazz Festival in June, as part of the Downtown Rideau BIA's festival-related programming. Prior to that, Santé Restaurant presented eight mainstream and Latin jazz duos in 2012.

On Wednesday, September 17, when I heard Nicole Ratté perform with Bedner, the restaurant was approximately half-full of diners, who were reasonably quiet and appreciative, allowing me to clearly hear the music where I sat, almost at the back of the room.

Dominique Forest will be featured tonight. She's presenting a sneak preview – indeed the first live performance – of a few original songs from her upcoming first CD, which she will release in January. Bedner has been working with her on the project and was very excited when speaking about them, describing them as “beautiful, beautiful songs.”

In October, Bedner will play with a number of experienced male jazz vocalists singing in a variety of jazz styles, starting with Steve Berndt on October 1, followed by Jerry Sociedade (Oct. 8), and Floyd Hutchinson (Oct. 15).

Read more: New Santé Restaurant jazz series will highlight male vocalists in October


Bernie Senensky, in two voices

Audiences will be able to hear two voices of Bernie Senensky in two cities this week – grooving in an organ quartet, and more intimately in a piano-guitar duet.

Bernie Senensky (photo courtesy of Bernie Senensky)The Toronto pianist is best known for the 20 years he spent playing with and writing for jazz legend Moe Koffman. But he's performed with many more musical greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Williams, Art Pepper, and Elvin Jones. He's played piano duets with Oscar Peterson and Marian McPartland, and been a member of groups including Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, the and the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra.

This will be his first Ottawa appearance in years – in two very different shows. On Wednesday, he'll be on piano, opening the new Wednesday jazz listening series at ZenKitchen. On Thursday, he's playing organ with the Toronto quartet Organic at Zola's.

On Friday and Saturday, he's at the Résonance Café in Montreal: first with Organic, and then with his Organ Quartet, including Roddy Ellias.

Speaking to him on the phone Saturday, he was enthusiastic about both.

The ZenKitchen show is a duet with guitarist Roddy Ellias. It will feature “some original music but there also will be some familiar music and it will be more intuitive.” While the music will be more spare, that “doesn't mean every tune will be very slow – it's going to be all kinds of things.”

“I love Roddy's playing: we've played together a few times and I've known him for years,” Senensky said. When Ellias was in Toronto a few months ago, he sat in as guest with another organ group which Senensky plays with, “and that was really great. I think we have a great rapport.”

“We've both been playing this music for many decades so that breeds a closeness and a knowledge of the genre and the style. And it's beautiful the way the guitar and the piano can resound together, played by the right people.”

Senensky has had decades of experience playing with great jazz guitarists, starting with Lenny Breau, and including Herb Ellis, Sonny Greenwich, and Bucky Pizzarelli – and especially Ed Bickert.

Read more: Bernie Senensky, in two voices


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