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An early and jazzy start to Christmas

This Wednesday, Christmas comes early to Ottawa – or at least its jazzy soundtrack!

Vocalist Jozée Devoua, pianist and arranger J.P. Allain, and bassist and engineer Normand Glaude will be premiering their new Christmas CD, Jazz Winterlude, at the NAC Fourth Stage.

Just a bit early for the actual holiday, you might wonder? Glaude said they wanted to ensure they introduced the CD early enough to get it to possible buyers. And, in fact, he said, once Hallowe'en was over, ticket sales really picked up. “There definitely are some die-hard fans out there of Christmas that want to get into the mood early.”

The album was inspired by all the great jazz music which is also Christmas music. “Christmas is a fun time of year. There is a lot of Christmas music out there that people like to rejuvenate every year, and add new music to their portfolio. And quite honestly, I think that there are some really nice jazz standards that are great Christmas tunes.”

Read more: An early and jazzy start to Christmas


IMOOfest to return after financial break-even and artistic successes

(l-r) Linsey Wellman, Craig Pedersen, Justin Haynes take a break between sets. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Craig Pedersen and Linsey Wellman looked exhausted but happy at the end of IMOOfest 2013 on Sunday night.

The two IMOO (Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais) programming directors had been going full out for three days of the festival. They were organizing all the last-minute details and cleanup, introducing acts, and publicizing each night, as well as all the pre-festival arrangements which had occupied them for months beforehand. And although they had originally planned to play only in the IMOO orchestra, they each ended up unexpectedly performing in another set as well.

But they were satisfied: “I feel great”, they both said, with Wellman continuing that “musically, it was a big success. There was some really stellar music. That was the most important thing. And there were people here; everybody who came seemed to be really happy. It was just a really great chance to get some people in the community all together, in one place."

The festival featured a wide range of musicians from Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto, all playing improvised music, but on many different instruments and presenting a wide diversity of sounds. Pedersen said one highlight for him was playing with (ex-Ottawa, now-Toronto) guitarist Justin Haynes. Haynes became an unexpected extra headliner when Jennifer Giles invited him to play in her trio – with results that “floored” Pedersen.

Read more: IMOOfest to return after financial break-even and artistic successes


IMOOfest 2013 Night 3: unpacking the music (review)

Jesse Stewart thought outside the box for his performance ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais
IMOOfest 2013, night 3
Sunday, November 10, 2013
GigSpace Performance Studio, Ottawa

View the photos

Jesse Stewart, solo percussion

For his previous solo show at GigSpace, percussionist Jesse Stewart brought in a vibraphone, a set of heavy, carefully-tuned marble blocks, a drumkit, a giant sawblade, and many other percussion instruments: a load you'd need a large car or van to carry.

He showed up at IMOOfest 2013 with a plain cardboard box under his arm, about a cubic foot in size and obviously trivially light. He ignored the two full drumkits behind him, and he played the box in every possible way.

Opening the last night of the festival, Stewart embodied its pure improvising spirit – and playfulness. He began by simply shaking the box, letting the contents crash around inside. Then he turned it over and around. He rubbed the stubble on his face against it, and then put it down and ran his fingers over the corrugations on the side, creating light scratching sounds.

He drummed on it with his hands, on both the sides and top, starting with simple patterns which evolved into more complex and interrupted, and turned into a thundershower of sharp beats. He opened the box and pressed the flaps down alternately, fast and hard. Using a violin bow, he bowed the side of a flap, creating an attenuated screech like a creaking door in a horror film, and then pressed down harder and harder until the sound popped.

Read more: IMOOfest 2013 Night 3: unpacking the music (review)


IMOOfest 2013 Night 2: stretching the rules (review)

The IMOO Chamber Orchestra broke the rules ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais
IMOOfest 2013, night 2
Saturday, November 9, 2013
GigSpace Performance Studio, Ottawa

View the photos

Night 2 of IMOOfest 2013 showed the diversity of what can be described as improvised music or avant-garde jazz.

It began with Jeff Morton playing what was billed as a solo electronics set, but which ended up at least as much acoustic. For the first half of the show, he played electronic dance music, a constantly adaptive ecology of sound with strong electronic figures over a muffled beat. It had a minimalist, hypnotic feel, and despite its intensity was never too loud.

A projection screen was set up to his right: for the first half it displayed changing abstract patterns; during the second half, his partner, Katrina Bray, moved paper origami figures to create frequently-changing, evocative shadows on the screen.

For the second half of his show, Morton pulled out a “Phono Fiddle”, an instrument sold mostly door-to-door in the early part of the 20th century for beginning musicians. It looked so odd that I had initially thought it was a home-brew device: it consists of a long wooden rod with a single metal string running down it. At the bridge, the string vibrates a phonograph needle, and that then transfers sound through a diaphragm and a small metal tube to a large metal horn attached at the bottom of the wooden rod.

Morton played it with a bow, touching both the string and the edge of the bell to double the sound. That created a sonorous but supernatural-feeling sound, initially high-pitched and then moving up and down in frequency. He added loops behind, but still kept the acoustic and very minimal feel as he continued with small variations on the melody, and eventually faded out to appreciative applause.

Read more: IMOOfest 2013 Night 2: stretching the rules (review)


IMOOfest 2013 Night 1: a huge dynamic range (review)

Justin Haynes and Linsey Wellman played together for the first time at IMOOfest 2013. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais
IMOOfest 2013, night 1
Friday, November 8, 2013
GigSpace Performance Studio, Ottawa

View the photos

The second edition of IMOOfest opened with three performances, which each reached their audience's hearts and minds, but in quite separate ways.

The festival is being held this year in the intimate GigSpace, which gave it a warm, inviting, and informal feeling: where a peaceful baby could snooze in his mother's arms during quiet sections or watch and listen (protected by ear muffs) to louder passages. There was lots of time between acts and before and after the show for the performers and listeners to chat together, enjoy refreshments, and look at the performers' CDs.

The festival opened with an extended solo guitar piece by David Jackson. Playing electric guitar with a variety of effects pedals and loops, Jackson layered sounds on top of each other like a watercolour painter. He started with a simple musical aura, produced using his effects pedals while he lightly drummed on his guitar body. He added a few harmonics, and then superimposed on another light overall tone on top of the first.

Read more: IMOOfest 2013 Night 1: a huge dynamic range (review)


Will Accordion Conspiracy take over IMOOfest? (video)

Bernard Stepien and David Broscoe have been conspirators for a long time, but usually playing saxophone. But five years ago, Bernard brought his Hohner accordion – the one he played as a child – over from Europe, and the extra capabilities of that instrument and the encouragement of a few friends persuaded him to try it in a improvised music context.

And so was born their Accordion Conspiracy. They'll be reprising it at IMOOfest this Saturday, November 9, at 8:30 p.m.

Our video features excerpts from their  initial concert at IMOO on January 27, 2013, and an interview with Stepien and Broscoe.

Watch the video


Organ-ic fusion fills the church (review)

Wayne Eagles matched his guitar to organ or piano. ©Alayne McGregor, 2013eagles – mcgowan – wittet
Trinity United Church
Saturday, October 19, 2013 – 7:30 p.m.

Freddie Hubbard's “Little Sunflower” is a jazz classic because of its great groove and its infectious melody. I've heard it played in many different configurations by organ trios, in jazz jams, and by student big bands. But the version that opened this concert was one of the best ever.

And that related directly back to the reason for this concert: to raise money for the (just-finished) refurbishing of Trinity United Church's Casavant organ. James McGowan, who is both the church's director of music and the keyboard third of this trio, played the Casavant organ in this and several other numbers during the concert. It added depth and a richness of tone to a really notable degree, and certainly surprised me how well it fit in with the jazz repertoire.

As McGowan explained later, this organ is almost a hundred years old, and was originally installed in a chapel in Montreal. When that chapel closed, Trinity, which originally didn't have an organ, bought it and had it reinstalled behind a screen at the front of the church.

But including a church organ wasn't much of a stretch for this trio, whose members come from quite different backgrounds aside from their mutual love of jazz and improvisation. McGowan is a professor in the music department at Carleton University, whose research interests include 18th- and 19th-century art music. Guitarist Wayne Eagles is a long-time performance instructor and ensemble director at Carleton, who runs the jazz fusion ensemble. T. Bruce Wittet has been a music journalist and drummer, in many different genres, for more than 30 years.

The concert started in an almost-classical vein, with a short stretch of solo organ before Eagles entered with fluid electric guitar lines and Wittet with light mallets on drums. Their notes coalesced after a minute or two into Hubbard's distinctive riff, and the music swelled to fill the church right to the back.

Read more: Organ-ic fusion fills the church (review)


Phil Nimmons and David Braid reinvent their music with each concert

Phil Nimmons (clarinet) and David Braid (piano) inspire each other at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2006. ©Brett Delmage, 2006

Clarinetist Phil Nimmons, one of Canada's leading jazz bandleaders, composers, and educators, completely reinvented himself in his 80s. He moved away from the highly-organized quartets and large ensembles he was famous for, and started playing completely improvised duets with pianist David Braid. 

Nimmons and Braid have played more than 100 concerts together over the past nine years, including Ottawa Chamberfest in 2011. At each concert, they have explored new territory and performed without an advance road map, but still retained their mutual love of melody and jazz form. 

They'll be doing that again this Friday evening at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage – with an added photographic development.

Braid told this week how inspiring he found Nimmons' new direction.

“Like, how courageous is that? Think of other jazz musicians in their 80s or even 90s. I mean, it's wonderful that they're still playing, I'm not knocking that. But usually, they're doing the things that made them famous 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. But in Phil's case, he's so special. He actually decided to reinvent himself in his 80s. That's amazing.”

Nimmons is 90 years old in 2013, and the NAC show is one of several celebrating that anniversary and including a Nimmons 'n' Braid duet. The national MusicFest competitions in Toronto featured a special tribute concert in May. As well, the University of Toronto, where Nimmons is Director Emeritus of the jazz studies program, will hold a “Nimmons@90” concert on November 14.

But the NAC show has two extra aspects: it will celebrate the release of the duo's new double CD, and the second half will incorporate the photographs of American artist Nathan Wirth, projected on a screen as the two perform.

Read more: Phil Nimmons and David Braid reinvent their music with each concert


Ensemble SuperMusique takes a chance with IMOO at Club SAW

Martin Tétreault's turntable work put another spin on Ensemble SuperMusique's performance  ©Brett Delmage, 2013

The evening started with the first climax, delivered by Craig Pedersen in a solo trumpet performance. Pedersen then descended into quieter notes: much quieter, sculpted, breathy expressions from his trumpet, which turned up everyone's attention. The limitations of Club SAW became more apparent, as his distinct statement descended below the level of the humming ventilation system for a good blow. And then it was over.

The music couldn't descend from there and it didn't try. After a short break, the main act, Ensemble SuperMusique, took the stage and turned it up again. These key improvisers and composers in Montreal's scene and the two vintage drumsets, a turntable, a wind-up toy, vocal cords, two saxophones, and a trombone, brought a completely complementary sound with a lot of variety to the evening. Jean Derome's "Le Fruit du Hasard" started with rolls of the dice prior to the performance; these inputs to pairs of musicians led them to play from two different compositions while finding ways to piece it all together.

The evening of improvised music featuring Ensemble SuperMusique and trumpeter Craig Pedersen was presented by the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) on Sunday, October 20, 2013 as part of their regular concert series. Ensemble SuperMusique included Danielle Palardy Roger (drums, percussion), Pierre Tanguay (drums, percussion), Jean Derome (sax, toys), Joane Hétu (sax, vocals), Martin Tétreault (turntables), Scott Thomson (trombone).

    – Brett Delmage

View photos from this concert


Mortimer Katz remembered: a very long life filled with bebop

Updated October 25
Dr. Mortimer Katz, an Ottawa physician who proved that playing jazz can be a truly life-long avocation, died on Monday afternoon, according to his long-time friend, saxophonist Bernard Stepien. Katz was 87.

Mortimer Katz at Hanoi Pho in June: he loved both listening and playing. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Almost certainly the oldest active jazz musician in the city, “Mort” was well-known in the jazz community. He frequently participated in local jams and jazz camps as well as the occasional professional gig, playing tenor saxophone, clarinet, and piano.

He was one of the featured musicians at the 2010 Ottawa JazzWorks Gala, where he was described as “the last man standing at many a jazz camp jam session”. The Ottawa Citizen report on the gala noted that “The jam session continued well past midnight, with tenor saxman and octogenarian Mortimer Katz one of the last to leave.”

“What I always remember most about Mort is his irrepressible smile, but I believe that he was special and inspirational to many for continuing to be so musically active into his advanced age,” said vocalist and former JazzWorks jam coordinator Peter Liu. “He oozed love and passion for jazz, both as player and listener, and being around him made you feel it more too. He is a role model for me to keep the jazz spirit alive throughout my own life.”

JazzWorks board member John Graham said he last saw Katz at this August's JazzWorks jazz camp at Lake MacDonald, Quebec. Katz looked “pretty frail” this year, and napped through some of the masterclasses, he said, but “he kept going”.

Katz's jazz style was bebop, “the avant-garde of his time. That was his music,” said Stepien.

Stepien and Katz lived only one block apart. For the last 30 years, they had regular Sunday night jam sessions in Katz's basement, playing his Steinway piano. “I play piano, too, and we would take turns: I would be on the piano and him on either the clarinet or tenor sax, and then we would reverse.”

They played bebop and its successors, but not the easy, one-chord tunes which Katz disliked. He preferred more intellectually satisfying material like John Coltrane, Warne Marsh, and Lee Konitz, Stepien said – but not Thelonious Monk, whose compositions he found difficult.

Read more: Mortimer Katz remembered: a very long life filled with bebop


Guelph 2013: Wadada Leo Smith's Ten Freedom Summers moved from sorrow to triumph (review)

Wadada Leo Smith and his Golden Quartet played four suites from Ten Freedom Summers at the 2013 Guelph Jazz Festival. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Wadada Leo Smith and the Golden Quartet
Ten Freedom Summers
Main Stage, River Run Centre
Guelph Jazz Festival
Saturday, September 7, 2013 – 8 p.m.

View photos of this concert

The story of the American civil rights movement is stirring, tragic, and full of hope. All those emotions are reflected in Wadada Leo Smith's massive and eloquent work, Ten Freedom Summers, part of which he performed at the 2013 Guelph Jazz Festival.

And that took 90 very intense minutes. The full work takes three evenings to perform, and has been recorded on a four-CD set.

But even hearing only four of the pieces still gave the Guelph audience a feel for the beauty of this composition, and how potent it was in performance.

Ten Freedom Summers memorializes key moments in the history of civil rights in the United States, from 1954 to 1964. Its subjects range from Rosa Parks to Emmett Till, from President John F. Kennedy's New Frontier to Thurgood Marshall to Martin Luther King, Jr. It's a collection of suites; each stands alone, but they can be played together or in different combinations.

The day before the concert, Smith told an audience at the jazz festival's colloquium that he wrote the first suite in 1977. It was the story of Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist who was a big hero to blacks in Mississippi, where Smith grew up. He composed it in response to a request by jazz violinist Leroy Jenkins for a piece to perform at an Italian jazz festival, and it gave him the opportunity to explore themes which he had been ruminating about for several years.

And then, as he researched those events, he said he found that some of the most important speeches in the history of civil rights were improvised – relating right back to the type of music he had been playing for decades, within and outside the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) to which he and Jenkins both belonged.

Read more: Guelph 2013: Wadada Leo Smith's Ten Freedom Summers moved from sorrow to triumph (review)


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