Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Text Size

Omer Klein's lifelong love affair with the piano ... and improvisation

At Omer Klein's concert Wednesday night, you'll hear the result of a life-long love affair with the piano.

The Israeli-born jazz pianist, who studied in the U.S. with Fred Hersch and Danilo Perez, was immediately transfixed when, as a child, he saw a piano being played for the first time.

“It wasn't so much that the specific music did anything to me, it was just the sound of the instrument, and also the look – the black and white keys. It became very, very clear to me that I must press these keys. I don't know a better way to put it. I just felt very strongly that I needed to do that.”

Omer Klein (photo provided by the artist).His concert at the NAC Fourth Stage is the start of an eight-date cross-country tour, from Ottawa to Victoria. It will be his Canadian debut, the first time he has played here despite being introduced to jazz by an Oscar Peterson CD.

The piano will be up-front throughout: on the stage will just be Klein on piano and his long-time musical collaborator, Haggai Cohen-Milo, on double bass. No effects, just the natural sound of the instruments.

“The piano, it's such an amazing instrument. It's so open. It's inviting the pianist to find his or her way to create nuance, to get colours out of the instrument. It's really capable of a wide area of colours and nuance, and I don't think that any effects are necessary.”

He and Cohen-Milo “use a very wide variety of textures when we play, so there is a lot of interplay going on and listening to each other and reacting to each other. The melody can jump around in any direction, harmonies are played by everyone. So it's creating rich textures.”

Klein, who now lives in Germany, has toured worldwide, and released five albums. The latest consists of all originals and features his trio, with Cohen-Milo and drummer Ziv Ravitz. He calls the compositions on the album “songs”, and emphasizes they could be sung, hummed, or even whistled. “They have this kind of lyrical quality.”

“I think my first inspirations as a musician were songs, the human voice singing a three-minute song. That's what I heard first. I discovered jazz later and I discovered the classical instrumental music later. I just think that really emotionally I'm based in that, in song.”

But at the same time he stresses that he and Cohen-Milo are jazz musicians, and how important improvisation is to their performances.

Read more: Omer Klein's lifelong love affair with the piano ... and improvisation


The Mash Potato Mashers parade for their final time

The Mash Potato Mashers will parade for their final time on Friday, April 4, after four years of never standing still.

Mike Essoudry leads the Mashers in a crowd-pleasing outdoor concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival ©Alayne McGregor, 2012

Masher leader Mike Essoudry told that the April 4 gig at Irene's Pub – where the band was a perennial favourite – would be the band's last.

“It was a great run, a great time. We had a [cross-Canada] tour, records. It was really fun. And I thought, if it's not going to be that fun and we can't work on stuff, then we can stop.”

One consistent description of the eight-piece marching band has been “fun”. No sitting down and looking serious. No sheet music (they memorize their entire repertoire). In performance they're constantly on the move, whether playing in the street at jazz festivals or shimmying through local clubs, and making the audience laugh with their musical and non-musical antics.

But managing a band that size is “difficult”, Essoudry said. “It used to be very easy, at the beginning of that band: the organization was easy, the gigs were very easy. It was easy to do the work when stuff was coming in; it was really great."

“But it was just getting harder and it was getting stressful for me to think about it. I'd get a call for a gig and then I'd email people and then I wouldn't get replies for days. And it's like I can't be chasing people. So that got a little frustrating that way. And I know people are busy: I know two kids have been born in the time and things have happened. Craig [Pedersen] has moved to Montreal, and the first drummer quit the band.”

He decided now was the time to leave. “But it was great. We had a really great time. It was fun; it was a good thing. It was a unique thing for Ottawa.”

Read more: The Mash Potato Mashers parade for their final time


Steve Berndt and Brian Browne turn tasty leftovers into gold with "All Over Again"

The musical connection between pianist Brian Browne and vocalist Steve Berndt is immediately apparent. Walking into the piano showroom where I was to meet them, I could see Browne playing the piano, Berndt listening intently, with obvious enjoyment. As we talked, they amplified each others' comments, and laughed and joked together.

This Friday at the NAC Fourth Stage, they release their second album as a duo: All Over Again. It's a direct sequel to 2012's Déjà Vu, and even the album titles are linked. As Berndt explains, it's two halves of a quote from baseball great Yogi Berra: “It's déjà vu all over again”.

Four of the songs, all jazz standards, were recorded in 2012; others were recorded recently.

“Some of the tracks that we recorded in the original Déjà Vu sessions were very good, and I had to make a decision about having an album with 17 or 18 songs on it,” Berndt said. And so I made some decisions about what would be on Déjà Vu, and there's always been these extra tracks.”

“And so I began thinking it would be good to do a bookend album using those tracks, and also to have the chance to record with Brian again. So that's part of the reason I named it All Over Again. So all I had to do was to write a song called 'All Over Again' that was worth listening to and good.”

The bookend theme extends to the cover art. Both CD covers feature piano keyboards, but All Over Again is in ivory and gold, contrasting with Déjà Vu's black and white.

Read the full interview


The Roddy Ellias Trio never stops talking with their music (video)

Roddy Ellias and Adrian Vedady at GigSpace. © Brett Delmage, 2013

Ottawa guitarist and composer Roddy Ellias has left audiences in both Ottawa and Montreal absorbed and delighted by his live music with his trio. This month Ellias, bassist Adrian Vedady, and drummer Thom Gossage are putting out their first CD as a group, Monday's Dream. They're marking the occasion with a CD release concert in Ottawa on March 22 and in Montreal on March 30.

The trio recorded the album starting last December, and prepared for it with a well-received concert at GigSpace in November. interviewed Ellias after the concert about his music, and you see highlights from their concert and that interview in our video below.

   – Brett Delmage

You can hear samples from the Monday's Dream and purchase tracks or the whole album at

See's interview with Roddy about the upcoming CD, and our photos and story about their last Ottawa concert:

Watch the video


Bumpin' Binary grooves on organ and drums

On Thursday, the stone pillars in the basement of the old Ottawa jail will reflect a double groove.

Mike Essoudry ©Brett Delmage, 2013Mike Essoudry and Don Cummings have formed a new group called Bumpin' Binary: a minimalist configuration of just drums and Hammond organ. But Essoudry says that will be quite enough to fill the space with “funky jazz music”.

“It's a great sound. You have everything there. You have the bass, you have the melody and stuff, and you have the drums. You have this big sound that's possible there, and pretty full for two people.”

But they're adding another voice as well: Petr Cancura will be guesting on tenor sax, just as he did at the duo's first show a month ago. That show attracted a packed house, with strong applause and even a few dancers.

The names spill out from Essoudry as he gets enthusiastic about the heritage of organ music in jazz: John Patton, Jimmy Smith, Lonnie Smith, Shirley Scott, Jimmy McGriff, Richard “Groove” Holmes.

“So there's a bunch of people like that, a whole set of organ players who played jazz. But it's more of a heavy sound of jazz. It's funkier; it swings as well.”

But most specifically, the duo of jazz organist Larry Young and drummer Elvin Jones, and Young's 1966 album, Unity, on which they do an organ/drums duo of “Monk's Dream”. When Essoudry heard that track, “at that point, I said, I know that this is possible, and it's a great sound.”

Read more: Bumpin' Binary grooves on organ and drums


The Adam Saikaley Quintet brings Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro to vivid life

View photos of the performance

Filles de Kilimanjaro was a key album for trumpeter Miles Davis. Released in 1968, it was a transition between his mainstream quartet albums of the previous decade and the fusion style which dominated much of his further work.

Adam Saikaley and his quintet rearranged Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro with care, replacing trumpet with guitar, and tenor with alto sax, for their show at the Manx. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

It's also one of Ottawa pianist Adam Saikaley's favourite jazz albums, and he's always regretted the fact it's not better known. So he decided to remedy this by playing it live with his own quintet.

Not straight note-for-note, though: Saikaley wasn't going to pretend that he was Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock. And while the rhythm section (Saikaley on electric piano, Mike Essoudry on drums, and Marc Decho on electric bass) were playing the same instruments as on the album, the other two weren't. Linsey Wellman played alto sax and Alex Moxon played electric guitar, instead of the tenor sax and trumpet that were on the album.

Saikaley's group has played the album twice so far: a shortened version as part of a multi-group show at Pressed on February 8, and then the full version at the Manx on March 9. The Manx show attracted a standing-room-only crowd, almost all of whom were focused on the stage. They loudly applauded during and at the end of the show.

One advantage of choosing this album, Saikaley pointed out, was that listeners wouldn't have as many preconceptions of the music as they would, for example, with Kind of Blue, and could listen to it with open ears.

He said the members of the quintet all contributed to rearranging the five pieces on the record for the new instrumentation. Throughout the show you could see the musicians checking the extensive scores for the new arrangements. They ended up slightly extending the music: 65 minutes for the Manx live version, compared to 56 minutes on the Miles Davis recording.

Read more: The Adam Saikaley Quintet brings Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro to vivid life


Beeched Wailers open a new jazz jam at the Rochester Pub & Eatery

View photos of the jam

A cozy and unpretentious pub in Centretown West was packed for Ottawa's newest jazz jam on Tuesday, March 4.

Beeched Wailers' Tyler Harris, Nicholas Dyson, and Dave Schroeder helped launch a new jazz jam on Tuesday. It attracted a pub full of enthusiastic players and listeners on its first night. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Trumpeter Nicholas Dyson brought his new quintet, The Beeched Wailers, to host the jam at the Rochester Pub & Eatery. For the jam's first night, they opened with a varied repertoire: pieces by well-known jazz instrumentalists including Steve Kuhn and Thelonious Monk, and two originals by Dyson and pianist Steve Boudreau.

The notes of the opening piece, Joe Henderson's “Recorda Me”, were only heard by a sparse audience, but by 10 p.m. the bar had started to fill, mostly with local professional and amateur jazz musicians, including some students. The pub's kitchen was open late, allowing hungry participants to fill their stomachs with burgers and fries as well as their ears with music.

The jam in the second set featured many musicians circling on and off the stage. Highlights included an intimate and expressive version of Duke Ellington's “In a Sentimental Mood” by vocalist Marcie Campbell, and Tariq Amery's intense flute solos and duets with Dyson on “Oleo”. The jam closed at 12:30 a.m. with the quintet (which also includes drummer Michel Delage, saxophonist Tyler Harris, and bassist Dave Schroeder) up again playing a propulsive and tight version of “Sticks” by Cannonball Adderley.

Read more: Beeched Wailers open a new jazz jam at the Rochester Pub & Eatery


2React takes hip-hop back to its roots in jazz

Marc Decho is taking hip-hop back to its roots in jazz – and then reinterpreting it as jazz.

Marc Decho ©Brett Delmage, 2013Tonight, his new group, 2React, will combine samples from recordings by jazz greats like Bucky Pizzarelli, Stan Getz, and Joe Pass, with live guitar, bass, and drums. And then it will use those sounds to reinterpret the hip-hop pieces that were originally based on jazz samples.

Decho is better known locally for his strong bass presence in many Latin and mainstream jazz groups. But 10-15 years ago, his main instrument was a sampler, and he was building songs using samples from many different recordings.

Eventually, he got into sampling “lots of really cool bass stuff” including upright bass and jazz records, and decided to try playing double bass. He got obsessed with that, it took him to completely different musical areas, and he didn't touch a sampler for years.

But recently, “I dusted this thing back off and I arranged a bunch of tunes and so now I'm doing both. It's something I've always wanted to do: to present it in a live context and play in real time – not just hitting play and having stuff that's already pre-programmed go. I guess I've always wanted to do something with it again and more in a jazz context.”

It's a set-up he has never seen done elsewhere: “someone sitting with a sampler and a bass and a trio in that format playing these tunes. It's interesting and I want to explore it.”

The source material is coming from the late 80s to the mid-90s, when pivotal musicians like Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest moved outside of hip-hop's initial heavy funk influences – and looked to jazz for both samples and their vocal delivery style.

“Q-Tip went back to his father's jazz collection. He was an avid vinyl collector, and he was sampling Ahmad Jamal, and Barney Kessel and all this different super-rare stuff and dozens of lesser-known people. So they really made hip-hop really sophisticated, and, for him, he saw a direct link between hip-hop and bebop. Because what they were doing in their rhyming was not melodic, but it's rhythmic, and they're improvising words constantly.”

Read more: 2React takes hip-hop back to its roots in jazz


Jesse Stewart brings renowned improviser William Parker to Ottawa for innovative concerts and lectures

Despite the snowstorm, Parker and Nicholson did make it safely to Ottawa.

A world-renowned jazz bassist and improviser is in Ottawa this week – but not just to play music.

William Parker last appeared in Ottawa in a duo concert with Ken Aldcroft last September. ©Brett Delmage, 2013William Parker will perform three concerts with local percussionist Jesse Stewart this Thursday and Friday evenings. But he will also take a wider perspective on music: with his partner, Patricia Nicholson, Parker will be speaking about music's role in the wider community.

Nicholson founded and is now executive director of the Arts for Art organization in New York City; Parker is a board member of that organization. For the last 19 years, they've been putting on the Vision Festival, as well as a year-long series of cross-disciplinary events, combining music, dance, poetry, visual arts, and more. The festival aims to expand its audience's ears while also honouring artistic elders.

On Thursday afternoon, Nicholson and Parker will have a 90-minute public conversation with Carleton University sociology professor (and bassist) Michael Mopas, about their work and their thoughts on jazz and improvisation. The event is free and open to the public.

Parker specifically asked for this event, Stewart said. “It was his idea, in fact, his and Patricia's that there would be an opportunity for there to be a public discussion about the role of music and art in community formation.”

Both have had decades of experience: Nicholson began putting together musical events in 1981, when she organized and choreographed A Thousand Cranes Opera at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza for the opening of the UN Special Sessions on Disarmament. She and Parker worked together in the 1980s to to help organize the Sound Unity Festivals, which brought together European, Asian and American musicians and dancers who work with jazz and other improvised music.

“They'll be talking largely though not exclusively about music and art's capacity to forge community. And I think in particular they will probably talk about their experiences in working on the Vision Festival,” Stewart said.

It's part of a very busy week for Parker and Nicholson – and even more for Stewart himself, with many opportunities (some free) to hear them. On Wednesday Stewart is delivering a major lecture; on Thursday is the Parker-Nicholson conversation; on Friday Parker will teach a masterclass on improvisation. And there's the three concerts (including a CD launch), and then a recording session on the weekend.

Wednesday: Why Jesse Stewart has been very, very busy

Last April, Stewart was awarded the Marston LaFrance Award by Carleton University, where he is an associate professor in the Music Department. It gave him a year off from teaching duties so he could concentrate on composing, performing, recording, and academic writing.

Read more: Jesse Stewart brings renowned improviser William Parker to Ottawa for innovative concerts and lectures


Jesse Stewart talks about the challenges of making music outdoors at -25C (video)

Not your summer festival: Listeners wearing appropriate attire braved the -25C temps to enjoy the free Winterlude outdoor concerts in Confederation Park © Brett Delmage, 2014

Jesse Stewart has brought winter-specific compositions and performances to Winterlude since 2010, when he first performed Glacialis on musical instruments made of ice.

For six evenings during the 2014 Winterlude, he performed his new musical composition and improvisation, Memories of Ice, in which he invoked his own and others' memories and sounds of ice and snow past. attended his performances to find out what his latest music-making tool: a "Reactable" is, and to learn about the challenges of making music outdoors at -25C.   Our video equipment held up (although it took 9 hours to warm back up to room temperature!) - so now you can learn too.

   – Brett Delmage

See also:  Jesse Stewart brings 'Memories of Ice' to free Winterlude shows

Watch the video


After 30 years playing jazz, Phil Dwyer is going to law school

Updated March 7, 2014

After more than 30 years as a jazz musician and many awards including the Order of Canada, Phil Dwyer is completely changing direction.

Dwyer is going to become a lawyer. He revealed that during a wide-ranging workshop at at Les Brasseurs du Temps (BDT) on March 2, in which he also discussed saxophone technique, made the audience laugh with his stories, explained what he had learned from playing with musicians around the world, and described and demonstrated his new saxophone line.

The 48-year-old Juno-award-winner told the audience that he had been accepted into the law program at the University of New Brunswick and would be starting this fall.

Dwyer was clearly looking forward to the prospect, joking about enjoying reading law texts on the subway. His legal interests don't overlap with his musical ones. Instead, they include “bleeding-heart liberal social issues”: public interest law and social policy. With his own experience with mental health issues, he said he wanted to give those with mental health problems more effective legal representation.

He said he had scored in the top 10% in North America in his LSAT results, but had been turned down by law school after law school because of his age and lack of a university degree. “You know how many people apply to law school? You know many 48-year-old bipolar jazz musicians get into law school? Oddly enough, they're not beating the door down.”

Read more: After 30 years playing jazz, Phil Dwyer is going to law school


Page 7 of 37