Pianist Steve Boudreau and guitarist Garry Elliott will formally release their first duo CD, Pre-Dawn Skies, at a concert at GigSpace this Saturday. A project almost two years in the making, it's a thoughtful album of quiet, introspective, and highly melodic jazz, containing originals written by each of them.
Pre-Dawn Skies reflects more than 15 years of friendship based on similar musical tastes and the ability to bring out the best in each other's compositions. And given how closely both are tied to this city, perhaps it reflects bit of Ottawa, too.
Elliott has been an important part of Ottawa's jazz and classical scenes for decades. Originally from St. Lambert Quebec, "I came to the University of Ottawa when I was 20 and I just stayed."
Boudreau grew up in Ottawa and took his first music degree at Carleton University. He spent two years studying for his Masters at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and has been on the road with traveling musicals for a good part of the last few years, but otherwise has lived here, playing both jazz and classical, augmented by the occasional Beach Boys rethink.
Alayne McGregor interviewed Boudreau and Elliott together in September for OttawaJazzScene.ca. It was immediately obvious how comfortable they were with each other. They completed each other's sentences, annotated the other's statements, and easily made each other laugh.
That extends to their music too. They performed a short preview of the album at the Ottawa Jazz Festival this June, along with bassist John Geggie and drummer Jeff Asselin, who will also be with them at GigSpace. The music easily flowed among the four, and kept the attention of a capacity audience in the normally noisy and busy Rideau Centre.
This is an edited version of our conversation. It started at the beginning of their relationship:
Hamid Drake and Jesse Stewart
St. George's Church (Mitchell Hall)
Guelph Jazz Festival
Friday, September 6, 2013 - 11:30 p.m.
Hamid Drake and Jesse Stewart share a creative imagination which allows them to hear rhythms and create interesting sounds from unexpected sources – which became clear at their late night duo concert at the 2013 Guelph Jazz Festival.
The two percussionists, Drake from Chicago, Stewart from Ottawa (and formerly Guelph), played in a basement church hall to an almost-capacity audience. Their two drumsets sat closely beside each other on a low stage, surrounded by a wide range of other percussion instruments within easy reach.
Drake and Stewart first met at the Guelph Jazz Festival a decade ago, but their first concerts together didn't happen until last March in Ottawa. Those shows were so successful – standing ovations and the two drummers grinning at each other at the end in perfect happiness – that they decided to repeat the experience in Guelph.
It was a Guelph Jazz Festival performance of epic proportions.
Friendly Rich Marsella brought together 1001 Arabian Nights, more than 17 musicians, kids of all abilities, a church full of listeners, some uncommon instruments, musical theatre, and balloons. He put a new face and sound on Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade for the symphony's 125 birthday and the Guelph Jazz Festival's 20th anniversary.
The spectacle was the highlight of a summer of rehearsals and instrument-building driven by Marsella's work as Improviser-in-Residence at Musagetes/Improvisation, Community and Social Practice (ICASP), the close academic partner of the festival.
Friendly Rich's Scheherazade again demonstrated the wonderful performances that can be created by enthusiastic professional and amateur artists of all ages and abilities working together, motivated by the festival's core commitment to community engagement.
The free noon-time concert on September 7 filled the sanctuary of St. George's, one of the largest churches in Guelph, right up to its vaulted ceiling, and kept listeners listening, laughing, and totally engaged with music and theatre designed for all ages.
– Brett Delmage
Tell us: Which Canadian jazz performers do you think the NAC should feature in 2014-15?
Performing at the National Arts Centre still carries a great deal of prestige – especially if you're in a series like NAC Presents.
Now in its third year, that series “celebrates the best of Canada on the national stage by showcasing Canadian legends of all music genres as well as the icons of the future.” And obviously when it includes musical icons like Ian Tyson or Robert Charlebois or Diana Krall or Phil Nimmons, the series is doing its job.
But is it doing a good job of showcasing jazz or supporting a full range of Canadian jazz musicians?
The 2013-14 series lineup announced last week did have a better balance between jazz vocalists and instrumentalists than in previous years. But it didn't include many mainstream jazz artists who who could draw good crowds, or whose careers are starting to take off and could use the Ottawa boost.
There are many prominent Canadian jazz musicians who are currently touring and/or have new projects – and haven't reached Ottawa yet – whom the NAC might want to present.
Let's throw out a few names:
AlphaSoul Café is starting to ramp up its jazz offerings, inspiring by their successful hosting of the Ottawa Jazz Festival jams in June. Saxophonist Adrian Matte continues to hold down Friday nights, and the café is starting to regularly present jazz on Saturdays.
Drummer Ted Zarras and his quartet (with J.P. Lapensée on bass, Alex Tompkins on guitar, and Richard Page on tenor sax) played an evening of vibrant jazz standards on Saturday, inspired by the bop and postbop of the 50s and 60s. Songs like "Body and Soul", and "Tenor Madness" (in which Adrian and Richard shared the lead) filled the restaurant with music – and cool.
This Saturday at 9:30 p.m. Alex Moxon and Marc Decho (with Vince Rimbach and Michel Delage) will present their "top secret never-before-heard instrumental arrangements" of Stevie Wonder's music.
– Alayne McGregor
Double Bill: Dawn of Midi, and
Marianne Trudel, William Parker, and Hamid Drake
Cooperators Hall, River Run Centre
Guelph Jazz Festival
Friday, September 6, 2013 - 8 p.m.
Marianne Trudel, William Parker, and Hamid Drake will also play together at l'OFF Festival in Montreal on Friday, October 4, 2013.
The Guelph Jazz Festival is particularly adept at unexpected combinations. Afternoon concerts at its colloquium often feature musicians from radically different styles and different countries, thrown together with little rehearsal – and every one of those concerts I've heard has at least managed to dog-paddle, if not swim vigorously. That extends to some evening concerts also, though generally with higher-profile musicians, and not quite as many on-stage.
This time the festival paired Montreal pianist Marianne Trudel with bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake, for the first time all three had played together. But they had no problem with the introductions, and smoothly jumped off into unexplored territory.
Trudel had been featured at Guelph twice before, bringing her quintet there in 2007 and 2011. She's well known for her melodic contemporary jazz, played in formats ranging from solo to septet and big band. But she also has played with many strong free improvisers, including Evan Parker, Tony Malaby, Gerry Hemingway, and Jean Dérome.
NYC bassist William Parker and Chicago drummer Hamid Drake, who have played with each other in many different projects for decades, are among the strongest rhythm sections in jazz, and especially free improv. In fact, they're far more than just rhythm: the deep singing of Parker's bow on his bass, or the way in which Drake can set his cymbals and brass bowls to chiming is as much melodic as rhythmic.
The National Arts Centre has resurrected instrumental jazz in this year's NAC Presents series.
At the launch September 24 for the series' entire season, series producer Simone Deneau announced eight jazz concerts, many of which featured either jazz veterans or musicians who had previously had well-attended NAC shows. They were also more varied: from free improvisation (Phil Nimmons and David Braid) to classic piano jazz (Oliver Jones) to vocal jazz (Emilie-Claire Barlow, Kellylee Evans) to New Orleans (Michael Kaeshammer) to Latin (Mamselle) to modern jazz with remixing (Trio Jérôme Beaulieu).
The series is also bringing back Ottawa bassist and composer John Geggie for a single concert on April 12. For the last twelve years, Geggie had been presenting a series of invitational concerts bringing together jazz artists from Canada and abroad in new combinations (ranging from three to eight concerts per season). Last year, the number dwindled to three; this spring, it was unclear whether there would be any concerts this season. The artists Geggie will play with in April have not yet been confirmed; Deneau said this would happen in the next couple months.
However, while the total number of NAC Presents artists increased from about 40 last season to 54 this season, the number of jazz artists is the same as before. As well, there's no high-profile artist to match last season's doubleheader Diana Krall concerts. None of the Southam Hall and Theatre concerts (the larger NAC venues) will be showcasing jazz; four jazz shows are in the Studio, and the remainder in the Fourth Stage.
The Nick Fraser Quartet with Tony Malaby plays Gigspace on Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.
You can't necessarily categorize drummer Nick Fraser. You can hear him play mainstream jazz with vocalist/pianist Fern Lindzon, singer/composer Sienna Dahlen, or quintet Peripheral Vision. There's world music with banjo player Jayme Stone. On the more avant-garde side, he accompanies trumpeter Lina Allemano, and is part of the collective avant-jazz quintet Drumheller, the improv trio Ugly Beauties, and the Steve Lacy tribute band, The Rent.
He's probably best known in Ottawa as the long-standing drummer in John Geggie's trio which anchors the Ottawa Jazz Festival's late night jam sessions – a testimony to his ability to play almost anything!
But for many years he's rarely been heard as the leader of his own group, playing his own compositions in the improv/free music vein.
That will change this week, as his quartet plays a three-city tour to release new CD called Towns and Villages. It's his first CD under his own name in almost a decade. The CD was recorded a year ago (February, 2012), and was inspired by a visit by NYC free jazz saxophonist Tony Malaby to Toronto.
“I've always thought of doing a project with Tony Malaby, who's one of my favourite musicians. And he was in Toronto doing something else, so I jumped at the chance to put something together.”
The two originally met at a jazz workshop in Idaho in 1996. “And I was about 20 and he was 35ish and had just moved to New York. And I was just really impressed with his musicianship and his sound and the breadth of what he can do with his instrument. He can play really freely but is really grounded in convention as well. That's something I aspire to.”
Also on the record are two musicians Fraser has played with practically since he moved to Toronto from Ottawa in 1996: bassist Rob Clutton and cellist Andrew Downing.
Downing had not previously played with Malaby, while Clutton and Malaby had played together once a decade before. That allowed for a mixture of familiarity and newness in the relationships that created the music on the record, Fraser said.
Fraser said he had originally envisioned Clutton and Downing both playing bass, but Downing suggested cello instead: “I think he gets more excited about projects when he gets to play cello.” But it ended up expanding the group's sound.
Matt Brubeck solo
St. George's Church sanctuary
Guelph Jazz Festival
Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 8 p.m.
Cellist Matt Brubeck moved to Canada almost a decade ago. He's been a frequent contributor to the Guelph Jazz Festival since then, but this was his most high-profile festival concert yet. Accompanied only by some effects pedals and a mixing board, Brubeck played solo, filling the vaulted sanctuary of St. George's Church with beautiful music from his cello for almost 90 minutes.
The concert began with disembodied notes, as he entered from the rear of the church, his bow constantly moving over the cello strings as he paced the length of the nave. He reached the front and sat down, all the while continuing to play, closing his eyes and becoming immersed in the music. It was a classically-influenced piece: variations on a theme, sometimes urgent, sometimes romantic, sometimes deeper and sadder. Throughout it worked with the resonances inside the church before ending on one last deep note.
Brubeck had written almost all the pieces for this concert over the summer, and told the audience that he hadn't given titles to almost all of them – and “they may later turn into something”. This being Guelph, each piece also included lots of improvisation; ultimately, he said, he wanted to let the music speak for itself.
The second piece started out more syncopated, with Brubeck occasionally banging his bow against the strings. He then used loops to play against himself, intensifying the echoes flying around him. Moving easily between pizzicato and bowing, he drew further away from recognizable forms, and then – with a screech from the bow – returned to the original syncopated riff and ended.
The Indigo Trio (Nicole Mitchell, Hamid Drake, Harrison Bankhead)
St. George's Church (Mitchell Hall)
Guelph Jazz Festival
Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 9:50 p.m.
Nicole Mitchell is a jazz flute player who comes from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) tradition in Chicago; one of her most important mentors was saxophonist Fred Anderson. In other words, do not expect “pretty” from her: expect soaring notes, punctuated rhythms, and intense dynamics. For this concert she brought her Indigo Trio, with bassist Harrison Bankhead and percussionist Hamid Drake, both from Chicago.
They first played together as a trio at the 2005 Suoni per il Popolo Festival in Montreal, although they had known and played with each other for years. It was clearly a glorious grouping, and, based on this concert, one which I hope continues for many years.
In their 75-minute concert, the three circled around each other, Mitchell's flute shining over the deep rumble of Bankhead's bass and Drake's propulsive, booming drumming. The sound flowed through them, constantly shifting patterns like water flowing over rapids.
Ottawa pianist Steve Boudreau spent most of the last few years on the road. He settled back here in late June – and all the jazz music he's been working on for the past few years is now starting to appear.
This Sunday, Boudreau will officially release his first solo piano album, in an afternoon concert at Carleton University. Entitled Open Arms, it was actually recorded in 2011. (Next month, he will release a duo CD with Garry Elliott.)
But in the last 2½ years, he's been busy: 1½ years touring with a travelling production of Fiddler on the Roof, followed by another year with a new musical, Catch Me If You Can. Even with breaks back in Ottawa every six to eight weeks, there's been little time to go through tracks and whittle them down to a final CD lineup.
The solo album reflects Boudreau's many influences from jazz, classical, and other sources – but even more, his strong love of melody. “For me everything comes down to melody,” he says.
Seven of the nine tracks are originals, one is a piece by Thelonious Monk, and one is more surprising: “Surf's Up” by the Beach Boys. Unless, of course, you know Boudreau, and realize that he also plays in the local band Friends on Friends with Matt Ouimet and Phil Bova, which specializes in covering Beach Boys' music in their own inimitable style.
The idea for the album came through all the solo practicing that he normally would do as a pianist, he said. “And I've had been working on techniques specifically through the Golandsky Institute in Princeton. I went to a summer workshop there, I think it was the summer of 2011. And when I came back I'd just been playing so much and I was so inspired that I wanted to work up a list of songs and do a solo record.”
One of things he likes about playing solo is the amount of freedom in it, he said, and “I think most of the pieces come from that. I had material that I wanted to explore and I didn't have any songs that I could use it in, so I wrote a song.”
- Adam Daudrich celebrates the tradition of the jazz piano trio with his own new music
- William Parker and Ken Aldcroft: subtle textures which filled the room (review)
- L'OFF Festival in Montreal and Le Festival de Jazz de Quebec announce lineups for October
- Guelph 2013: World Percussion Summit breaks the borders of rhythm (review)
- Jesse Stewart's Gnomon Variations a timely arrival for 20th Guelph Jazzfest
- Cool and groovin' - with gelato
- The Montreal Jazz Festival pays an upbeat tribute to Dave Brubeck (review)
- Orchestre national de jazz Montréal scores with Joni Mitchell tribute (review)
- Jayme Stone melds chamber music, jazz, and bit of bluegrass into an intricate whole (review)
- The Lemon Bucket Orkestra: a dancing good time (review)
- Phil Dwyer and Don Thompson celebrate the long-lasting beauty of standards (review)
- Second annual IMOOfest in November
- Paul Tynan sees different big band styles on each side of the border
- An ensemble who enjoyed celebrating Horace Silver's music (review)
- The Element Choir brings an element of surprise and beauty (review)
- Henrique Cazes and Sambacana fill St. Brigid's with gentle Brazilian rhythms (review)
- Jayme Stone expands the horizons of the banjo, along with his favourite musicians
- Scott Thomson explains how he fills large spaces with resonant sound
- The Jesse Stewart Trio sparks everyone's imagination (review)
- Montréal Guitare Trio starts Chamberfringe on a strong note (review)
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