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Mike Rud tasted the depths of a city in Notes on Montreal

Mike Rud took his obsession with a city, a Don Quixote-like quest, and his daughters' bed-time stories, and turned them into a Juno-winning album.

You can hear the results Saturday, as Rud showcases his album, Notes on Montreal, in a concert at the National Arts Centre. It's the first time that he'll present it in Ottawa in its final form, and the first time he's played the material here since it won a Juno in 2014 for best Vocal Jazz Album.

"Notes on Montreal" CD cover. Painting by Mark Lang.

The show will be simpler than the album – just Rud on guitar and Sienna Dahlen singing the lyrics. But it will still reflect how much Rud has been obsessed by the city of Montreal in the 16 years he's lived there, and how he captured the city and its people in music.

Read about Mike Rud's newest solo project in our linked story.

“I feel that I really had to say that album. I was really haunted by the place. I moved here [to Montreal] first in the late 80s and did an undergrad here, and then moved away, went to the west coast, went to New York, came back and did a graduate degree, and then moved back to the west coast and then moved to Ottawa for a few years, and then came back.”

“And every time I was gone from Montreal, I'd miss it fiercely. Just a sort of raging nostalgia for the place. That's why, when I got the idea, I think I was on to something about who I am as a person. I needed to take the long, long, long hours and walk around St. Henri and think about what the city had meant. I think it's partially because I'm from the West, and in Edmonton, a lot of the structures went up during the oil boom. It doesn't have ghosts the way this place does. And I was transfixed by that.”

Rud didn't just use his own impressions of the city, however. Over a period of four years, from 2009 until he recorded the CD in 2013, he read dozens of novels and plays by Québeçois authors, in both English and French. Those books then inspired almost all the songs on the album.

Read more: Mike Rud tasted the depths of a city in Notes on Montreal


Nick Fraser and Tony Malaby: improvising at the edges of compositions (video)

When Toronto (and ex-Ottawa) drummer Nick Fraser released his CD, Towns and Villages, with NYC saxophonist Tony Malaby two years ago, it turned out to be the start of a very fruitful musical relationship.

Nick Fraser Quartet at GigSpace  ©2013 Brett Delmage

Together with cellist Andrew Downing and bassist Rob Clutton, they're now on their third tour together, with a stop tonight in Ottawa at the Raw Sugar Café as part of the IMOO series.

On their second tour, filmed the group in concert at GigSpace, and interviewed Fraser about his compositions and how the group interprets and improvises on them. It's an experience he enthuses about: "It's pretty exciting for me to play my music with these guys who I admire so much. It's a dream for me, honestly,"

Our video story includes excerpts from the GigSpace show and the interview with Fraser.

    – Brett Delmage

See the interview with Fraser about the album: Nick Fraser's CD is full of resonances [2013].

Watch the video

Watch the video


Mike Essoudry brings groove and care to his sextet show Thursday

One of Ottawa's busiest jazz musicians returns to one of his favourite roles on Thursday – as a large ensemble composer and bandleader – after a break of five years.

Drummer Mike Essoudry will bring a stack of new compositions to the NAC Fourth Stage that evening, along with a new sextet to perform them. In February, 2010, he appeared there in a similar concert with his former octet.

Mike Essoudry reviews music at his septet performance at le Petit Chicago ©2010 Brett DelmageIt's an evening he's been planning for a long time. He wrote most of the music at least two years ago, he booked the hall last August, and he's been working with the musicians for several months. But that's Essoudry's style: lots of preparation to get everything just right.

“I remember that with the octet, it was always, 'OK is this going to be a train-wreck?' Because we'd have one rehearsal for these eight people for fairly complex things. So it was always tough for me because I'm always listening because I can hear it all. It's like, 'OK, how do I get to signal people from the drumkit – you need to be here, you need to be here.' How do I do that, on stage, performing?”

But he's a lot more secure with this group because they've had enough time to work together: “That means when I go to play the drums, I feel really comfortable playing my own music. I'm not too too worried about everybody else. That's nice.”

The group is all musicians from Ottawa, whom Essoudry has played with before in many different contexts. He picked them very deliberately to get the exact mix of sounds he needed for the music.

“It's not enough that this is a great player ... I mean everybody's a great player in this band. But I was really thinking about the sound.”

Read more: Mike Essoudry brings groove and care to his sextet show Thursday


Ontario Scene blurs the boundaries in wide-ranging jazzy shows

Updated April 29, 2015
Molly Johnson, the Mike Murley Septet, Kellylee Evans, Jesse Cook, and Jesse Stewart with and without the Stretch Orchestra will bring a jazzy and improvised edge to the National Arts Centre's Ontario Scene festival this spring.

Molly Johnson and pianist Robi Botos at Johnson's sold-out NAC show in 2013, where both Johnson and her band got separate ovations. Johnson and Botos return to the NAC on May 1 as part of Ontario Scene. ©Brett Delmage, 2013The festival's lineup was announced today, and will also include many musical genres from classical to indie, as well as books, food, dance, film, and theatre. It will run for two weeks, from April 29 to May 10, at locations across Ottawa including the NAC.

At Ontario Scene's launch event, producer Heather Moore emphasized that “Ontario is where artists blur artistic boundaries”. That's also true in several jazz-related events, including a blues revue featuring many jazz vocalists and instrumentalists, and a jazz artist providing music for a dance presentation.

Ottawa's own composer, percussionist, and visual artist Jesse Stewart will be heard around the scene in a week-long residency from April 30 to May 9. He'll put percussion into a variety of artistic and multi-disciplinary performances, including the tallest trio, disabled dance, and a BOOMy bass drum shelter solo.

Highlights include:

April 30, May 2: Jesse Stewart opens his residency as part of dance performances. He'll play live music in “The Eventual De-Expression of Rgs2,” a performance that takes its cue from American photographer Diane Arbus.

Read more: Ontario Scene blurs the boundaries in wide-ranging jazzy shows


Warming up with jazz in March

Updated March 5
As Ottawa starts to wake up after the deep freeze, it's time to get out to more jazz and improvised music shows – and there's lots of choice in March. Many of this month's concerts will showcase our creative local musicians.

Miguel de Armas and his Latin Jazz Quartet warm up the first weekend in March  with hot Afro-Cuban jazz  ©2013 Brett DelmageHere are a few jazz highlights in the next month from's more extensive listings, which also include many events you can attend every week.

Thursday, March 5: Mike Essoudry presents new compositions and a new sextet in concert. Essoudry is is a man of many talents – including percussionist, xylophonist, clarinetist, and educator – and one of them is as a composer of multi-layered, extended jazz compositions. He's previously written for his Balkan marching band (the Mash Potato Mashers), and for his Ottawa-Montreal octet. With this new all-Ottawa group, Essoudry says to expect excellent ensemble playing, a wide range of textures, and lots of groove.

That same evening, a new weekly jazz jam curated by guitarist Tim Bedner starts at La Roma Restaurant in Little Italy. If not precisely a replacement for Bedner's now-ended monthly jazz and blues jams at GigSpace, it's certainly not far away. Bedner will team up with a different bassist each week to provide the host band (starting with Mark Alcorn on March 5). Expect a friendly, helpful vibe and an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz standards.

And also that evening, the HML Trio (Jamie Holmes on drums, Alex Moxon on guitar, J.P. Lapensée on bass) celebrate their second anniversary hosting Ottawa's weekly jazz jam in the west end, at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata.

Read more: Warming up with jazz in March


Rake-star and hats to make a second orbit at Mugshots tonight

David Broscoe ©Brett Delmage, 2015Ottawa's Rake-star Arkestra brought the musical energy and extra-terrestrial feeling of Sun Ra to the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) concert on January 15. The seven musicians that comprised the arkestra that evening delivered a highly improvised set that had the audience smiling and frequently laughing with them at their fresh musical creations.  The concert included a Sun Ra composition, Moog synthesizer, and an essential, but quieter, set of hats.

They're making a second orbit tonight at Mugshots (8:30 p.m. 75 Nicholas Street - the old jail hostel). Their full planetary system will include John Sobol (baritone sax, tenor sax), Jamie Gullikson (drum set, percussion), and Don Cumming's full size Hammond organ. Come prepared for "a spirited, raucous and occasionally beautiful time."

View photos from this concert

    – Brett Delmage

See also: Rake-star aims for the sublime, and sometimes the chaotic, in Sun Ra's music

View the photos


South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim makes rare appearance at 2015 Montreal Jazzfest

A three-concert series featuring South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim is the highlight of new additions to the 2015 Montreal Jazz Festival announced today.

Abdullah Ibrahim (photo provided by the Montreal Jazz Festival)Ibrahim's last Canadian performance was at the Guelph Jazz Festival in 2012. That festival describes his music as a “deeply soulful blend of gospel, kwela, and Ellington-inspired jazz that is elegant in its simplicity” and his compositions as “deeply lyrical”. Ibrahim was mentored by Duke Ellington in the 1960s and early 70s, and played with the Ellington Orchestra. In the 1970s, he founded the Cape Jazz sound: his music was used to support the black revolt against apartheid.

At Guelph, he played solo piano: an hour-long, uninterrupted piece, flowing between standards and his own works, but always beautiful and compelling.

At Montreal, he will play a solo show in the intimate Salle de Gésu on Thursday, July 2; and on July 3 will appear there with his Mukashi Trio (piano, cello, and flute/clarinet/saxophone), a chamber jazz group which released a well-received CD in 2014. “Mukashi” means “Once Upon A Time” in Japanese.

On July 4, Ibrahim will present his longstanding project, Ekaya, which he first launched in 1983. It's a septet, with tenor, alto, and baritone sax, trombone, and bass, drums, and piano. The Montreal jazz festival describes it as “an encounter between both instruments and cultures, between the oral musical tradition of South Africa and the vibrant legacies of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.”

Other 2015 Montreal jazz festival jazz concerts announced today:

Read more: South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim makes rare appearance at 2015 Montreal Jazzfest


Alex Moxon searches for the heart and soul of Grant Green's music

Alex Moxon loves taking his favourite jazz albums apart and seeing what makes them tick – and then reinterpreting them in live shows.

Alex Moxon in the 2014 tribute to Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro, with Marc Decho and Adam Saikaley. ©2014 Brett DelmageThis Sunday, the Ottawa guitarist and composer will pay tribute to Grant Green, a renowned jazz/bop guitarist from the 60s and 70s, with a quintet playing two of Green's albums from front to back. The show is the first in a new monthly jazz series in Lowertown.

The series, at the Das Lokal restaurant on Dalhousie Street (north of the ByWard Market), is scheduled for the last Sunday of each month, and will feature local jazz and improvising musicians playing a variety of jazz and singer-songwriter projects, each crossing genres at least a bit.

That includes the Green show, which will have touches of funk and soul. “This music is all pretty funky. No swingin'. It's sort of a 60s funk vibe.”

Green was particularly influential in soul jazz and organ trio music, Moxon said; he's “soulful, he's understated, and he's got very nice hornlike phrasing.”

Moxon first encountered Green's albums while researching material for his own group The Chocolate Hot Pockets. “Initially I heard an album he put out called Ain't It Funky Now?. It's all James Brown covers and things like that, arranged for a jazz group. I thought, 'Oh wow! That's super great!' ”

And it spoke to him. “His playing is ... he gets right to the heart of what he's talking about. There's no fluff. It's just like, this is the music. Deal with it.”

The quintet will perform the entirety of two Green albums, both live recordings on Blue Note. First up will be Alive! (1970), followed by Live at the Lighthouse (1972). “I've been waiting a long time to have an excuse to play that kind of music.”

Read more: Alex Moxon searches for the heart and soul of Grant Green's music


Vocalist Mary Margaret O'Hara was alternately stunning and frustrating (review)

Mary Margaret O'Hara, Peggy Lee, and Aidan Closs
Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 6
Dominion Chalmers United Church
Sunday, February 15, 2015 – 7 p.m.

I first heard vocalist Mary Margaret O'Hara and cellist Peggy Lee play together in 2012. Their Beautiful Tool project, which also incorporated several other talented Vancouver musicians, opened that year's edition of the Guelph Jazz Festival. I was immediately highly impressed with the group sound and inventiveness of Lee and the other instrumentalists, but I found O'Hara frustrating – in particular because I had consistent difficulty understanding her words, whether sung or spoken.

I decided not to review that concert because the art gallery they performed in is notorious for “eating” and distorting vocals, and I might not have been fair to the show. Given O'Hara's performance this Sunday at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, perhaps I was being overly cautious.

Read more: Vocalist Mary Margaret O'Hara was alternately stunning and frustrating (review)


Keep On Keepin' On: the power of love, commitment, and mentorship (review)

Keep On Keepin' On [2014]
with Clark Terry and Justin Kauflin
directed by Alan Hicks
Wakefield International Film Festival, February 21-22, 2015

Keep On Keepin' On will receive its Ottawa-Gatineau premiere at the Wakefield International Film Festival, with two showings on February 21 and 22.

Parents find this out all too quickly: it's not what you say, it's what you do when it comes to raising children. How you act is more important than what you tell them.

And that's also what makes this recent documentary about the great jazz trumpeter Clark Terry so intensely believable and so emotionally strong. In the film, you can see Terry working with his students, passing on his love and knowledge of particular songs and of jazz in general, and connecting with his longtime musical colleagues. In archival clips, you can see him in action in his heyday, playing his heart out and clearly communicating his joy in the music.

Keep On Keepin 'On posterTerry is now 94. He came to fame playing in Count Basie's band, and then spent almost a decade in what he referred in as the “University of Ellingtonia” with Duke Ellington, before becoming the first African American staff musician at the NBC TV network in 1960. In 1991, he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master; in 2010, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; in 2013, he was inducted into the Jazz at Lincoln Center Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame. He has performed on more than 900 recordings, including several collaborations with Oscar Peterson.

Biographies of him say that he established a lasting reputation in his long career for “his wide range of styles (from swing to hard bop), technical proficiency, and infectious good humor” – and that's what comes through in this film, despite Terry's increasing physical frailty throughout. In 84-minutes, it tells a compelling story, both about Terry's illustrious career, but also about how he's kept on going into his 90s.

But it wouldn't be so strong if it wasn't also about one of his long-time students, jazz pianist Justin Kauflin. They first met at the William Paterson School of Music in New Jersey, where Terry taught as a visiting professor, and Kauflin has kept returning for private lessons even when Terry moved to Arkansas. The film shows Kauflin trying to establish his own career but even more importantly finding his own voice as a musician, and the intense work he puts into this despite setbacks.

Read more: Keep On Keepin' On: the power of love, commitment, and mentorship (review)


The Lost Fingers take gypsy jazz to places it doesn't belong (review)

The Lost Fingers
Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 4
Dominion Chalmers United Church
Friday, February 13, 2015 – 9:30 p.m.

Around the end of the 1960s, as rock became preeminent and jazz started to decline in popularity, some record executives had the bright idea of making jazz vocalists more “with it” and “hip” by having them sing modern rock hits.

In 1970, Columbia Records president Clive Davis forced vocalist Tony Bennett to make an album called The Greatest Hits of Today. The story goes that Bennett was so upset at the choice of material that he actually vomited before the first recording session for the album. Reviews were not kind, particularly for the totally unsuitable "Little Green Apples".

Some rock and pop songs – particularly those with strong melodies – can be adapted into beautiful and intriguing jazz versions, but not all of them. So when I read the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival description of this show and realized that the Lost Fingers would be dedicating almost all the concert to gypsy jazz versions of rock, house, disco, and pop songs, a little warning light went on in my brain.

Read more: The Lost Fingers take gypsy jazz to places it doesn't belong (review)


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