Ottawa pianist James McGowan has directed choirs, performed classical recitals, composed a musical theatre song cycle, and written for a jazz fusion group.
And he'll bring all that compositional experience with him when he performs a freely improvised jazz concert with percussionist Jesse Stewart on Friday at GigSpace.
McGowan and Stewart, both professors of music at Carleton University, have played together at the university a number of times, but Friday's show will be their first more public performance. As before, the music they'll play will be created completely in the moment – nothing written in advance.
“When I perform with Jesse, yes, we groove,” McGowan told OttawaJazzScene.ca. “We'll go into a gospel groove, or we'll go into this free jazz thing. We'll do some Stravinsky abstraction, and then we'll do some very atmospheric things.”
“But all those things, they're created in real-time as compositions. And because Jesse has a compositional mindset, and I have a compositional mindset, and we're both performers, we both fundamentally understand that sense of creativity as opposed to simply performing a work. I think that's really why Jesse and I get along so well – because we're composers and that's the level the performance is really connecting at.”
The two started playing together after McGowan started at Carleton in 2010, although they'd met briefly before that. They realized they shared a common interest in improvised music. “It became more and more apparent that there was a pretty strong connection in our playing.”
“The way I really see the two of us working is that Jesse has a way of fully utilizing an instrument. So whether it's a drumset or whether it's a cardboard box, he's able to work within the limitations of the medium, the instrument, and fully find its sonic resources in particular.”
“I think of the same thing as a challenge, and so I focus on one instrument. I've chosen a piano, typically a grand piano, and I don't rely strictly on the notes. I use the instrument as a percussion instrument, I play inside [on the strings]. But I think of my box, my limitations as the instrument itself.”
Miguel de Armas is a hardworking and respected musician who has shared his authentic, high-energy, and original Afro-Cuban music with Ottawa music lovers in special performances and regular, monthly shows. Audiences have consistently responded enthusiastically and in large numbers to his groups' music.
On January 15, de Armas launched his newest series, Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes, at the Ironstone Grill at The Marshes Golf Club. Each week, the pianist collaborates with a different group of local musicians playing jazz standards and Latin music.
For the many jazz listeners who are familiar with the Brookstreet Options Jazz Lounge in the Kanata North Business Park, the Marshes Gold Club is on the opposite (east) side of the golf course from Brookstreet. It's a 15-minute walk between the two on a cold winter night, or a five-minute walk from the route 93 bus which also serves Brookstreet.
The event's promotional message invokes imagery of “your favorite NYC jazz club”. Now, the nineteenth hole at a golf course in a suburban business park - especially in the middle of an Ottawa winter - doesn't really fit that imagery. But on OttawaJazzScene.ca's first visit to Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes on February 26, we were pleasantly surprised. Think “Après-ski” with jazz, in a warm and physically-appealing chalet-style building.
OttawaJazzScene.ca Editor Alayne McGregor and I arrived before the musicians did, and we stayed for the first set before we had to leave to hear The Harley Card Trio at Options Jazz Lounge.
What we discovered was a cozy environment that was neither too hot nor cold or drafty. Sight lines to the stage were clear from all tables.
After the musicians started to play, the Ironstone Grill's acoustics immediately appealed to me. The sound was clear throughout the space, and had a natural reverb from the peaked, vaulted ceiling that sounded just right to my ears.
That evening, de Armas had teamed up with Normand Glaude on double bass and René Lavoie on tenor sax and flute. De Armas and Lavoie have played together several times, including at Folkrum last fall and in a GigSpace concert, and you could see how comfortable all three were together, enjoying stretching out and adding Latin flair to standards like “Monk's Dream” The audience particularly liked "I Remember April" – both for its lovely melody and for its promise of warmer temperatures!
Updated March 6, 2016
Read about the current jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau (April, 2016)
Ottawa's avant-garde jazz fans can rejoice in March, with some impressive shows – but there's plenty for mainstream jazz fans as well.
If you're into more freely improvised side of jazz, you'll be interested in concerts by Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot, the Sonoluminescence Trio (William Parker, David Mott, Jesse Stewart), and Sam Shalabi and Stefan Christoff, plus a duo show between locals Jesse Stewart and James McGowan.
For those who prefer the mainstream, there's the Ottawa-Toronto-NYC quartet Way North, Italian jazz musicians Massimo Farao and Fulvio Albano, the trio of Montreal bassist Olivier Babaz, Misc (aka Trio Jerome Beaulieu), and the swinging Boilermaker Jazz Band.
Perennial local favourites the Jivewires, the Nicole Ratté Trio, Florquestra, the Souljazz Orchestra, and Megan Jerome and the Together Ensemble all have shows this month. Ottawa jazz eminence grise Rob Frayne returns with a new project, his "Drumswamp", with percussionists Liz Hanson and Alvaro de Minaya.
These March jazz highlights are brought to you by James Curtiss, François Dumaine, Chris Fleming, Michaël Gazier, and Karen Oxorn. We greatly appreciate their support!
Quebec jazz singer Betty Bonifassi closes out the month with a concert based on slave songs from the beginning of the 20th century.
After the abundance of shows on the last weekend of February, March begins more quietly.
This Sunday's tribute to Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass has an Ottawa link to the Canadian big band leader's legacy.
On February 28, the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO) will perform McConnell's arrangements for his band – giving Ottawa listeners a chance they haven't had in many years to hear those arrangements live. But the show will also include a chart by Ottawa big band composer Mark Ferguson, who studied with McConnell in the early 90s, and was highly inspired as a musician by playing in the Boss Brass.
The Boss Brass was one of the most successful Canadian big bands ever, particularly in its heyday in the 1970s and 80s. Under McConnell's leadership, the collection of top-flight Toronto jazz musicians won three Grammys (from 17 nominations) and three Juno awards. It defined the Canadian sound for big band music for decades.
Ferguson subbed in with the band three times in concerts in Ontario and Quebec. The experience was fantastic, he said. “It was like a dream come true, because that was the band that I used to listen to when I was a teenager. So Rob was my hero before I ever met him. So to get to work with him and to play in his band was quite a thrill!”
He said he first met McConnell when he was 19. “I went to a Phil Nimmons clinic and actually drove back with him from Fredericton to Toronto in his car, so I got to know him really well. And then he hired me for a few things when I moved to Toronto after that.”
The Harley Card Trio (with Petr Cancura and Alex Bilodeau)
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Friday and Saturday, February 26-27, 2016
Toronto guitarist Harley Card has brought his electric guitar, a stack of his own compositions, and a deep background in jazz standards up to Ottawa this weekend, for his Friday and Saturday shows at the Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata.
He's teamed up with two well-known Ottawa musicians – Petr Cancura, this time on tenor and soprano sax, and Alex Bilodeau on double bass – for shows combining his and Cancura's compositions with lyrical standards, all generally on the quieter and more atmospheric side.
OttawaJazzScene.ca was there for their second and third sets on Friday. There were some careful consultations on the bandstand before some of the numbers, and the result was a finely-layered and nuanced collaboration with many intertwined lines. Bilodeau provided melodic bass solos as well as consistent strong riffs underpinning the music; Cancura created strong interjections, light flutters, and deep long lines on his saxophones exploring melodies and textures; and Card played fluid and expressive guitar producing both delicate melodies and intricate, constantly-morphing patterns.
When David Renaud and Brian Browne sat down to record their clarinet-piano duo album, the music just flowed out.
“The arrangements on this album are just spontaneous. Some of the keys were spontaneous. I just wanted Brian to do what he does, and play along with him. We played off each other. Sometimes I'd hear him pick up on something I did. Sometimes I was playing off what he did. It's a conversation back and forth,” Renaud said.
The CD is called First Love. It's Renaud's first album under his own name, and the first recording the two veteran Ottawa jazz musicians have made together. It will be formally released this Saturday, February 27, in a concert at the Steinway Piano Gallery in Ottawa's east end.
It's a mixture of jazz standards and hymns, with the theme of passion and love – both romantic and spiritual love – never far away from any of the songs.
But despite how well the initial sessions went in 2013, it's taken Renaud another 2½ years to be completely satisfied with his clarinet side of the music, and be ready to release the album. He reworked several of the clarinet tracks (some within the last six months) until they met his expectations, and then remixed them with Browne's original piano tracks.
That didn't affect the feel of the album, Renaud said. “Even though I played it later, it really sounds like we're having a conversation. He did play to me and my habits. And I'm playing to him. So even though some of the tracks were done in different times, we're still playing off each other.”
“I'm happy with the end result. I've pined and fussed over it for a long time before releasing it. I think, clarinet being my main instrument, I took a lot of this personally.”
He finally gave it a soft release early this year, printing the physical CDs and releasing the album on-line.
Renaud is equally at home in classical and jazz orchestras in Ottawa, or playing New Orleans music with Dr. Jazz and swing music with the Starlighters, or in many smaller jazz ensembles. He plays clarinets in several keys, and every type of saxophone, from soprano to baritone, and is also a well-respected piano technician.
When René Lavoie first heard a Cannonball Adderley album, he thought “Man, I've got to learn how to play saxophone”.
On Saturday, February 27, the Ottawa-area saxophonist and flutist will pay tribute to the music of the renowned alto saxophonist who recorded with Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Lavoie first heard Cannonball Adderley's music as a teenager, and it set him on his path as a saxophonist and Latin jazz performer.
The GigSpace concert will also feature J.P. Allain on piano, Normand Glaude on bass, and Megan Jerome on vocals. It will commemorate the 40th anniversary of Cannonball Adderley's sudden death in 1975, and will concentrate on Adderley's music from 1958 to 1965, when he was helping define bop and soul jazz.
But, in particular, Lavoie will celebrate two albums by Adderley which changed his life.
The first was Cannonball Adderley And The Bossa Rio Sextet With Sergio Mendes. As Lavoie tells it, the 1962 album came about when the Brazilian pianist and composer, about 18 or 19 years old at the time, was with his group in New York City. “And Cannonball just happened to go and listen to these guys and a couple weeks later they made a record.”
He first encountered the record around 1973, when he was still in his teens. “You've got to listen to Cannonball Adderley,” he was told. “And in my mind, it was like, 'How good can this guy be with a name like Cannonball? Who is this guy?' [laughs]”
When that record was played for him, “I told myself, I've got to learn how to play saxophone.”
What amazed Lavoie was “just the entire musicality that he conveyed. It was just like mind-boggling for me. I was playing bossa novas and things like that, but I'd never heard a bossa nova played like that. The fact that he was playing bebop lines on bossa rhythms, it was just really good.”
On the record, “they do a lot of bossa novas and sambas that are not that familiar. People don't play them as often as some of the Jobim things. But they're very exciting and they're a lot of fun.”
At Laila Biali's concert at the National Arts Centre on February 27, the audience will be able to influence music in the making.
The Canadian jazz pianist and vocalist is heading into the studio next month to record a new album, and several of the original songs she's planning to include are still being developed. On her current Ontario/Quebec tour, she's been trying out the new songs, and using audience reaction to fine-tune them.
“I feel like audiences are being invited into a unique time, which I think a lot of artists wouldn't necessarily allow people to observe or experience. Usually they would just really flesh out the songs first whether it's in extended rehearsal time or actually going into the studio and creating demos and really figuring out what works and what doesn't work.”
“We're working it out on the bandstand. And we're OK with that, because that feels exciting and it feels like it's in the spirit of jazz. So that's been both daunting but also really fun – and actually, frankly, very helpful. Very helpful to be experimenting and trying things and seeing what works and what maybe doesn't or isn't as strong.”
When OttawaJazzScene.ca spoke to Biali on February 12, she had just finished playing two consecutive Thursdays with her trio – George Koller on bass and Larnell Lewis on drums – at the Jazz Bistro in Toronto. “A couple people did very specifically say 'We like the new songs',” she said, although “sometimes it's hard to tell”.
Alex Moxon's Alive! Ensemble
Sunday, February 7, 2016 – 9 p.m.
It was a wild night at Irene's on Sunday, as Ottawa guitarist Alex Moxon revived his Grant Green tribute.
Green was a renowned jazz/bop guitarist who flourished in the 1960s and 70s. He was particularly influential in soul jazz and organ trio music. Moxon took two of Green's best-known albums, Alive! and Live at the Lighthouse, and rearranged the songs for his quintet – with Clayton Connell on keyboards, Linsey Wellman on alto sax, Marc Decho on electric bass, and Michel Delage on drums.
He'd only played the material in performance once before, a year ago in his Nachtmusik series with several of the same musicians. In preparation for that show, Moxon had completely transcribed the two albums and created individual parts for the musicians. But that was only the start: he emphasized that they weren't playing the album's music note for note – rather, they were reinterpreting and extending it.
Florian Hoefner Group
Kildare Room, St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts
Saturday, January 30, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.
In this era of far-flung jazz partnerships, the Florian Hoefner Group is still exceptional. Hoefner himself was born and raised in Germany, and now lives in St. John's, Newfoundland. Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake was born and raised in Vancouver, and now lives in New York City. Drummer Peter Kronreif is from Salzburg, Austria, and is also now in NYC. Double bassist Sam Anning lives in Melbourne, Australia.
But despite the thousands of kilometres often separating them, these four musicians showed a remarkable musical unity and fluency together in their Ottawa concert. The Winterlude show was sponsored by the German Embassy, and was part of a cross-Canada CD release tour for Hoefner's just-released third album, Luminosity.
The connection – unsurprisingly – is through New York, the jazz melting pot, to which Hoefner moved in 2008 and where all of them lived for some years. Hoefner has played with Anning and Kronreif since 2011. Blake joined them for this album and the tour.
Hoefner has only performed in Ottawa once before, at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge two years ago together with Anning and Kronreif, but Blake is well-known here as a saxophonist's saxophonist. Blake's more recent performances in Ottawa with Robi Botos, Alan Jones, and Bryn Roberts showed him to be a forceful, fluent player, but also one who enhances the entire group's sound and works to support the other musicians. You could see that same approach in this concert.
The downstairs Kildare Room at Saint Brigid's was packed for the concert, with hopeful listeners who had not pre-registered waiting at the door hoping to get in up until the concert started, almost half an hour late. That the tickets were free certainly helped, but the enthusiastic response of the audience to the music showed a stronger connection than that.
This Thursday, February 11, is the third anniversary of weekly jazz jams at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata – and the HML Trio will be keeping the music going, as they have from the beginning.
There are not many jams that last without a break for that long, and with the same host band. But the Ottawa jazz trio – Jamie Holmes on drums, Alex Moxon on guitar, and J.P. Lapensée on electric bass – has built a steady following for the Thursday jam, week in and week out.
Pianist and accordionist Doug Slone attends the Brookstreet jams at least monthly, and says they're a “rewarding experience”.
The trio's “musicianship is impeccable, embracing a range of genres and styles. As accompanists they constitute the dream backup band for any soloist. The hosts, Jamie, Alex and J.P., are always willing to try something new and different, including different arrangements or tempos. Jamie is the active outreach to the audience; he’s a friendly and welcoming host to all new faces and would-be jammers.”
On the third week of every month, Slone said, the HML jam has become the venue for a popular meet-up group 'The Burbs', and has drawn a sizeable following.
Saxophonist Chris Maskell goes to the jams as often as he can when he's not studying at McGill.
“I have fond memories of many great moments that have happened at the jams, like our old tradition of ending each night with Coltrane’s 'Impressions'. I always enjoy playing with the HML Trio, as we can push each other a good deal. Also, playing with jammers that I’ve never met before also allows me to discover weaknesses in my own playing that could be covered up while I’m in my comfort zone.”
- Nick Fraser stretches the boundaries of drumming with Justin Haynes' scores (review)
- Crossroads concert scribbled on genre boundaries while remaining true to Lynn Miles' songs (review)
- Vocalist Jeri Brown and drummer Jesse Stewart: 'things that I haven't heard before'
- Hear both the roots and the future of jazz in February
- 2016 Juno jazz nominations move westward, and in unexpected categories
- Linsey Wellman declares his bilingual Manifesto (video)
- Fraser Hollins picks long-time musical friends for his Jazzfest show: Brian Blade, Jon Cowherd, and Joel Miller
- Karen Oxorn reflects 60 years of loving music in her concerts this weekend (podcast)
- An immersion in music from Pauline Oliveros and friends
- Standing Room Only packs the dance floor at its first Ottawa tea dance
- The Ken Harper Trio creates organic rhythms at Irene's
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