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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)

 

February is a short month but is full of jazz

Updated February 19, 2015

See this week's jazz highlights

In Ottawa, February is the coldest month, but it's got plenty of hot music scheduled! Here are a few jazz highlights in the next month from OttawaJazzScene.ca's more extensive listings.

Vocalist Denzal Sinclaire will perform in Ottawa on February 20 in honour of Black History Month. ©Brett Delmage, 2014On Thursday, Florquestra is back, adding its Brazilian rhythms to la Chasse-Galerie's celebration of francophone music in the Market. And it's the second week of Zakari Frantz' new Jazz Thursdays downtown, which will feature some of Ottawa-Gatineau's brightest jazz musicians and highlight new projects each week.

On Friday evening, put on your dancing shoes and swing to two local bands who only occasionally play around town. At the Unitarian Church, Mango Upstart brings its Latin rhythms to raise funds for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, while in Sandy Hill, Sonic Blue performs for swing dancers.

This Saturday (February 7), three well-known local jazz pianists – Steve Boudreau, Mark Ferguson, and Clayton Connell – are teaming up to help GigSpace buy its own piano. Expect a mix of their own compositions and standards, playing with lots of verve.

If you love organ music, you might want to attend the Saturday afternoon symposium sponsored by the Royal Canadian College of Organists on the history and technology of electronic organs. The talks at Christ Church Cathedral will be divided into “The Profane: Tonewheel (Hammond) & Transistor Organs” (with local Hammond enthusiast and jazz/R&B musician Don Cummings), and “The Sacred: Modern Digital Organs”.

Or, if your tastes run more to the avant-garde, trumpeter Peter Evans is guaranteed to stretch your ears on Saturday evening. Evans plays everything from Baroque music to the freeest of free jazz, and is a prominent member of the New York City scene. He was featured on trumpet in Blue, the controversial note-for-note reproduction of a Miles Davis recording by the avant-bebop group, Mostly Other People Do The Killing (he was a founding member of that group and left them just recently). Evans' solo set will be preceded by solo sets by two prominent Ottawa jazz musicians: Adam Saikaley on Rhodes and Linsey Wellman on alto sax.

Read more: February is a short month but is full of jazz

 

Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 2: having fun with jazz

Jean-Michel Pilc Trio (National Arts Centre Fourth Stage)
Matt Wilson Quartet (National Arts Centre Fourth Stage)
Late-night jam sessions (Arc The Hotel)
2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 2
Saturday, February 7, 2015 - 7 p.m., 9 p.m., 10:30 p.m.

It was remarkable how many times people I talked to about Saturday evening's winter jazzfest performances mentioned how much fun the shows were. I wasn't initially going to use that word in this review – one wants to be original, after all – but in fact, simple fun, both on the bandstand and in the audience, was an important part of both shows, by the Jean-Michel Pilc Trio and by the Matt Wilson Quartet.

Not that either concert was simple. They both involved highly talented musicians playing full-out and creating complicated and unexpected patterns on the fly.

But on top of all of that musical thought and dexterity was a deep love of and enjoyment in performing the music. Whether it was Matt Wilson's big grin or Jeff Lederer dancing as he played his tenor sax or the smiles flashing among Pilc's trio, you could see an underlying joy and playfulness.

Read more: Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 2: having fun with jazz

 

Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 1: Megan Jerome presents a rich blend of instruments and observations

Megan Jerome Together Ensemble
2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 1
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Friday, February 6, 2015 - 5 p.m.

Megan Jerome went to a funeral on the morning of the day of her Winter Jazz Festival appearance. It was for her late mother's best friend, and it symbolized a change in the last few years in the music she'd been composing – to happier and less fraught.

The concert also featured a new, full-bodied sound for Jerome, with her Together Ensemble – Jerome on Wurlitzer, Don Cummings on full-size Hammond organ (and giant Leslie speaker), Fred Guignon on electric guitar, and husband Mike Essoudry on drums. The ensemble has been playing around town since late last fall, and the instruments provided a strong base for Jerome's soprano and the artful lyrics in her songs.

Jerome's music can't be easily categorized: the nearest might be alt-cabaret with jazz touches. Her background is in jazz piano, Essoudry plays everything from mainstream jazz to avant-garde improvisation, Cummings performs in both jazz and R&B/soul circles, while Guignon has primarily played in folk groups.

But it was a far richer blend than your average singer-songwriter show: Jerome's vocals floated over intricate patterns from Cummings' organ and Guignon's guitar, which both counterpointed and echoed her voice and provided a strong underlying groove and power

Read more: Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 1: Megan Jerome presents a rich blend of instruments and observations

 

Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 1: the Nancy Walker Quintet layers its music well

Nancy Walker Quintet
2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 1
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Friday, February 6, 2015 - 7 p.m.

It's surprising how relatively infrequently Toronto jazz musicians make it up to Ottawa for shows – you wouldn't think the two cities were in the same province and only five hours apart. But, in the last three years, pianist Nancy Walker has only been sporadically in Ottawa and not at all as a leader, despite having picked up an enthusiastic Ottawa fan base from many years of playing in the Geggie house band for the jazz festival jams.

What finally brought her back here was her recently-released album, ‘Til Now Is Secret [Addo, 2014]. This concert primarily featured pieces from that CD, and four of the five musicians who played on it (drummer Jim Doxas sat in for Ethan Ardelli, who wasn't available for this date).

It was a strong set-list – all originals by Walker – and they were given an intense and propulsive treatment by the quintet. There was no one star in the show: Walker, Doxas, bassist Kieran Overs, guitarist Ted Quinlan, and reed player Shirantha Beddage all contributed noticeably to the sound.

Read more: Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 1: the Nancy Walker Quintet layers its music well

 

Alex Bilodeau takes over Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago

Alex Bilodeau is starting a new era at Le Petit Chicago © Brett Delmage, 2014Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago are moving into new hands as of February 9. Ottawa bassist Alex Bilodeau will curate the long-standing late-night jazz showcase and jam, taking over from saxophonist Zakari Frantz.

Frantz is moving on to a new series he's created: Jazz Thursdays at the Lunenburg Pub, which started January 29. The shows at the Rideau-Street-area bar will highlight local jazz musicians and their projects.

The changeover at Le Petit Chicago is friendly: Bilodeau has been a regular participant in the late-night jams at the Gatineau bar. On Facebook, Frantz welcomed Bilodeau as the new curator. “A graduate of McGill University, Alex is one of the region's freshest talents & definitely no stranger to the LPC stage. Expect him to raise the bar with some new jazz/hip hop inspirations and a new sound to welcome in the spring!”

Bilodeau told OttawaJazzScene.ca that he planned to have the host bands – from the Ottawa/Gatineau region – rotate monthly. “You will definitely see some of my own projects performing for the monthly residencies but the plan is to bring in other exciting jazz groups as well.”

For the remainder of February, the host band will be Bilodeau on bass, Richard Page on saxophone, and Michel Delage on drums, performing jazz classics by Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, as well as band members' original music.

In March, the Ed Lister Quartet, with Lister on trumpet, Marc Decho on bass, Pierre Chrétien on keyboards, and Mike Essoudry on drums, will perform, with “more of an electric aesthetic”, Bilodeau said. On March 23, that quartet will be joined by special guests Richard Page and Lee Hollingsworth.

The Jazz Monday format won't change: “The band hosting that month will perform during the first set and the second set will be an open jam.”

Read more: Alex Bilodeau takes over Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago

 

2015 Juno Award nominations announced, including jazz music played in Ottawa

The 2015 Juno award nominations, announced today, recognized several jazz musicians who presented major concerts in Ottawa in the last year.

Marianne Trudel telling the NAC audience about her new compositions on La Vie Commence Ici. ©2014 Brett DelmageThey include Marianne Trudel, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, Tanya Tagaq, Myriad3, Kirk MacDonald, and the Sultans of String – but unfortunately no Ottawa/Gatineau jazz or improvising musicians.

Montreal pianist Marianne Trudel was recognized for her new CD with Ingrid Jensen. OttawaJazzScene.ca interviewed her about the CD and reviewed her release concert at the NAC Fourth Stage as part of NAC Presents.

Toronto saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett was nominated for her CD with her new group of female musicians from Cuba. We interviewed her about Maqueque and reviewed their sold-out concerts here in July at GigSpace.

Toronto saxophonist Kirk MacDonald released two CDs in 2014, including the nominated album, Vista Obscura. OttawaJazzScene.ca interviewed him about his other album, Symmetry, and reviewed his show presenting that album at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Myriad3 (with Chris Donnelly, Ernesto Cervini, and Dan Fortin) presented their nominated album, The Where, at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and we reviewed their concert.

Throat singer Tanya Tagaq presented her new album, Animism, with jazz artists Jesse Zubot and Jean Martin, in a sold-out show at the NAC Fourth Stage in November, also as part of NAC Presents. That CD was nominated both both “Alternative Album of the Year” and “Aboriginal Album Of The Year”. Zubot was also nominated as “Jack Richardson Producer Of The Year” for his work on two songs on that album.

Read more: 2015 Juno Award nominations announced, including jazz music played in Ottawa

 

Linsey Wellman invites jazz fans to hear his new CD being recorded

You can hear music in the making, this Tuesday and Wednesday, in an art space in downtown Gatineau.

Linsey Wellman at the 2013 IMOOfest.  ©Brett Delmage, 2013Ottawa jazz musician Linsey Wellman will be recording a new solo saxophone album live over two evenings, and is inviting jazz fans to listen for free. The only requirement: show up on time – in fact, early – so you don't disturb the recording.

Wellman performs in a wide variety of contexts, from mainstream jazz to Punjabi folk/fusion to calypso to Balkan marching band to prog-noise, but is best known for playing avant-garde or free jazz and as a co-founder of the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO). In 2010, he released his first solo album, Ephemera, a suite of guided improvisations for saxophone.

The working title for this new CD is Manifesto, and Wellman says it reflects the solo performances he's been doing over the past few years. It's a “culmination of a lot of performing and a lot of ideas and a lot of the things that I've been doing. I don't think people will be surprised by what comes out. People who have heard me play a lot – there's some stuff people will have heard. There's at least one or two things that I haven't recorded but that I've played in solo saxophone settings.”

At least one of the pieces is a natural outgrowth of the material on Ephemera, he said, and the format is similar: both solo alto saxophone pieces of about the same length.

“But there's a lot of new material. I'm going to guess that this one is a little more 'out'. There's a little bit more textural playing than this one than on Ephemera, which had a lot of shifting tonal centres, whereas this one there's going to be a fair bit of textural playing. Clicking keys, a lot of multiphonics, and extra extended technique-sort of sounds. But not all that: there's definitely going to be some melodic sections, too.”

On both Tuesday and Wednesday, Wellman will play two approximately 20-minute sets, performing “Manifesto”, the material which he has been composing for the album. He will follow that with a third set, of about the same length, which will be entirely improvised.

That third set could go anywhere. “Who knows? If it's good it might find its way onto a recording. Or maybe it's so much better than the other stuff, that that's what I want to put on a recording. I'm excited about doing that, because my solo playing to date has been very scripted. I mean obviously there's a lot a freedom in what I've written and a lot of it is more guidelines but it's been very scripted and I'm excited about the idea of just playing free for at least a section of the show.”

Read more: Linsey Wellman invites jazz fans to hear his new CD being recorded

 

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

For the past 15 years, Ottawa's Rake-star Arkestra has tried to capture the joy and passion of jazz iconoclast Sun Ra, with music which can range from the sublime to the chaotic.

Rory Magill at a previous IMOO concert ©Brett Delmage, 2010After an extended hiatus, they're back – for an Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) concert at the Raw Sugar Café on Sunday, and on February 28 at Mugshots.

“We're just doing because it's fun,” said Rake-star co-founder and percussionist Rory Magill. “Everybody loves to do it. Everyone in the group has an abiding love of Sun Ra and his music and his inspiration. So it's just an opportunity for everyone to get together and share that passion and explore ... it's a pretty free outfit, so there's tons of creative room for everybody to move.”

Magill said there has been “a shift in the sound” in the band to a combination of saxes and percussion, with a Hammond organ and baritone saxes providing the deep bass bottom of the music. But there's still lots of continuity: this edition of the group includes nine local musicians, five of whom have been with the band since it started in 2000 – and almost all of whom are very well known on the local jazz scene.

They primarily play Sun Ra's compositions, rearranged for their line-up, combined with some originals inspired by his music.

Sun Ra was a extraordinarily original musician, and a major figure in avant-garde jazz from the 50s to the early 90s. He started out in big bands in the 1940s, and was influenced by bebop, but then shifted into very much his own large-group sound with his Arkestra. To his jazz roots he added elements of avant-garde classical music; he was a pioneer in using electronic keyboards; and he believed in the power of spectacle, with his Arkestra usually dressed in bright, flamboyant costumes, and occasionally including jugglers or stilt-walkers. He became obsessed with Egyptology and the possibility that Earth had been visited by travelers from outer space, and much of his music referenced those ideas.

It made for a very diverse body of music over the decades.

“Ra loved the tradition,” Magill said. “He worked for Fletcher Henderson as an arranger and rehearsal pianist for years and that was his foundation in jazz. So he loved that stuff and he admired Duke Ellington and he's got that side. We [Rake-star] have some earlier sounds before from things reflecting his earlier days. But a lot of the tunes that we do are probably 60s/70s. Later on, the last couple recordings, he was going back in a sense to traditional big band, with a twist obviously, but far more subtle than his totally out-there astro-infinity.”

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

 

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