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Warm and sincere, Denzal Sinclaire wows the orchestra audience

Jazz vocalist Denzal Sinclaire held the attention of the orchestra audience for both his Nat King Cole repertoire and other songs. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Denzal Sinclaire Sings the Nat King Cole Songbook and More with the NAC Orchestra
NAC Southam Hall
Thursday, February 20, 2014 – 8 p.m.

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As a singer, Nat King Cole was known for his personal warmth and sincerity. He wasn't hip, or arch, or trying to appeal to the in-crowd – he sang simply and naturally.

Those same qualities were in the foreground as Canadian jazz vocalist Denzal Sinclaire, together with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, paid tribute to Cole. The Thursday evening concert was the first of a three-night run, and will repeat on Friday and Saturday.

Performing to a mostly-full house, Sinclaire was debonair and cordial, introducing the songs with informality and occasional humor. The first set was all-Nat-King-Cole, showing the late singer's range: from classics like “Nature Boy” to lesser-known ballads like “To the Ends of the Earth”; from up-tempo rousers like “Route 66” to the moving “Mona Lisa”.

And the audience greeted the music enthusiastically. Throughout, they were intently focused on the stage, and occasionally greeted songs with welcoming hand clapping. The applause after each song ranged from strong to very strong to heavy, and the concert ended with a standing ovation.

This was one of the Orchestra's regular Pops concerts, but it was led by guest conductor Jeff Tyzik, who also arranged all the music and selected the songs in conjunction with Sinclaire. Tyzik and Sinclaire have been molding this show for the last year, with three concerts in Western Canada in 2013, and more planned for the United States next year (the 50th anniversary of Cole's untimely death).

Read more: Warm and sincere, Denzal Sinclaire wows the orchestra audience

 

Denzal Sinclaire pays tribute to his musical hero Nat King Cole - with orchestra

See the OttawaJazzScene.ca review of this concert: Warm and sincere, Denzal Sinclaire wows the orchestra audience

Denzal Sinclaire used to get upset when people compared his singing style to that of jazz vocal legend Nat King Cole.

Juno-nominated vocalist Denzal Sinclaire (photo courtesy of Denzal Sinclaire)

“I would spend a lot of anxious time, saying 'I'm not trying to sound like him. It's just kind of there',” the Juno-nominated jazz vocalist said.

“Then after a while I just accepted it. It's essentially a compliment. And it's also if I were to have been a classically-trained vocalist, and with any sort of appealing-sound voice, [fans] might say that I sounded like Pavarotti – you know what I mean? It's a category. So I got that after a while."

In fact, Sinclaire has often included in his own repertoire songs which Cole made famous, albeit not sung in exactly the same way. And on February 20-22, he will sing those songs in Ottawa together with the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

This will be Sinclaire's first appearance in Ottawa in almost a decade; he was last here in 2005 at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, opening for Diana Krall.

The three evenings are billed as “Denzal Sinclaire Sings the Nat King Cole Songbook and more”. The “more” is an important distinction, because while the first set will be all-Nat King Cole, the second set will be Sinclaire's own choices.

Read more: Denzal Sinclaire pays tribute to his musical hero Nat King Cole - with orchestra

 

Once a year, Michael Pytura celebrates his favourite big band jazz singers

Michael Pytura sang the Rat Pack repertoire with clear enjoyment and verve at the Make-A-Wish fundraiser. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

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For one night a year, Michael Pytura is a big band singer, invoking the music of his favourite Rat Pack vocalists like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

By day, he's the owner of an insurance agency. But Pytura says he's always loved vocal jazz, and last Saturday was his fourth year singing in front of a jazz orchestra to raise funds for the charity Make-A-Wish Canada.

Pytura was backed by ten local professional musicians known for their love of and experience with big band music, under the musical direction of saxophonist Mike Mullin. It was a glitzy affair in the theatre at the Casino de Lac Leamy in Gatineau, attracting a full house, most of whom were either listening or dancing to the music.

Partway through the evening, it was announced that the event had raised $30,000: enough to grant the wishes of three children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Pytura grew up in a very musical family: “my dad was an opera singer, my mom a piano teacher for over 60 years, and we always listened to all sorts of music. Even in high school I'd have Bobby Darin albums and Tony Bennett.”

But a particular love was the Rat Pack group of singers and actors – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. – “both from a musical point of view but even just from the type of humour they bring to the table as well. It's the whole package with them.”

But how did that turn into actually singing live with a band? It started at dinner, with a friend who was on the board of directors of Make-A-Wish.

“I had just recorded for fun a small Christmas album, and was excited about it. I remember telling him that night that one of these days I'd like to do a concert for Make-A-Wish, thinking maybe [in] 2018 or 2022. And the next thing I knew, the next week, we're in the boardroom and we're picking dates.”

Pytura was put in touch with Mullin, who hired an orchestra composed of nine of “the best jazz musicians around. And my very first-ever performance was with those guys at the National Gallery in 2011. It went from nothing to a lot very, very quickly. It was a lot of fun.”

Read more: Once a year, Michael Pytura celebrates his favourite big band jazz singers

 

The Sicilian Jazz Project reached the audience's hearts (and made them dance)

Louis Simão's accordion added intensity and emotion to the music in Michael Occhipinti's Sicilian Jazz Project. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Sicilian Jazz Project
Parc de l'imaginaire
Gatineau (secteur Aylmer), PQ
Festival de Jazz Desjardins
Saturday, July 27, 2013 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of this concert

The Sicilian Jazz Project, which is back in Ottawa this weekend, demonstrated how well jazz can reach an audience's heart in a performance in an Aylmer park last summer.

Toronto vocalist Dominic Mancuso sang the entire concert in a dialect of Sicilian – but that didn't matter because the songs were about universals like love, work, discrimination, and celebration, and because of the sheer infectiousness, energy, and beauty of the music.

By the end of the show, most of the audience was singing along with Mancuso – and didn't have to stand for the final ovation because they had already got up to dance or sway to the music.

The project is the brainchild of Toronto jazz guitarist/composer Michael Occhipinti, and is based on his own Sicilian family heritage, as well as field recordings made by musicologist Alan Lomax in Sicily in 1954. But as with several of his other projects, Occhipinti used the original folk music only as a starting point, adding his own jazz sensibility, rhythms, arrangements, and improvisation to produce a highly listenable cross-cultural mix.

Read more: The Sicilian Jazz Project reached the audience's hearts (and made them dance)

 

The Maskell-Cousineau Quintet: serious, accessible, and fun music

Two young Ottawa jazz musicians, who made waves here when they were in high school, have brought their new band back for two shows this weekend.

The Maskell-Cousineau Quintet may have started as a school combo, but they're pushing their music to a much higher level for their two gigs in Ottawa this weekend. (photo courtesy of the quintet)Saxophonists Sam Cousineau and Chris Maskell are now studying at McGill University in Montreal. They've teamed up with three fellow students to push their music to a new level, and they'll show that off at the Brookstreet Options Jazz Lounge on Friday and at GigSpace on Saturday.

The quintet came together as part of their schoolwork. But as they rehearsed and wrote music, they realized they “actually have a message we could deliver as a band musically,” Maskell said. So they decided to try playing outside their comfortable university envelope and book some of their own gigs, he said.

Audiences will hear mainstream jazz with a strong framework of bebop (Cousineau is a big fan of Cannonball Adderley). And they may also hear the influence of the Juno-Award-winning Montreal composer and bandleader Christine Jensen, who guided the group for its first term this year.

We “approach improvisation from a bebop standpoint and we apply that to all of the styles of music that we play. When Sam and I play, mostly bebop language emerges,” Maskell said.

In their music, “there's the pop style, and then there's the standards, and the ECM, but it all has the basic framework of this bebop language. So it's definitely nothing too out there, very much traditional. Sam and I, because we are both influenced by Coltrane, sometimes stretch out to that father-reaching [domain which is] less based upon harmonic language and more upon a feeling. So that is present, too, because when you're really going for it sometimes you tap into that. But it's very much traditional. I feel it's pretty accessible to most people.”

“People always say jazz is so inaccessible and is hard for people to listen to sometimes who don't study jazz or haven't been listening to it for years and years. But we were playing Upstairs once and had an audience member tell us that 'Yes, I really enjoyed that song. It was really fun.'

Read more: The Maskell-Cousineau Quintet: serious, accessible, and fun music

 

Jesse Stewart brings 'Memories of Ice' to free Winterlude shows

Jesse Stewart opened the 2014 Winterlude with music made on his Reactable using recordings of ice instruments ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Ottawa musical improviser, visual artist, found sound artist, and Juno award-winning jazz musician Jesse Stewart launched Winterlude last Friday with its first live performance, "Memories of Ice".

Recorded fragments from ice instruments he built and played at Winterlude in 2011 were combined with live performance on an icy-looking drumset, and his new, electronic instrument that was front-and-centre: the "Reactable". The projection from his manipulation of the Reactable and sound from the performance kept the attentive Confederation Park audience pretty well frozen during the twenty-minute performance, despite the relatively balmy temperature of -9C.

You can catch versions of this improvised performance again at 8 p.m. (20h) this Friday and Saturday (February 7, 8) and again next weekend on February 14, 15 at the Winterlude Confederation Park Stage. It's in the same location as the summer Ottawa Jazz Festival main stage. All performances are free as part of the Winterlude Festival.

Jesse Stewart has some notable (and warmer!) concerts coming up in the next while too. On February 28 he will perform with Jane Bunnett, Roddy Ellias, and John Geggie at GigSpace. On March 14, he will perform as part of the Sonoluminescence Trio with  William Parker and David Mott, also at GigSpace.

   – Brett Delmage

Full disclosure: Jesse Stewart has licensed photos and videos produced independently by OttawaJazzScene.ca for our own editorial needs.

All photos © Brett Delmage, 2014

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Juno Award nominations recognize many musicians who played in Ottawa-Gatineau

The 2014 Juno Award nominations, announced February 4, have recognized many jazz musicians whom you could have heard in Ottawa or Gatineau recently.

Mike Rud introduced many of the songs in his Juno-nominated album in a GigSpace concert  ©Brett Delmage, 2012

In the Vocal Jazz category, guitarist Mike Rud's Notes On Montréal, which features singer Sienna Dahlen, is up against albums by Amy McConnell, Erin Propp, and Matt Dusk. Rud is a frequent visitor to Ottawa and introduced many of the songs in this album in a GigSpace concert. As well, the vocal trio of Sonia Johnson, Charles Biddle Jr. & Annie Poulain is nominated for their album Triades; they'll bring that to Gatineau on April 17.

In the Contemporary Jazz category, Trifolia, who appeared at the 2013 Ottawa jazz festival, is nominated for Le Refuge; Brandi Disterheft, who appeared in the NAC Presents series, for Gratitude; Christine Jensen, who will be here for the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, for her big band album, Habitat; and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, who were at the 2011 Ottawa Jazz Festival, for Brooklyn Babylon.

William Carn and Tara Davidson, who appeared with John Geggie in his Invitational concert at the NAC in May 2013, are nominated for the Carn Davidson 9s album, 'Nine' ©Brett Delmage, 2013

For Traditional Jazz Album, William Carn and Tara Davidson, who appeared with John Geggie in his Invitational concert at the NAC in May 2013, are nominated for the Carn Davidson 9's album, Nine. Phil Dwyer and Don Thompson introduced their latest album, Look for the Silver Lining, to a very appreciative audience at Chamberfest last July; and it's nominated in this category. (Dwyer will be back in Gatineau March 2 with a trio.) Also in contention is Our Second Set by John MacLeod & His Rex Hotel Orchestra; MacLeod brought his music to the Carleton University Jazz Camp for a concert there in August, 2012. Bassist Mike Downes, who appeared here with Molly Johnson last spring, is nominated for his album Ripple Effect.

Read more: Juno Award nominations recognize many musicians who played in Ottawa-Gatineau

 

FOLKRUM dreams big for a new Ottawa-Gatineau concert venue

A hub for Ottawa-Gatineau's music community, to develop musicians and encourage audiences for all genres of music, including jazz. That's the vision of “FOLKRUM”.

It's the dream of local arts administrator Kim Lymburner, who introduced it at a public meeting January 30. The non-profit project would act as a learning, mentoring, and networking location by day, and a performance space by night, he said. It is planned to include

  • a 4500- sq. ft. space, to be used as a meeting space, for workshops, and for musician career development (but not music instruction)
  • a 200-seat concert space within the larger space, resizable to smaller spaces as necessary
  • a cafe and a bar

According to the group's website, the name FOLKRUM unites “folk” (for community) and “fulcrum” (a point of rest, support, or leverage).

Read more: FOLKRUM dreams big for a new Ottawa-Gatineau concert venue

 

Ottawa-Gatineau's 2013 Jazz Score

©Brett Delmage, 2013

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Do you have any comments about Ottawa-Gatineau's jazz scene in 2013 or this story? Please share them by email or in the OttawaJazzScene.ca Facebook group. We'd be delighted to hear from you!

Introduction

Depending on how you looked at it the Ottawa-Gatineau jazz scene was either half empty or half-full in 2013. It was a year of expansion and contraction; it was a year of major achievements and major losses.

Read more: Ottawa-Gatineau's 2013 Jazz Score

 

Afrocentric jazz returns to Le Petit Chicago after an intense and satisfying debut

Pierre Chrétien was constantly exploring the capabilities of the vibraphone at the October concert at Le Petit Chicago. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

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A new Afrocentric jazz group will have its second outing Monday, born out of learning a new instrument and the overlap among local jazz groups.

Pierre Chrétien, best known as the keyboardist/composer in the Souljazz Orchestra, started learning and experimenting with the vibraphone last spring. So when his fellow Souljazz member, Zakari Frantz, invited him to curate a Jazz Monday at Le Petit Chicago last October, it seemed like a good opportunity to unveil the vibes in public.

The lineup was Chrétien, plus three members of the Jazz Monday house band: Frantz on alto sax, Mike Essoudry on drums, and Joe Hincke on bass. They were joined for that evening only by Montreal trumpeter Rachel Therrien.

And the vibe that night was so intense and satisfying that they're back this Monday at Le Petit Chicago, with a proper name for the group: the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble. Chrétien has now written originals for the ensemble – “at least a dozen brand-new never­-before-heard original tunes”.

He described their music on Facebook as a “musical collision, in the middle of the Atlantic, between North American and African streams of jazz, resulting in a new, previously unknown world of sounds. Deep, spiritual, and modal excursions for the true jazz lovers out there.”

For Monday, they'll just be a quartet, but Frantz said they would be joined by trumpeter Ed Lister when he returns from cruise ship work in a few months.

Their first show attracted a full house to Le Petit Chicago on October 28, 2013, and filled the Gatineau bar with grooving, complex music.

Read more: Afrocentric jazz returns to Le Petit Chicago after an intense and satisfying debut

 

Roddy Ellias, Petr Cancura, and Andrew Downing form equal sides of trekan

Ottawa audiences will get the very first chance to hear a new trio this weekend – featuring three musicians active in jazz and chamber music scenes.

Andrew Downing © Brett Delmage, 2013Guitarist Roddy Ellias, multi-instrumentalist Petr Cancura, and cellist Andrew Downing have formed a trio called trekan. They'll play chamber jazz, with perhaps a touch of bluegrass and Turkish music, at GigSpace on Saturday.

This will be their first public performance, Ellias told OttawaJazzScene.ca, although they recorded a three-song demo together three to four months ago and have been talking and sending around music since.

Saturday will also be a rare chance for Ottawa listeners to hear Cancura in concert. Despite regularly returning to Ottawa from Brooklyn for his job as programming manager of the Ottawa Jazz Festival, he hasn't performed publicly in Ottawa since last June's festival, and infrequently before then in the past five years. Downing, from Toronto, has visited Ottawa regularly in the last year, playing in groups led by Nick Fraser, Jayme Stone, and David Occhipinti.

Ellias said he really enjoyed playing with Cancura and Downing.

“They're both really good writers. They're both really good improvisers, who listen, and we have similar aesthetics. We like a wide variety of things and we like to take chances and do different things and like free playing. And we're very compatible people, which is important.”

Cancura and Ellias have had a longstanding arrangement to play together whenever Cancura's in Ottawa.

“He's in town once a month so he comes over to my house and we play. We love doing a duo, but we thought it would be nice to maybe make this into a trio. And we racked our brains and came up with Andrew. I'd been wanting to do something with Andrew and he with me for a long time, and I think Petr had already done some work with him, so it turns out to be a great fit,” Ellias said.

Read more: Roddy Ellias, Petr Cancura, and Andrew Downing form equal sides of trekan

 

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