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The young and the experienced collaborate in a fast-moving show

Ben Heard was double-bassed all evening ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Roddy Ellias / Ben Heard / Keagan Eskritt (set 1)
The Chris Maskell Quartet (set 2)
Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Three talented young jazz musicians teamed up with three experienced musicians on Tuesday to perform two sets, each with a very different vibe.

Common to both was young bassist Ben Heard, who arranged the first set with fellow student drummer Keagan Eskritt and master guitarist Roddy Ellias. The three met at the JazzEd sessions which Ellias had taught with local high school musicians in 2013, and kept playing together even after the last JazzEd concert.

Although the trio's set had lots of swing, it was on the quiet, thoughtful side, opening with a flowing version of Henry Mancini's “Days of Wine and Roses”. Ellias contributed a new composition, “Postcard”, a wistful, melodic piece which included exploratory passages; Heard's original, “Spindle”, moved from stately and a bit melancholy to almost flamenco in style, before ending with delicate harmonic notes on the guitar.

They closed in a more emphatic vein with Eskritt's “Smash”, which began with a deep bass riff and hard drumming and then added strongly-accented guitar lines, to produce intense music where notes were held and played before and after the beat. It ended abruptly, and was greeted with appreciative applause from the audience, which filled almost every seat in the café.

For the second set, Ottawa tenor saxophonist Chris Maskell, who will enter his final year studying jazz performance at McGill University this fall, teamed up with Heard and two well-known players on the local scene: drummer Mike Essoudry and guitarist Alex Moxon. They played originals by all members of the group and a good mixture of less-common jazz classics, such as “Punjab” by Joe Henderson and “Take the Coltrane” by Duke Ellington.

Read more: The young and the experienced collaborate in a fast-moving show


Big Band Ottawa plays to keep big band music alive

Big Band Ottawa leader Robert Vogelsang (trombone): 'We're all here because we love to play'  ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Big Band Ottawa
Canadian Tulip Festival
Commissioner's Park, Dow's Lake, Ottawa
Saturday, May 16, 2015

This year, the Tulip Festival showcased big band jazz in honour of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945.

The energy and enthusiasm of Big Band Ottawa – and the interest they created in their audience – showed that this music was far more than a historical artifact.

The big band attracted listeners who stayed – and grew in number – during its two, hour-long sets, and not just people who danced to that music back in the 40s and 50s, either. It included everyone from toddlers to teenagers to 20-somethings to seniors, and of a wide range range of ethnicities.

Big Band Ottawa's leader and trombonist Robert Vogelsang told that the group has been together for four years. Many of the members had played in other, now-defunct big bands, such as Big Band Caravane, and missed playing the music, he said. They rehearse every week and play 10 to 12 shows a year, some private, some for veterans, and some huge shows – for example last year's New Year's show at the National Arts Centre, which sold out with 1000 attendees.

The band's 18 instrumentalists include both professional and amateur musicians, with ages ranging from late teens/early 20s to much later.

Read more: Big Band Ottawa plays to keep big band music alive


The Chocolate Hot Pockets are keeping their Dreamz under wraps

Alex Moxon (l) and Ed Lister (r) at the Chocolate Hot Pockets' show at the Tulip Festival. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Chocolate Hot Pockets have kept their new album almost completely under wraps.

At their CD release show Saturday at Ritual, the Ottawa jazz/neo-soul group will be performing songs that have only been played a few times live – or not at all.

“We've only played maybe half of it live before – and never on the same gig – as we've been developing the tunes. So it's going to be a fresh concert,” said guitarist Alex Moxon.

The four members of the Chocolate Hot Pockets – Moxon, bassist J.P. Lapensée, drummer Jamie Holmes, and trumpeter Ed Lister – spoke to after playing a well-received and energetic show at the Tulip Festival on May 11. And in the 90-minute show, Lister said, only about three songs were from the new CD.

They all said they were excited to finally release Chocolate Dreamz, their second CD, which they recorded last August. The songs are all originals: six each by Moxon and Lister, the two writers in the group.

“It's super-tight now. We were before, but now the music's taken its own direction. I feel like there's more of a focus on this album,” Lister said.

Read more: The Chocolate Hot Pockets are keeping their Dreamz under wraps


Ben Heard eager to finally play all-originals show with friends at Pressed

Three award-winning jazz musicians – whose ages and experience span more than 40 years – will open a double-bill of mostly original jazz at Pressed tonight as a trio.

And you can thank bassist Gene Simmons of the rock band Kiss, for persuading their leader to get interested in playing.

Ben Heard ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Bassist Ben Heard, who leads tonight's group, is completing his final two months at Canterbury High School. He's invited Jazz Hero and Ottawa master guitarist Roddy Ellias, and longtime friend and musical collaborator, drummer Keagan Eskritt, now studying music at the University of Toronto, to play with him for this special occasion.

“It's not an entirely new band so we have some rapport going into things. It's great. I'm really excited,” Heard said.

“We had a big connection right from the start. I always love playing with him, “ Heard says about his friend Eskritt, whom he met in Grade 9 and played with “almost constantly for the past three years.”

In 2013, they both participated in the Ottawa Jazz Festival's first JazzEd program, which is where they met Ellias. He taught the group of promising high school students weekly for several months leading up to the festival.

“At least in my mind, Roddy was another tier, an older generation and had another entire aura of distinction to him. It's so funny because you meet Roddy and he's got his wicked wit and he's really modest. And also just the wealth of knowledge that comes from him. He really did do the more old-school upbringing in jazz. He played,” Heard said. “He's got this HUGE amount of knowledge that I've been lucky to get to learn from him for the past two years.”

But the final performance of the JazzEd band at the Ottawa Jazz Festival wasn't the end of their musical interaction, but a start that led to tonight's performance.

“We started playing, just the three of us, off and on since before Christmas 2013. We went over to Roddy's place. He was always super, super supportive of any compositions I would be doing. When I was working on something I'd [send] it to Roddy and say 'Can you get me input?' and he'd always be super-helpful. So that led to us getting together to play some of these tunes. And then with schedules, especially Roddy, he's a busy guy, we never got around to actually getting the gig. And then this came up.”

Read more: Ben Heard eager to finally play all-originals show with friends at Pressed


Kathryn Ladano takes her bass clarinet from growls to helices of melody

 ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Kathryn Ladano
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) #121
Raw Sugar Café
Sunday, May 17, 2015 - 7 p.m.

Bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano took her instrument from deep bass growls to unearthly treble lines to percussive pops at her Ottawa concert Sunday – in a café of silent listeners absorbed in her music, despite the attractions of balmy spring weather during a long weekend.

The Waterloo-based musician and educator, who studied with bass clarinet master Lori Freedman, is on tour across Canada. She's performing solo but also promoting ...Listen, the just-released album by Stealth, her duo with Richard Burrows of the TorQ Percussion Quartet.

On that album, she said, Burrows primarily plays vibraphone – which made the second half of this concert, a duet with Ottawa percussionist Rory Magill playing the similar xylophone and assorted percussion, particularly fitting.

This show was the second stop on Ladano's tour, and part of the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) biweekly concert series. It attracted IMOO regulars, but also new audience members who stayed for the entire concert.

For the first set, Ladano performed solo: a series of six compositions and improvisations, each lasting about 5 to 8 minutes. She opened with vibrating bass notes, reminiscent of whale songs, and deeper than I'd heard on a bass clarinet – and then moved to lighter, shimmering notes, more like from a bass flute. She filled the entire room with long, vibrating tones, quiet blankets of sound which ebbed and flowed in intensity, dual circling lines of melody, and memorable rhythms.

Read more: Kathryn Ladano takes her bass clarinet from growls to helices of melody


Mike Murley revisits the past and celebrates the new with his septet at Ontario Scene

Kevin Turcotte's intense trumpet lines added to the energy of Mike Murley's Septet at the NAC's Ontario Scene. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Mike Murley Septet
Ontario Scene
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Friday, May 8, 2015

View photos of this performance

What do you get when you put seven fine musicians from Toronto on stage together in Ottawa? A night of satisfying and wide-ranging mainstream jazz, melodic and dynamic.

Jazz, in particular, benefits from more instrumental voices on stage, allowing more interplay and different arrangements – but the economics of touring a large group can be daunting. That's why we see very few visiting big bands, or even a septet like the one saxophonist and composer Mike Murley brought to the NAC Fourth Stage Friday night.

He was there as part of the NAC's Ontario Scene festival, whose mandate is to “celebrate the province’s dynamic culture: a synergy of tradition and innovation, of established and emerging artists”. Murley is certainly an established artist – it's been almost 35 years since he left Nova Scotia for Toronto and since then he's established himself as an essential part of the Canadian jazz scene, winning many Junos and National Jazz Awards. His recordings celebrate both the tradition (jazz standards with guitarist Ed Bickert) and innovation (the electric jazz of Metalwood).

The room was packed and expectant as Murley took the stage, along with Tara Davidson (soprano and alto sax), Kevin Turcotte (trumpet and flugelhorn), William Carn (trombone), David Braid (piano), Jim Vivian (double bass), and Ted Warren (drums). It's the same lineup as when he formed the septet a decade ago, with the exception of Carn, who was subbing for Terry Promane.

Read more: Mike Murley revisits the past and celebrates the new with his septet at Ontario Scene


John Geggie's two-saxophone experiment satisfies the audience

John Geggie's 2015 Invitational Concert with Jim Doxas, Kelly Jefferson, and Frank Lozano
NAC Presents
NAC Fourth Stage
Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jazz is a genre of experimentation. Improvisation is the norm; new combinations are welcomed.

So when John Geggie decided to go chordless – no piano, no guitar – for his annual Invitational concert, I figured it would be an opportunity to hear some interesting interactions and different music. And with saxophonists Kelly Jefferson and Frank Lozano in front, and Geggie on double bass and Jim Doxas on drums driving the rhythm, that's exactly what happened.

"Concerts like this are special because they are ephemeral: even in Canada's smaller jazz scene, musicians in different cities who aren't in the same groups are unlikely to get together often. It made for a special experience for the audience."

Jefferson and Lozano have known each other since they studied jazz at the same time at McGill University, though with Jefferson busy on the Toronto scene and Lozano in Montreal, they haven't had much chance lately to perform together. They both showed up with tenor and soprano saxophones, and deployed them in every possible combination: two tenors, two sopranos, one tenor and one soprano, and one soprano and one tenor.

Although all the musicians except Doxas contributed compositions – one even written on the train coming up – the set-list contained more jazz classics than usual at a Geggie concert. They opened with Ornette Coleman's “The Blessing”, emphasizing the groove in the piece.

Lozano and Jefferson began by blowing in unison on soprano, and then divided: Jefferson first outlining the melody incisively and delicately in the instrument's higher range with Lozano playing a simple line underneath, then Lozano taking over playing in a slightly lower register. The rhythm section supported them with strong forward motion, and then Geggie moved to the forefront with a sparse, deep, almost grumbling bass solo, with Doxas adding light drum thumps and cymbal taps as accents. Jefferson returned with an assertive soprano line and was joined after a few bars by Lozano, and they ended the piece as it began: strong and swinging.

Read more: John Geggie's two-saxophone experiment satisfies the audience


Mirror Duo made drums - and only drums - a compelling show

Michel Delage and Mike Essoudry conversed by drum for two engaging sets ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Mirror Duo
Mugshots (Nicholas Street Jail Hostel)
Thursday, April 30, 2015

See photos of this performance

If you want to totally silence a bar, get drummers - only drummers - to play in it.

The opening piece by the Mirror Duo halted conversations in Mugshots within seconds – to a total silence in that bar that I had never before witnessed. Drummers Michel Delage and Mike Essoudry started their performance by bowing their menagerie of cymbals with long, resonant strokes and changing pitches. It was surprising: not the percussive sounds that listeners might expect to hear from the small stage tightly packed with two bass drums, four toms, several snares, and eight cymbals - including four hi-hats - and assorted bowls and hand-held percussive instruments.

Taking full advantage of their now fully-attentive audience and the acoustic opportunity, the duo moved into their second quiet piece with overlapping and alternating brushed strokes on drum skins and cymbals, changing in tempo, intensity and pitch.

Read more: Mirror Duo made drums - and only drums - a compelling show


May flowers into jazz, from Ottawa and abroad

Megan Jerome's Together Ensemble releases a new CD on May 14  © Brett Delmage, 2011Updated May 10
The festival season starts a month early this year, with Ontario Scene showcasing a wide range of jazz and creative, improvised music artists from Ottawa and the rest of the province at the National Arts Centre and other venues. Those concerts will dominate the first ten days of May, but there's lots of other good jazz shows coming up this month to listen to..

At this time of year, local jazz artists are presenting the projects they've been working on for the last year. So we'll see three Ottawa vocalists present their Centenary Celebration of Billie Holiday's birth; three long-awaited CD releases; and lots of special concerts.

Ottawa listeners will have the chance to hear out-of-town jazz artists who don't often play here, including Mike Murley, Kevin Breit, Tara Kannangara, Jesse Cook, Laila Biali, Jaron Freeman-Fox, Snaggle, bet.e & Stef, Nancy Walker and Kieran Overs, Laura Crema – and even Diana Krall.

There will be something for everyone – from jazz vocal classics, to propulsive mainstream instrumentals, to highly-improvised free jazz. And will be giving you the opportunity to win free tickets to some of those shows.

See all the May highlights


Tara Kannangara celebrates melody with both her trumpet and her voice

Tara Kannangara combines two jazz passions – for trumpet and for voice – in her performances and compositions, to fully express herself and connect with her audiences.

Tara Kannangara (by Alexander Ordanis. Photo provided by the artist)When she brings her quintet to the Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge today and Saturday, the 29-year-old Toronto musician is likely to be both singing and playing trumpet on each of the pieces they'll be performing, whether originals or modernized jazz standards.

Ottawa audiences have heard Kannangara twice in the last few months – as the trumpeter and occasional backup vocalist for Elizabeth Shepherd's group at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, and then as a featured trumpet soloist in the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra's “Invention” concert on April 9.

But just a few weeks after that, she was singing re-imagined arrangements of Ella Fitzgerald's repertoire, in “An Afternoon of Ella” tribute at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC.

Trumpet and voice have many similarities, she said, in their phrasing and their range. “I think both instruments are similar because you have to breathe. I can't sing and pitch up at the same time, so it's like you're taking a breath and phrasing is something always quite similar. I'm very attracted to melodic trumpet players.”

But both are also particularly demanding instruments, which Kannangara acknowledges. To combine them, she says, “I just work as hard as I can.”

“The trumpet is a daily thing. You can't leave it alone. And that's OK. I don't mind that. It's kind of nice to have a daily ritual to get in touch with the instrument and connect with it. Trumpet makes it hard, like it's unnatural to shove a piece of metal up against your face and blow. Your body fights against it. But if you do it every day, and if you practice, it all ends up being fine.”

“Voice is the same way. Voices are persnickety. You're at the mercy of elements around you, if it's too dry, it's too cold, all kinds of things. But I think both the trumpet and the voice are very similar in a sense. I love the combination of the two. One's kind of brassy, and one's more sensitive and personal. So I like that they're similar in that they're both like voices, but they're different in that they have different characteristics.”

Read more: Tara Kannangara celebrates melody with both her trumpet and her voice


Jesse Stewart's BOOM silences listeners at the Diefenbunker

Jesse Stewart rehearses for the BOOM performances ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Jesse Stewart's "Boom"
Ontario Scene
Diefenbunker blast tunnel
Sunday, May 3, 2015

Improviser and percussionist Jesse Stewart conjured up auditory references to the Cold War and the Diefenbunker - the Canadian government's massive underground Cold War nuclear bomb shelter, now museum – with his performances in its blast tunnel entrance on May 3.

Stewart's performance of “BOOM” was highly dynamic. He animated the tunnel with sounds ranging from barely audible dripping water – a reference to its use in torture – to bass drum beats. The drum beats grew from an almost inaudible low rumble conveying a heightening sense of impending doom, to the loudest of booms that echoed for seconds inside the tunnel, invoking images of nuclear bombs exploding outside.

In his two, forty-minute, continuous and improvised performances, he transformed the simple ribbed texture of the concrete floor into a variety of sounds with aid of a dragged metal bar. He created sound from a struck and shaken spring, audibly referencing the many springs which suspend equipment inside to protect it from bomb-induced shock. He also used a wide variety of unusual devices to make music with, which included a metal kitchen bowl, wind-up toy, and more traditional brass bowls/gongs, drumsticks, and mallets.

Read more: Jesse Stewart's BOOM silences listeners at the Diefenbunker


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