Updated August 27, 2013
Orchestre national de jazz Montréal
Théâtre Jean-Duceppe, Place des Arts
Montreal Jazz Festival
Saturday, July 6, 2013 – 9:30 p.m.
Montreal has a wealth of big bands, and an abundance of musicians accustomed to performing in big bands. Vic Vogel, Christine Jensen, Joe Sullivan, and Lorraine Desmarais: all those prominent musicians lead big bands. Plus there's the Montreal All-City Big Band, and many university and high school jazz bands. More than in most cities, there's a culture of enjoying large-scale jazz music.
And now there's another: the Orchestre national de jazz Montréal, which had its debut performance at the 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival, and which is scheduled to play monthly concerts at L'Astral starting in September.
The 16-piece orchestra is led by Christine Jensen, and includes a fine selection of Montreal jazz musicians, all but three of whom I recognized. It aims to provide “jazz creators with a permanent place where they can fully express their talent and creativity”, as well as to present the wide range of orchestral jazz music being written around the world.
Its inaugural concert started with three pieces by Quebec jazz composers – Jensen, Jean-Nicolas Trottier, and Marianne Trudel – each about 15 minutes long. Each was rearranged to take advantage of the greater number of voices in this band; there was much interplay in the arrangements, particularly in Trottier's piece. Frank Lozano's hard-edged saxophone started it off, but then a wide variety of instruments (notably André Leroux's flute) added considerable texture and layering to the thoughtful piece.
St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts and Humanities
Saturday, August 3, 2013 – 9:30 p.m.
Read the OttawaJazzScene.ca interview with Jayme Stone about this concert and his new CD: Jayme Stone expands the horizons of the banjo, along with his favourite musicians
The only problem with Jayme Stone's performance at Chamberfest was that it was too short.
In the 60 minutes allocated to him, Stone and his musicians played music from three of his four albums, plus a tip-of-the-hat to Chamberfest with a Bach suite. But there simply wasn't time to play the concerto which is the centerpiece of his just-released album, The Other Side of the Air. The concerto would have admirably suited the location and audience, and I was looking forward to hearing it live.
Regardless, the show was a good introduction to Stone, his original approach to the banjo, his genre-bending music, and the fine jazz musicians he plays with. It was well-paced and diverse, with Stone providing explanations and background for the music, and creating a strong connection with the audience.
The banjo has been pigeonholed as a bluegrass, Americana, or Dixieland instrument: Béla Fleck tore big holes in those barriers several decades ago, and Stone has continued that progress. Stone has reenvisioned the banjo as a simply a resonant, stringed instrument, and imagined new contexts for it: West African rhythms, music inspired by world folk dances, baroque classical music, and definitely jazz.
The Lemon Bucket Orkestra
St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts and Humanities
Saturday, August 3, 2013 – 11 p.m.
The Lemon Bucket Orkestra is a large group of musicians from Toronto – some of whom also play jazz – who play music inspired by folk dances and songs from Eastern Europe. They sing in Ukrainian, Roumanian, Slovakian, and other languages, accompanied by a wide variety of brass and woodwind instruments (including sousaphone), accordion, fiddle, Jews-harp, and a few I'd never seen before.
That description sounds very earnest, which is totally incorrect: the Orkestra is about as crowd-pleasing as you can get, mugging for the listeners, dancing all about about the stage (one of its members, Stephania Woloshyn, is a talented folk and belly dancer as well as a singer), and performing with a great deal of oompah. They are seriously wild men and women.
Phil Dwyer and Don Thompson
St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts and Humanities
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 10 p.m.
As the last notes of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” died out, Phil Dwyer told the audience that the root of the word “improvise” is “to improve”. And because neither he nor Don Thompson thought they could really improve on that particular tune, they simply played it straight – expressively, intently, and with just a little bit of an edge to offset its sweetness. They found the core of the tune, and the result was stunning.
Dwyer and Thompson have been playing jazz together for 31 years, in a wide variety of groups. They've just released their first duo album, Look for the Silver Lining [Triplet Records, 2013], and brought selections from it, plus a few more favourite standards, to an almost-completely full house at Chamberfest.
The lower hall at St. Brigid's is an intimate space with good acoustics, and neither Thompson at the grand piano nor Dwyer on tenor sax needed amplification. It also made for an informal, late-night vibe, with Dwyer easily chatting with the audience and describing the connections they had with each song. He said he'd only chosen the set list five minutes before the show – but that was the benefit of them performing together for so many years!
The moment I heard the opening number, “You Make Me Feel So Young”, I thought of Frank Sinatra, who made that song famous. It was more than that, though: the swinging vibe and Dwyer's dancing sax lines reminded me of Sinatra's full-bodied vocal style. And Dwyer confirmed the connection to the audience later: one of the first times he and Thompson played together, he put on a Frank Sinatra CD on the drive from the ferry to the gig. When they started the drive, they had no idea what they were going to play; when they reached the hall, they just played all the songs on the CD! And ever since then, he said they usually have a few Frank Sinatra numbers in the repertoire. This was a joyful rendition, with both playing around a bit with the tune.
Updated September 23, 2013
The second annual IMOOfest will be held this year from November 8 to 10. Ottawa's premiere festival of improvised and avant-garde music will be held in a new location: GigSpace (on Gladstone Avenue near Little Italy).
Headlining artists so far announced include
- the IMOO Chamber Orchestra, and
- Jean Martin & Christine Duncan
- Accordion Conspiracy (with Bernard Stepien and David Broscoe)
- Ellwood Epps and Joshua Zubot’s “Land of Marigold”
The Titanium Riot is no longer scheduled to appear.
The concert will also mark the release of the third IMOO CD: Other People’s Art, featuring Craig Pedersen, David Broscoe, Mark Molnar, and Scott Warren. They will play original compositions inspired by Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and John Cage.
IMOO is also looking for volunteers to help put on the festival, and for donations. More info at www.improvisedmoo.com/ .
The first IMOOfest in October 2012 attracted good crowds to hear local and imported jazz improvisers play a wide variety of free jazz, ranging from electronics, to an improvised orchestra, to Lori Freedman showing the amazing sounds one can coax out of clarinet and bass clarinet.
Trumpeter Paul Tynan has seen big band music from both the Canadian and American sides of the border – and the styles aren't always the same.
“There's a lot of different influences in Canada than you find in the States,” he said, such as Canadians Rob McConnell (who led and composed and arranged for his legendary Boss Brass in Toronto for decades), and Kenny Wheeler (who rewrote big band music in the 70s into a much more harmonically dense and richly textured form).
“You don't see a lot of those influences heavily in the States.”
Instead, he said, there's the tradition of the Count Basie Band, as well as the influence of Bob Brookmeyer, and a lot of outgrowth of the music of Gil Evans. “Even though he is a Canadian, I don't hear much influence of Gil Evans on a lot of the Canadian composers living in Canada as you do with the American composers or the ex-pats.”
“I guess [Canadian big band music] has got a unique sound to it, a truly Canadian sound.”
You can judge where Tynan himself fits in tonight, when the faculty big band band at the Carleton University Jazz Camp will play a concert of Tynan's big band compositions.
Horace Silver Tribute
Carleton University Jazz Camp
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University
Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - 7 p.m.
“If you're in a bad mood, just put on a Horace Silver record and you'll feel better.”
That was Mark Ferguson's prescription Wednesday night, as he explained how much he enjoyed the music by the hard bop pianist and composer, and how he'd been wanting to put on a tribute to Silver for a long time. Ferguson chose and arranged all the music for the Wednesday concert by faculty at the Carleton University Jazz Camp, and had a big smile on his face at the end of the evening.
Silver is best known for his up-tempo instrumental jazz numbers, and there were certainly lots of those. But Ferguson also chose some slower ballads, and showed off Silver's talent for writing lyrics as well. He also picked primarily less-well-known pieces, but ones which were well worth the introduction.
The Element Choir
Dominion Chalmers United Church
Friday, August 2, 2013 - noon
Ottawa City Hall
Thursday, August 1, 2013 - noon
“Let's see what happens.”
That's how Christine Duncan commenced the Element Choir's noon-hour performance Friday at Chamberfest. It was an unconventional and unpredictable choir performance – no scores, almost no words, and most importantly, completely improvised.
But what wasn't surprising, for those who have heard the choir before, was that the resulting music was often beautiful, interestingly textured, and unexpected – and repaid careful listening.
On the extended large stage in the church were 55 singers, raised up on several rows on risers, with Duncan in front conducting them, and three musicians: Jim Lewis on trumpet and flugelhorn, Jean Martin on drums, and Veryan Weston from England playing the church's huge pipe organ.
Henrique Cazes and Sambacana
St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts and Humanities
Friday, August 2, 2013 - 10 p.m.
Henrique Cazes is a virtuoso on the cavaquinho, the highest-pitched member of the guitar family, and one of the most characteristic instruments of Brazilian music. If you see Brazilian jazz groups, you can't miss it – it's the instrument with four strings that looks like a baby guitar – but most musicians double on it with guitar. At his concert Friday at Chamberfest, Cazes played cavaquinho exclusively and showed how flexible and interesting its sound can be.
It became even more interesting in a new partnership. This current tour is the first time Cazes has teamed his cavaquinho with a vibraphone, and the result was exquisite – and quite unexpected. Toronto percussionist Mark Duggan on vibes not only created some lovely melodies on his own, he followed, accented, and counterpointed Cazes. Together, they produced a interesting and harmonious mixture of tones and textures. Surprisingly, given their completely different origins and methods of producing sound, the two instruments share similar tonal qualities and have a similar mixture of percussion and melody.
Jayme Stone appears at the Guelph Jazz Festival on September 7. Read our review of his appearance at Ottawa Chamberfest.
When going to hear Jayme Stone, you might want to check your assumptions at the door.
Yes, Stone plays the banjo and has studied with masters of that instrument; no, this won't be a bluegrass concert and he's nothing like Pete Seeger.
Yes, there's a concerto in the program; no, it won't sound anything like Brahms or Beethoven.
Yes, he's playing with some of the best jazz improvisers in Toronto, including drummer Nick Fraser, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, and cellist Andrew Downing, as well as NYC saxophonist Rob Mosher; no, he doesn't play bebop or mainstream jazz.
Stone loves the fact that his music can't be easily categorized, and can be enjoyed as jazz, chamber music, or world music.
“I like that it inhabits this space between so many different styles, and it's actually hard to pin down ,,, in a way that it doesn't fit anywhere so it fits everywhere.”
The one thing you can be sure is that he will be playing songs from his new album, The Other Side of the Air, which was released July 30. It's Stone's fourth album; his previous three albums were all nominated for Juno Awards. Two won Junos, one as Best Instrumental Album and one as Best World Music Album of the Year.
The new album, he says, actually reflects more closely his live shows. It features the musicians with whom he has been playing with regularly for the past few years. Many of these he has known for much longer than that – for up to 15 years, ever since he moved back to Toronto and started composing and playing with jazz and improvising musicians.
Stone's current tour includes venues ranging from intimate spaces like the Blue Skies Folk Festival, all the way up to the Kennedy Centre in Washington, DC.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor talked with Stone in late July. The following is an edited version of their conversation. It ranged from the attractions of the banjo and how he has extended its range; his experiences at the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music; the jazz musicians who have influenced him; the role of improvisation in his music; how Andrew Downing composed the concerto on his latest album; and how he had an artist create mobiles for the album's cover.
Composer Scott Thomson made the National Gallery of Canada his unique performance space for his composition for brass and improvising choir for the 2012 Ottawa Chamberfest. He's doing it again in 2013, this time at Ottawa City Hall at noon on Thursday, August 1. The performance is free.
In our video you can see and hear part of the National Gallery performance by trumpets, trombones and Christine Duncan's Element Choir. Scott explains how he planned the half-hour of music for maximum effect in the specific space and tuned the music to that space.
– Brett Delmage
See the interview with Scott Thomson about his work:
Chamber Elements: Many unique ways of listening to improvised music
- The Jesse Stewart Trio sparks everyone's imagination (review)
- Montréal Guitare Trio starts Chamberfringe on a strong note (review)
- Renée Yoxon and her Gentlemen Friends swing the park (review)
- Three young musicians bring new music and their new experiences back to Ottawa
- Joel Miller and Honeycomb at the Montreal Jazz Festival (review)
- Caridad Cruz and Miguel de Armas ignite their audience
- Trifolia: adventurous jazz at the Montreal Jazz Festival (review)
- Kellylee Evans charms Montreal audience with hip-hop and jazz (review)
- Prairie jazz wins the Grand Prix de Jazz (review)
- Guelph Jazz Festival celebrates 20th Anniversary with World Artist Summit Sep 3-8
- Ten Years of the Triplets of Belleville, in Ottawa et Montreal (review)
- Finding the patterns in Tim Berne's free jazz (review)
- A romantic evening: The Thomas Enhco Trio and the Steve Kuhn Trio at the Montreal Jazz Festival (review)
- Christine Jensen, Ingrid Jensen, Gary Versace at the Montreal Jazz Festival (review)
- 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival celebrates pianists – and the late Dave Brubeck
- Almonte's JazzN announces new house concerts, reflects on successful first year
- AlphaSoul jazzfest jams get jammed
- Festival de Jazz Desjardins and other free jazz concerts come to Aylmer in July
- Alan Jones embraces risk with his all-Canadian, all-star sextet
- The Stretch Orchestra makes jazz bend
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