Wednesday, May 27, 2015
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Bamboo Groove - Asian-infused jazz and love songs (video)

May is Asian Heritage Month. This year Bamboo Groove celebrates their fifth anniversary of playing their unique, Asian-infused jazz.'s Inside the Scene was at leader and vocalist Peter Liu's launch of his first CD, Bamboo Groove, about the journey of love.. Our video story includes an interview with him about the CD – and excerpts from a jazz performance that he sung in four different languages!

    – Brett Delmage

Also, read our full interview with Peter Liu about the making of his CD, Peter Liu: love songs and jazz cross cultural boundaries in Bamboo Groove

Watch our video story


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


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


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


Mirror Duo: Mike Essoudry and Michel Delage converse by drum on Thursday

If you're tired of trumpets, sick of sax, or veering from vocals, you can catch a concert on Thursday that will be free of everything except drums – and a double dose at that. Drummers Mike Essoudry and Michel Delage are playing drums together in the Mirror Duo at Mugshots. And they're excited about the possibilities of the evening.

Mike Essoudry ©Brett Delmage, 2010

Michel Delage ©Brett Delmage, 2015

“It's going to be really interesting. I think it's going to be a really, really different kind of show,” Essoudry says. “Duo drums. It will be neat. It doesn't happen very often.”

Read more: Why a duo is great and how it will work


Roddy Ellias plays fresh compositions with long-time friends this Saturday

Roddy Ellias and John Geggie rehearse ©Brett Delmage, 2013

This Saturday, Roddy Ellias will play very fresh music with three very long-time friends.

The music will be new – so new, in fact, that he was just beginning to write and arrange it when talked to him on Sunday. But the three prominent jazz musicians joining him at GigSpace are ones he's known for years and played with many times in many different combinations.

On stage, Ellias on guitar will be joined by Mark Ferguson on trombone and piano, Mike Tremblay on saxophones, and John Geggie on double bass. Ellias has known Geggie for about 35 years, and the others for not much less, and they've all played together hundreds of times over the years in both jazz and classical orchestras and jazz combos.

But only once before in this particular combination – about a year ago, at the official opening of the Canada Council office building.

“And it just sounded so nice. And I don't get to play enough with either horns or with those guys, so I thought it would be nice. So I'm excited about that.”

He's also excited about trying a “different kind of repertoire” than he normally plays.

“I'm aiming for a different concept. What I'm trying to do is think of it like a string quartet or even a small orchestra where rather than ... one common jazz approach is melody and harmony and somebody grabs the melody and maybe somebody harmonizes the melody with chords. I was thinking of more like each person is a separate section of a string quartet. So they'll have an independent part, so four independent parts. Sort of orchestral.”

Read more: Roddy Ellias plays fresh compositions with long-time friends this Saturday


Adrean Farrugia accepts the challenge and excitement of reinterpreting Monk

Pianist Adrean Farrugia won't be wearing a beret or sunglasses when he steps onto the stage at Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge this weekend. That's not how he wants to pay tribute to Thelonious Monk.

Adrean Farrugia at the Montreal Jazz Festival ©Brett Delmage, 2012Monk was a hugely influential pianist and composer who helped redefine jazz in the 50s and 60s and wrote many of jazz's most enduring compositions, like “'Round Midnight” and “Ruby, My Dear”. And he had a strongly individual musical style, recognizable in only a few notes – and a similarly idiosyncratic personal look in suits, hats, and glasses.

And while that musical style can be honoured – as Farrugia will do with three Ottawa musicians on Friday and Saturday nights playing Monk's compositions – it can't be copied.

See's linked interview with Michel Delage about his jazz tribute series at Brookstreet.

It's just not possible, Farrugia said, because Monk's sound was “so unique. It's almost too obvious that you're doing Monk if you sound like that. For me it's not so much the substance of what he's playing but the spirit of what he's playing, that I can get really caught up in.”

“There's this amazing patience in his playing where he just sits there and he listens to what's going on around him until he'll just find the perfect sound and just slam it down on the piano. His sense of melody and harmony are just so unique. But for me it's the spirit of how he plays. I don't know how he does it, but he almost has this, even though he's an undeniable genius, he almost has this childlike quality when he plays, something that almost sounds like a child discovering sounds for the first time.”

Read more: Adrean Farrugia accepts the challenge and excitement of reinterpreting Monk


Michel Delage tries new combinations in his Brookstreet tribute series

Ottawa drummer Michel Delage has found a way of playing his favourite jazz composers' music with some of his favourite jazz musicians.

This weekend will be the second in his series of tribute concerts at the Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge. Last month, Delage's group honoured Wayne Shorter; this month, it's Thelonious Monk; in late May it will be Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Performances will be on the last Friday and Saturday of each month.

Michel Delage at Stella Luna ©Brett Delmage, 2013Each month features a different band (except for Delage), with guest musicians from out of town. The March show was supposed to feature saxophonist Petr Cancura, who had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict and was replaced by Vince Rimbach; this weekend's show features pianist Adrean Farrugia from Hamilton.

Read the interview with Farrugia and Delage about this weekend's tribute to Thelonious Monk.

The Ellington/Strayhorn tribute in May will feature the husband and wife duo of pianist Nancy Walker and bassist Kieran Overs from Toronto, plus Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias.

Delage is really looking forward to that combination.

“Nancy has been one of my main inspirations as far as listening to jazz, because when I was in high school and after high school attending the jazz festival, I would go to the jazz jams pretty religiously and watch that [house] band play. I always loved Nancy's playing and her compositions. So I'm extremely excited to have her on board – and extremely nervous too, to play with such an accomplished musician!”

Walker and Overs were last here for the 2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, in a well-received concert playing selections from her most recent album, ‘Til Now Is Secret.

Delage said he wanted to bring in out-of-town musicians to “do a bit more of a collaboration – just to be able to play with more people and for other Ottawa musicians to play with people from out of town. And also to hopefully get some more audience out, because you know how hard it is for local Ottawa musicians to get audiences out to their shows sometimes. I think by doing this I might have a little bit more of a chance of bringing people out.”

The Wayne Shorter tribute in late March went well, he said, particularly the Saturday night when it appeared many audience members came out specifically to hear the music. “There were at least maybe 25-30 people who were all sitting and listening and clapping after solos and responding to everything. In between tunes, we'd always inform them what tune we were playing, and what the album it was off of, and stuff like that.”

Read more: Michel Delage tries new combinations in his Brookstreet tribute series


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