Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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ZenKitchen doubles its jazz, with musicians rarely heard in Ottawa

Wednesday evenings have just become much more special for Ottawa jazz fans. Starting September 24, ZenKitchen is introducing a high-profile series of jazz shows, featuring many musicians rarely heard in Ottawa.

Roddy Ellias (l) and Tim Bedner (r) anchor ZenKitchen's two nights of jazz each week this fall. ©2014 Brett Delmage

Curated by guitarist Roddy Ellias, the series will run weekly at the Centretown gourmet vegan restaurant. It will bring in well-known jazz artists from Montreal and Toronto, including Joel Miller, Dave Young, Lorne Lofsky, Bernie Senensky, Jeri Brown, and Mike Rud, as well as high-profile Ottawa-based musicians like Diane White and John Geggie – and Ellias.

The list includes several Juno Award winners, and musicians who have played with Canadian jazz icons like Oscar Peterson, Rob McConnell, and Moe Koffman.

Although food and drink will be served, “The focus will be on listening”, Ellias said.

ZenKitchen co-founder Dave Loan said that this series will be building on the success of the Sunday jazz programming which the restaurant has been running for the past two years – but with a slightly different concept.

Read more: ZenKitchen doubles its jazz, with musicians rarely heard in Ottawa


Guelph Jazz Festival helps kids find their voices through technology

View photos of the performance

The gamut of music-making technology – from simple tin can shakers to advanced tangible electronic surfaces – contributed to the upbeat sound of the annual KidsAbility Youth Orchestra concert at the 2014 Guelph Jazz Festival.

At the KidsAbility Youth Orchestra concert at the 2014 Guelph Jazz Festival, musicians created music with AUMI software. ©2014 Brett Delmage

The result was lots of smiles and action – for both the participants and the children and adults in the audience – at the show at Guelph City Hall.

Each year, the Guelph Jazz Festival commissions a musician to work with young musicians with disabilities to help them learn more about music and tools they can use to express themselves musically. This year, Ottawa percussionist Jesse Stewart (who recently worked with disabled adults at H'Art of Ottawa) came to a local day camp run by Playsense to work with nine youth, for an hour daily over one week in late August. Most of the young musicians he worked with were able to participate in the Youth Orchestra concert which opened the jazz festival's series of free Saturday concerts.

At the concert, Stewart mentioned that this work exploring possible future sounds tied into the festival's theme of “Sounding Futures”.

The tools Stewart taught the students began with rattles, squeakers, and other simple percussion instruments. But they also included the AUMI (Adaptive Use Musical Instrument) software and the Reactable.

Read more: Guelph Jazz Festival helps kids find their voices through technology


Guelph Jazzfest celebrates Sun Ra, features Vijay Iyer and Randy Weston for its 21st year

We are reporting from one of our favourite festivals, the Guelph Jazz Festival and Colloquium, this week.

For its coming of age this week, the Guelph Jazz Festival is bringing in well-known performers from around the world – and as far out as Saturn.

Vijay Iyer will perform with his trio at the 2014 Guelph JazzFestival. © Brett DelmageThe festival, which runs from Wednesday to Sunday (September 3-7), is turning 21. To celebrate, it's shaken up its 2014 lineup with performers who are returning after long absences, including pianists Randy Weston, Vijay Iyer, and D.D. Jackson. But its biggest musical focus will be on Sun Ra, the late composer and bandleader, to celebrate the centennial of his arrival on Earth.

Sun Ra famously claimed he came from Saturn, and his cosmic music and other-worldly costuming was one of a kind. His Arkestra, now led by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, will perform “Hymn to the Universe” on Saturday evening (September 6), in a collaboration with Quebec dance company Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie.

But there's more. For those interested in Sun Ra's life and work, the festival is offering a whole series of free talks and panels exploring his legacy, including a keynote address entitled “Sun Ra on Earth” by Columbia University professor and Sun Ra biographer John Szwed, and “Black Utopia LP” by American filmmaker and visual artist Cauleen Smith, who has intensely researched Sun Ra's work and influence. Four other researchers will discuss his Afrofuturist philosophy, which “fuses Egyptian iconography with the sounds, texts, and imagery of space travel and technology”; three will examine his myth-making and spirituality; and another will look as Sun Ra as a jester.

Read more: Guelph Jazzfest celebrates Sun Ra, features Vijay Iyer and Randy Weston for its 21st year


Jane Bunnett and Maqueque bring Cuban passion to Ottawa

Jane Bunnett and Daymé Arceno ©Brett Delmage, 2014View photos of the group's first GigSpace performance

The bright sounds and beats of summer heated up GigSpace Thursday night, as Jane Bunnett and her new AfroCuban band, Maqueque, played their first two of four Ottawa shows. They return for 7 and 9 p.m. shows tonight.

The Toronto saxophonist/flutist has teamed up with five young women musicians from Cuba for this new band. Their music combines AfroCuban rhythms with four soaring voices, for a dynamic and melodic show.

Bunnett and vocalist Daymé Arceno each contributed several songs for the shows. They even included a soulful version of Bill Withers' “Ain't no sunshine when she's gone”, reimagined with a Latin beat, for this performance. Bunnett told the audience that she heard the tune on Holger Petersen's blues show on CBC as she was preparing to record the group's album, and realized how perfectly it would fit the group.

Each song gave lots of room for all the musicians: Yissy García with impressively intense and exact drumming, Yusa providing melodic bass solos that crossed into guitar territory, Danae playing rippling and beautiful piano solos, Magdelys switching effortlessly among the percussion instruments surrounding her to give the music its AfroCuban edge, Daymé's show-stopping vocals bouncing the energy level of the room up by several notches, and Bunnett's soprano sax and flute adding both sweetness and sharpness to the music.

Read more: Jane Bunnett and Maqueque bring Cuban passion to Ottawa


Jane Bunnett spotlights the spirit & energy of female Cuban musicians in Maqueque

The jazz face which Cuba has shown to the outside world has been primarily male. But Jane Bunnett is working to change that with her new group, Maqueque.

Jane Bunnett and Maqueue's first CDThe Toronto jazz flutist/saxophonist is famed for her decades-long championing of Cuban music, and for being a mentor to many well-known Cuban jazz musicians who have come north to learn and to perform. But until now, those Cubans she mentored in Canada were all male.

This new group, though, consists of five young women musicians from Cuba, plus Bunnett – the first all-female group she's led. They've just released their first CD and are currently touring across Canada.

They will perform in Ottawa on Thursday and Friday at GigSpace.

The band's name, “Maqueque”, means “the spirit or the energy of a little girl,” Bunnett said. “We went to the lead vocalist – well I can't really say she's the lead but she's the foundation of how the whole group started – Daymé went to her grandmother who's very steeped in the Afro-Cuban religion and asked her for a good name for the group when we formed. And she came up with about five different names and that was the one that I really liked. I liked the sound of it and then I liked the idea of the feisty young little girl. I picture how I was as a child – I was feisty!”

The Cuban musicians are young: with one exception, they're in their very early 20s. All graduates of Cuban music conservatories, they come from several different Cuban provinces, including Santiago de Cuba and Havana, each of which has a different musical tradition and vibe. They play a wide range of instruments: drums (Yissy García), percussion (Daymé Arceno), tres guitar and fretless bass (Yusa), piano (Danae), and batás and congas (Magdelys).

And four of the five are also strong vocalists. “They all could stand up on a stage and sing as lead singers. They're all very, very strong voices. So when they pool their voices together, it gives a very dynamic sound that happens within the band. It's very different.”

That makes the band's sound distinctive, she said: tight vocal harmonies within a Cuban jazz perspective.

Bunnett said she was excited about the group both because of its musical potential, and because of the message it sent of possibilities for young female musicians.

Read more: Jane Bunnett spotlights the spirit & energy of female Cuban musicians in Maqueque


The Patrick Smith Trio recreates history (video)

Jazz musicians often refer to favourite albums, or quote tiny passages. But most don't get so far into their favourites that they try to play the entire album as is.

Saxophonist Patrick Smith initially didn't like what turned out to be his favourite album. But as he kept listening to it, he realized what a great ensemble record this 1960s classic really was. And that inspired him to persuade two other local young jazz musicians to join him in paying the most sincere compliment they could to that record and to those late musicians: to play the album in public from front to back, paying tribute without copying.

On Friday, June 13, the trio, with Ben Heard on double bass and Keagan Eskritt on drums, did exactly that for patrons of Gaia Java, a small coffeehouse in Stittsville which often offers jazz on Friday nights. They received a warm response.

In our video of that concert, you can hear the trio playing and listen to them explain what they learned from the experience. And you can learn the name of the album, too!

And you can hear all three musicians live on Friday, July 4, at Pressed – but in different combinations, and playing their own original music.

Watch the video


Kellylee Evans celebrates Canada Day with 2 free concerts with the NAC Orchestra

Kellylee Evans is used to having quiet Canada Days with her family. This year, she'll be on the main stage of the National Arts Centre, with almost 400 other musicians around her.

Kellylee Evans rehearses with the NAC Orchestra and Unisong ChoirThe Ottawa-based jazz vocalist will be the headliner with the NAC Orchestra for its annual Canada Day concerts, playing in the air-conditioned 2,323-seat Southam Hall. Both concerts, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. are free.

When she talked with OttawaJazzScene.ca, she was bubbling with excitement, because this was her very first official Canada Day gig. “I'd got used to not doing anything on Canada Day. I've lived here for so long, and I don't think I'm on the National Capital's radar.”

“I never knew the NAC did anything [on July 1]. So when they wrote me I was shocked ... and happy. What an honour! And it was absolute like yes, right away.”

Besides the 50-odd orchestra musicians, Evans will also be joined by her jazz trio – and the Unisong Choir, composed of 72 local and over 250 visiting choristers from across the country. “It's a really tight space.”

Evans' share of the program will be four songs, each of which has been rearranged for the orchestra. She will perform “Free”, a song she wrote in honour of Nelson Mandela, with the Unisong Choir. She said she picked that song and “Feeling Good”, from her Juno-winning album, Nina, because both are “message songs, songs that I felt would be really great for Canada Day.”

The remaining two are from her most recent album, I Remember When: the title track and “My Name is”. That song was inspired by two Eminem songs, “so the NAC Orchestra is going to be playing music inspired by Eminem – I'm sure that's a first!”

Read more and watch the video


Kirk MacDonald explores symmetry in music

The title of Kirk MacDonald's new album is Symmetry, and listening to it you can hear all the connotations of that word: poise, proportion, and beauty.

“The underlying goal of all of that really is to compositionally find balance. Balance the elements so that we're seeing all sides ... two sides of the coin, or ying and yang,” MacDonald told OttawaJazzScene.ca.

Kirk MacDonald: symmetry in melody, rhythms, harmony.  ©Brett Delmage, 2013Ottawa audiences can hear this new music for the first time on Wednesday, June 25, as MacDonald's quartet performs in Confederation Park for the Ottawa Jazz Festival. The group will also play at the Rex as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival on June 26.

After several big band albums, the Juno-Award-winning saxophonist moved back to a smaller group for this album. It's his first quintet CD in almost 25 years. He teamed up with three musicians with whom he's played for many years: pianist Brian Dickinson and bassist Neil Swainson, both from Toronto, and American drummer Dennis Mackrel.

They'll be playing with MacDonald in Ottawa and Toronto next week. But the CD is augmented by another voice: renowned American trumpeter Tom Harrell.

Harrell was one of the first musicians MacDonald considered when planning the CD in early 2013. “I first heard him in the late 70s. I was just knocked out with his playing and I'm a huge fan of his writing.”

They had met again in 2012 when Harrell came to Humber College to do a clinic with his group, “and we talked a bit and I gave him a few recordings to listen to, and I thought, 'OK, that'll be the end of it'. [laughs] And he got back in touch and said 'Listen, I really love your recordings and your writing and your playing and it would be nice to ...' Basically he just reached out and said thank you for the music, [he] really enjoyed it.”

That inspired MacDonald to develop a project which could combine both their musical voices.

Read more: Kirk MacDonald explores symmetry in music


Jazz Festival jams at new Albion Rooms treat listeners to fine musical moments

2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 2: Festival jam session
The Albion Rooms, Novotel Hotel
Saturday, June 21, 2014 – 10:30 p.m. to almost 2 a.m.

I heard almost all of the late-night jam session Saturday night, and was treated to some fine musical moments with local and visiting musicians, including pianist Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus, guitarist Alex Goodman and his trio, alto saxophonist Matt Woroshyl, trumpeter Itamar Borochov, and tenor saxophonist Jonathan Greenstein.

The jams are happening in The Albion Rooms, a restaurant in a walled-off section of the lobby of the Novotel Hotel (on Nicholas Street, just south of Rideau Street and north of Arts Court). The Albion Rooms are also the late-night dining spot for the Fringe Festival; however, there seemed to be little conflict between the two roles, with almost everyone in the main room aware of the music and mostly listening.

Read more: Jazz Festival jams at new Albion Rooms treat listeners to fine musical moments


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