Tuesday, May 23, 2017
   
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Joel Miller Trio: quiet audiences make acoustic jazz come alive

Joel Miller's show in Ottawa tonight will have an extra advantage – quiet.

Joel Miller ©Brett Delmage, 2013The Montreal saxophonist and his trio will be performing selections from his Juno-Award-winning album, Swim, plus new material, at ZenKitchen. And he's looking forward to an audience which will be listening, not talking.

For its Wednesday Jazz nights, ZenKitchen has a listening-first policy, discouraging talking during sets. “That's fantastic!” Miller says. “Obviously that helps immensely with everything that we're doing. Especially if people are captivated and people are focused, then it just makes it come alive so much more. It's something we really look forward to, and we're always trying to make that happen. It's such a big difference for us.”

It's particularly important for the acoustic jazz that the trio will be playing, in an intimate space like ZenKitchen. And it helps listeners, too: “Ultimately it will be a happier thing all around.”

With Miller will be bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Greg Ritchie, who played with him on Swim [Origin, 2012]. The pieces on that album are melodic modern jazz, with Miller's rich tenor twining through and around Hollins' lyrical bass and Ritchie's cymbal-rich and multi-layered drumming – and Geoffrey Keezer's intricate piano. Ottawa audiences had a chance to hear that grouping in an outdoor show at the 2012 Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Playing those pieces without piano, as they will tonight, “opens things up a bit”, Miller said. “For example, with the drummer, Greg, it gives him more space to fill in.”

He expected this gig would be “carrying on from where we left off”, after a three-day stint at the Jazz Bistro in Toronto in mid-July, at the end of a cross-Canada tour with pianist Gary Versace. That tour also featured new compositions, in the same overall style as Swim. Miller said the trio would also play some of those tonight.

He'll also be including them on his next album, which he's planning to record in December. It will be a return to a large ensemble format with as many as nine musicians, after two albums with smaller groups.

Ottawa audiences last heard Miller in the 2014 Geggie Invitational concert at the NAC in April. A big hit at that concert was Miller's composition, “Salsa Coltrane”, from his latest album, Honeycomb, which mixed a robust tenor line with Latin percussion. When asked if he would include it tonight, Miller said it was “definitely always one I like to play. So yes, put that in there!”

The day after his Ottawa show, Miller will be playing Honeycomb's music again – this time in every borough in Montreal. The band won the city's Prix Accès Culture 2014, which gives them a tour of all the cultural halls in that city, giving a free concert in each throughout October.

    – Alayne McGregor

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