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Merrickville's Jazz Fest Day 1: full houses and happy listeners and dancers

OttawaJazzScene.ca's first day at Merrickville's Jazz Fest ended on a high note. In fact a very high note, part of a rousing trumpet line, It was followed by clapping, cheering, and hooting.

The Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers got the crowd on its feet Friday night at Merrickville's Jazz Fest. ©2014, Brett Delmage

The final act of that Friday, Marc Decho's Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers, had just played a 100-minute, sold-out show celebrating the music of New Orleans. They were an immediate hit: audience members danced to the music and clapped along to the mixture of old-time gospel and blues, all delivered through a jazz and Dixieland lens.

And very powerfully: the front line of Ed Lister on trumpet and Richard Page on clarinet and baritone sax could really punch out the melodies and swing, strongly supported by Lucas Haneman on guitar, Decho on double bass, and Mike Essoudry on drums. Despite it being an all-acoustic set-up, the music was clear and well-balanced and worked well in the Goose and Gridiron Pub with its low ceilings and snug space.

They'd only played a few bars of their first number, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee", before the floor started to shake as both the audience and the band stomped along with the bluesy trumpet and clarinet lines, and the bright accents on mandolin from Haneman.

Highlights of their set included an extended version of "Jesus on the Mainline", which opened with Decho getting the audience to clap in rhythm, and then featured an intense baritone solo from Page, fast trumpet from Lister and syncopated guitar from Haneman, and an echoing drum solo from Essoudry – all adding to energy that got several listeners up dancing. In "St. James Infirmary", Lister deployed his trumpet mutes to good effect, using them to add to the tragic mood and to give a Dixieland sound. In "Basin Street Blues", Lister and Page seemed to be pushing each other to higher and wilder heights, ending up laughing at their own energy.

The most unusual number was "People Get Ready" by 70s soul/R&B/funk icon Curtis Mayfield – I had initially pegged it as a traditional hymn. It featured an evocative trumpet line over inflected mandolin and bass.

What was particularly interesting was how quiet and delicate the band could get as well, particularly in "House of the Rising Sun". Played very softly, it included some beautiful clarinet solos by Page which moved almost into inaudibility and then back again, emphasizing the despair in the tune. The band gave it a very sparse treatment, opening with single double bass notes resonating through the room, and followed by clarinet and light vibrating trumpet and repeated single plucked notes on guitar. The effect was to force the audience to listen very carefully and get even more out of the tune.

What was supposed to be the Stompers' last song evoked a spontaneous and immediate standing ovation; they were brought back for two more pieces, a funky piece by New Orleans drummer Stanton Moore called "Tchfunkta" featuring baritone and trumpet pumping out the groove, followed by the mellower feel of "Caravan" featuring soaring clarinet lines.

The audience, which had been mostly quiet and listening intently throughout, looked happy and energized at the end of the show, and didn't just disappear – many stayed to chat with the band. It was a rousing finish to the first night of the festival.

All photos ©2014 Brett Delmage

At 7 p.m., saxophonist Doug Martin teamed up with pianist Yves Laroche to play both standards and Martin's originals in the Gad's Hill Pub. The pub's stage is in the middle of the room which gave everyone in the almost-full room a good view of the musicians. Almost all the audience appeared to be there to listen, applauding appreciatively after each piece.

Doug Martin attracted careful listeners. ©2014, Brett Delmage

Most of the originals were based on his experiences while travelling through Europe in 2007, which he chronicled in his 2012 CD, Odyssey. They opened with one of Martin's strongest and most memorable pieces, “Kafka Was Here”, with sinuous saxophone melodies over strong piano chords, and continued with several other pieces from the CD.

Martin premiered a piece for this show: "Southern Exposure", a bright Latin number which he said he had written years ago but never played in public. Featuring him on alto, it had a happy dancing vibe. He also played several pieces from an earlier CD, including the bebop-influenced "First Steps" chronicling a baby's efforts to walk, which ended in a vibrating sax note indicating success.

But despite the quality of Martin's own pieces, the most notable numbers in the show for me were the standards, in particular Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk", where Martin and Laroche dialed up the intensity and explored the full possibilities of the rhythms in that piece, and "You Don't Know What Love Is", which they gave a rougher, more out-there – but also exultant – treatment. They were very much in-the-moment, not smooth, throw-away pieces, and received strong applause.


All photos ©2014 Brett Delmage

Lee Anne Frederickson ©2014, Brett Delmage

At 5 p.m., vocalist Lee Anne Frederickson entertained a dinner-hour crowd at the Baldachin Inn. She attracted a full house (about 45 listeners) to hear a set of Great American Songbook standards, with lots of between-song explanations and interesting trivia.

Frederickson only started singing jazz professionally in January, but she was strongly supported by three veterans of the scene – pianist and arranger J.P. Allain, bassist Normand Glaude, and drummer Tom Denison, who provided a richly textured background for Frederickson's vocals and also stepped forward for some fine solos of their own. They quartet has a regular gig every second Friday in Westboro at the Savoy Brasserie.

For this, her first festival gig, Frederickson emphasized composers Johnny Mercer and George Gershwin in her song choices in a set that included both upbeat numbers sung with verve, and intimate ballads. I particularly liked her version of Mercer's "Come Rain or Come Shine" where she lingered over the words, and Gershwin's "They Can't Take that Away from Me", which she delivered with a smile in her voice.

The audience again was respectful and quiet, and strongly applauded the quartet.

OttawaJazzScene.ca could not attend the 3 p.m. show on Friday.

With well-attended concerts and audiences clearly enjoying the music – and an interestingly diverse choice of music – the fourth edition of Merrickville's Jazz Fest is off to a strong start. It continues today and Sunday, with shows in the afternoons and evenings at multiple venues, all generally in the town's downtown and walking distance from each other.

All photos ©2014 Brett Delmage

All photos ©2014 Brett Delmage

    – Alayne McGregor

Read and watch OttawaJazzScene.ca's full coverage of the 2014 Merrickville's Jazz Fest

Full disclosure: Merrickville's Jazz Fest arranged a billet for Alayne McGregor and Brett Delmage to make it possible for us to report more from the festival during the festival.