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NAC Presents mixes jazz with folk and pop in its 2015-16 season

Guitarist Roddy Ellias will join multi-instrumentalist Petr Cancura, with John Geggie, Greg Ritchie, and a featured folk musician in three 'Crossroads' concerts at the National Arts Centre this season ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Would you like some folk with your jazz? Or some pop? Or some cabaret? That's primarily what the National Arts Centre will be offering to jazz fans in the fifth season of NAC Presents.

While there will be some straight jazz concerts – in particular, iconic pianist Oliver Jones – almost all the series' jazz-related shows feature artists who straddle genre boundaries, including Laila Biali, Michael Kaeshammer, Jayme Stone, and Patricia O’Callaghan.

Most notably, Ottawa jazz multi-instrumentalist Petr Cancura will curate a three-show mini-series featuring a solid jazz quartet playing with three different high profile, local folk artists – Ian Tamblyn, Lynn Miles, and Jeremy Fisher.

NAC Presents has always been predominantly an indie-pop/singer-songwriter series, but each season has included a small number of mainstream jazz artists. This year, those are:

  • Juno award-winning vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow (December 18), who will sing festive tunes with a jazz twist in a Holiday Sparkle show with the NAC Orchestra.
  • Montreal pianist Oliver Jones (May 19, 2016), whose performances of jazz standards are a perennial Ottawa favourites. His 2014 show with his trio in the 300-seat NAC Studio was sold out; this season, he moves to the 900-seat NAC Theatre.
  • Up-and-coming Montreal jazz pianist Guillaume Martineau (October 24), who originally studied classical music, but was inspired to move to jazz by meeting Oliver Jones. This year's Radio-Canada “Révélation” jazz artist, Martineau released his first album, Par 5 Chemins, last fall with his quintet; it combines classical, jazz, and free improv.

Other jazz artists in the upcoming season use current pop, R&B, and classical music as an inspiration for their jazz:

Pianist and vocalist Laila Biali plays jazz-influenced pop music in her Radiance Project, as well as straight jazz. (photo by Shervin Lainez)

Pianist and vocalist Laila Biali (February 27, 2016) sold out GigSpace this spring on the release tour for her latest CD, House of Many Rooms. This “Radiance Project” CD saw her venturing into a more pop-oriented sound rather than her previous straight jazz standards. Starting with pop, rock, classical, world and soul numbers, she then used her expertise in jazz arranging to rework the music.

Pianist and vocalist Michael Kaeshammer (April 23, 2016) began with standards, Joplin-style rags, and boogie-woogie, all performed in his fiery style, but his later albums have had more of a pop tinge. His last CD, With You In Mind [2013], was a tribute to New Orleans R&B master Allen Toussaint, one of his musical influences as a kid growing up in Germany.

Vocalist Patricia O’Callaghan (December 21) will present a Christmas concert. A specialist in cabaret and in presenting the works of Kurt Weill, her most recent solo record was a tribute to Leonard Cohen, backed by Toronto jazz musicians who included Andrew Downing, Dave Restivo, and Sienna Dahlen. In 2011, she released Broken Hearts and Madmen, a collaboration with chamber music's The Gryphon Trio, which blended classical music with traditional songs from Latin America and pop songs from around the world. 

The Sultans of String (May 13, 2016), who were nominated for a Juno for Best Instrumental album in 2015, unite Cuban rhythms and French Manouche with Spanish Flamenco and Arabic folk, in a violin/guitar/bass/percussion combo.

Jayme Stone with Joe Phillips and Andrew Downing ©Brett Delmage, 2013Banjo virtuoso Jayme Stone (March 16, 2016), who has released jazz-oriented instrumental albums backed by instrumentalists including Downing, Nick Fraser, and Rob Mosher, will present his Lomax Project. The CD reimagines traditional music, focusing on songs collected by folklorist and field recording pioneer Alan Lomax. 

Vocalist and guitarist Alex Cuba (March 5, 2016) is a Latin Grammy and Juno winner. His music reflects his Cuban heritage and features “sugarcane-sweet melodies, pop-soul hooks and powerful guitar riffs”. His latest album is Healer – all originals, some in English and some in Spanish, and several written in collaboration with Canadian pop songwriters like David Myles and Ron Sexsmith.

The songs of Amanda Martinez (May 26, 2016) combine her family influences from Mexico and South Africa with Latin soul and folklore. Her most recent album, Mañana [2013], showcased upbeat Latin tunes, mostly in Spanish. Her two previous solo albums were nominated for Latin Jazz Artist of the Year at Canada’s National Jazz Awards. She also launched JAZZ-FM91's Latin Jazz program.

Sarah Neufeld (date to be confirmed) is a Montreal violinist and composer. A member of the indie group Arcade Fire, she is also a long-time improviser on and composer for solo violin, influenced by Steve Reich and Iva Bittova. She's in a duo with saxophone improviser Colin Stetson, and a founding member of the contemporary instrumental ensemble Bell Orchestre. Her debut solo album, Hero Brother [2013] was recorded in Berlin, with Neufeld's performances on violin and occasional wordless vocals captured in a number of locations with site-specific acoustics, including an abandoned geodesic dome. Her upcoming album, due in late 2015, will move into “rhythmic pop minimalism”. 

Re-imagining Ottawa-area folk music with jazz

Petr Cancura will curate a three-concert Crossroads series combining the music of Ottawa-Gatineau folk artists with jazz – as part of his reintroduction to Ottawa. Cancura moved back to Ottawa from Brooklyn mid-summer. Although he has been the programming manager for the Ottawa Jazz Festival since 2011, he had been commuting to that job from NYC.

Performing in this mini-series will be a jazz quartet led by Cancura on saxophone, clarinet, and mandolin, and including Ottawa jazz mainstays Roddy Ellias on guitar and John Geggie on double bass, and Montrealer Greg Ritchie on drums (Ritchie also recently returned to Canada from NYC).

The NAC has recognized Oliver Jones' popularity by presenting him in the NAC Theatre next May.

Each concert will be dedicated to the music of a different and well-known Ottawa-Gatineau folk artist: Ian Tamblyn (November 20), Lynn Miles (February 4), and Jeremy Fisher (April 7). Tamblyn and Miles in particular have had long and illustrious careers in the Canadian folk scene. Miles and Fisher are singer-songwriters, while Tamblyn's music has also extended into instrumentals on instruments like the hammered dulcimer and synthesizer and including on-location field recordings.

According to the NAC, Cancura will be sitting down with each artist, and working with them to adapt their music in a jazz-influenced approach – which could include a complete rearrangement of a song, or a fusion of folk and jazz styles. Then each folk artist will perform with the jazz quartet at the concert.

The series will be co-sponsored by the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and the Lynn Miles concert will also be part of the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival.

A lower profile for jazz?

There are more jazz-related shows in the 2015-16 NAC Presents series (14 of 46) than in the eight in both of the previous two years. However, there are fewer straight jazz artists, and almost all are lower-profile than previous artists, who included Juno award winners and nominees Diana Krall, Molly Johnson, Kellylee Evans, Holly Cole, Phil Nimmons, David Braid, and Marianne Trudel.

Several are returning from previous seasons, including Laila Biali, Oliver Jones, Alex Cuba, Emilie-Claire Barlow, and Michael Kaeshammer.

And, for the first time since 2001, Ottawa double bassist John Geggie will not be presenting a Geggie Invitational concert as part of NAC Presents this season.

The NAC said that more concerts may be added to the season as artists become available, particularly in 2016. Tickets are available now to NAC subscribers, and will be on sale to all as of September 8.

    – Alayne McGregor

NAC Presents 2015-16 jazz and jazz-crossover concerts

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