Updated March 6, 2016
Read about the current jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau (April, 2016)
Ottawa's avant-garde jazz fans can rejoice in March, with some impressive shows – but there's plenty for mainstream jazz fans as well.
If you're into more freely improvised side of jazz, you'll be interested in concerts by Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot, the Sonoluminescence Trio (William Parker, David Mott, Jesse Stewart), and Sam Shalabi and Stefan Christoff, plus a duo show between locals Jesse Stewart and James McGowan.
For those who prefer the mainstream, there's the Ottawa-Toronto-NYC quartet Way North, Italian jazz musicians Massimo Farao and Fulvio Albano, the trio of Montreal bassist Olivier Babaz, Misc (aka Trio Jerome Beaulieu), and the swinging Boilermaker Jazz Band.
Perennial local favourites the Jivewires, the Nicole Ratté Trio, Florquestra, the Souljazz Orchestra, and Megan Jerome and the Together Ensemble all have shows this month. Ottawa jazz eminence grise Rob Frayne returns with a new project, his "Drumswamp", with percussionists Liz Hanson and Alvaro de Minaya.
These March jazz highlights are brought to you by James Curtiss, François Dumaine, Chris Fleming, Michaël Gazier, and Karen Oxorn. We greatly appreciate their support!
Quebec jazz singer Betty Bonifassi closes out the month with a concert based on slave songs from the beginning of the 20th century.
After the abundance of shows on the last weekend of February, March begins more quietly.
On Wednesday, March 2, Café Nostalgica returns to its University of Ottawa roots, when the university's jazz septet plays there for the café's jazz evening. In downtown Gatineau, Django Libre will evoke the ghost of Django Reinhardt in an evening of jazz manouche at Le Petit Chicago.
On Thursday, March 3, Ottawa multi-instrumentalist Petr Cancura – a very busy musician lately – teams up with Toronto natives Michael Herring (bass) and Rebecca Hennessy (trumpet), and Brooklyn drummer Richie Barshay for a show at the Mercury Lounge. Cancura is well-known for using jazz and improvisation as a means of exploring folk and world music – and he's found three other musicians with that same interest.
They've created a group called Way North, and last year released their first CD, Kings County, whose influences include “blues, old-time, Balkan, Brazilian, and Calypso”. In January, Way North performed and taught at Danilo Perez’s Panama Jazz Festival, and performed in the Mamoni Reserve in the Panamanian jungle as part of a “Geoversity” campaign.
That same evening, the National Arts Centre is holding its annual general meeting, and inviting the public to hear the latest updates on its major reconstruction. Expect lots of pretty drawings, but you'll also have a chance to ask your questions about how NAC-located performances will be affected, and what alternatives to the Fourth Stage will be available. If you can't attend in person, you can also watch the 90-minute event at nac-cna.ca/live .
The Jivewires play jumpin' jive music with a satiric edge, guaranteed to warm up your heart and get your feet dancing. They'll perform original songs from their 2015 album, Drive Me Sane, plus older favourites inspired by jump blues and swing, at Live! on Elgin on Friday, March 4.
Still chilled? On Saturday, March 5, singer Nicole Ratté brings the “Colours Of Brazil” to GigSpace, playing Brazilian melodies, exciting samba rhythms, French bossa novas, and funky Latin grooves with frequent musical partners Tim Bedner on guitar and Normand Glaude on bass. Or you can check out Cuban-Canadian songwriter and guitarist Alex Cuba at the NAC Studio, playing music from his most recent and Juno-nominated album, Healer.
The following weekend (March 11-13) is the biggest swing dance event of the year, the O-Town Showdown. The dancers have again brought in the Boilermaker Jazz Band from Philadelphia to play at their dances, at St-Joseph's Parish in Sandy Hill on Friday and at the Glebe Community Centre on Saturday. The Boilermakers have been serving up swinging renditions of jazz classics and rarities in a hot jazz style for more than 25 years.
Pianist James McGowan and drummer Jesse Stewart are both music professors at Carleton University, but they bring different backgrounds to their joint love of improvisation. McGowan is more from a classical and choral tradition (with a side of jazz fusion), while Stewart comes from mainstream jazz,free improv, and found sound. But both like bridging musical gaps: McGowan specializes in “cross-genre improvisation”, while Stewart is “dedicated to reimagining the spaces between artistic and academic disciplines”. They've played together occasionally at Carleton, most recently in late January.
On Friday, March 11, they'll play a duo concert at GigSpace which Stewart said will be primarily improvised, but might also draw from McGowan's extensive experience with classical piano repertoire. Expect melody, rhythm, and lots of surprises – maybe even a musical instrument you'd never heard before.
Also on March 11, Le Hibou in Wakefield, Quebec, will be transformed into a cabaret straight out of Old Havana for one night only. Fortified by Cuban food and cocktails, listeners will hear the Havana Night Club Band: musicians well-known in the local Latin jazz community, including Marc Decho on bass, César Ricardo on guitar, Izzy Martinez on très, and Angel Araos on percussion. They'll play Cuban son, cha-cha-cha, guaracha, and salsa, accompanying dancer Lori Hollister. Advance tickets are available at the café.
On the same evening, Ottawa vocalist Megan Jerome brings her Together Ensemble to Irene's. Her original cabaret-style songs will be richly enveloped in Don Cummings' Hammond organ grooves, Fred Guignon's inflected guitar, and Mike Essoudry's ever-varied drumming. The ensemble released its first album together (and Jerome's fifth) last May.
On Saturday, March 12, Toronto trumpeter Lina Allemano will appear with Titanium Riot, her electric-acoustic avant-garde quartet, at Black Squirrel Books for a rare Saturday IMOO show. Together with Nick Fraser on drums, Rob Clutton on bass and Ryan Driver on synth, the group “creates episodic soundscapes and electrically-charged improvisational adventures that unfold with an inviting and organic ebb and flow.” It's described as “uncompromisingly explorative” by Europe’s experimental music journal Tokafi.
In Buckingham, Quebec, Florquestra will combine authentic and lively Brazilian rhythms (samba, forro, axé, and more) with the romantic music and poetic style of Georges Brassens in a show at Café des Artistes de la Lièvre on March 12.
Also that evening, at St. Stephen's Anglican Church in Ottawa west, Hungarian jazz pianist and composer Roland Racz will perform a jazz concert along with guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist JP Lapensée, and drummer Mike Essoudry. They will play mostly well-known fusion and jazz-rock compositions by Herbie Hancock, Jaco Pastorius, and other jazz giants. Racz expects this will be “an exciting and interesting international 'jazz meeting' “.
On Thursday, March 17, two Montreal musicians – Sam Shalabi on oud and Stefan Christoff on piano – will debut their new CD, Flying Street, a duet album of piano and oud improvisations. The CD “extends an ongoing musical conversation between Shalabi and Christoff that previously expressed itself on 'родина'. Inherent to these recordings is an urgency to always question both musically and politically, the tones expand on a dialogue between the musicians about their experiences working within grassroots arts and activist worlds that are inherently connected to growing movements to overturn injustice.” Ottawa improviser Mark Molnar will also perform an entirely acoustic set of solo cello music for this show, at the Gallery Recording Studio (Ecclesiax Church) in the Glebe.
The following day, Friday, March 18, you can hear renowned American bassist and composer William Parker twice in concert. In the afternoon, he'll give a free masterclass at Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University, performing with percussionist Jesse Stewart and saxophonist Petr Cancura.
In the evening, he'll appear in the Sonoluminescence Trio (Parker, Stewart, and baritone saxophonist David Mott for their third annual improvised shows at GigSpace. This year, they have a special guest, NYC painter Jeff Schlanger. Schlanger is a “musicWitness”; he sets up his easel and paints near the stage at each show he documents. He creates works of art, inspired by the music, while the musicians perform – finishing the painting or paintings as they finish the show. The trio put a Schlanger painting of their first performance on the cover of their CD.
On Saturday, March 19, JazzWorks presents “A Taste of Torino” at Tudor Hall in south Ottawa (near Uplands and Riverside). The show features two renowned Italian jazz musicians, pianist Massimo Farao and saxophonist Fulvio Albano, together with three Toronto musicians frequently heard in Ottawa: vocalist Julie Michels, bassist Kieran Overs, and drummer Nick Fraser.
Farao has recorded more than 200 CDs and founded the 'We Love Jazz' workshop, a major European Jazz education event, while Albano has performed with many well-known American jazz artists, and is founder of the Torino Jazz Festival and the Torino Jazz Club. Michels played with Farao at that club during the 2014 Torino Jazz Festival.
Farao and Albano will also offer a masterclass that afternoon at Tudor Hall: advance registration required through JazzWorks.
The Quebec jazz group Trio Jérôme Beaulieu has just renamed itself to Misc, in time for the release tour for its third album (also called Misc) this month. On Thursday, March 24, Misc will appear with Montreal jazz vocalist Emma Frank at Jean-Despréz Hall in downtown Gatineau. The trio received a rave response in its previous three appearances here, at the NAC, at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and at the 2015 Festival de Jazz Desjardins – performing melodic and approachable jazz with unexpected textures and ideas.
Also on March 24, the Souljazz Orchestra will bring its Easter Weekend Shakedown to its favourite haunt at the Babylon Nightclub, with an easter egg hunt included! Expect new tunes, in a night of “super-super-heavy Soul, Funk, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Disco, Boogie, Afro, Latin & Caribbean badness”.
Over the Easter weekend (March 25-26), you can hear Montreal bassist and composer Olivier Babaz and his trio at the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata. This month, Babaz launches his fourth album, Odd Light, featuring Montrea jazz artists François Jalbert on guitar, and Mark Nelson on drums. The pieces on the album “find their way between modern jazz and acoustic rock”, as well as incorporating rhythms from Reunion Island, a tiny French principality in the Indian Ocean off Madagascar where Babaz lived for many years.
On Saturday, March 26, Ottawa veteran saxophonist and composer Rob Frayne brings a new project to GigSpace. His Drumswamp will feature Frayne on sax, Adam Daudrich on piano, Martin Newman on bass, and two percussionists: Alvaro de Minaya who has played in many local Latin and mainstream jazz shows, and Liz Hanson, who is "new to Ottawa via Japan, Brasil, and Brooklyn". Frayne describes the group's music as "all good clean drum fun", and "a chance to bask in the joy of grooves, drums and rhythm-music".
, with an all-star lineup: vocalist Martine Courage, guitarist Roddy Ellias, drummer Mike Essoudry, and bassist Martin Newman. But the front line of this band is not what you might expect: Courage will be singing wordlessly, using her voice as a trumpet and soloing over changes. “In the spirit of a big melody with a swinging rhythm section”, the quintet will play Frayne’s compositions, including several new ones (an Easter song), and some standards.
Also that evening there's a vocal jazz doubleheader at Pressed Café, with the a cappella jazz vocal quartet Cuppa Joe, and vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton with guitarist Pierre Monfils. This event sold out months ago, so unless there's some cancellations, you won't get in.
Ending the month (Thursday, March 31), you can hear Montreal vocalist Betty Bonifassi present “Chants d'esclaves, chants d'espoir” at Jean-Despréz Hall in downtown Gatineau. Bonifassi is renowned for her jazz vocals on the soundtrack for The Triplets of Belleville, but this music is from her first, self-titled album, a contemporary interpretation of slave songs from the beginning of the twentieth century.
By the end of March, it's almost the end of the university year, and music students will be showing off what they've learned. At Café Nostalgica on Wednesday, March 9 and 23, the “Feelin' Nostalgic” jazz sextet, composed of Carleton University students, will perform at the café, with featured vocalist Hans Vivian-Wenzel. On Friday, March 11, vocalist Mackenzie di Millo, who has frequently sung with the Carleton University Jazz Ensemble, and with local jazz musicians like Steve Boudreau and The Chocolate Hot Pockets, will present her graduation recital at the university's Kailash Mital Theatre, backed by a jazz ensemble.
On Wednesday, March 30, the University of Ottawa Jazz Ensemble led by pianist Yves Laroche will perform a free noon-hour concert in Freiman Hall in the university's Perez Hall. At Carleton University on Thursday, March 31, the university's West African Rhythm Ensemble and the Jazz Fusion Ensembles will perform at Kailash Mital Theatre, The fusion combos, directed by guitarist Wayne Eagles, will perform music by jazz and rock artists including Oz Noy, Return to Forever, Wayne Shorter, Tribal Tech, Frank Zappa, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, CHON, Weather Report, Tony Williams' New Lifetime, Gateway, Funkadelic, and Freddie Hubbard. Other Carleton jazz ensembles will perform in early April.
Jams on most weeknights
March marks the start of the third year for the Tuesday night jam run by the Beeched Wailers, now at the Wellington Eatery in Hintonburg. They're promising “a surprise or two” to commemorate the occasion. Busy that night? On Thursdays, the HML Trio runs the jams at the Options Jazz Lounge at Brookstreet Hotel – which celebrated their third anniversary last month.
At Le Petit Chicago, trumpeter Ed Lister is running Jazz Mondays this month, with three of his groups acting as host bands. On March 7, it's the power trio Thrust; on March 14 and 21, the funk/jazz group Chocolate Hot Pockets; and on March 28, the seven-piece powerhouse band ERU-ERA. There will be jamming in the second set for the first three weeks, but ERU-ERA will play both of its sets. Jazz listeners who like it loud may find their brand of tribal funk and groove appealing.
You can also attend jams at the Georgetown Pub in Ottawa South on Friday, March 4 (run by Jacquie Dixon), and on Friday, March 18 (run by JazzWorks), with host band the Ralph Mercredi Quorum. On Sunday, March 6, local trombonist and pianist Mark Ferguson will run the youth-friendly JazzWorks afternoon jam at Bluesfest House in Westboro.
Irene's Pub in the Glebe regularly programs jazz bands on Sunday evenings, with each band getting a month's residency. In March, you can hear the Sean Duhaime Trio, with guitarist Duhaime and drummer Jansen Richards joined by a rotating series of electric bassists, on March 6, 13, 20, and 27. They will perform Duhaime's jazz/fusion compositions and standards, similar to what they performed last summer at Le Petit Chicago. They'll also be recreating pop songs by Soundgarden, Ray Charles, and Pharrell Williams into jazz pieces, and will feature guest vocalist Kyle William Dunlop on March 27.
Looking forward into April
Early April starts to pick up the jazz pace. On Friday, April 1, Grammy-nominated vocalist Kate McGarry and guitarist Keith Ganz will perform at GigSpace. With an eclectic repertoire ranging from Irving Berlin to The Cars to Joni Mitchell to Bill Evans and Miles Davis, the American jazz duo (who are married to each other) “move freely between jazz, folk, Brazilian and singer songwriter genres”. McGarry has recorded children's songs, paid tribute to visionary jazz women vocalists (in Girl Talk), collaborated with John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble, and most recently released a live duo album with Ganz.
The duo will also offer a vocal masterclass at GigSpace on the morning of April 2.
From April 1 to 5, the ByTowne Cinema screens an interesting new jazz biopic, Born to Be Blue, with Ethan Hawke portraying vocalist Chet Baker's comeback in the late 1960s.
On Saturday, April 2, Canadian jazz vocalist Holly Cole, who has inspired a generation of singers, will bring her sophisticated style to the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans. This will be her first Ottawa performance since 2014.
That same evening, you can hear vocal adventures with Ottawa singers Christine Fagan and Steve Berndt. Singing in the tradition of jazz greats Eddie Jefferson, Lambert Hendricks & Ross, King Pleasure, and Horace Silver, their Vocalese show at the NAC Fourth Stage will incorporate standards with original compositions and arrangements.
Also on April 2, vocalist Grace Hrabi will appear with her Winnipeg-based jazz trio Casati, at a JazzN.ca house concert in Almonte. Hrabi's music mingles jazz, folk and pop styles, sung in a clear, lovely soprano and often including scatting. The trio, which appeared at the 2014 Winnipeg Jazz Festival and played on Hrabi's debut CD, are combining this date with a larger tour.
And if you'd like a larger-scale event, that evening the big band Standing Room Only and the a-cappella harmony group the Capital Chordettes will host a concert and big band dance at Lakeside Gardens in Britannia. The Chordettes will perform two 30-minute sets in concert, and SRO will play 45-minute sets for dancers – with a variety of music from the 1930s to the present.
And much more jazz
And, of course, many local restaurants across the city run jazz shows every week (or more often), with a rotating list of performers. Sign up to our Jazz Scene newsletter to get a full listing of all the jazz and improvised music events within 100km of Parliament Hill in your Inbox every week. You can also check our list of Ottawa-Gatineau-area jazz clubs, and our daily On The Scene listing on our website's front page to learn more about what's going on in jazz locally right now.
– Alayne McGregor
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March 2: Updated the description of the Carleton University Fusion Ensemble concerts.
March 6: The Sean Duhaime Trio will also perform March 20 at Irene's.
March 6: The Rob Frayne show on March 26 has completely changed.