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More jazz than Jingle Bells in the second week of December

Updated December 12, 2016
No need to feel hemmed in musically in the second week of December! There continues to be lots of jazz choice, with a few Christmas cookies as well.

Bassist Harrison Bankhead plays with David Murray at Mercury Lounge on December 8  ©Brett Delmage, 2013On Thursday, December 8, you have a rare chance to hear three major jazz voices from Chicago in the All Star Ritual Trio at the Mercury Lounge. Saxophonist David Murray was a hit with audiences at the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival with his big band featuring R&B vocalist Macy Gray; he's also a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet and has worked with greats like Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, McCoy Tyner, Max Roach, and Randy Weston.

Percussionist Kahil El’Zabar is an AACM member and the leader of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, which played Ottawa annually for years. He's worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Simon, Nina Simone, Pharoah Sanders, among others. Bassist Harrison Bankhead plays everything from straight-ahead to free jazz; OttawaJazzScene.ca was very impressed with his interpretive ability when we heard him with Nicole Mitchell in 2013. He's played with Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell, Hamiet Bluiett, and many more.

Expect a deep understanding of the jazz tradition – and the ability to turn that tradition on its head. Ottawa saxophonist Petr Cancura's trio will play an opening set.

Also on December 8, you can hear four groups whose music ranges from free jazz to experimental music at Daïmôn in Gatineau. The show is called “Électrons Libres”, and it pairs sound artists and instrumentalists together for improvised sets. The show features Ottawa improvisers Instant Places (Laura Kavanaugh and Ian Birse) playing a short set with saxophonist Linsey Wellman, plus the touring American duo Elka Bong (Al Margolis and Walter Wright). Margolis is an experimental violinist and clarinetist whose works cover both fairly spontaneous studio constructions and more process-oriented composition, while Wright plays drums and electronics and includes electro-acoustic music and videos in his performance. Just don't expect to hear any Art Blakey here...

Ian Birse plays edgy at Daïmôn on December 8 ©Brett Delmage, 2012Daïmôn is an artist space with excellent acoustics. It is a short walk north-westward from Les Terrasses de la Chaudière in Gatineau, on rue Hanson on the west side of the local canal. It's also just southwest of the Montcalm Rapibus station.

Olivier Babaz plays three Ottawa-Gatineau shows (photo by Alain Mercier)This weekend, Montreal double bassist Olivier Babaz returns to Ottawa for three shows. On Friday and Saturday, December 9 and 10, he and his trio (guitarist François Jalbert and drummer Mark Nelson) are at the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata, while on Sunday evening (December 11) they perform at Les Brasseurs du Temps in Gatineau. OttawaJazzScene.ca was impressed with Babaz's  latest album, Odd Light, and how it combines the rhythms he learned on Reunion Island with jazz into a melodic and interesting whole. Babaz is also an adventurous double bassist with a particular fondness for arco bass, and incorporates other instruments like the kalimba (which he mounts on his bass) into his music. Read our interview with Babaz about Odd Light and his approach to music.

It's sometimes very hard to draw the line between jazz and non-jazz, and the performance of composer Elise Letourneau's new cantata, The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus, in Almonte in December 10 is one of those times. While the piece is written in a classical form, Letourneau says she includes both jazz and classical elements in her compositions, and local jazz musicians, including Mark Ferguson and Mike Tremblay, will be performing it.

Also on December 10, the Souljazz Orchestra returns to one of its favourite venues, Le Petit Chicago in Gatineau, for an evening of Funk, Soul, Jazz, Afrobeat, African and Latin styles. The band is currently working on a new album, and it will be interesting to see whether their first concert in Africa itself (Côte d'Ivoire) earlier this year had an impact on their sound.

The local jazz group 45north, led by saxophonist Ralph Hopper, has a busy December lined up. On Sunday, December 11, they perform a free show at the Record Centre. The group, which has two more shows lined up for the following week, plays jazz versions of music written and performed by Canadian artists in the last 50 years. You may recognize tunes by The Powder Blues Band to Joni Mitchell; from Lighthouse to Jeff Healey; Manteca to the Guess Who; Oscar Peterson to David Braid; Daniel Lanois to Snaggle.

Cynthis Tauro performs original tunes, jazz and Latin standards, and 'even fun Christmas tunes'  on December 13  ©Brett Delmage, 2016On Monday, December 12, Django Libre tries out a new location – Bar Robo in Chinatown – but expect the same energetic gypsy jazz that should brighten the beginning of the week and get your toes tapping.

On Tuesday, December 13, get into the spirit – of jazz at least – as young pianist Cynthia Tauro performs some of her original tunes, jazz and Latin standards, and “even fun Christmas tunes” at Pressed in Centretown West. She'll be accompanied by strong local jazzers: guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist Alex Bilodeau, and drummer Michel Delage.

That same evening, crooner Johnny Vegas makes his debut at Bar Robo, singing his favourite vocal jazz classics made famous by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin. Looking for a 60s Rat Pack flashback? Johnny will provide.

On a much, much larger scale, 35 emerging young jazz musicians will perform on December 13 in a double bill at Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School in Barrhaven. It's the joint fall concert for the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band (18 students from Grades 7 to 10), and the Nepean All-City Jazz Band (17 students aged 15-20). These two bands have provided the on-the-ground training for some of the best musicians to come out of Ottawa, and always put on a lively and interesting show.

Opportunities to hear Ottawa's Latin big band, Los Gringos, are few and far between – which is a pity because it includes many of Ottawa's most accomplished jazz musicians. The band's shows feature crisp, complex percussion and driving horn sections, in melodic originals and rearrangements of music by some of their favourite Latin bandleaders.

But they do play a Christmas show each year, and they're back at Fatboy's Southern Smokehouse in the Market on Wednesday, December 14. They'll play many Christmas favourites, arranged Gringo style, including “God Rest Ye Merry Gringo Men”, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Gringo”, “Slay-Ryde”, and “Charlie Brown’s Christmas”. Fatboy's is large enough to nicely hold a nine-piece band playing full out – and there's even room for dancing. You can see the band at a previous Fatboy's appearance in the OttawaJazzScene.ca video above.

Also on December 14, the local powerhouse trio Thrust will be at Bar Robo, debuting some new material, and playing its mash-up of electronic funk, jazz, and hip hop.

    – Alayne McGregor

Read about jazz in the remainder of December next week.

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Updates: December 12: Added Thrust on December 14.