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The Stretch Orchestra wins a 2012 Juno Award; tour delayed

Guitar (Kevin Breit) and waterphone (Jesse Stewart) - not your usual orchestral instruments. ©Brett Delmage, 2011The Stretch Orchestra, a trio which includes Ottawa percussionist and composer Jesse Stewart, has been awarded the 2012 Juno Award for Best Instrumental Album.

But a summer tour to promote the album has been delayed until 2013, because guitarist Kevin Breit will be out touring with blues/jazz musician (and TV star) Hugh Laurie.

Stewart attended the Juno awards ceremony on Saturday, March 31, along with the third member of the band, cellist Matt Brubeck. He said they were "completely surprised" by their win – heightened by the fact that their category was second on the list in the ceremony, and called before they even had time to check the programme and get prepared for it.

"All of our co-nominees were very strong", he said, and he had convinced himself that another nominee would win. "So we were really taken by surprise by the announcement. But of course we're delighted and the response from friends and family and my colleagues at Carleton has been overwhelming, and that's very nice too."

"Matt spent the night at our place, and even this morning we were still saying we couldn't believe it."

For once, Kevin Breit at 6'5" tall (l) overshadows 6'8" tall Matt Brubeck (r). Yes, that's why they're called the Stretch Orchestra. ©Brett Delmage, 2011John Bailey, the album's producer, called Breit as soon as their win was announced, so he knew about it right away, Stewart said.

The album, entitled Stretch Orchestra, was the first by the group, which changed its name from Tallboys a few years ago. "I applied for the Ontario Arts Council grant that enabled us to make the recording and one of the things I said in our application was this isn't an ad-hoc grouping. We had been playing together for five years before we decided we were going to make a recording together. So we knew each other, we knew each other's ears."

Stewart is also a full-time professor in the Music Department at Carleton University; Brubeck teaches in the music faculty at York University and Humber College. Both are well-known jazz musicians and improvisers, playing in many different ensembles.. Breit is a member of the jazz fusion group, The Sisters Euclid, as well as playing in blues and folk groups, and is well known as a session musician. They formed Tallboys when all were living near Guelph, Ontario.

Originally, the Stretch Orchestra had hoped to tour this summer in support of this album, Stewart said, but "that's not going to be possible on account of Kevin's going to be quite busy touring with Hugh Laurie's band. In fact, Hugh basically has Kevin on retainer for the next three or four months. I'd already started lining up a tour for us and had to put those plans on hold. So it's looking like summer 2013 we're hoping to do a tour. Not this coming summer but next." [Laurie plays the lead character, doctor Gregory House, in the TV series House.]

Breit also played on Laurie's first album, Let Them Talk, released in 2011.

Stewart said he hoped the Juno win might "make it a little bit easier for us to line up some performances at festivals across the country." He didn't expect them to think of doing another album until after the tour, and after they'd written a substantial body of new material and felt ready to get back into the studio.

"We made this record, and we want to tour in support of it. And then after that, I think we'll take stock and hope to maybe do some more. Because I love making music with those guys and love recording with them, I just love hanging out with them. Certainly for me that would be a lot of fun, so I hope we get a chance to do that down the road."

Stewart has two projects that he is personally concentrating on for 2012. The first is a series of private fund-raising concerts with him performing solo percussion, that he hopes to hold in the tree-house in his backyard: a maximum of three, maybe four audience members, in exchange for a donation to a children's charity of the audience member's choice.

The second is a large-scale compositional project: a series of 118 pieces, which he hopes to complete "if not this summer then sometime in 2012". The pieces incorporate structured improvisation, and because of that are elastic in form and duration, ranging from a few minutes to more than 20, he said. "It's a big project that I've been working on for a long time that I would like to finish up."

2012 jazz-related Juno winners:

  • Traditional Jazz Album of the Year: David Braid, Verge
    (see OttawaJazzScene.ca's interview with Braid and our review of his Cafe Paradiso performance including selections from Verge)
  • Vocal Jazz Album of the Year: Sonia Johnson, Le carré de nos amours
  • Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year: The Phil Dwyer Orchestra featuring Mark Fewer, Changing Seasons
    (see OttawaJazzScene.ca's review of Dwyer's recent appearance in the Geggie Invitational series)
  • Instrumental Album of the Year: Stretch Orchestra, Stretch Orchestra

In addition, Rest of the Story by Chris Tarry (which was also nominated in the Contemporary Jazz Album category) won for Recording Package of the Year.

At the Saturday ceremonies, pianist Oliver Jones performed with bassist Dave Young and drummer Jim Doxas. At the Sunday televised ceremonies, jazz vocalist Sophie Milman presented one category and introduced Feist's performance.

    – Alayne McGregor

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