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Jazzfest 2013: Great jazz from across Canada

The breadth of Canadian jazz talent will be on display at the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival, including more artists from Western Canada.

Many musicians not seen recently in Ottawa – John Stetch, Brad Turner, Peggy Lee, Vic Vogel, Jon Ballantyne, and Seamus Blake – will appear, along with some new names like Tyson Naylor, Alan Jones, and Roberto López.

Mike Murley with David Braid at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. ©Brett Delmage

Several of these are hidden in less-expected series or under less-obvious band names. But there's an advantage to that, too – you get to hear them play with new people and feature new material!

Festival programming director Petr Cancura told OttawaJazzScene.ca that the wider geographic range this year was deliberate: “We really sat down and said, 'Let's make the Great Canadian series a cross-Canada thing – you know, really work hard on that'.” When all the jazz festivals in Canada met together in November, he said, they decided to “really try to represent each part of the country. So we stuck to it. We didn't back out.”

There will also be some impressive locally-connected groups playing the Main Stage, the NAC or Dominion Chalmers – the Stretch Orchestra, Kellylee Evans, Los Gringos, Rob Frayne's Dream Band, and the Souljazz Orchestra – which you can read about in our Local Artists story.

Here's OttawaJazzScene.ca's guide to some of the best Canadians or Canadian expats appearing at the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival.

  • Montreal saxophonist Chet Doxas must have an impressive address book – after appearing in Ottawa last summer with Dave Douglas and Steve Swallow, this year he's in two other projects with quite different styles and lineups.

    The first is a concert commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Oscar-nominated animated film, The Triplets of Belleville. Montreal guitarist Benoit Charest wrote the soundtrack to that movie, and won a French César Award for it. He was also nominated for a Grammy and an Oscar for one of its songs. He will be recreating the soundtrack on-stage, in a seven-piece band that includes Chet Doxas, keyboardist Dan Thouin, and drummer Jim Doxas, and instruments which range from tuba, vibraphone, and foley to vacuum-cleaner. OttawaJazzScene.ca heard Chet Doxas play an high-energy show together with Charest and Thouin at the 2012 Montreal Jazz Festival: see our review with photos.

  • The second project with Doxas is the Relative Quartet, a group only formed last fall, and which is just about to release its first album, Automatic Vaudeville. All four members are Canadians, but only Chet Doxas lives here: pianist John Stetch, bassist Michael Bates, and drummer Owen Howard now live in Brooklyn, NY.

    Stetch, an inventive pianist and composer and a perennial Ottawa favourite, last appeared at the festival in 2009 with his album based on TV show themes. According to one show description, the quartet is “inspired by all musical genres and are a powerful new co-operative whose priority are original compositions—interpreted by 4 distinct and fearless voices on the scene.”

  • Montrealer Roberto López takes traditional pieces written by great Colombian composers (Lucho Bermúdez, José Barros, Pablo Florez), and adds a jazz and funk twist with specific Afro-Colombian rhythms. He also composes his own instrumentals, and the most recent release by his Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra, Azul [2012], contains both. His orchestra has an interesting mix of guitar, brass, woodwinds, and percussion, and features several well-known Montreal jazz musicians: 2013 Juno winner Joel Miller on tenor sax, Fraser Hollins on bass, and David Grott on trombone.
  • At nearly 80, Vic Vogel is a Grand Old Man of Canadian jazz. For the last 46 years, he has led one of the preeminent big bands in Canada, featuring some of the best jazz musicians from Quebec: for example, trumpeter Jocelyn Couture, and saxophonists André Leroux, Alexandre Côté, and Dave Turner. As the festival describes it, Vogel's big band “is a weapon of mass creativity, an instrument of furious power, a soundcraft of subtle beauty.” And it was a favourite of the festival's late programming director, Jacques Émond, in whose honour they will play the final show on the 2013 festival's main stage.

  • When Mike Murley starts playing his tenor or soprano sax, audiences listen. The strength and purity of his tone just demands it. He's bringing six other fine Toronto musicians with him to the 2013 festival: alto saxophonist Tara Davidson, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, trombonist Terry Promane, pianist David Braid (last seen in a Geggie Invitational concert in March), bassist Jim Vivian, and drummer Ted Warren. Their show should include material from the septet's CD, Still Rollin’, which was nominated for a Juno in 2012 for best mainstream jazz album.

    Murley has played on 11 Juno-Award-winning recordings and was named saxophonist of the year eight times by the Jazz Report Awards/National Jazz Awards. This spring, he won the Juno for best Traditional Jazz album for Test of Time, a release of a older and previously-unissued studio session he did with guitarist Ed Bickert and bassist Steve Wallace.

Peggy Lee at the 2012 Guelph Jazz Festival  ©Brett Delmage

  • Multi-instrumentalist Peggy Lee (cello, electric bass, and piano) leads an ensemble of fine Vancouver musicians, of whom Ottawa audiences may have heard drummer Dylan van der Schyff, bassist André Lachance, and trumpeter Brad Turner. We saw Lee's ensemble at the 2012 Guelph Jazz Festival at an totally packed concert which ended in a standing ovation. While that concert centred around vocalist Mary-Margaret O'Hara, who won't be coming to Ottawa, we were impressed by Lee's inventiveness, fluidity, and wide range of textures and sounds, as well as the amount of group improv she included.

    Cancura said he jumped on the opportunity to have Lee perform here because she rarely tours. “And Brad Turner is part of her band and he is also bringing his own band, so we had to jump on that one.”

  • Right after Lee's concert, Brad Turner will be presenting his own Vancouver quartet, with Lachance, van der Schyff, and pianist Bruno Hubert. Like Lee, Turner is a triple threat instrumentalist (trumpet, piano, drums) and a composer of vibrant mainstream jazz. He's a major part of the Vancouver jazz scene as a musician and teacher; he has won two Junos (as part of Metalwood) and five National Jazz Awards for his work as a composer and musician and producer. His quartet last appeared in Ottawa in 2009 at the National Arts Centre's B.C. Scene.

  • Tyson Naylor is a Vancouver-based pianist who plays within the standard piano trio format (with bassist Russell Sholberg and drummer Skye Brooks), but whose music explores rhythms and tonal qualities outside standard jazz while still retaining a commitment to melody. After spending three years in Berlin's eclectic music scene, Naylor returned to Vancouver to record his debut album, Kosmonauten, which was released last September. Its music ranges from exploratory improv to in-the-pocket tunes. Naylor studied improvisation with clarinetist Francois Houle (whose two concerts were a highlight of last year's Ottawa jazz festival), and Houle plays on two tracks on Kosmonauten.
  • The Hutchinson Andrew Trio features three award-winning musicians important in the Alberta jazz scene: bassist Kodi Hutchinson, pianist Chris Andrew, and drummer Karl Schwonik. According to their website, their acoustic-piano-based trio mixes elements such as “contemporary swing, latin, and acoustic groove to help form their own distinct sound. Kodi lists artists such as Robert Glasper, Brad Mehldau, David Kikoski, and Kenny Werner as some of their influences”.

    Do their names sound familiar? You might have heard them as the Karl Schwonik Jazz Ensemble with Rémi Bolduc, playing a somewhat different style of music a year ago at Café Paradiso.

  • Singer Nikki Yanofsky debuted at age 12 at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Her very first recording was in a compilation of songs made famous by Ella Fitzgerald. She was only 14, and she sang “Air Mail Special”, a song renowned for its speed and (at least in Ella's version) intense scatting. But what's perhaps more impressive is that Yanofsky's career has not succumbed to the child prodigy curse: rather, she's kept true to her jazz roots in her repertoire and now, at 19 years old yet, has released two albums of jazz standards, one dedicated to Ella. She's set to release a third this summer, with Quincy Jones as executive producer. You may also remember her from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics: Yanofsky was the vocalist on the anglophone version of the Games' theme song, "I Believe".

  • The Alan Jones Canadian All Star Sextet is indeed all-Canadian, but five of the six musicians live in the U.S.. Drummer Alan Jones and bassist Tom Wakeling are important parts of the Portland, Oregon, jazz scene, although they also frequently cross the border to play with Canadians. Pianist Jon Ballantyne came out of Saskatchewan and now lives in Manhattan: he's released 9 albums, won 2 Juno awards, and received 3 Juno nominations as a leader, while playing with Joe Henderson, Paul Bley, Dewey Redman, Roy Haynes, Dave Liebman, and many more. Tenor saxophonist/composer Seamus Blake came out of Vancouver to become an important part of the New York jazz scene, playing with everyone from John Scofield to Kurt Rosenwinkel to Dave Douglas to Michael Brecker.

    Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (from Nanaimo, now in NYC) and multi-instrumentalist Phil Dwyer (Vancouver Island) have made regular appearances here in Ottawa in a wide variety of ensembles – Jensen most recently with Michael Webster this spring, and Dwyer in a John Geggie concert and at the Ottawa jazz festival and Chamberfest in 2012.

Rafael Zaldivar in Gatineau ©Brett Delmage, 2013

  • Montreal pianist Rafael Zaldivar is originally from Cuba, but his repertoire is nearer mainstream modern jazz, both in his two albums and when OttawaJazzScene.ca has seen him live. He's played two concerts in Gatineau in the last two years, solo as an opening act for John Scofield this February, and bringing in his own trio in March, 2012. I found his playing clear and concise and not predictable, particularly with his Monk interpretations. Zaldivar is well-integrated into the Montreal jazz scene: he was included in the 50th birthday tribute to Rémi Bolduc at the 2012 Montreal Jazz Festival, and played two standards with Bolduc at that show.

  • Hobson's Choice played the former Elmdale Tavern last October, filling the room with intricate and sometimes delicate music, with definite links to the jazzier side of Bruce Cockburn and Joni Mitchell. Self-described as a chamber jazz ensemble, the Toronto-based group also incorporates vocals and lots of improvisation in their performances. The unconventional lineup – vibraphone/marimba, trumpet, guitar, and vocals – works surprisingly well together.

  • Alto saxophonist and composer Curtis MacDonald was raised in Canada but now lives in Brooklyn. His music combines “improvisation, sound art and digital technology, drawing inspiration not only from traditional approaches, but also transcendental and other philosophical models”. He'll be playing with bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Adam Jackson, who are also featured on his latest EP, Twice Through the Wall. MacDonald says that EP was “inspired by a series of recurring lucid dreams I’ve had—I would see myself in a maze or labyrinth or some other strange structure with lots of staircases and hallways.”

  • Trifolia is a new project by three diverse Montreal musicians: pianist Marianne Trudel, percussionist Patrick Graham, and bassist Étienne Lafrance. They will release their first album, Le refuge, in May: listening to music samples on Trudel's website you can hear complicated rhythms underneath full-bodied and romantic piano, with added accordion and vocals on the gypsy-jazz-influenced “Refuge”.

    Trudel brought her septet to the 2011 Ottawa Jazz Festival, and played in a John Geggie invitational concert in 2009. Graham has collaborated on percussion duets with Jesse Stewart several times, most notably in an outdoor concert on the Remic Rapids beach by the Ottawa River in 2011.

  • What impresses you immediately about Halifax gypsy jazzers Gypsophilia is their energy: not just in their music, although it's impressively lively, but also in their dancing (even as far as handstands) and their interaction with the audience. When we heard them at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2012, they were a real crowd pleaser. If anything can keep an Ottawa audience awake past midnight (the festival has them starting at 11:30 p.m.), I'd count on this band.

  • Pianist Michael Kaeshammer is known for his boogie-woogie piano style – starting from the the New Orleans sound of Fats Waller, Art Tatum and James Booker – and smooth jazz vocals. His latest album, Kaeshammer [2011], features all original songs with jazz, soul, pop and R&B influences, supported by long-time drummer Mark McLean and bassist Marc Rogers. He last appeared in Ottawa in October 2011 at a sold-out show at the NAC Fourth Stage.

  • Vocalist Ori Dagan won the CBC Radio competition “Canada’s Next Top Crooner” in 2010, after studying jazz at York University, Humber College, and the Vermont Jazz Centre's intensive summer workshop with Sheila Jordan. He's released two albums: the latest, Less Than Three [2012], reimagines songs by Elton John, Madonna, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Lady Gaga, along with originals, standards, and even a few songs in Hebrew.

The majority of the Canadian groups will play at 6:30 p.m. on the festival's Main stage. Peggy Lee, Brad Turner, Trifolia, and the Stretch Orchestra perform in the Improv series at the NAC Fourth Stage. The After Dark series will feature both Gypsophilia and 10 Years of the Triplets of Belleville at the OLG Stage beside City Hall. The Souljazz Orchestra and Michael Kaeshammer will perform at Dominion Chalmers United Church as part of the new Signature series.

Several groups will play two nights: once on the main stage and the next or previous night at the Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata. This includes Tyson Naylor, the Hutchinson Andrew Trio, and Rafael Zaldivar. The Curtis MacDonald Trio, Hobson's Choice, and Ori Dagan will play only at Brookstreet.

    – Alayne McGregor

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