Thursday, March 30, 2017
   
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Ottawa composers thrilled by JazzWorks Originals concert

Inspired by the creativity: Charley Gordon, Sam Cousineau, and John Graham. ©Lauren Walker, 2014“It was very exciting.”

Pianist David Miller was the first of eleven local jazz musicians who had their original compositions featured in a concert Sunday. While the experience of leading off the show was a bit nerve-wracking, he said, “the big thrill for me was playing with such great musicians. My rhythm section was Nick [Fraser] and John [Geggie], and they just buoy you right up and you play even better than you thought you could.”

The concert was arranged by JazzWorks, and showcased music which had been developed at the JazzWorks summer jazz camp in August 2013. It was hosted by John Geggie, the camp's artistic director, and included camp faculty from Montreal and Toronto – drummer Nick Fraser, pianist Nancy Walker, and saxophonist Rémi Bolduc – who had originally mentored the composers as they worked on their pieces. The faculty performed with many of the composers and other camp participants.

Miller's song, “Motion of the Ocean”, was typical of the pieces: mainstream modern jazz, strongly melodic with taut solos from Sam Cousineau on alto sax and atmospheric drumming from Fraser. Miller said he had the song “basically mapped out when I came to jazz camp, but it actually underwent a fair bit of change. There was an entire section of the melody that it was pointed out to me that I'd borrowed it from somewhere else, so I had to change that part, and then I changed the ending.”

The JazzWorks faculty (Nick Fraser, John Geggie, Nancy Walker, Rémi Bolduc) pushed the music up an extra notch at the concert. ©Lauren Walker, 2014The first set ended on a high-powered note, with “Crapshoot” by guitarist Nathan Corr. The fusion-influenced piece had a large dynamic range and featured fluid guitar, fast and precise piano from Walker, and an assertive alto solo from Cousineau, before ending thoughtfully. Corr had originally written the piece as a university project: it started out with rolls of a 12-sided die, which gave him several different notes which he then used as the main theme throughout the song.

At camp, he said, he rearranged the song for a larger and more diverse ensemble. But the input from other musicians was “pivotal into the making of the tune – or I guess how I envision it now. Nick Fraser really gave a driving force behind it and a lot of the other players ended up contributing their ideas, like bringing it down in energy in certain sections and or bringing it up. And it just coalesced into what it is now.”

Trumpeter Charley Gordon also appreciated help from the faculty in finishing his thoughtful ballad, “Lost River”. He worked on it during the two-day Composers' Symposium preceding the camp. “I had a little problem in the middle of it, and I talked to Rémi about it, I talked to Nancy about it, and they all made suggestions, and eventually I worked it out on my own. In fact, I woke up at 5 in the morning and thought 'Oh, I know what that chord's supposed to be!' ”

“But I think there's so much creativity in the camp that it helps you, I think, if you're writing. And also knowing that you'll get great players to play with you.”

All but two of the composers were able to attend the concert, although some chose just to listen and not perform. Charley Gordon said that Doug Somers, whose expressive ballad “Forest Lake, Autumn Dusk” opened the second set, “went to camp last year as a composer and actually didn't bring an instrument! He just went as a composer.” Somers' piece featured controlled and conversational soloing by Bolduc, who began and ended the piece, as well as intimate piano and deep-toned guitar lines.

Other concert highlights included Ron Buckingham's “Fading Pictures”, which featured him on lead harmonica playing a bluesy ballad; “Anticipation” by Lance Schwerdfager, a well-received Latin-influenced piece featuring Bolduc on an extended and highly varied sax vamp, and Walker on rippling, accented piano; “Mandanga” by Tim Murray, a lovely romantic piece with smooth solos from Gordon on flugelhorn and Doug Jacques on trombone; and “Malibu” by John Graham, a catchy, fast-paced piece reminiscent of 70s TV themes.

Mary Moore's witty lyrics and music were echoed by Rémi Bolduc on sax. ©Lauren Walker, 2014Vocalist Mary Moore contributed two original songs, both in the Great American Songbook mode, to extensive applause. She delivered “Don't Be So Nice” as a low-key, pleading ballad, her clear vocals underlaid by Gordon's light trumpet and Corr's guitar, and then responded to the syncopated instrumental solos with soprano scatting. “Beautiful Red-Haired Boy”, her paean to a copper-haired beau and his freckles and alabaster skin, was much more upbeat, and included delightfully witty lyrics which nicely contrasted with Bolduc's and Walker's bright solos.

Geggie said he was pleased with the concert. “I thought it went really well. There were some jitters here and there, but I think we had some really nice performances with people who were really committing to their pieces and really saying something.”

JazzWorks put on the show to “get these tunes out” and give musicians the experience of playing them, he said, and “it was a great experience. And it was also, hopefully, fun for the audience, too, because we had a big variety of different styles.”

As one of the original mentors at jazz camp, he said he thought the pieces had developed well. “There's always been a little bit of people tweaking things here and there and changing the odd thing and even today at the dress rehearsal people were changing the odd thing here and there and I think that's great! It's what happens: a piece has a life and a process, and to hear them at the beginning stages last August and to hear where they're at now is really lovely because it's like you've been watching their development. That's the whole process: that's what makes it fun.”

This concert was part of JazzWorks' efforts to encourage “people to come up with their own voice, to come up with their own compositions. Instead of playing a tune based on listening to a preexisting version of a standard here we are starting with something new. And I think it's a different learning process, a different skill-set for people. It's not simply learning the craft of doing something, the craft of playing a tune, but actually creating your own tune and then taking responsibility for taking it to another level. So we're trying to do more and more different things like that with JazzWorks.”

This was the second Originals concert JazzWorks has presented (the first was in 2010). It attracted an enthusiastic audience (many of whom had attended the JazzWorks camp), which mostly filled the Richcraft Theatre at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans.

Gordon, who is also vice-president of JazzWorks, expected they would repeat it in subsequent years. “As a member of the JazzWorks board, we're very encouraged by the turnout and the enthusiasm from people. So we'll try to build on this.”

    – Alayne McGregor

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