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Christine Duncan audaciously rethinks choral music in her Element Choir

Updated January 21, 2017
The most unusual choir in Canada will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year.

Christine Duncan conducts the Element Choir in Dominion Chalmers United Church at Chamberfest 2013 © Brett Delmage, 2013It has no fixed membership, although many vocalists have been part of it for years. It has formed and reformed in cities across Canada. It doesn't use sheet music, but instead creates its music in the moment. And it uses all the possibilities of the human voice – singing, yes, but also growls, shrieks, water and air ambient noises, and many more sounds.

The Element Choir is the brainchild of Toronto vocalist Christine Duncan, who is its conductor and spark-plug – and it reflects her own audacious spirit as a vocalist and musician.

This week, Duncan is in Ottawa to conduct a local choir – Tone Cluster – as part of the large-scale “Sung Ra” concert with the Rakestar Arkestra. For Sunday's concert, most of the music will be composed rather than the completely free improv of an Element Choir show, but Duncan will use the same system of conducting cues and many of the same musical ideas.

It's a system she's been developing since 2007, and using to perform stand-alone and with musicians like Tanya Tagaq. But it came about almost by accident – as part of a release concert for a CD project. “It was a very bizarre and random thing,” Duncan says.

Read more: Christine Duncan audaciously rethinks choral music in her Element Choir

 

Ottawa-Gatineau celebrates Canadian jazz in January for 2017

OttawaJazzScene.ca donors received full advance details of these shows and more than a hundred other jazz performances this month as a token of our appreciation for helping us shine a spotlight on the scene. Become a donor!

2017, Canada's 150th birthday, is a year to celebrate our own culture, including Canadian jazz. And this month will give you many opportunities to do that in Ottawa-Gatineau.

Christine Duncan will add vocal innovation to her performance with the Rakestar Arkestra January 22 ©2013 Brett DelmageLocal and Canadian jazz groups predominate in January – and several are taking interesting chances. The Rakestar Arkestra has a major concert planned with vocalist Christine Duncan and the Tone Cluster choir. Vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton is trying out a new repertoire of strictly Canadian jazz music with her trio. Record Runner Rehearsal Studios is presenting its second concert featuring a pianist not heard before in Ottawa in duo with an Ottawa native.


These January, 2017 jazz highlights are brought to you by OttawaJazzScene.ca readers Peter Liu, Karen Oxorn, Jesse Stewart, and Gaby Warren. We thank them for their support that makes this article possible.


It's also been a month that's continue to evolve and become more crowded even after the New Year’s fireworks. As we've been compiling this update,notifications of new shows and line-up changes have been popping up frequently.

On Sunday, January 8, Florquestra will play a rare late-afternoon show at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield. The group combines an encyclopedic knowledge of Brazilian rhythms with a French melodic sensibility, in an always-exciting presentation.

Read more: Ottawa-Gatineau celebrates Canadian jazz in January for 2017

 

Three views of jazz at Christmas

Three very different Christmas shows were presented by Ottawa's jazz and improvising musicians this month.




On December 14, Ottawa's Latin big band, Los Gringos, performed their Gringos-style adaptations of holiday favourites, with lots of horns, in their annual Christmas show. On December 16, Ottawa jazz aficionado and vocalist Gaby Warren hosted the JazzWorks Christmas jam for the 16th consecutive year, together with his friends – an accomplished group of Ottawa musicians. And on December 18, radio host, composer, and saxophonist Bernard Stepien and his orchestra presented the 10th annual rendition of A Very Ayler Christmas, a mixture of free jazz and carols, presented by the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO).

We recorded one Christmas-themed song from each show, and present the videos below.

Inside the Scene is made possible through the generous support of OttawaJazzScene.ca's donors.

Watch the 3 videos and read an interview With Bernard Stepien

 

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...

Read more: More jazz than Jingle Bells in the second week of December

 

Ottawa Jazz Festival balances books in 2016 by cutting musician budget by one-third

The Ottawa Jazz Festival made a sliver of a surplus in 2016 after cutting its payments to musicians by more than a third, while staff and contract costs remained stable.

graphics: Brett DelmageAt the festival's annual general meeting on November 28, festival treasurer Lee Tessmer reported that “after two challenging years, we're back in the black”. The festival had a net income of $3,449 this year, after losses of $123K in 2015 and $141K in 2014.

But the tiny surplus did not come from greater ticket sales, which were down by almost 10% in 2016 from the previous year. (The weather during this year’s festival was primarily warm and sunny, with rain on only two days with ticketed concerts.) Similarly, grants were down 29% and corporate sponsorship down 24%, and advertising revenue was zero.

Instead, the festival cut costs – and particularly for musicians' fees. In 2016, it spent $954,671 on programming, compared to $1,459,246 in 2015 and $1,496,535 in 2014. This was despite 2016 being the festival's 35th anniversary.

The festival spent marginally more on non-musician wages and contract services, from $493K in 2015 to $497K in 2016. In 2015, according to the most recent Canadian Revenue Agency filings, the festival had three employees earning from $40,000 to $79,999, and one employee earning from $80,000 to $119,999.

Read more: Ottawa Jazz Festival balances books in 2016 by cutting musician budget by one-third

 

Jazz mashed with Christmas carols (and more!) at the end of December

For earlier in December, see More jazz than Jingle Bells in the second week of December

Even as we get closer to Christmas, there's lots of opportunities to clear your musical palate with jazz.

Gaby Warren presents his annual pre-Christmas JazzWorks jam for the 16th year. ©Brett Delmage, 2013It's now become a 16-year tradition: Ottawa vocalist and jazz aficionado Gaby Warren hosts the JazzWorks Christmas jazz jam. Warren has an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz – and not just his specialty, Afro-Cuban jazz – and can amaze you by recounting the musicians whom he's heard in person. Each year he brings this experience to picking his song list – mostly jazz classics with just a touch of seasonal music – and then performs them with a group of fine jazz musicians.

His group's 45-minute set starts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 16, at the Georgetown Pub in Ottawa South – don't be late! After that, the stage is open for jamming.

On Saturday, December 17, you can celebrate the season with two high-profile concerts. At Live! on Elgin, vocalist Renée Landry pays tribute to Ella Fitzgerald's famous 1960 album, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas, backed by six experienced musicians from Ottawa's younger jazz crowd. At the show, she's also releasing an EP, A Christmas Night, with her music and lyrics, produced by pianist Clayton Connell and with arrangements by Richard Page. The show is currently sold out.Watch for your opportunity to win a copy of this CD from us.

GigSpace, Ottawa's intimate jazz venue, is marking its fifth anniversary with two “Jazzin’ the Holidays” fundraisers on December 17 with Toronto-area vocalist and pianist Micah Barnes. Barnes is best-known for the years he spent singing in The Nylons; more recently, he has recorded a series of critically acclaimed solo jazz recordings. This spring, he released New York Stories, which evokes “the rich musical history of the Big Apple with songs that describe a long distance romance using the rhythms of the Cotton Club, the Brill Building, The Apollo Theatre and classic Broadway”.

Read more: Jazz mashed with Christmas carols (and more!) at the end of December

 

Ranee Lee shares a generous performance with enthusiastic listeners

Bassist Dave Watts, drummer Dave Laing, vocalist Ranee Lee, and guitarist Richard Ring have performed together for years and it showed in their fine delivery of everything from upbeat jazz classics to heartfelt ballads In Ottawa on Friday. ©2016 Brett Delmage

Ranee Lee doesn't just sing: her voice is a flexible instrument that can softly caress a lyric – or jump, growl, and bop the night away. In a 2¼-hour high-energy show at Shenkman Arts Centre on Friday night, she and her quintet moved from jazz standards to pop ballads to lesser-known gems, and gave each song an arrangement and the attention which allowed it to shine. The 250-strong audience responded with enthusiastic applause throughout and two standing ovations.

Read the full review on OttawaJazzScene.ca. Read our interview with Ranee Lee

 

Jazz vocalist Ranee Lee has flourished in Canada

More than 45 years ago, Ranee Lee chose Canada for love – and she's never regretted it.

Ranee Lee (photo by Pierre Arsenault)The award-winning Montreal jazz vocalist will make a rare appearance in Ottawa on Friday at the Shenkman Arts Centre, performing music from her latest CD with an all-Canadian band, including a string quartet. And when OttawaJazzScene.ca spoke to her on Monday, she praised the many Canadians who contributed to that CD and to her career as a whole.

Canada has given her “every opportunity”, Lee said. “It's given me my life.”

“I don't like the attitude of small fish, big fish. I don't like that attitude, because I believe we all have to swim accordingly. I feel that the opportunities to raise a family, to be diverse enough to act, to sing, to dance, to play instruments – all of which was afforded me this opportunity through having my roots planted in Canada now.”

“I've toured most of the world as a Canadian ambassador, representing our art form in many countries. Just two months ago, we were in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a jazz festival there. So my Canadian roots have reached far and wide. And due to that, and the fact that I have a long history with McGill University as a vocal teacher there, I was given the Order of Canada. And you can't live anywhere else and get that!”

“So I believe that by fortune of birth I was given the opportunity to be born in the United States, which I don't regret. I had a wonderful childhood and a great family, and still do, and I got to see the best that the world could offer me, the best career that I could ever choose for myself.”

Lee has had a highly successful career as a musician, musical theatre performer, actress, and educator. She has released 12 jazz albums for the Canadian label Justin Time, and won a Juno for best vocal jazz album in 2010. In 2006, her joint album with pianist Oliver Jones was named Album of the Year at the National Jazz Awards. She was awarded a Dora Mavor Moore award for her performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, and produced and starred in the musical Dark Divas about the lives of seven renowned female jazz vocalists. She was named to the Order of Canada in 2006.

Read more: Jazz vocalist Ranee Lee has flourished in Canada

 

Escape the Christmas carols with jazz in December

Read about week 2's jazz in December

You don't have to be stuck in a Christmas carol jail this month. There's lots of non-seasonal jazz to keep you happy.

Daniel Ko is featured in Record Runner Rehearsal Studio's first concert on Dec 2. ©Brett Delmage, 2012From big bands to jazz vocals, from creative exploration to jazz influenced by Gershwin or Shostakovich, there's a variety of interesting music available in December in Ottawa-Gatineau – as well as Christmas cheer!

The month opens with a holiday classic, with the Jerry Granelli Trio performing their annual Tales of a Charlie Brown Christmas at Dominion Chalmers United Church. Drummer Granelli is the only remaining musician who played on that iconic recording of Vince Guaraldi's music, and he's teamed up with two Canadian musicians – Chris Gestrin on piano and Simon Fisk on bass – to recreate it, this year with the The Cross Town Youth Chorus providing the vocals. You want comfort music – you've got it!

Also on December 1: the local jazz band Stay Tuned plays “accessible jazz” to raise money for refugees at a show at the Sheba's Cove restaurant in Westboro. There's no cover or minimum, but donations to assist refugees getting settled here in Ottawa will be welcomed. Or, if you like swinging across the dance floor, the Starlighters big band will be playing a Christmas-themed dance at the Ron Kolbus Centre on December 1.

Read more: Escape the Christmas carols with jazz in December

 

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