Tuesday, September 27, 2016
   
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John Stetch dramatically mixes folksong, classical, and TV themes into dynamic jazz

John Stetch
Steinway Piano Gallery, Ottawa
Thursday, September 22, 2016 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

For his current solo piano tour across Canada, John Stetch has reached forward and backwards, to his own roots in music and to a rethinking of the well-known classical repertoire. And the result, at his first tour stop in Ottawa, was a dynamic and engrossing hour of music.

John Stetch kept the audience at the Steinway Piano Gallery engrossed while playing an unsual combination of repertoire -- and not a standard in sight ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Although he's a jazz pianist, the pieces Stetch played Thursday weren't drawn from the standard repertoire. That's a deliberate decision, as he told the audience. He's been to jam sessions in New York City, where he currently lives, and heard other pianists play standards – all too similarly to the way he would.

So he's creating his own sound by playing music other jazz pianists don't: his reinterpretations of classical concertos and sonatas; take-offs on TV theme songs; and music inspired by his Ukrainian-Canadian heritage.

Stetch is originally from Edmonton, and one of his earlier albums was called Ukrainianism [2002]. He played several pieces from that album, based on folk melodies and on Ukrainian history. He also drew from his 2013 Juno-nominated Off the Cuffs album, in which he took well-known classical compositions by Mozart, Shostakovich, Chopin, and Bach, stripped them back to their roots and reinvigorated them.

Read more: John Stetch dramatically mixes folksong, classical, and TV themes into dynamic jazz

 

Marianne Trudel pays a rich tribute to Guelph Jazz Festival founder

Marianne Trudel Quartet with Ingrid Jensen
Guelph Jazz Festival
River Run Centre, Co-operators Hall
Thursday, September 15, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

Marianne Trudel and Ingrid Jensen
Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium
University of Guelph
Friday, September 16, 2016 – 9 a.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage

Marianne Trudel wasn't going to let anything stop her getting to the Guelph Jazz Festival this year.

The Montreal jazz pianist, composer, and improviser suffered a serious concussion this summer, and hadn't played the piano for two months – only starting again 12 days before the festival. Her doctor had recommended she not perform.

Marianne Trudel did not want to miss this year's Guelph Jazz Festival, and gave a full-bodied performance there with her quartet. ©2016 Brett Delmage

But as a long-time performer at Guelph, she did not want to miss the last festival to be curated by artistic director Ajay Heble. “This is my favourite festival in the country,” she told the audience at her Thursday night concert, “and Ajay is a very, very special person, close to my heart. I think he did a merveilleux with this festival, and it's something special to be here for his last show.”

For this concert, she was accompanied by three stalwarts of the Montreal jazz scene: Jim Doxas on drums, Rémi-Jean Leblanc on double bass, and Jonathan Stewart on tenor and soprano sax – plus trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (formerly of BC, now of Queens, NY). They performed six pieces from Trudel's most recent CD, La Vie Commence Ici [2014], all originals of considerable sweep and richness.

The theme of the album is the ability to be fully present in the moment – an ability which Trudel contends many of us have lost. For many years, she said, she was the only musician in Montreal without an iPhone, and getting one, after considerable peer pressure, was her “worst mistake ever”.

Trudel was very much present at this concert. Given the vibrancy of her performance, you would not have known she had been ill.

Read more: Marianne Trudel pays a rich tribute to Guelph Jazz Festival founder

 

Betty Ann Bryanton takes her musical revenge, to a happy full house

Betty Ann Bryanton Presents Sideways Bend Reprise
Les Brasseurs du Temps, Gatineau
Saturday, September 10, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Like many jazz fans, Ottawa vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton prefers the night to the morning – and figures she should be able to sleep in on a Saturday! But the City of Ottawa allows construction to start at 7 a.m. weekdays and Saturdays. Over the last 18 months, with three different large buildings going up in her neighbourhood, she's heard far too many loud beeps and bangs at times she'd rather be sleeping.

Betty Ann Bryanton and her sextet brought a finely-tuned set list and lots of joy to their packed Sideways Bend Reprise show at BDT on September 10 ©Brett Delmage, 2016

At her Sideways Bend show on Saturday, she took revenge – in song.

“The Noisy Blues” was a fast-paced blues which she wrote one morning when she was woken up, again. She and her band played it with an edge, and added beeping, barking, bird calls, and other raucous noises to demonstrate exactly how annoying the noise really was. With lots of energy and even some scatting, it was a performance that grabbed the audience and received strong applause.

But it was only one of the highlights in a well-tuned performance of jazz vocal pieces which Bryanton organized. After a sold-out premiere at GigSpace last May, this was the second time she had presented the material. This reprise show also sold out, with the lower room of Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau completely packed.

In two sets, each more than an hour long, Bryanton performed songs from across the 20th century, ranging from ballads to blues to Latin to upbeat jazz numbers. She had spent a year preparing the original show, and this clearly showed in its professionalism and smoothness. And with Pierre Monfils on guitar, Howard Tweddle on electric and double bass, Lu Frattaroli on drums, David R. Miller on keyboards, and Dmitry Egunov on soprano and tenor sax, she had a good local band which was clearly comfortable with the music.

Read more: Betty Ann Bryanton takes her musical revenge, to a happy full house

 

Roddy Ellias and Megan Jerome create quiet beauty in a new collaboration at Irene's

Roddy Ellias and Megan Jerome with guest Ed Lister at Irene's Pub
Sunday, September 4, 2016 – 9:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

OttawaJazzScene.ca chose this show as our jazz pick of the week – and we're glad we did!

Guitarist Roddy Ellias and vocalist Megan Jerome created a zone of beauty and intimacy Sunday night at Irene's, at the first of four weekly shows they're performing there this month.

Roddy Ellias and Megan Jerome combined their music in an intense yet quiet show at Irene's September 4, the first of four Sundays they'll play there this month  ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Together with guest Ed Lister on trumpet and flugelhorn, they combined originals by both of them with jazz standards in two flowing sets. It was a quieter show than most Sunday sessions at Irene's, but their audience was intent and almost completely silent, and applauded generously throughout. (The same could not be said for the five-some playing pool at the back of the room, but they eventually did quiet down and left by the start of the second set.) 

Ellias and Jerome have performed together in larger ensembles, but this is the first time they've performed as a duo. Jerome told the audience “We're just trying things out, doing things other than what we normally do”. Ellias has often played standards, particularly in duos with other guitarists, but he hadn't performed Jerome's songs before; Jerome primarily plays her own material, and doesn't often play standards or Ellias' compositions. Lister's own bands, like the Chocolate Hot Pockets and ERU-ERA, are much more hard-hitting and loud, although he also performs in quieter ensembles.

Read more: Roddy Ellias and Megan Jerome create quiet beauty in a new collaboration at Irene's

 

Conjunction: three jazz and three classical musicians make music that sings (review)

The musicians in Conjunction 'pushed the boundaries and found that sometimes the boundaries pushed back.' ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Conjunction: The Gryphon Trio with Scott Good, Dafnis Prieto, and Roberto Occhipinti
Chamberfest: Chamberfringe series
La Nouvelle Scène
Friday, July 29, 2016 - 10 p.m.

Dafnis Prieto and Max Pollak
Chamberfest: Siskind Snapshots
Dominion Chalmers United Church
Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 5:45 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto is best known for leading Latin jazz bands and collaborating with the cream of the NYC avant-garde jazz scene. Roberto Occhipinti is a prominent jazz bassist and bandleader in Toronto. Scott Good has played trombone with many Canadian jazz musicians.

Did you realize that each of them also composes and performs chamber music?

In one of the most fascinating concerts I've heard this year, these three musicians collaborated with the Gryphon Trio at Chamberfest. In a 90-minute show, they presented four pieces which crossed back and forth between jazz and classical music, building on the strengths of both and ending up with beautiful music.

The Gryphon Trio – Roman Borys on cello, Annalee Patipatanakoon on violin, and James Parker on piano – was a natural partner for this endeavour. The trio may be best celebrated for its interpretations of works by Beethoven and Schubert, but it has also consistently expanded its range outside the standard chamber repertoire, many times together with Occhipinti. Borys is also Chamberfest's artistic director, and has made a point of programming many jazz and jazz-crossover concerts in its late-night Chamberfringe series.

Read more: Conjunction: three jazz and three classical musicians make music that sings (review)

 

A powerful jazz fusion outing for Modasaurus (review)

Modasaurus
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, August 20, 2016 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The four Ottawa jazz musicians in Modasaurus are nothing if not versatile. In the many different groups they're involved in, I've heard them play everything from straight standards to serious funk, with reggae, pop, and classical, and blues excursions as well.

Bassist J.P Lapensée opened pianist James McGowan's 'Khaleegy' with an extended and melodic bass solo, to enthusiastic audience response  ©Brett Delmage, 2016

But it's jazz fusion that they play in this group – a driving and intense jazz style with touches of rock. The group is also a fusion in another sense: between pianist and composer James McGowan, and the three members of the HML Trio: guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist J.P. Lapensée and drummer Jamie Holmes (who are also three-quarters of the Chocolate Hot Pockets).

As you might guess from their dinosaur-inspired name, Modasaurus has a big sound – not excessively loud, but full-bodied and complex. Most of their repertoire is original compositions by McGowan, which use the talents of all four, and allow for considerable interaction and interplay.

This weekend was their third outing as a group. They used the two nights to showcase several new tunes, and to bring in guests: saxophonist Mike Tremblay on Friday, and guitarist Wayne Eagles on both Friday and Saturday.

OttawaJazzScene.ca heard them on Saturday. Any group playing that night was going to have some serious competition: the Tragically Hip was playing its final concert, which was broadcast everywhere in Canada and attracted the kind of national attention usually only given to two Canuck teams playing for the Stanley Cup. The Options Jazz Lounge turned on the broadcast on its TV screen between sets, but otherwise put the jazz first.

Read more: A powerful jazz fusion outing for Modasaurus (review)

 

Carleton U Jazz Camp faculty quintet enjoys the upbeat (review)

Carleton University Jazz Camp Faculty Quintet
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University
Thursday, June 11, 2016 - 3:30 p.m.

This year, the Carleton University Jazz Camp has moved its faculty concerts to the late afternoons from the evenings to make it easier for the camp's students to attend. This made for a more informal vibe but still much skilled playing at the final faculty concert, which featured a classic jazz quintet.

It was a fine 50 minutes of mainstream jazz, played with enjoyment and a sense of fun, which easily communicated itself to the audience. The set-list mixed originals with classic 60s bop tunes and one ballad.

Five camp instructors, all well-known and experienced Ottawa jazz musicians, shared the stage – Mike Tremblay on tenor sax, Mark Ferguson on piano and trombone, Nick Dyson on trumpet and flugelhorn, John Geggie on double bass, and Mike Essoudry on drums. They've played together in many different arrangements before, and were clearly comfortable together – which was good, because they were just receiving the sheet music for one of the numbers as they started.

They opened with Horace Silver's “The Jody Grind”, a fast, grooving tune with the trumpet and sax pumping out the beat over a strong bass line, and then moved to a more thoughtful mood with “Falling Grace” by Steve Swallow, with flowing sax lines over multi-faceted piano lines. The originals included Dyson's “April Fools”, a bright, brassy tune which was given a more punctuated feel here than in the Beeched Wailers' version, followed by Ferguson's “Is That All?”, a strongly appealing tune with anthemic trombone, assured saxophone, and sweet and full trumpet solos.

Read more: Carleton U Jazz Camp faculty quintet enjoys the upbeat (review)

 

Kiran Ahluwalia filled the park with haunting melodies and circling rhythms

Kiran Ahluwalia
Parc de l'Imaginaire, Gatineau (Aylmer sector)
Wednesday, August 10, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Haunting melodies and circling rhythms filled Parc de l'Imaginaire Wednesday, as Kiran Ahluwalia brought her cross-cultural music to Aylmer.

Kiran Ahluwalia's varied vocal style drew the audience in and kept them interested  ©Brett Delmage, 2016

The Indo-Canadian vocalist sings Indian ghazals (a song form based on Urdu poetry) and Punjabi folk songs. In the last decade, however, she's combined these with jazz and Saharan blues – in particular, the Tuareg music of the Sahara desert. Her most recent album, Sanata : Stillness [2014], is a hybrid of Indo-Saharan music.

Originally from India, Ahluwalia was raised in Canada and was well into her career before moving to New York City. She has won two Juno Awards, including for her 2011 CD, Aam Zameen: Common Ground.

It wasn't your standard vocal concert – Ahluwalia wasn't singing in either English or French, so that few in the crowd likely understood the words in the songs. The effect was to make her voice part of the instrumental mix – which was enhanced by her occasionally adding in wordless vocals.

And it was a fine instrumental mix – with Rez Abbasi on electric guitar, Louis Simão on accordion, and Nitin Mitta on tablas. Simão and Abbasi both have strong jazz credentials – Ottawa audiences would have seen Simão last at the 2015 Chamberfest in Michael Occhipinti's Sicilian Jazz Project; Abbasi has appeared previously at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Ahluwalia is married to Abbasi, and both he and Mitta have played regularly with her for years, including on her albums.

Mitta had four tablas in front of him, plus other percussion instruments. He played on two at a time, one deeper and more resonant, one higher and sharper-edged, but would quickly switch tablas in and out to get different tones. His tabla rhythms set the pace of the concert, providing a consistent forward momentum. But they were more than just rhythmic: his playing varied from delicate to intense, with the different pitches and harmonics of the tablas contributing melodic interest as well.

Read more: Kiran Ahluwalia filled the park with haunting melodies and circling rhythms

 

Gene DiNovi infuses Duke Ellington's music with his own life

Tribute to Duke Ellington
Ottawa Chamberfest: Chamberfringe series

La Nouvelle Scène
Sunday, July 31, 2016 - 10 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Gene DiNovi is now 88 years old – a fine age for a pianist – but he's lost none of his verve or love of classic jazz, as was obvious in this concert's exploration of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's songbook.

Gene DiNovi used his own decades of experience to enhance his Chamberfringe tribute to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn ©Brett Delmage, 2016

DiNovi started playing in New York in the 1940s and moved to Toronto in 1972 – and has played with many major jazz names, including Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Lester Young, Peggy Lee, and Tony Bennett. He was Lena Horne's accompanist for eight years, as he mentioned in this show when he introduced several Ellington numbers which he played with her.

He's also a frequent face at Chamberfest, playing everything from classical-jazz crossovers to last year's Kings of Swing (Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw) show. And one of his most frequent collaborators, for more than 30 years, has been clarinetist James Campbell, who is most renowned for his classical work but also enjoys playing jazz.

For this show they teamed up with drummer Glenn Anderson and celebrated bassist Dave Young – also their frequent collaborators – as well as jazz violinist Drew Jurecka. It wasn't the first time they'd played this material this summer; they'd also been featured at Campbell's Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound the previous week.

Whether it was from these musicians' evident popularity with Chamberfest audiences, or the inherent appeal of Ellington's music, the 173-seat hall was overflowing. We arrived early and barely found seats. Chamberfest volunteers continued adding chairs near the front but finally had to give up. The last 30-odd listeners were left sitting in the outside foyer watching the show on a video screen – and they filled up all the chairs there, too!

Read more: Gene DiNovi infuses Duke Ellington's music with his own life

 

A flowing conversation among Ernst Reijseger, Jesse Stewart, and David Mott (review)

Jesse Stewart, David Mott, and Ernst Reijseger
Ottawa Chamberfest: Chamberfringe series
La Nouvelle Scène
Tuesday, July 26, 2016 – 10:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

You could call this a concert of intersecting friendships. Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger and Canadian baritone saxophonist David Mott have played together off and on since 1985, when they met in Gerry Hemingway's quintet. Mott and Ottawa percussionist Jesse Stewart met in the mid-90s and have been firm musical friends since, most recently in the Sonoluminescence Trio.

©Brett Delmage, 2016

Two years ago, they performed together in Toronto and recorded a CD, Different Dreams. This Chamberfest concert was the first time they'd performed together since then – and the show was delayed for 30 minutes because Reijseger's previous Chamberfest show had run late.

But when the 70-minute concert began, the mood was calm and quietly, opening the bag of possibilities slowly and with deliberate care.

Stewart started by bowing his waterphone, producing a light strand of sound echoing around the hall – followed by equally light strands from Mott's sax and Reijseger's cello. The music evolved quietly from there, using the dynamics of the space. Reijseger swung his cello back and forth as he played it to create a larger, vibrating sound; Stewart ran a mallet along the bottom and across the spines of his waterphone, and then hand-drummed the bottom of the instrument for a warm reverberating tone. Mott responded to these with deep circling tones on his sax, and by tapping its keys. Then Stewart bowed the edge of his cymbals, while Reijseger played a brief almost-Slavonic melody on his cello and then some slight dissonant lines, followed by deep punctuated notes on baritone, high attenuated cello, and light drumming, before ending quietly.

It all flowed quite naturally – completely improvised, but feeling logically consistent and appropriate.

Read more: A flowing conversation among Ernst Reijseger, Jesse Stewart, and David Mott (review)

 

A standing ovation for So Long Seven's mélange of rhythms and influences

So Long Seven
Parc de l'Imaginaire, Gatineau (Aylmer sector)
Wednesday, July 20, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

So Long Seven is a mélange – and a delicious one, too, judging from the enthusiastic response to its recent show in Gatineau.

Ravi Naimpally is trained in Hindustani classical music and other world music traditions. He contributed two pieces based on Ontario waterfalls. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Its four musicians play guitar, violin, five-string banjo, and tablas. Its music – almost all originals – draws from folk, bluegrass, and world music, but with a strong jazz and improvisational focus.

That's not surprising given the backgrounds of these musicians: banjo player Tim Posgate from avant-garde jazz; guitarist Neil Hendry from jazz and blues; violinist William Lamoureux from pop and jazz. Tabla player and percussionist Ravi Naimpally is trained in Hindustani classical music and other world music traditions, but has also been featured in jazz groups.

They've been together as So Long Seven (formerly Oolong 7) for three years and recently released a debut CD.

It was a perfect summer evening for their free, outdoor show in Aylmer, and they drew a large crowd ranging from toddlers to seniors, almost filling the park. And appreciative, too – intently listening throughout.

“Torch River Rail Company”, their first song, exemplified their sound: a melodic ballad with intertwining lines on guitar, violin, and banjo, and propelled along by the insistent rhythm of the tablas. It was a style that instantly caught my attention – and kept it. Like most of their pieces, it was an instrumental.

I particularly liked Naimpally's “Aarti”, a fast, dancing, fun mixture of textures; Posgate's “Miles from Appalachia”, with blues and bluegrass accents and featuring a finely-attuned guitar solo with light harmonics; and Hendry's “Banjo Tequila”, which matched hard-edged banjo riffs against earthy tabla rhythms and a mournful violin melody.

Read more: A standing ovation for So Long Seven's mélange of rhythms and influences

 

The Doug Martin Quartet gives a vibrant release to their 'Spirit of Survival' CD

The Doug Martin Quartet Spirit of Survival CD Release  (night 2)
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, July 9, 2016 – 8 p.m.

Bassist Tom McMahon enjoys a special moment in Doug Martin's 'Spirit of Survival' CD release at Options Jazz Lounge  ©Brett Delmage, 2016

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Ottawa saxophonist Doug Martin has based his new album, Spirit of Survival, on his perceptions of Cuba's people, history, and culture, as he has encountered them on his travels there. On July 8 and 9, he brought the music back home for a two-night stand at Brookstreet Options Jazz Lounge.

Playing with Ian Card on piano, Tom McMahon on bass, and Tom Denison on drums on the Saturday, he opened with the CD's vibrant and memorable title track. The group then combined originals with upbeat standards, for a fast-paced show.

Highlights of the four sets included the full-bodied and rhythmic “On The Malecón”, and the deeply lovely and elegiac “Tainos' Lament” (both from the new album), as well as a never-recorded original, “First Steps”, with its punctuated and swinging vibe.

Read more: The Doug Martin Quartet gives a vibrant release to their 'Spirit of Survival' CD

 

Chamberfest: A jarring juxtaposition of jazz and classical

Da Costa and Wood
Ottawa Chamberfest, Chamberfringe series
La Nouvelle Scène
Saturday, July 23, 2016 – 10 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Violinist Alexandre Da Costa described the music as a 'classic-jazz fusion. I can't really say what it is for sure' ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Pianist and modern composer Claude Bolling wrote a whole series of suites for classical instruments – flute, cello, guitar, and violin – teamed up with a jazz piano trio. His Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano Trio, written in 1977, was the third in this series, a commission from violinist (and former National Arts Centre music director) Pinchas Zukerman.

Alexandre da Costa, a Juno-winning classical violinist from Montreal, decided to revive the composition for a concert at Chamberfest, appropriately placed in the festival's late-night, and edgier, Chamberfringe series. The suite was is billed as a crossover between classical and jazz – but to my mind, it was more of a wrestling match, where the jazz definitely had the edge.

This was not because of any lack of skill or commitment on da Costa's part, but rather from a compositional design that didn't always gel.

Besides da Costa, the concert featured two well-known Montreal jazz musicians, Dave Laing on drums and Alec Walkington on double bass, and Australian jazz pianist Graham Wood. Da Costa is now Head of Strings at the Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, where Wood is Dean of Teaching and Learning. Wood performs with a wide range of Australian jazz musicians in Perth as well as American imports like Joel Frahm and George Garzone.

Read more: Chamberfest: A jarring juxtaposition of jazz and classical

 

A hard-driving quartet finds new corners of modern jazz

The Kirk MacDonald/Pat LaBarbera Quartet, with Kieran Overs and special guest Adam Nussbaum
Les Brasseurs du Temps, Gatineau
Tuesday, June 28, 2016 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Just before the end of this show, Kirk MacDonald told the audience that they had just heard world premieres – both of this band, and of many of the pieces they played. Two of the compositions he contributed, in fact, were so new that he hadn't yet named them.

Saxophonists Kirk MacDonald (l) and Pat LaBarbera have found a new partnership and new material together with bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Adam Nussbaum. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

But it was also an evening which showed off these musicians' many decades of experience and long-standing friendships. Although this quartet is new, the two saxophonists, MacDonald and Pat LaBarbera, both stalwarts of the Toronto jazz scene, have performed together since the 1990s; LaBarbera and NYC drummer Adam Nussbaum have decades of friendship; and MacDonald and LaBarbera are both in Toronto bassist Kieran Overs' band, Overs’ Eleven.

Unsurprisingly, there was a friendly, happy vibe on stage – and lots of energy.

Their show at Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau was the start of a three-city tour; the quartet would be playing at Dièse Onze in Montreal for the following two evenings, recording a CD for two days when they got back to Toronto, and then playing at The Rex in Toronto on July 6 and 7.

This first show offered them a chance to spread out and try out material, in front of a receptive and interested audience. The quartet ended up playing a 1½-hour first set and a one-hour second set, with only a half-hour break – but the music was so dynamic that one hardly noticed the time.

They opened with a warm, inviting piece by LaBarbera, “Baby Blue”, which was inspired by the standard “Melancholy Baby”. It featured both him and MacDonald on tenor, playing alternately and together, with Nussbaum's vigorous drumming and Overs' emphatic bass lines driving the piece.

Read more: A hard-driving quartet finds new corners of modern jazz

 

Two CDs by Nick Fraser create beautiful moments through collaborative improvisation

Starer
The Nick Fraser Quartet with Tony Malaby, Andrew Downing, and Rob Clutton
Independent, 2016

Too Many Continents
Nick Fraser / Tony Malaby / Kris Davis
Clean Feed, 2015

Toronto drummer Nick Fraser has had a productive and innovative partnership with NYC saxophonist Tony Malaby over the past few years, including multiple tours together in Canada and the U.S. In 2013, Fraser released his first album with Malaby, Towns and Villages. He's now followed that up with two more joint albums.

Nick Fraser/Too Many Continents CD coverToo Many Continents, with Malaby and Canadian-born pianist Kris Davis, was released late last fall with a U.S. tour. It received its Canadian release with a mini-tour in May which included Ottawa. That tour also was the official release of Starer, in which Fraser and Malaby work with two of Fraser's most frequent musical collaborators: cellist Andrew Downing and bassist Rob Clutton.

In their live shows, Fraser and Malaby consistently push the edges, in intense improvisations. They don't do straight ballads or bebop; the pieces they play don't have defined heads or specific places for solos. Instead they take compositional sketches, and use those sketches as points of departure for group improvisation.

It's an approach they excel in, and they've followed it in both these albums. The result is about as near as you get in a studio album to completely free jazz, with opportunities to go in many different directions.

Which doesn't mean these two albums sound alike, despite being recorded relatively close together. With different collaborators, they have very different sounds.

Too Many Continents is very much informed by Kris Davis, whose intricate and percussive piano lines both anchor and energize this music. For example, on “I Needed It Yesterday”, she opens with fast intricate piano lines vibrating in place, and later builds up the tension in the piece with strong piano chords underneath Malaby's coruscating sax lines. Throughout the CD, she uses the piano as much or more as a rhythmic instrument than as a melodic one.

Read more: Two CDs by Nick Fraser create beautiful moments through collaborative improvisation

 

The Amos Hoffman Quartet adds classical and Mid-East motifs to mainstream jazz

Amos Hoffman Quartet
Black Squirrel Books, Ottawa
Friday, June 3, 2016 – 9:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The word had got out that this was going to be an interesting show. Black Squirrel Books had brought out every sofa, seat, folding chair, and step stool it had – and there were still listeners sitting on the floor at the front or leaning against the coffee bar. The bookstore was full, with well over 50 people concentrating on the music.

The packed audience in Black Squirrel Books sounded enthusiastic about the Amos Hofffman Quartet continuing ther collaboration ©Brett Delmage, 2016

They had come to hear Israeli jazz guitarist and oud player Amos Hoffman and three Toronto jazz musicians: pianist Noam Lemish, bassist Justin Gray, and drummer Derek Gray. And their anticipation was well justified, as the quartet performed a dynamic and consistently engaging 85-minute-long set.

It was an evening of all originals, plus a jazz arrangement of a traditional Jewish prayer – alternating between pieces by Hoffman and by Lemish. The sound initially harked back to the classic mid-60s jazz of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, but Hoffman in particular added Middle Eastern motifs, as well as the commanding tone of his oud.

The quartet was surrounded by tall bookcases, which had been pushed into a rough backdrop. There wasn't a great deal of room – Derek Gray's drumset in particular was crowded into a corner and he had to sit on his cajon. He had barely enough room for his elbows when he really got going with his brushes and sticks – but the tight corners also added intimacy. The quartet played warmly and with considerable ease, modulating their volume to the space; you could clearly hear every note.

Read more: The Amos Hoffman Quartet adds classical and Mid-East motifs to mainstream jazz

   

Carol Welsman wowed listeners at the 2016 Winter Jazzfest with finely-honed jazz standards

Carol Welsman
2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival
NAC Fourth Stage
Saturday, February 6, 2016 – 7 p.m.

In a sold-out concert at the 2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, jazz vocalist Carol Welsman wowed her listeners, and demonstrated her finely-honed skill at presenting jazz standards and classic pop songs.

It was a polished show in the best sense – excellent singing, excellent accompaniment, a varied and stimulating set-list, and friendly engagement with the audience. Welsman emphasized songs from her latest album, Alone Together [eOne, 2015], but also included pieces from her earlier CDs Journey and I Like Men.

Welsman was born and started her career in Toronto, but now lives in Los Angeles. At this concert, she was supported by three well-known Montreal jazz musicians: Richard Irwin on drums, Rémi-Jean Leblanc on double bass, and Pierre Côté on guitar. But she opened the show singing a cappella.

And not only a cappella but scatting – informing the audience right up front that jazz was the offering that evening. Her clear, strong soprano filled the Fourth Stage as she moved from scatting to the actual lyrics for “Alone Together”. Then she sat down at the piano, and along with Irwin and Leblanc added an extra instrumental zip. There was a smile in her voice and lots of swing in the music – and room for a nuanced bass solo and a hard-edged drum solo as well.

For the remainder of the evening, the mood shifted among delicate and intimate (“It Might As Well Be Spring”, “My Ship”), celebratory and swinging (“I Didn't Know About You”, “Sand in My Shoes”, emphatic and fun (“Why Don't You Do Right?”, “Day by Day”), and sweet and sensual (“Samba Do Aviao”).

Read more: Carol Welsman wowed listeners at the 2016 Winter Jazzfest with finely-honed jazz standards

   

John Geggie's Journey Band intertwines music from the 17th to the 21st century (review)

John Geggie's Journey Band
2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival
NAC Fourth Stage
Saturday, February 6, 2016 – 5 p.m.

Double bassist John Geggie may be best known in Ottawa as a jazz musician and educator, but his roots in chamber music are equally deep. So when he teamed up at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival with four musicians from Montreal whose musical inclinations also cross between classical and jazz, you could guess the result wasn't going to be straight swing.

This concert came about because of a special project grant offered by the festival for Ottawa/Gatineau jazz musicians – with the requirement that they find at least one Canadian musician they've always wanted to play with but never have, and arrange a collaboration with them. For Geggie, this was Philippe Lauzier on bass clarinet and soprano saxophone, and Kate Bevan-Baker on violin and vocals.

Lauzier has most often been heard here in Ottawa in free jazz shows, and is known for his collaborations with other Montreal musicians on the creative music and improvised music scenes. Bevan-Baker is classically trained but also experiments with other genres such as traditional and jazz music. She studies with classical violinist Mark Fewer (known for his jazz collaborations with Phil Dwyer), but also fiddles at Hurley's Irish Pub in Montreal with her band Solstice, as well as singing regularly with the award-winning women's choir, Concerto Della Donna. She's also recorded an album of jazz vocal standards.

Read more: John Geggie's Journey Band intertwines music from the 17th to the 21st century (review)

   

Fraser Hollins tells his own stories with his star-studded quartet (review)

Fraser Hollins Quartet
2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival
NAC Fourth Stage
Friday, February 5, 2016 – 9 p.m.

Read our interview with Hollins about this show

There was a big grin on Brian Blade's face for almost the entire show, as Fraser Hollins' quartet performed at the 2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival. The renowned drummer appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself as he responded in the moment, constantly adding energy and character to the music.

With two acclaimed American jazz musicians in the group – Blade and John Cowherd on piano – and two prominent Canadian jazz musicians – Hollins on bass and Joel Miller on saxophone – you could call this a supergroup. But the vibe felt more like a group of friends enjoying sharing music.

Which is not surprising, since Hollins has been friends with all of these musicians – and performed with them – for many years. They'd performed as a group once before, at the Upstairs Club in Montreal, in 2012. Before an appreciative Ottawa audience, all four worked together to keep the musical ball in the air, with the lead easily and naturally moving from one to the other.

In that they were aided by Hollins' multi-layered and open compositions. He wrote all but one of the pieces in the show (Miller contributed the other). Although he's been a first-call bass player in the Montreal jazz scene for more than a decade (ever since he returned from New York), Hollins had only previously released one album of his own compositions, Aerial [2010]. It was good to hear more of his own eloquent voice, telling his own stories.

Read more: Fraser Hollins tells his own stories with his star-studded quartet (review)

   

The Chocolate Hot Pockets grooved out the 4th Stage (review)

The Chocolate Hot Pockets
2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival
NAC Fourth Stage
Friday, February 5, 2016 – 5 p.m.

The Chocolate Hot Pockets had a huge dynamic range during their late afternoon show at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, both stylistically and in absolute sound levels. They could go from soft ballads to bluesy grooves to room-thumping funk, in a tight and powerful show.

The NAC Fourth Stage was stuffed. And while part of that might be due to the fact that admission to this show was free, I noticed that the diverse audience seemed to be really into the music throughout. Through the first part of the 75-minute show, people continued to file in, ending up standing near the door – and more importantly, no one left. Seniors, 20-somethings, and even youngsters were all intent on the stage.

The Ottawa jazz/funk/soul quartet played mostly numbers from their second CD, Chocolate Dreamz [2015], plus a brand-new composition and a few covers by their favourite soul musicians. The Tina Turner number “What's Love Got to Do With It” sounded surprisingly fresh with Ed Lister's snarling trumpet and and J.P. Lapensée's inflected bass solo, while the band created a body-humping groove on “Use Me” by Bill Withers, featuring Jamie Holmes' sharp, hard drumming and Lister adding vibrating lines on both synthesizer and trumpet.

Read more: The Chocolate Hot Pockets grooved out the 4th Stage (review)