Monday, October 20, 2014
   
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A cross-Canada celebration of poet P.K. Page in music and dance

Scott Thomson, Susanna Hood, Linsey Wellman at the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais show. Thomson and Hood will present an expanded version of this show in Montreal this week. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Scott Thomson and Susanna Hood: The Muted Note
IMOO #107
Raw Sugar Café
Ottawa
Sunday, September 21, 2014 - 7 p.m.

Award-winning Canadian poet P.K. Page had her work interpreted as a one-woman play, as a documentary film, and as a print/calligraphy exhibition.

Now composer Scott Thomson has translated a number of Page's imagery-laden poems into music and movement. In collaboration with choreographer and vocalist Susanna Hood, he has produced a new album, The Muted Note, containing compositions based on Page's poems.

This month they began their cross-Canada tour, presenting the music as a dance/music collaboration, with Thomson on trombone and Hood singing and using her body to express the emotion in the words. On September 21, they appeared in Ottawa, performing several pieces from the album in the first half of the show, and then improvising with Ottawa saxophonist Linsey Wellman in the second half.

Many of Thomson and Hood's shows are only as a duo, but this week in Montréal (October 2 to 5), they're enhancing the show with three more dancers and three more musicians, as part of l'OFF Festival de Jazz. The expanded show was also presented in Toronto in early September.

At the Ottawa show, the duo presented six pieces based on Page's poems. Hood sung the words and interspersed them with wordless singing and movement, while Thomson played trombone. It was a quiet, intimate show, well-suited to the cramped space in the Raw Sugar Café (some furniture was moved to give Hood enough space to dance), and kept the audience raptly attentive throughout.

Read more: A cross-Canada celebration of poet P.K. Page in music and dance

 

Ottawa audience enjoys Organic's groove (review)

Nathan Hiltz and Mike Essoudry, in musical conversation. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Nathan Hiltz's Organic, featuring Bernie Senensky
Zola's Restaurant
Thursday, September 25, 2014 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of this performance

I love jazz organ music. There's something about the deep throb of a organ – whether a Hammond B3 or a church organ – that adds richness and immediacy to the music. And a lot of groove.

But there aren't that many real Hammond organs out there – or organists – so it was a treat to hear the Toronto quartet Organic in Ottawa for its first appearance Thursday.

Guitarist Nathan Hiltz and pianist/organist Bernie Senensky started playing together every Sunday night at a downtown Toronto club seven years ago. Senensky loved the sound of the club's Hammond B3; Hiltz was influenced by guitarists like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green who had regularly played with organists.

A few years later, they added tenor saxophonist Ryan Oliver and drummer Morgan Childs, and they've been performing weekly as Organic ever since. You could see and hear that familiarity in the quartet's playing: there was an ease and suppleness in how they switched leads and supported each other.

Read more: Ottawa audience enjoys Organic's groove (review)

 

Guelph 2014: John Heward and Barre Phillips are 80-year-olds with oomph (review)

Barre Phillips (bass) and John Heward (drums) ©Brett Delmage, 2014

John Heward and Barre Phillips 80th Birthday Celebration
Guelph Jazz Festival
Macdonald Stewart Art Centre
Wednesday, September 3, 2014 – 8 p.m.

Montreal jazz drummer John Heward is also renowned Canadian painter and sculptor John Heward, and he shows a similar experimental bent in both his artistic pursuits.

For the week of the Guelph Jazz Festival, the main floor walls of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre featured several of his artworks: canvas painted and twisted into large-scale dramatic pieces. When he performed at the art centre as the first evening show of the festival – with some of his favourite musicians – there was a similar feeling of drama, uncertainty, and flair.

The concert and show were to celebrate Heward's 80th birthday – but only his 31st year as a professional musician. He played the drums as a teenager, but then concentrated on the visual arts. In 1983, at 49 years old, he bought a set of drums, and started playing improvised music. He's played in various avant-garde groups in Montreal, including Nicolas Caloia's Ratchet Orchestra, and PO (“Provocative Operations”). He leads the free jazz group Murray Street Band.

Read more: Guelph 2014: John Heward and Barre Phillips are 80-year-olds with oomph (review)

 

Guelph 2014: Pugs & Crows didn't live up to its talent (review)

Meredith Bates played propulsive violin at the Pugs & Crows concert at the Guelph Jazz Festival ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Pugs & Crows
Guelph Jazz Festival
Macdonald Stewart Art Centre
Thursday, September 4, 2014 – 5 p.m.

View photos of this performance

Pugs & Crows is a Vancouver-based instrumental group which creates “dramatic cinematic music” blending indie rock and modern jazz. Their most recent album, Fantastic Pictures, won the 2013 Juno Award for Instrumental Album of the Year.

They played an hour-long late afternoon show at the Guelph Jazz Festival, to an enthusiastic and packed crowd. Performing with lots of energy and tight arrangements, they went through a good selection of numbers from both their albums, plus a few new pieces.

The group has an unusual lineup, with piano (Cat Toren) and violin (Meredith Bates) joining electric guitar (Cole Schmidt) as lead instruments, together with double bass (Russell Sholberg) and drums (Ben Brown). For this show, their music was accented by guest Tony Wilson on electric guitar and slide guitar, adding fluid lines and strong emotional touches.

Read more: Guelph 2014: Pugs & Crows didn't live up to its talent (review)

 

Local improvisers put on the spot at IMOO season opener (review)

Rory Magill and Mark Molnar ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Concert #106
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO)
Raw Sugar Café
Sunday, September 14, 2014

IMOO opened its fourth season on Sunday by returning to its roots in the local scene. It brought together a diverse collection of Ottawa-area improvisers in unexpected combinations, in its first evening in IMOO's new home of Raw Sugar Café.

IMOO organizers Linsey Wellman (alto sax) and David Jackson (guitar) arranged for Ian Birse (electronics and electric guitar), David Broscoe (alto sax, tuning forks, and noisemakers), Laura Kavanaugh (violin), Rory Magill (xylophone and percussion), and Mark Molnar (cello) to play in duos, trios, quartets, and all together. They tried a new format: each group who played would pick the next set of musicians to be thrown together to improvise.

Wellman, Jackson, and Magill began quietly, with shimmering guitar and low tones on sax, and became more intense, with Magill joining in with light taps on xylophone near the end. The collaborations which followed constantly changed textures and sounds: rough-edged violin and cello contrasting with shakers; rattling bells and ringing tuning forks alternating with with buzzing electronically-altered electric guitar and punctuated notes on saxophone. Near the end, there was even an (atypical) string quartet.

Read more: Local improvisers put on the spot at IMOO season opener (review)

 

Guelph 2014: Lee Pui Ming and Dong-Won Kim astonish the audience (review)

Lee Pui Ming and Dong-Won Kim in intense conversation at the Guelph Youth Music Centre. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Lee Pui Ming and Dong-Won Kim
2014 Guelph Jazz Festival
Guelph Youth Music Centre
Sunday, September 7, 2014 – 10:30 a.m.

The Guelph Jazz Festival rarely deals in the obvious or the tried-and-true, but its 2014 closing concert really confounded the audience's expectations.

Lee Pui Ming is an improvising pianist, composer, and vocalist, who combines classical, jazz, and Chinese traditions, and is active in Toronto's new music community. Dong-Won Kim is a percussionist, composer, and vocalist from Korea, trained in the movements and instruments of that country's traditional music, but with a strong improvising bent,

On-stage was a Yamaha grand piano, and Kim's instruments: the jang-go, an hourglass-shaped drum with hide-covered ends; the buk, a round leather drum; and two hanging bronze gongs.

So piano and percussion, right? Not exactly.

Read more: Guelph 2014: Lee Pui Ming and Dong-Won Kim astonish the audience (review)

 

Collaboration in two acts: Newport Festival Now 60 & the Norma Winstone Trio

2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 8: Newport Festival Now 60, Norma Winstone Trio
National Arts Centre (Studio and Fourth Stage)
Friday, June 27, 2014

I was curious exactly how this Newport Festival all-star group was going to celebrate the festival's 60th anniversary – in a concert less than two hours long.

Trying to be historically representative would require playing tiny snippets of many songs – not that much fun for the audience. Even trying to reflect all the major styles and types and movements in jazz that have been showcased on that festival's stage since 1954 would have been effectively impossible!

What the septet ended up presenting was an upbeat show of many standards and a few originals – mainstream jazz played with verve, enthusiasm, and quite a dollop of skill. Arguably, that did indeed reflect Newport's spirit and the quality of what it's offered over the decades.

Read more: Collaboration in two acts: Newport Festival Now 60 & the Norma Winstone Trio

 

Real jazz is a big hit in Confederation Park, with Kirk MacDonald and Dianne Reeves

2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 6: Kirk MacDonald Quartet (Great Canadian Jazz), Dianne Reeves (Concerts Under the Stars)
Confederation Park
Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Confederation Park echoed to the sounds of jazz for the Wednesday night of the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Not rock, or blues, or pop – although Dianne Reeves did sing some 80s pop hits, substantially revamped into jazz standards. But in the feel, the style, and the groove, the music was pure jazz, in its most enjoyable and accessible aspect – made accessible to the widest possible range of listeners.

Each Ottawa Jazz Festival evening in the park begins with the Great Canadian jazz series. This evening's Canadian group was the Kirk MacDonald Quartet: three Toronto jazz musicians with long pedigrees (MacDonald on tenor sax, Brian Dickinson on piano, and Neil Swainson on bass), plus American drummer Dennis Mackrel, with whom MacDonald has been playing regularly for the last several years.

You could hear the ease with which they followed and underlaid each other's lines, and the respect with which they treated each other. If MacDonald's fluid tenor sax was a strong presence, so was Dickinson's incisive piano, Swainson's melodic bass lines, and Mackrel's tasteful drumming.

Read more: Real jazz is a big hit in Confederation Park, with Kirk MacDonald and Dianne Reeves

 

Virtuosity in improvisation and composition: Colin Stetson & Hamid Drake, Darcy James Argue (review)

2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 4: Hamid Drake with Colin Stetson, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
NAC Fourth Stage, Laurier Avenue Canadian Music Stage
Monday, June 23, 2014

Any time someone tells you that jazz is dying or that it only attracts the 50+ audience, you could point them to the concerts on June 23 and 24 at this year's Ottawa Jazz Festival.

On June 23, Snarky Puppy attracted a shoulder-to-shoulder standing-room-only crowd to the festival's outdoor stage in front of City Hall. And most of the listeners I saw there, clearly grooving to the intricate and well-executed jazz-rock mix with a huge dynamic range, were in their 20s or early 30s.

Earlier that evening, Colin Stetson's solo show at the NAC Fourth Stage was completely sold out. According to reports I heard from several listeners in attendance, disappointed fans of all ages were left at the door.

So I decided to show up early for Stetson's show with Hamid Drake the next evening, and was not at all surprised that the Fourth Stage again ended up packed, with most of the festival's Youth Summit members standing near the door. In fact, if the show hadn't partially overlapped with Hiromi's concert in the NAC Studio, I expect it would have attracted even more listeners.

The show was billed as “Hamid Drake with Colin Stetson” – an important distinction, because the show more closely reflected Drake's performance style than Stetson's. In fact, Stetson warned the audience at the beginning of the show that this would not be a repeat of Sunday night.

Read more: Virtuosity in improvisation and composition: Colin Stetson & Hamid Drake, Darcy James Argue (review)

 

The Christian McBride Trio fulfills the tradition; the Darius Jones Quartet fights with it

2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 11: Christian McBride Trio, Darius Jones Quartet
National Arts Centre
Monday, June 30, 2014

It was an evening of “inside” versus “outside” at the National Arts Centre, on the last evening of the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Playing “inside”, primarily standards with a few originals, was the trio of bassist Christian McBride, with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. They looked extremely snazzy as they hit the stage, each wearing a well-cut suit, and McBride sporting a pair of cream-coloured horn-rimmed glasses. It was a visual cue to the music they were about to play: strongly in the tradition, and very professional. And, of course, swinging.

The NAC Studio was packed to overflowing for this concert, and not all the long line-up of listeners got in. McBride could have easily filled a much larger venue. Those who did get in got value for their money: the trio played for almost two hours. Each song was given lots of room for exploration, lasting about ten minutes each.

Read more: The Christian McBride Trio fulfills the tradition; the Darius Jones Quartet fights with it

 

Bobby McFerrin never forgets to experiment (review)

2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 10: Bobby McFerrin
Confederation Park
Sunday, June 29, 2014

Vocalist Bobby McFerrin is undoubtedly sui generis: he's crossed the boundaries of jazz, pop, and most recently gospel, over and over again. But with his emphasis on improvisation, experimentation, and reinterpretation, I think most jazz fans would be happy to welcome him as one of us.

The almost-capacity crowd in Confederation Park was certainly delighted to see him: they started the evening off with a standing ovation, sang along in one song, and – most importantly – shut up when the band was playing. It was an evening of great communication, on and off-stage, and highly enjoyable music.

McFerrin began the evening scatting, popping out syllables and lightly bumping his chest to add extra percussive effect, as he did throughout the evening. He was assisted by accented playing by a tight backing band, including some soaring lines from Gil Bruce Goldstein's accordion and fierce playing by Armand Hirsch on electric guitar.

His second number brought the gospel theme of the evening to the fore. McFerrin's latest album is called spirityouall, and features traditional gospel numbers, a Bob Dylan song, and several originals by McFerrin, all with a hopeful religious theme.

Read more: Bobby McFerrin never forgets to experiment (review)

 

Myriad3 creates dramatic, percussive music (review)

Myriad3 also played the Montreal Jazz Festival on Saturday, June 28. They were a contestant in the festival's Grand Prix contest for Canadian jazz groups.

2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 7: Myriad3 (Great Canadian Jazz), Earth, Wind & Fire (Concerts Under the Stars)
Confederation Park
Thursday, June 26, 2014

Myriad3 is the Toronto-based trio of pianist Chris Donnelly, drummer Ernesto Cervini, and bassist Dan Fortin. If not precisely a super-group, this group consists of three prolific composers who had thriving separate jazz careers well before getting together in 2012.

Although I had enjoyed hearing Donnelly and Cervini before, at Café Paradiso and elsewhere, I had missed the first time they'd played Ottawa this March – so I was particularly looking forward to this concert.

Their hour-long show primarily featured music from their new album, The Where, which was only released a few weeks ago, plus a few numbers from their first album,Tell [Alma Records, 2013]. All three contributed compositions, but they fit well into a unified whole, each piece becoming a conversation among all three.

Listening to them, I was immediately reminded that their instruments – piano, bass, drums – are essentially percussive. Beginning with forceful piano chords and hard drumming in “First Flight”, they consistently used individual quick notes on bass and piano, rather than sustained notes, to develop their melodies. It gave their music a strong forward push, and a danceability that was unfortunately not acted upon by the audience.

Their one non-original hinted at a possible origin for this style: Donnelly had rearranged Oscar Peterson's arrangement of the Duke Ellington classic, “C Jam Blues”, and you could certainly hear the Peterson-style strong bass lines and hard swinging in both piano and bass in that number.

Their songs also had a huge dynamic range: moving from full-out to quiet and back again, sometimes very quickly: Fortin's “The Strong One” changed from formal and stately to all-out frantic in only a minute or so. Donnelly's “For All the World” swept the listeners up in its momentum and its intersecting patterns. It steadily built from its initial single notes and simple chords on piano to insistent piano chords and hard drumming, until it resolved into light notes again. Cervini's “Fractured” (dedicated to trumpeter Nadje Noohuis) was a mosaic of sound, with contrasting riffs building and changing throughout.

Read more: Myriad3 creates dramatic, percussive music (review)

 

CYJO celebrates its 5th anniversary with flair and many past faces

2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 3: Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra's Fifth Anniversary Concert
Jean Pigott Place, Ottawa City Hall
Sunday, June 22, 2014 – 3 p.m.

“The Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra is 5 1/2 years old now, but who's counting? Well, actually we are!”

CYJO director Nicholas Dyson sounded proud and delighted at the success of his creation, as the young musicians in the orchestra presented their fifth anniversary concert at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Their concert was the last in a series of six presented by youth big bands at the 2014 festival.

As part of the celebration, the orchestra reprised several numbers from previous concerts, including a full-bodied rendition of “Mermaid Beach” by local composer Mark Ferguson. Other numbers ranged from classics made famous by Duke Ellington and Buddy Rich, to pieces by Canadian composers Maynard Ferguson and Paul Tynan, to the modern “That's How We Roll” by Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band.

Over CYJO's five-year history, Dyson has consistently featured big band charts by Canadian and local composers, most recently by Ottawa jazz composer Rob Frayne. And as he has done at every concert, Dyson told the audience about each piece and who had performed it, sharing his clear love of big band music.

Read more: CYJO celebrates its 5th anniversary with flair and many past faces

 

Jon Ballantyne starts the Ottawa Jazz Festival with complex melodies (review)

2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 1: Jon Ballantyne, Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Friday, June 20, 2014

Outdoors, the opening night of the 2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival was Bollywood. Indoors at the NAC Fourth Stage, two concerts presented interaction and improvisation – and pure jazz.

At 6 p.m., the festival's Improv Invitational series opened with NYC drummer Mike Pride and his band From Bacteria to Boys, with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Alexis Marcelo, and double bassist Peter Bitenc. The room was about two-thirds full, attracting many of Ottawa's avant-garde jazz fans.

They opened with “79 Beatdowns of Infinite Justice, the” a composition by Pride which also opens the group's latest album. It was a 10-minute exercise, played at high volume and speed, in which multiple streams of musical consciousness rarely intersected. It seemed designed more to show off individual technical brilliance than to form a cohesive whole; it left me cold. However, it didn't reflect the rest of the concert; the remaining pieces (all originals) united the musicians more closely and were much more interesting.

I've always enjoyed Irabagon's work in his many different groups – seeing his name in the listing was the reason I attended – and he fulfilled my high expectations. On songs like “Lullaby For Charlie”, his finely attuned sax lines evoked sweetness and sadness and then tightly circled above Marcelo's pointillist notes on piano. For this song he played what I thought was soprano sax; however, broadcaster Ron Sweetman discovered when he talked to Irabagon later that he had recently switched to sopranino saxophone, the next smallest sax, which has a slightly higher range than soprano.

Read more: Jon Ballantyne starts the Ottawa Jazz Festival with complex melodies (review)

 

The Reis Demuth Wiltgen Trio swept the audience along with its vigorous music

Michel Reis' piano playing moved from delicate and airy to vibrating and intense. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Reis Demuth Wiltgen Trio
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Ottawa, Canada
Monday, March 31, 2014 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of this concert

If jazz is an international language – as we were told repeatedly on International Jazz Day – that doesn't mean it sounds the same all over the world. It still can have local dialects and catch-phrases, and listening to musicians from other places can teach us new vocabulary.

If they can get here to perform.

Sadly, we've seen fewer international jazz acts performing here in Ottawa in the last five years. A lot of that has had to do with the continued economic downtown and less government and other support, both in North America and in Europe, for touring musicians.

So it was a pleasure to hear a trio from Luxembourg play here this spring, bringing a more European rendition of jazz – and music well worth hearing – to a tour of four Canadian cities.

Pianist Michel Reis, bassist Marc Demuth, and drummer Paul Wiltgen were born and raised in Luxembourg – and still mostly tour in Europe. The three met and played together frequently as teenagers, but that was interrupted when two of them left to study music in the United States (Berklee and the New England Conservatory for Reis, the Manhattan School of Music for Wiltgen). In 2011, they reunited for a concert back home. They have been playing together since on both sides of the Atlantic, releasing their first, self-titled, CD in 2013.

So here we have three musicians whose initial exposure to music and to jazz was in the European tradition. But then two of them overlaid that tradition with a major and continuing American influence (Reis and Wiltgen have stayed primarily in the U.S.). How did that affect what Ottawa audiences heard?

Read more: The Reis Demuth Wiltgen Trio swept the audience along with its vigorous music

 

2014 Geggie Invitational Concert: complex tapestries of music (review)

David Braid, John Geggie, and Ted Warren play thoughtfully as Joel Miller, Jim Lewis, and Christine Jensen look on. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

John Geggie / David Braid / Christine Jensen / Jim Lewis / Joel Miller / Ted Warren
NAC Presents: Geggie Invitational Concert 2014
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, April 12, 2012 - 7:30 p.m.

View the photo gallery

It was a benediction of horns, all in unison. Soaring then falling, it opened John Geggie's only invitational concert of this season on an exalted note.

With those first notes of Christine Jensen's “Garden Hour”, the concert started as it would continue: with all six musicians contributing to the complex tapestries of music, each piece developed to its fullest extent while still retaining its individuality.

For this show Geggie invited five of his favourite Canadian musicians, all of them with decades of experience – both in mainstream jazz and as adventurous improvisers, an essential part of a concert like this. Except for the encore, all the pieces they played were their originals; Geggie told the audience they had more music than they had time to play, “but we're going to play as much as we can”.

If constrained by budgets to those living in Montreal and Toronto, he nevertheless was able to include three jazz Juno award winners: alto/soprano saxophonist Christine Jensen (2014), tenor saxophonist Joel Miller (2013), and pianist David Braid (2012). They were joined by drummer Ted Warren and trumpeter Jim Lewis, both also well-known to and appreciated by local audiences.

The sextet opened with an uninterrupted 20 minutes of music, “Garden Hour” segueing directly into “Don't Cry” by Jim Lewis. David Braid's piano provided the connection: slowly building in energy, its measured variations as thoughtful as Jensen's piece. And then, as Warren entered with bright, sharp drumming, the music burst into a rushing torrent, with Lewis' insistent trumpet line over all.

Read more: 2014 Geggie Invitational Concert: complex tapestries of music (review)

   

After 75 years of playing, Oliver Jones still masterfully shares the joy of jazz (review)

Oliver Jones Trio
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Studio
Thursday, April 24, 2014 – 8 p.m.

Near the end of his sold-out concert Thursday night, pianist Oliver Jones asked the audience to continue to support “all the wonderful musicians that we have in this country”.

“Now is the time to appreciate them!” he urged. “Don't wait until the big stars come from Europe or the United States. We have a lot right here.”

This is a message that Jones has been pushing for the last 50 years, and followed himself: the other two musicians in his trio are both from Canada and he's watched their careers grow. He's known his drummer, Jim Doxas, since Doxas was 8 years old, and his double bassist, Éric Lagacé, since Lagacé started playing professionally at about 18 or 19.

The three showed a musical rapport born of that long familiarity, as they played a mixture of standards, some originals by Jones, and several numbers by Canadian jazz icon Oscar Peterson. There were lots of smiles, and an almost intuitive understanding amongst the trio.

Jones' delicate handling of a slow ballad would be subtly underlined by Doxas' light brushes on cymbals and ringing chain of bells. Lagacé's bowed bass would join in with Jones' bright piano to provide two voices expressing the melody.

The concert opened with "Teach Me Tonight" by Gene De Paul and Sammy Cahn, one of the many jazz standards which Jones has always delighted in, and which the trio gave a swinging, full-bodied rendition with strongly propulsive drumming. Jones first recorded that song on Requestfully Yours back in 1986 – an apropos title given the number of requests he took from the audience in the second set of this show.

Read more: After 75 years of playing, Oliver Jones still masterfully shares the joy of jazz (review)

   

Omer Klein gave an exhilarating and intense performance for his Canadian debut

Omer Klein ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Omer Klein and Haggai Cohen-Milo
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Ottawa, Canada
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of this concert

One piano. One double bass. And they so filled the Fourth Stage to the walls with melody and layers of sound that nothing more was needed.

This show was pianist Omer Klein's debut performance in Canada. He made the most of it with an exhilarating and intense presentation, which clearly showed his strong and longstanding connection with bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo. The two were in constant visual and musical communication, trading off the lead and reacting to each other's ideas – important given the amount of improvisation they included in the music.

Klein was touring to support his latest album, To the Unknown [Plus Loin Music, 2013], and started the show with the first two pieces from that album. “Fear of Heights” began with repeated circling patterns and then developed into a flowing, classically-influenced melody, almost like a lullaby. “Bliss” started off in a jazzier mood, with a strong initial riff on both instruments; it then added more texture with flurries of notes, glissandos, fast repeated riffs (bass against piano), and staccato interludes – accented by occasional foot stomps from Klein.

The title of “Modesty” reflected the fact it was based on seven different modes – but also that it was a “modest attempt” by a composer to understand he can't come up with a better melody that would be produced by improvisation, Klein told the audience. The actual composition is just a list of chords and a bass line, without a specified melody, he said; the version he played wasn't going to sound like the piece on the album. This version opened in a more quiet, stately manner, and the melody progressed thoughtfully, exploring variations, before slowly diminishing into a stream of individual sparkling notes.

Klein studied jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music, and privately with renowned pianists Danilo Perez and Fred Hersch. His compositions and improvisational style are clearly in the modern piano jazz tradition: multi-layered, strongly improvisational, and unpredictable with contrasting melodies and rhythms. In fact, he noted that he often doesn't even pick which song to play next before he sits back on the piano bench.

Read more: Omer Klein gave an exhilarating and intense performance for his Canadian debut

   

The Adam Saikaley Quintet brings Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro to vivid life

View photos of the performance

Filles de Kilimanjaro was a key album for trumpeter Miles Davis. Released in 1968, it was a transition between his mainstream quartet albums of the previous decade and the fusion style which dominated much of his further work.

Adam Saikaley and his quintet rearranged Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro with care, replacing trumpet with guitar, and tenor with alto sax, for their show at the Manx. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

It's also one of Ottawa pianist Adam Saikaley's favourite jazz albums, and he's always regretted the fact it's not better known. So he decided to remedy this by playing it live with his own quintet.

Not straight note-for-note, though: Saikaley wasn't going to pretend that he was Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock. And while the rhythm section (Saikaley on electric piano, Mike Essoudry on drums, and Marc Decho on electric bass) were playing the same instruments as on the album, the other two weren't. Linsey Wellman played alto sax and Alex Moxon played electric guitar, instead of the tenor sax and trumpet that were on the album.

Saikaley's group has played the album twice so far: a shortened version as part of a multi-group show at Pressed on February 8, and then the full version at the Manx on March 9. The Manx show attracted a standing-room-only crowd, almost all of whom were focused on the stage. They loudly applauded during and at the end of the show.

One advantage of choosing this album, Saikaley pointed out, was that listeners wouldn't have as many preconceptions of the music as they would, for example, with Kind of Blue, and could listen to it with open ears.

He said the members of the quintet all contributed to rearranging the five pieces on the record for the new instrumentation. Throughout the show you could see the musicians checking the extensive scores for the new arrangements. They ended up slightly extending the music: 65 minutes for the Manx live version, compared to 56 minutes on the Miles Davis recording.

Read more: The Adam Saikaley Quintet brings Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro to vivid life

   

Phil Dwyer Trio energizes BDT with a compelling collaboration (review)

Phil Dwyer Trio
Les Brasseurs du Temps
Sunday, March 2, 2014 – 8 p.m.

Based in Vancouver Island, Juno-winning musician and composer Phil Dwyer doesn't often perform in Ottawa-Gatineau. Local jazz fans were lucky that he had a series of dates and recording sessions in Toronto last week, and that musicians Sylvie Duchesneau and J.P. Moisan figured out how to extend that trip by one more day to bring him to Les Brasseurs du Temps (BDT) in Gatineau.

It was a chance for Dwyer to play with his son Ben on double bass, and with Jim Doxas on drums. And what they gave an appreciative audience was straight down the mainstream, a mixture of standards and a Dwyer original, but all delivered with verve and clarity.

Unlike his quieter show with Don Thompson last summer at Chamberfest, this time Dwyer chose a generally energetic set-list, featuring pieces by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. His tenor sax strongly rang out through the large upstairs concert area at BDT, sometimes commanding, other times coaxing, and always creating enjoyable music.

The show opened with Monk's “We See”, which showed off Dwyer's pure tone on sax. Its swinging vibe put both the audience and the musicians at ease. The intensity increased with “Village Green” (best known in the recording by drummer Elvin Jones), and demonstrated what would be a consistent pattern throughout the show: the strong communication among the trio, each underlining the other's performance. The piece included a rumbling bass/drums duet, and pungent, vibrating lines on sax, and inspired strong applause.

Read more: Phil Dwyer Trio energizes BDT with a compelling collaboration (review)