Thursday, February 11, 2016
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Nick Fraser stretches the boundaries of drumming with Justin Haynes' scores (review)

IMOO #136: Nick Fraser presents the absurd and wonderful solo drumset music of Justin Haynes
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO)
Sunday, February 7, 2016 – 7 p.m.
Black Squirrel Books & Café

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Drummer Nick Fraser isn't afraid to take musical chances. Although an experienced composer himself, he asked his friend and musical compatriot, guitarist Justin Haynes, to write some solo drumset music for him – and got perhaps even more than he bargained for.

Up jumped spring! Nick Fraser applied his skills as a percussionist to a spring, guitar, vintage drum pad, and his drumset for an eclectic and satisfying performance of Justin Hayne's whimsical scores ©Brett Delmage

He told the audience at IMOO that Haynes got “quite obsessed about it”, and produced 20 scores, some of which Fraser still hasn't had a chance to look at. Fraser unveiled five scores at IMOO, starting by reading a tongue-in-cheek “composer's statement” from Haynes – the first in a series of light-hearted introductions to the pieces which got the audience laughing and interested.

Both Fraser and Haynes grew up in Ottawa, but moved to Toronto many years ago. Fraser plays both avant-garde and more traditional jazz music, while Haynes' recordings have ranged from singer-songwriter to chamber music to highly experimental.

The pieces Fraser played Sunday stretched the boundaries of jazz drumming: the first, for example, was the extrapolation of a solo by iconic jazz drummer Max Roach, rewritten for snare drum only. Fraser introduced the piece by saying, “Don't worry, it's not very long,” and that was true for all the pieces. Each was concise; Fraser explored each new idea thoroughly but without letting it drag. Each had its own particular set-up – for example, he changed snare drums between the first and second pieces – and feel.

The second piece, “Everything happens at once” had a large, elaborate graphic score, where the music was expressed through pictures and through graphs of its movement – more a guideline than prescriptive. It had Fraser playing different sounds per limb – for example, his left foot controlled a volume pedal with a recording of him playing the drums, his right foot played a toy synthesizer, and his hands played rhythms based on randomly-generated word lists – while he sung wordless melodies.

It turned out to be an intriguing conglomeration of overlapping sounds, with a fast underlying beat, and an overall echoing, ringing feel. From the description, I had expected something cacophonous, but it turned out to be relatively melodic.

For the third, Haynes asked Fraser for his back copies of Modern Drummer magazine; he clipped out all the “most-difficult looking bars” and put them together and instructed Fraser to play them slowly with brushes – and also had him replace the right-hand part with an electric guitar to create the aural illusion of a duo. It had a definite thrash rock feel, with lots of sustained notes.

Read more: Nick Fraser stretches the boundaries of drumming with Justin Haynes' scores (review)


Crossroads concert scribbled on genre boundaries while remaining true to Lynn Miles' songs (review)

Lynn Miles sings her songs in new jazz arrangements by saxophonist Petr Cancura and featuring bassist John Geggie (and guitarist Roddy Ellias, not shown) ©2016 Brett Delmage

Petr Cancura's Crossroads series with guest Lynn Miles
NAC Presents
NAC Fourth Stage
Thursday, February 4, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of Petr Cancura's Crossroads concert with Lynn Miles

Billed as a cross between jazz and folk, this concert was as much about their kissin' cousins, country music and blues – in an evening which remained true to Lynn Miles' songs even as it scribbled on genre boundaries.

It was the second in Petr Cancura's Crossroads series at the National Arts Centre, in which the jazz composer and saxophonist has collaborated with Ottawa singer-songwriters to create jazz interpretations of their music. He picks songs from their albums, rearranges them for jazz quartet plus singer, refines the arrangements in extensive rehearsals, and then presents the results in this NAC Presents series.

His target? victim? co-conspirator? this time was prominent Ottawa folksinger Lynn Miles, who clearly gave as good as she got in the partnership. There was lots of banter on-stage, generally friendly though occasionally barbed. It complemented the music, which comfortably fitted itself around the songs.

Read more: Crossroads concert scribbled on genre boundaries while remaining true to Lynn Miles' songs (review)


An immersion in music from Pauline Oliveros and friends

Jesse Stewart, Gayle Young, and Pauline Oliveros listen intently and react musically at their Ottawa concert January 16. ©2016 Brett Delmage

Pauline Oliveros and Friends
Canadian New Music Network Forum 2016
First Baptist Church
Saturday, January 16, 2016 – 8 p.m.

View photos of Pauline Oliveros and friends

American accordionist, composer, and musical theorist Pauline Oliveros has been rethinking and overturning ideas about avant-garde composition and improvisation for the last five decades. She's influenced many performers, composers, and free jazz improvisers with her ideas on deep listening – including some of those who performed with her in her Ottawa concert on Saturday.

The concert was an extraordinary blending of many voices, with nine musicians collaborating in a completely free improvisation on a wide variety of instruments. And the result was not just ear-opening and often beautiful music; it also exemplified Oliveros' music-making theories.

Read more: An immersion in music from Pauline Oliveros and friends


The Andrew Kushnir Trio provides an upbeat start to 2016 at Options Jazz Lounge

Adrian Vedady takes in a solo by Andrew Kushnir ©Brett Delmage, 2016

The Andrew Kushnir Trio provided an upbeat start to 2016 with their New Year's Day show at the Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata, which attracted a happy crowd of local jazz musicians and listeners.

Kushnir, who is now studying for his Masters in Performance at New York University Steindhart with Stefon Harris and Joe Lovano, provided strong but nuanced drumming to the trio, complementing the melodic feel of two well-known Montreal musicians: pianist Josh Rager and double bassist Adrian Vedady.

The trio played jazz classics by masters that included Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Bill Evans, a mixture of ballads and more accented pieces that easily filled the room and commanded attention. They're back at Options Jazz Lounge tonight, for their second show of the weekend.

    – Alayne McGregor

Read more: The Andrew Kushnir Trio provides an upbeat start to 2016 at Options Jazz Lounge


"Holiday Sparkle" too diffuse to reach its full shine (review)

The National Arts Centre Orchestra “Holiday Sparkle”
with Emilie-Claire Barlow and David Myles
NAC Presents
NAC Southam Hall
Friday, December 18, 2015 – 7 p.m.

View photos of Emilie-Claire Barlow with the NAC Orchestra in "Holiday Sparkle"

“When we said 'Holiday Sparkle', we meant it”, vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow told the audience at the NAC Orchestra's Christmas show. There was even an orchestra dress code for this show that encouraged sparkly fabrics, she explained – and her own bright gold sequined dress had no problems fitting in.

Emilie-Claire Barlow sounded at ease with the large sound of the NAC Orchestra, her strong and flexible voice easily hitting the high notes ©Brett Delmage, 2015

But while visually the show did indeed sparkle, musically it dragged. This was not because of the musicianship: both the orchestra and the featured musicians sounded crisp, enthusiastic, and well-coordinated, but rather a programme that lacked focus and diffused its energy into too many paths.

The NAC tried to reach the singer-songwriter and roots audiences with Maritimer David Myles; the classical audience with Ralph Vaughan Williams; and the jazz crowd with Barlow, and didn't give quite enough to any of them in the 100 minutes of music to be really satisfying.

The show opened with two pieces by the orchestra: a pleasant medley of Christmas carols (appropriate as an overture), and an unexciting “Fantasia on Greensleeves” by Vaughan Williams. Then Myles sang four original songs, mostly from his recently-released It's Christmas album, including “It's Christmas”, “The Gift”, and the delightful Roger Miller-influenced “Santa never brings me a banjo”.

Read more: "Holiday Sparkle" too diffuse to reach its full shine (review)


The Beeched Wailers CD release concert: well-made music with energy and style

The Beeched Wailers
CD Release Concert for The Johnson Lake Sessions
The Gladstone Theatre
Sunday, December 13, 2015 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of The Beeched Wailers CD Release concert

There's something to be said for running a jam session every Tuesday night for almost two years: you really know how to pick material and how to keep the attention of your audience. The Beeched Wailers' CD release show on Sunday evening was energetic and tight, showcasing the band's strengths and the high quality of the music they performed.

Tyson Harris responds to a solo by Nicholas Dyson
photo ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Read more: The Beeched Wailers CD release concert: well-made music with energy and style


Guillaume Martineau's cinematic music electrifies the NAC Fourth Stage

Guillaume Martineau Quintet
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, October 24, 2015 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of The Guillaume Martineau Quintet

After the music ended and the applause died down, I simply sat for a few moments, reliving the the power of this quintet's performance at the NAC. It was a concert which began with quiet, classically-influenced passages and ended in thunderous jazz-rock, increasing in intensity and enveloping the audience during its 80-minute length.

At Guillaume Martineau's NAC Presents concert, there was a high degree of communication and conversation among the musicians (l-r Martineau, Tevet Sela, François Jalbert) ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The music was both electric – with the bass and guitar players making considerable use of pedals and effects – and acoustic – unadorned grand piano, saxophone, and drums – but with each voice contributing to the overall sound, whether simple and restrained, or all-out.

Montreal jazz pianist Guillaume Martineau describes his compositions as cinematic. And if you like your cinema mostly on a Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars scale, rather than understated interior dramas, that adjective fits quite well. Each of the eight pieces he played at the NAC Presents show told its individual story through intertwining melodies and multiple sonic lines and each was memorable in its own way – some more grandiloquent than others.

That's not surprising with Martineau's wide-ranging CV: a Masters degree in classical piano from McGill University, followed by a jazz degree from Berklee College of Music. From his classical experience, he's developed a taste for multiple movements, multiple voices, and a large dynamic range in his compositions; from jazz, room for improvisation and collaboration.

Equally important to the sound were the other four other Montreal musicians on stage: Tevet Sela on alto and soprano sax, Simon Pagé on electric bass and effects, François Jalbert on electric guitar and effects, and Mark Nelson on drums. These are musicians Martineau has played with for the past three years, since he returned from Berklee. With the exception of Nelson, all appeared on his first album, Par 5 Chemins, released in 2014.

Read more: Guillaume Martineau's cinematic music electrifies the NAC Fourth Stage


Allison Au Quartet's original music warmly received at MJF

The Allison Au Quartet
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Merrickville United Church
Sunday, October 18, 2015 – 3 p.m.

View photos of The Allison Au Quartet at MJF 2015

Performing in Merrickville United Church is like theatre in the round – the band is almost surrounded on three sides by an audience above them. It's a daunting expanse to play to.

In '2601' Au evoked grieving and incredible loss through her combination of instrumental voices, without letting the music become bathetic, and still keeping a touch of hope at the end ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Toronto saxophonist Allison Au and her quartet easily filled that space and more in their mid-afternoon concert at Merrickville's Jazz Fest. Playing pieces from the quartet's upcoming album, plus two standards, they fully captured the audience's attention with their melodic and finely interlaced music.

The quartet's first album, a collection of accessible and transparently multi-layered originals written by Au, was nominated for a Juno in 2013. Its new album, also composed by Au, is already recorded and will be released in February.

Three of the four members of the band – Au on alto sax, Todd Pentney on keyboards, and Jon Maharaj on bass – were present for the Merrickville concert, joined by drummer Ethan Ardelli. Ardelli is well-known on the Toronto jazz scene, playing with Nancy Walker, Mike Downes, and Jane Bunnett. He also played for several years in the host band for the Ottawa jazz festival jams.

What they played was very much an evolution, rather than a major change in direction, from their first CD. “Aureole”, their opening number, was definitely in the same voice as before, and again very much a group effort. Opening with nuanced rhythms and long, evolving lines on saxophone, it was an upbeat and intriguing introduction to Au's music. In particular, the piece was driven by Ardelli's hard-edged drumming. He added a consistently strong pulse to the group's sound.

The next piece, “Orange”, was a ballad featuring a duet between Au's evocative, slow alto and Pentney's romantic piano – clear and thoughtful with accents. It reminded me of floating down a river with a few eddies along the way, and had lots of forward momentum without being obvious about it.

Au described “Bolero” as a “ballad of sorts”. It was inspired by two of her music teachers at Humber College: pianist Hilario Duran and guitarist Luis Mario Ochoa, and, unsurprisingly, showed a strong Latin influence. After a quiet sax/piano introduction, Maharaj took over on bass, refining a subtle riff and then further developing the melody – a fine and nuanced performance.

Read more: Allison Au Quartet's original music warmly received at MJF


Diane White expresses her love of Sixties music in jazz

Diane White, with Tim Bedner and Mark Fraser
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Holy Trinity Anglican Church
Saturday, October 17, 2015 – 3:30 p.m.

View photos of Diane White and her trio at MJF 2015

Presenting a jazz concert featuring the music of the Sixties – as vocalist Diane White and her trio did at Merrickville's Jazz Fest – has a number of pitfalls. For example, you have, if anything, far too much to choose from – and no clear focus.

Diane White clearly charmed the audience with the heartfelt feel she gave to the lyrics ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Obviously, the British invasion qualifies, with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Kinks and and Cream and many more. Surf music with the Beach Boys. Psychedelic rock with Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Burt Bacharach. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, and Buffalo Springfield. Tiny Tim. Liberace. The Jackson 5, the Supremes, and other Motown groups. Frank Zappa. Broadway show tunes. Protest songs, blues, traditional folk, rock&roll – and did we mention all the great modal jazz, bop, post-bop, soul-jazz, avant-garde jazz and more?

You can't play it all. You can't even be truly representative. You can only pick what you'd like to play – and what works.

With two exceptions, I thought Diane White and her trio made excellent choices for her Sixties show at Merrickville. They picked songs with musical heft, ones which have lasted because they have memorable hooks and well-chosen lyrics, and their melodies insinuate themselves into your brain. Only one was an actual jazz tune, but they generally worked well in the trio's understated jazz arrangements.

Read more: Diane White expresses her love of Sixties music in jazz


Five Ottawa musicians co-operate in exploring their compositions (review)

The Jazz Co-op
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Merrickville United Church
Friday, October 16, 2015 – 4:30 p.m.

View photos of The Jazz Co-op at MJF 2015

Each of the five musicians in the Jazz Co-op is individually well-known in Ottawa, both as a jazz musician and composer. But what was interesting about their concert at Merrickville's Jazz Fest was how much they wrote for the others in the group, rather than treating them as backup to their themselves.

The Jazz Co-op held the attention of their audience at Merrickville's Jazz Fest with a varied set of originals by group members. (l-r Mike Essoudry, Alex Bilodeau, Vince Rimbach, Garry Eliott, Peter Hum) ©Brett Delmage, 2015It's a classic jazz quintet line-up: tenor sax (Vince Rimbach), piano (Peter Hum), guitar (Garry Elliott), double bass (Alex Bilodeau), and drums (Mike Essoudry). Collectively they have many decades of jazz experience. However, this was only their third public appearance as a group; they've also performed at GigSpace last November and at last June's Ottawa Jazz Festival.

The seven pieces they performed in their 65-minute-long concert were all originals and made good use of their amassed talent.

Hum opened the show with his composition, “The Good Fight”, a piece whose primary voice is saxophone, not piano. After an emphatic drum and piano intro, Rimbach took over with his tenor sax, at first wistful and then becoming stronger as he smoothly developed the melody. Hum's piano and Elliott's guitar provided a repeated percussive contrast in short solos, but it was ultimately Rimbach's fluid sax which told the uplifting story.

Read more: Five Ottawa musicians co-operate in exploring their compositions (review)


The Miguel de Armas Latin Jazz Quartet and the Horizon Quintet create a dancing groove at MJF 2015

The Horizon Quintet
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Merrickville Community Centre
Saturday, October 17, 2015 – 12 noon

The Miguel de Armas Latin Jazz Quartet
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Merrickville Community Centre
Saturday, October 17, 2015 – 1:30 p.m.

Pianist Miguel de Armas is a perennial favourite at Merrickville's Jazz Fest. Even performing in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, his Ottawa-based Latin Jazz Quartet filled a large room in the local community centre with fervent Afro-Cuban jazz enthusiasts, clapping and swaying to the beat.

Pianist Miguel de Armas in close musical conversation with percussionist Arien Villegas and bassist Marc Decho at Merrickville's Jazz Fest  ©Brett Delmage, 2015His show was the second half of a double bill, and the room already looked packed when we arrived partway into the first group's set. More people kept arriving, with a final count from the organizers of at least 130. But the community centre and the volunteers were prepared with chairs, and they steadily added them around the edges of the room.

The quartet has been preparing for its upcoming debut performance at the Havana Jazz Festival in December, and had a long list of tunes ready for this show – but no fixed set-list order. Instead, de Armas signalled the next tune as the applause died down from the previous one – and, in fact, the music flowed well from tune to tune, never losing its strong forward momentum.

View photos of the Miguel de Armas Latin Jazz Quartet at MJF 2015

There was clearly an easy communication among the four players. Underlying all the tunes were Ottawa percussionist Arien Villegas' nuanced conga rhythms, giving the music its characteristic Cuban sound and energy, but also moving out at times into interesting variations. He was in frequent eye contact with Montreal drummer Michel Medrano, an assertive and dynamic player who provided a powerful underlying beat but who could also play quietly and atmospherically under ballads.

Read more: The Miguel de Armas Latin Jazz Quartet and the Horizon Quintet create a dancing groove at MJF 2015


Carlos Alberto Santana draws from Mexico and Brubeck in a happy concert (review)

The Carlos Alberto Santana Jazz Trio (l-r: Santana, Angel Araos, Daniel Chavolla) presented a concert whose sound was carefully modulated to work well in the reverberant St. Ann Catholic Church in Merrickville. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Carlos Alberto Santana Jazz Trio
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
St. Ann Catholic Church
Friday, October 16, 2015 – 3 p.m.

View photos of this performance

I first heard Ottawa pianist Carlos Alberto Santana a few years ago in local Latin and world music groups. But, as his trio concert at Merrickville's Jazz Fest showed, his musical range is much greater than that.

His hour-long concert on Friday afternoon was an appealing group of almost all originals, whose sound owed as much to Dave Brubeck as any Cuban or Brazilian composer.

By profession an electrical engineer, Santana also studied jazz with Juan Jose Calatayud in Mexico and Jan Jarczyk in Montreal. He moved to Canada from Mexico in 1998. His bassist, Daniel Chavolla, is also from Mexico, while drummer Angel Araos is from Chile. They've been playing together for well over a year, at locations around the region including a GigSpace show last summer.

Santana opened the concert with solo piano, beginning his composition “Oye Latino” as a reflective piano piece with almost a Bill Evans feel. Partway through, Chavolla and Araos joined in, and the mood became brighter and faster, with more of a Latin feel. With piano glissandos, assertive bass lines, and rumbling drums, the tune ended with a strong flourish – and evoked strong applause from the audience.

He followed that with another bright piece, “Las Chiquis”, dedicated to his daughters. Its dancing rhythms evolved throughout the piece, but remained consistently fast and fun.

“Back to I-95” was a tribute to Dave Brubeck, one of Santana's favourite jazz musicians. It had the forward momentum of traffic on that east-coast highway, but played with nuance – brushes on the drums and a sparkling melody on piano.

Read more: Carlos Alberto Santana draws from Mexico and Brubeck in a happy concert (review)


Fern Lindzon Trio wins over MJF audience with original approach to familar songs (review)

The strength and originality of Fern Lindzon's material and her approach won over Merrickville Jazz Fest's audience  ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Fern Lindzon Trio
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Baldachin Inn Ballroom
Sunday, October 18, 2015 – 8:15 p.m.

View photos of this performance

Toronto jazz vocalist and pianist Fern Lindzon had to win over an audience at Merrickville's Jazz Fest, which had just given a standing ovation 15 minutes before to a very different band with a very different sound. The fact that she was able to do so, and got a standing ovation herself at the end of the night, was testimony to the strength and originality of her material and her approach.

Lindzon was playing with Toronto bassist George Koller, her long-time collaborator and producer, and Ottawa drummer Michel Delage. The Juno-nominated musician performed a diverse set of songs from her last two albums, plus new material she's been developing recently.

She's been concentrating lately on Thelonious Monk, and opened with Monk's “Straight, No Chaser”. She sang it simply, accompanied just by double bass and drums – no piano.

No piano? That's because the version she was singing was called “Get It Straight”, with lyrics by Sally Swisher on top of Monk's original piano composition.

The lyrics had a strong message, very much in tune with Monk himself: “Don’t wait for no one / You have to go on / Because the moment is the place where it happens / And there's no one who can help you get straight”. Lindzon sang them in a very Monk-ish accented rhythm, combining the words with scatting.

Read more: Fern Lindzon Trio wins over MJF audience with original approach to familar songs (review)


A fun Night on the Town with Richard Page's band at Merrickville's Jazz Fest (review)

Richard Page's long and fruitful musical teaming with trumpeter Ed Lister was up-front in The Night on the Town Band's performance at MJF©Brett Delmage, 2015

Richard Page's Night on the Town Band
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Baldachin Inn Ballroom
Sunday, October 18, 2015 – 7 p.m.

View photos of this performance

Ottawa saxophonist Richard Page has been developing his Night on the Town Band over the last year, playing deliberately-accessible and fun – but also original – music. The success of that approach could be seen in the enthusiastic response the band received at the closing night concert of Merrickville's Jazz Fest.

The band is made up of younger musicians respected on Ottawa's jazz scene – drummer Michel Delage, double bassist Alex Bilodeau, guitarist Terence Wright – and most importantly, trumpeter Ed Lister, with whom Page has had a long and fruitful musical teaming. Page and Lister both share a love of hard bop and funk and soul, and have created several groups to play that music.

Read more: A fun Night on the Town with Richard Page's band at Merrickville's Jazz Fest (review)


Alex Pangman swings the ballroom at Merrickville's Jazz Fest (review)

Alex Pangman's vocals and John MacLeod's cornet often sounded as though they were singing a duet together. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Alex Pangman & Her Alleycats
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Baldachin Inn Ballroom
Saturday, October 17, 2015 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of this performance

One of Alex Pangman's signature songs is “Rhythm Is Our Business”, a swing tune from the 1930s in which the vocalist talks about her band and all their quirks. The fast-paced number showed off the skill of her musicians and the vibrancy and humour in her music, and allowed Pangman to tell the audience all about the history of that song.

It typified her approach: take traditional swing music from the 20s to the early 40s, and make it come as alive to her listeners as it does for her. Supported by a talented band, she was easily able to do that at Merrickville's Jazz Fest.

The word had already gone out that this was a concert that shouldn't be missed. The Baldachin Ballroom was stuffed with more than 200 listeners – which unfortunately meant there was no room for dancing, which Pangman's music often inspires. Three rows of extra chairs were brought in to accommodate the unexpected high demand for tickets to this show. And, as soon as Pangman reached the stage, she was greeted with clapping and cheers.

Read more: Alex Pangman swings the ballroom at Merrickville's Jazz Fest (review)


Steve Berndt and Brian Browne keep evolving their collaboration at MJF (review)

Updated October 21

Steve Berndt sang with his whole body in his duo show with Brian Browne at Merrickville's Jazz Fest ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Steve Berndt featuring Brian Browne
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Baldachin Inn Restaurant
Friday, October 16, 2015 – 6 p.m.

View photos of this performance

Pianist Brian Browne and vocalist and trombonist Steve Berndt have had a fruitful partnership since 2012, with two albums and a series of high-profile concerts. Both veterans of the Ottawa jazz scene, they share a love of the classic jazz standards – but are also willing to go beyond that repertoire.

Their Friday dinner-hour show at Merrickville's Jazz Fest was warmly received. The restaurant was full as they launched into a happy, swinging rendition of “Our Love is Here to Stay”. Berndt sang the lyrics tenderly and with great feeling, while Browne adding exactly the notes on keyboard needed to define the melody, with no extraneous flourishes. In one or two places, I thought Berndt sounded a bit hoarse (the cold, wet weather that evening was not good for voices) but it didn't distract from the feel of the song.

I continue to be impressed with Berndt's original compositions, which he wrote for the two albums. All bittersweet love songs, they're very much in the spirit of the Great American Songbook, but are also clearly in his own voice. They hold up well to repeated listenings.

At the show, they played all three originals from the two albums, starting with the first album's title track “Déjà Vu”. Berndt sang smoothly and with attention to the lyrics, while Browne underlined the melody with strong chords and lots of space. As the song continued, both became more syncopated and lively, evoking strong applause at the end.

When the two started their collaboration, Berndt made a point of only being a vocalist, in the spirit of the classic Bill Evans/Tony Bennett albums he modeled their duo after. But now he's bringing out his other musical love – his trombone – to their concerts. Their rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me”, with him playing the melody on trombone, was a delight: a full-bodied, fluid rendition, underlined by fast, sparkling keyboard. Berndt noted at the end that this is a song normally only sung by women, so thought he'd play it on trombone instead.

Read more: Steve Berndt and Brian Browne keep evolving their collaboration at MJF (review)


Peter Hum: Alpha Moment (CD review)

Alpha Moment by Peter Hum (front cover photo by Bruce Deachman). The CD will be released in Ottawa in a concert at the NAC Fourth Stage on Thursday, September 24.Alpha Moment
Peter Hum
Independent, 2015

Over the last year, I've heard Peter Hum in concert several times. Although he's often had a major role in arranging the music being played, he is usually seen off to the side, in the darker edges of the stage, letting others take the spotlight and talk about the music.

This approach is also present in his second album, Alpha Moment. While the compositions clearly reflect Hum's complex style, his piano playing is not particularly featured in this album. It's certainly there in the mix, but the leads and the solos are primarily by saxophonists Kenji Omae and Nathan Cepelinski and guitarist Mike Rud.

Instead, Hum's voice comes through in his writing and arranging. This CD demonstrates Hum's talent for layering instruments and contrasting voices: for example, Omae's more full-bodied sax style against Cepelinski's more finely-edged lines. His compositions flow and and develop, with considerable dynamic range throughout.

The CD also celebrates melody, supporting and developing those melodic threads throughout each piece, changing them in a way that works naturally from the initial statement.

Hum released his first album, A Boy's Journey, in 2010. This second album was mostly recorded in December, 2011, but has taken almost four years to release. Listening to both, it's clear that the two are companion CDs, with overall a similar sound.

Read more: Peter Hum: Alpha Moment (CD review)


Vijay Iyer and Dr. L Subramaniam fuse jazz and Indian music into a propulsive and nuanced whole

Violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam in deep conversation with pianist Vijay Iyer. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Best of India, Best of Jazz
Vijay Iyer and Dr. L. Subramaniam
Harold Shenkman Hall
Shenkman Arts Centre, Ottawa
Saturday, September 5, 2015 – 7 p.m.

View photos of this performance

Growing up in the U.S. as the son of immigrants from India, jazz pianist Vijay Iyer was always aware of Indian classical music – and in particular the Carnatic tradition from south India and one of its major exemplars, violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam.

That life-long influence made Saturday's concert at the Shenkman Arts Centre particularly special. He told the audience that, while he had known Subramaniam for some time in person, this was the first time they had had a chance to work together. He sounded delighted at the prospect.

Both Iyer and Subramaniam have worked in cross-cultural contexts before: in 2011, Iyer released Tirtha, a trio album with Indian guitarist/composer Prasanna, and tablaist Nitin Mitta. Earlier this year, he played six nights in a Manhattan club with two Carnatic-trained musicians on violin and Indian percussion. He's also released several albums with Indian-American saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.

For several decades, Subramaniam, who was trained in both the classical Indian and classical Western traditions, has been been performing “Global Fusion” concerts – combining Indian music with Western, and often jazz, music, and performing with everyone from Stéphane Grappelli to Larry Coryell to Herbie Hancock.

Read more: Vijay Iyer and Dr. L Subramaniam fuse jazz and Indian music into a propulsive and nuanced whole


The Miles in the Sky Ensemble captures the electric in Miles Davis

The duets between Linsey Wellman and Ed Lister captured the excitement of Miles Davis' electric period in the Miles in the Sky Ensemble's show at the Arboretum Festival. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Miles in the Sky Ensemble
Arboretum Festival
Albert Island, Ottawa River
Friday, August 21, 2015 - 11:30 p.m.

View photos of this performance

When Miles Davis turned his jazz electric in the late 60s and early 70s, it was much more than a change in instrumentation. The new music was fused with rock concepts, it was run through effects generators, it was amplified, and it was charged with excitement.

That excitement was captured by the Miles in the Sky Ensemble in its late-night show at the Arboretum Festival Friday. In their 90-minute show, the ensemble produced a highly interactive and often thrilling performance, playing pieces from four of Davis' electric/jazz fusion albums (although, oddly enough, none from his Miles in the Sky album).

Read more: The Miles in the Sky Ensemble captures the electric in Miles Davis


Pilar and the Sicilian Jazz Project replaced jazz cool with passion (review)

Pilar and the Sicilian Jazz Project
Ottawa Chamberfest, Chamberfringe series
Saint Brigid's Centre for the Arts, Kildare Room
Saturday, August 1, 2015 – 10 p.m.

In many jazz shows there's a subtle distance between the performers and the material. It's part of the jazz cool: a way of looking at the music both from the inside and the outside, of standing apart.

Pilar and The Sicilian Jazz Project were having none of that, in their late-night Chamberfringe show August 1.

Rarely have I seen performers – and particularly singers – who immersed themselves in the music as much as Franco-Italian vocalist Pilar and Canadian-Sicilian vocalist Dominic Mancuso did in this show. In almost every song, their voices, their faces, their hands, and their entire bodies were communicating the intense emotion in the lyrics and music.

It was an emphatically “hot” concert – both the vocals and the concentrated, jazz-fusion-flavoured instrumentals.

The project is the brainchild of Toronto jazz guitarist/composer Michael Occhipinti, and is based on his own Sicilian family heritage, as well as field recordings made by musicologist Alan Lomax in Sicily in 1954. It's a rethinking of original folksongs through the lens of Occhipinti's jazz sensibility, rhythms, arrangements, and improvisation.

Read more: Pilar and the Sicilian Jazz Project replaced jazz cool with passion (review)