Sunday, May 24, 2015
   
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Kathryn Ladano takes her bass clarinet from growls to helices of melody

 ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Kathryn Ladano
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) #121
Raw Sugar Café
Sunday, May 17, 2015 - 7 p.m.

Bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano took her instrument from deep bass growls to unearthly treble lines to percussive pops at her Ottawa concert Sunday – in a café of silent listeners absorbed in her music, despite the attractions of balmy spring weather during a long weekend.

The Waterloo-based musician and educator, who studied with bass clarinet master Lori Freedman, is on tour across Canada. She's performing solo but also promoting ...Listen, the just-released album by Stealth, her duo with Richard Burrows of the TorQ Percussion Quartet.

On that album, she said, Burrows primarily plays vibraphone – which made the second half of this concert, a duet with Ottawa percussionist Rory Magill playing the similar xylophone and assorted percussion, particularly fitting.

This show was the second stop on Ladano's tour, and part of the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) biweekly concert series. It attracted IMOO regulars, but also new audience members who stayed for the entire concert.

For the first set, Ladano performed solo: a series of six compositions and improvisations, each lasting about 5 to 8 minutes. She opened with vibrating bass notes, reminiscent of whale songs, and deeper than I'd heard on a bass clarinet – and then moved to lighter, shimmering notes, more like from a bass flute. She filled the entire room with long, vibrating tones, quiet blankets of sound which ebbed and flowed in intensity, dual circling lines of melody, and memorable rhythms.

Read more: Kathryn Ladano takes her bass clarinet from growls to helices of melody

 

John Geggie's two-saxophone experiment satisfies the audience

John Geggie's 2015 Invitational Concert with Jim Doxas, Kelly Jefferson, and Frank Lozano
NAC Presents
NAC Fourth Stage
Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jazz is a genre of experimentation. Improvisation is the norm; new combinations are welcomed.

So when John Geggie decided to go chordless – no piano, no guitar – for his annual Invitational concert, I figured it would be an opportunity to hear some interesting interactions and different music. And with saxophonists Kelly Jefferson and Frank Lozano in front, and Geggie on double bass and Jim Doxas on drums driving the rhythm, that's exactly what happened.

"Concerts like this are special because they are ephemeral: even in Canada's smaller jazz scene, musicians in different cities who aren't in the same groups are unlikely to get together often. It made for a special experience for the audience."

Jefferson and Lozano have known each other since they studied jazz at the same time at McGill University, though with Jefferson busy on the Toronto scene and Lozano in Montreal, they haven't had much chance lately to perform together. They both showed up with tenor and soprano saxophones, and deployed them in every possible combination: two tenors, two sopranos, one tenor and one soprano, and one soprano and one tenor.

Although all the musicians except Doxas contributed compositions – one even written on the train coming up – the set-list contained more jazz classics than usual at a Geggie concert. They opened with Ornette Coleman's “The Blessing”, emphasizing the groove in the piece.

Lozano and Jefferson began by blowing in unison on soprano, and then divided: Jefferson first outlining the melody incisively and delicately in the instrument's higher range with Lozano playing a simple line underneath, then Lozano taking over playing in a slightly lower register. The rhythm section supported them with strong forward motion, and then Geggie moved to the forefront with a sparse, deep, almost grumbling bass solo, with Doxas adding light drum thumps and cymbal taps as accents. Jefferson returned with an assertive soprano line and was joined after a few bars by Lozano, and they ended the piece as it began: strong and swinging.

Read more: John Geggie's two-saxophone experiment satisfies the audience

 

Mike Murley revisits the past and celebrates the new with his septet at Ontario Scene

Kevin Turcotte's intense trumpet lines added to the energy of Mike Murley's Septet at the NAC's Ontario Scene. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Mike Murley Septet
Ontario Scene
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Friday, May 8, 2015

View photos of this performance

What do you get when you put seven fine musicians from Toronto on stage together in Ottawa? A night of satisfying and wide-ranging mainstream jazz, melodic and dynamic.

Jazz, in particular, benefits from more instrumental voices on stage, allowing more interplay and different arrangements – but the economics of touring a large group can be daunting. That's why we see very few visiting big bands, or even a septet like the one saxophonist and composer Mike Murley brought to the NAC Fourth Stage Friday night.

He was there as part of the NAC's Ontario Scene festival, whose mandate is to “celebrate the province’s dynamic culture: a synergy of tradition and innovation, of established and emerging artists”. Murley is certainly an established artist – it's been almost 35 years since he left Nova Scotia for Toronto and since then he's established himself as an essential part of the Canadian jazz scene, winning many Junos and National Jazz Awards. His recordings celebrate both the tradition (jazz standards with guitarist Ed Bickert) and innovation (the electric jazz of Metalwood).

The room was packed and expectant as Murley took the stage, along with Tara Davidson (soprano and alto sax), Kevin Turcotte (trumpet and flugelhorn), William Carn (trombone), David Braid (piano), Jim Vivian (double bass), and Ted Warren (drums). It's the same lineup as when he formed the septet a decade ago, with the exception of Carn, who was subbing for Terry Promane.

Read more: Mike Murley revisits the past and celebrates the new with his septet at Ontario Scene

 

Mirror Duo made drums - and only drums - a compelling show

Michel Delage and Mike Essoudry conversed by drum for two engaging sets ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Mirror Duo
Mugshots (Nicholas Street Jail Hostel)
Thursday, April 30, 2015

See photos of this performance

If you want to totally silence a bar, get drummers - only drummers - to play in it.

The opening piece by the Mirror Duo halted conversations in Mugshots within seconds – to a total silence in that bar that I had never before witnessed. Drummers Michel Delage and Mike Essoudry started their performance by bowing their menagerie of cymbals with long, resonant strokes and changing pitches. It was surprising: not the percussive sounds that listeners might expect to hear from the small stage tightly packed with two bass drums, four toms, several snares, and eight cymbals - including four hi-hats - and assorted bowls and hand-held percussive instruments.

Taking full advantage of their now fully-attentive audience and the acoustic opportunity, the duo moved into their second quiet piece with overlapping and alternating brushed strokes on drum skins and cymbals, changing in tempo, intensity and pitch.

Read more: Mirror Duo made drums - and only drums - a compelling show

 

Meghan Heeney pays tribute to jazz sax tradition, community at grad recital

Meghan Heeney and  Mark Ferguson performed a quiet and emotion-filled version of 'My One and Only Love' for her recital ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Meghan Heeney Graduation Recital
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University
Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ottawa saxophonist Meghan Heeney picked a wide-ranging selection of jazz for her graduation recital at Carleton University on April 29. The classics by tenor greats Dexter Gordon and Benny Golson were no surprise, but she also included a modern piece by saxophonist Bob Reynolds.

And one of the lyrical jazz standards on the bill also had a tenor saxophonist link. Heeney had been very impressed by Joel Frahm when he taught at the Carleton University Jazz Camp in 2013, and transcribed his version of “My One and Only Love” for her recital. It was a quiet and emotion-filled version, performed as a piano-sax duo.

Read more: Meghan Heeney pays tribute to jazz sax tradition, community at grad recital

 

Jesse Stewart's BOOM silences listeners at the Diefenbunker

Jesse Stewart rehearses for the BOOM performances ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Jesse Stewart's "Boom"
Ontario Scene
Diefenbunker blast tunnel
Sunday, May 3, 2015

Improviser and percussionist Jesse Stewart conjured up auditory references to the Cold War and the Diefenbunker - the Canadian government's massive underground Cold War nuclear bomb shelter, now museum – with his performances in its blast tunnel entrance on May 3.

Stewart's performance of “BOOM” was highly dynamic. He animated the tunnel with sounds ranging from barely audible dripping water – a reference to its use in torture – to bass drum beats. The drum beats grew from an almost inaudible low rumble conveying a heightening sense of impending doom, to the loudest of booms that echoed for seconds inside the tunnel, invoking images of nuclear bombs exploding outside.

In his two, forty-minute, continuous and improvised performances, he transformed the simple ribbed texture of the concrete floor into a variety of sounds with aid of a dragged metal bar. He created sound from a struck and shaken spring, audibly referencing the many springs which suspend equipment inside to protect it from bomb-induced shock. He also used a wide variety of unusual devices to make music with, which included a metal kitchen bowl, wind-up toy, and more traditional brass bowls/gongs, drumsticks, and mallets.

Read more: Jesse Stewart's BOOM silences listeners at the Diefenbunker

 

Bernard Stepien deconstructs the accordion's music for an intent IMOO audience

Bernard Stepien deconstructs his accordion. ©Alayne McGregor, 2015

The Deconstructed Accordion Conspiracy
Bernard Stepien, David Broscoe, Scott Warren
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO)
Black Squirrel Books
Sunday, May 3, 2015

See photos from this concert

This concert was dubbed The Deconstructed Accordion Conspiracy, and, at the start, a listener asked Bernard Stepien to explain the title. So he efficiently deconstructed his accordion and showed off its innards (to the great interest of and with a modicum of laughter from the audience) – and then slid it back together again and started playing.

It showed how comfortable Stepien is with this instrument. It's a Hohner Morino model from the late '50s, with a keyboard on one side and buttons on the other which give it the same capabilities as a piano. He started playing it as a youngster back in the 1960s, but then revived it in an improvised music context about seven years ago.

Musicians like Richard Galliano and Pauline Oliveros have moved the accordion into a jazz and improvised music context in the last few decades. But Stepien has done a great deal of his own explorations, too, into altered harmonies inspired by his studies with Cecil Taylor and Billy Robinson. He's primarily been playing the accordion together with Ottawa saxophonist David Broscoe in a duo called “The Accordion Conspiracy”.

This concert took that duo's music in both simpler and more complicated directions (hence the “deconstructed”), and added percussionist/sound artist Scott Warren, who has frequently played with both musicians in different groups.

Read more: Bernard Stepien deconstructs the accordion's music for an intent IMOO audience

 

Molly Johnson sings Billie Holiday with understanding and love (review)

Molly Johnson ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Molly Johnson
Ontario Scene
National Arts Centre Theatre
Friday, May 1, 2015

Toronto vocalist Molly Johnson has such a strong public persona that she doesn't always get enough credit for her outstanding skills as an improviser and jazz musician.

In fact, much like Billie Holiday, the iconic vocalist whom she was honouring at the National Arts Centre on Friday. Most of the songs Johnson sang were ones made famous by Holiday – and even a few written by her.

Particularly since Lady Sings the Blues, the 1972 film starring Diana Ross, Holiday has been portrayed as the lady with the gardenia in her hair, or as a drug-addled victim. Instead, she was a ground-breaking vocalist who carved out a place for herself in music with her own forceful personality and talent and unique way of using her voice as an instrument.

One of Johnson's successes in Because of Billie, her new album which she was showcasing at the concert, is to reframe Holiday as a black woman who broke massive barriers, allowing her successors, like Johnson, to have successful careers. She described Holiday as a “feminist before that word existed, and a punk rocker before that existed, and a game-changer."

So it was particularly appropriate that Johnson began the concert with “Lady Sings the Blues”, sung simply with a blues swing over syncopated bass and piano. When Johnson sings, you can clearly hear and understand every word, and she let the bittersweet words in this song speak for themselves – and emphasize the message that this lady wasn't going to let the blues take her over.

Johnson was accompanied by two long-time friends and musical colleagues: Mike Downes on double bass and Robi Botos on Steinway grand piano. Downes has been playing with her for 20 years, and also produced and chose the material for Because of Billie – and, as she mentioned, surprised her by even playing trombone on one number on the CD. Botos and Downes also regularly perform together in their own groups.

Read more: Molly Johnson sings Billie Holiday with understanding and love (review)

 

Winning Ottawa Sens couldn't beat Thelonious Monk

Adrean Farrugia brought his own voice and careful thought to interpreting Thelonious Monk's music. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Adrean Farrugia, Michel Delage, Alex Bilodeau
Tribute to Thelonious Monk
Brookstreet Hotel, Options Jazz Lounge
Friday, April 24, 2015

It was a Thelonious Monk celebration at Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge on Friday night. Pianist Adrean Farrugia from Hamilton hadn't played before with local bassist Alex Bilodeau or drummer Michel Delage, but with considerable careful listening on everyone's part, they produced three fast-moving sets showing off the wide variety and beauty in Monk's music – and its angularity and unexpectedness, too.

Beautiful ballads like “Pannonica” and “Eronel”, and upbeat numbers like “Bemsha Swing” and “In Walked Bud” held the interest of many listeners in the room – and, as promised, there were some lesser-known numbers as well. The trio aptly closed the evening with “'Round Midnight”, given a quiet and reflective treatment. Farrugia played a long solo intro before moving to the song's melody, and ended the piece with solo piano again, in a lovely romantic ending.

Ottawa is a hockey-mad town, and that evening was the fifth, win-or-die game in NHL playoffs for the Ottawa Senators against the Montreal Canadiens. So the second set was interrupted momentarily several times with loud cheering when the muted TV screen showed the Senators had scored a goal – but the musicians never missed a beat.

Read more: Winning Ottawa Sens couldn't beat Thelonious Monk

 

Claudia Salguero brings Latin drama to the NAC with ORIGENES (review)

Claudia Salguero – ORIGENES
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, April 23, 2015

In one of the rare pauses in the first of her two high-energy concerts at the NAC, Ottawa vocalist Claudia Salguero explained why she chose the songs in the show. All of them meant something special to her, she said; they spoke to her of loss and letting go and of true love.

Sylvio Modolo, Regina Teixeira, and Claudia Salguero celebrate a Brazilian melody. ©2015 Brett Delmage

She described one as “the music that is in my heart” and another as her mother's bolero, and said she had sung one song from Venezuela all her life.

For two one-hour sets, Salguero and her band of excellent local Latin musicians swept her listeners along with upbeat and emotionally-resonant music. Even the sad songs were invigorated with complex percussion and tastefully-deployed horns.

It was music designed to touch the heart – and it certainly grabbed the Fourth Stage audience. The applause at the end of many of the songs was notably strong. Salguero introduced each piece, carefully explaining its message and its origin – and different sections of the crowd exploded into applause when she said a song came from Mexico, or Brazil, or Venezuela.

Read more: Claudia Salguero brings Latin drama to the NAC with ORIGENES (review)

 

Rake-star carries forward the spark of Sun Ra

Ottawa's Rake-star Arkestra played its first full concert in years on February 28, with a full band and a quiver-full of music written by their inspiration – the idiosyncratic jazz genius, Sun Ra.

The show attracted an enthusiastic audience to Mugshots: both long-time jazz fans, and a 20-something crowd, who appeared to be enjoying the groove, the interplay, and the high energy.

Rake-star - a lot of music. They're back at Mugshots on Saturday, March 28. ©2015 Brett DelmageAfter a six-year hiatus, the Arkestra played an improvised show in January. But this was the first show with all the members present and with their classic repertoire. On the bottom end was Don Cummings' Hammond organ, Mike Essoudry's and Jamie Gullikson's drumsets, and David Broscoe's and John Sobol's baritone saxes. Soaring over them were Rob Frayne on tenor sax and synthesizer, Linsey Wellman on alto sax and flute, and Rory Magill and xylophone and assorted percussion – plus Broscoe and Sobol on other saxes, and Essoudry on clarinet. And Scott Warren added extra touches with pre-recorded voice clips and unexpected sounds, plus percussion.

The nine-piece band spilled off the stage into the audience. And the room, with its massive stone walls and pillars and low, arched ceiling, added another dimension, amplifying and resonating to the music.

Read more: Rake-star carries forward the spark of Sun Ra

 

David Braid and Mike Rud each transfix the audience with their individual visions (review)

There's nothing quite as vibrant or intense as a live performance – as you could see from the transfixed faces of the audience at the NAC Fourth Stage on Saturday.

On stage were two ensembles featuring Canadian jazz musicians. Guitarist Mike Rud and vocalist Sienna Dahlen opened the show as a duo; they were followed by pianist David Braid with the Penderecki String Quartet. Although they played very different material, both groups quickly captured the audience's interest and were warmly applauded throughout.

Mike Rud and Sienna Dahlen capture vignettes of Montreal

Mike Rud and Sienna Dahlen paid tribute to Montreal through songs inspired by its famous writers. ©2015 Brett DelmageIt's been a year since Rud won the Juno Award for Best Vocal Jazz Album for his Notes on Montreal CD. But this was the first time in Ottawa that he had presented songs from the album in their final version, and performed it with Dahlen, his close collaborator. They were clearly very much at ease with each other and with the music.

They opened with “Florentine”, a song inspired by Gabrielle Roy's famous novel, The Tin Flute. Accompanied by tango-like rhythms on guitar, Dahlen's fluid vocals expressively told the story of poverty and desperation. “Streetcar 55” was happier and jazzier, with both Rud and Dahlen scatting at different times, while “LaPointe's Beat” (which Rud sang alone) was a simple slice of life through the eyes of a fictional detective, with a nicely-evoked film noir feel.

I particularly enjoyed Dahlen's singing on “Smoked Meat and The Main”. She hit exactly the right tone with her limpid vocals evoking the melancholy in Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version. The following song, “Parc La Fontaine”, she treated almost as an art song, her rounded notes capturing a moment in a well-beloved part of Montreal.

Read more: David Braid and Mike Rud each transfix the audience with their individual visions (review)

 

Vocalist Mary Margaret O'Hara was alternately stunning and frustrating (review)

Mary Margaret O'Hara, Peggy Lee, and Aidan Closs
Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 6
Dominion Chalmers United Church
Sunday, February 15, 2015 – 7 p.m.

I first heard vocalist Mary Margaret O'Hara and cellist Peggy Lee play together in 2012. Their Beautiful Tool project, which also incorporated several other talented Vancouver musicians, opened that year's edition of the Guelph Jazz Festival. I was immediately highly impressed with the group sound and inventiveness of Lee and the other instrumentalists, but I found O'Hara frustrating – in particular because I had consistent difficulty understanding her words, whether sung or spoken.

I decided not to review that concert because the art gallery they performed in is notorious for “eating” and distorting vocals, and I might not have been fair to the show. Given O'Hara's performance this Sunday at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, perhaps I was being overly cautious.

Read more: Vocalist Mary Margaret O'Hara was alternately stunning and frustrating (review)

 

The Lost Fingers take gypsy jazz to places it doesn't belong (review)

The Lost Fingers
Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 4
Dominion Chalmers United Church
Friday, February 13, 2015 – 9:30 p.m.

Around the end of the 1960s, as rock became preeminent and jazz started to decline in popularity, some record executives had the bright idea of making jazz vocalists more “with it” and “hip” by having them sing modern rock hits.

In 1970, Columbia Records president Clive Davis forced vocalist Tony Bennett to make an album called The Greatest Hits of Today. The story goes that Bennett was so upset at the choice of material that he actually vomited before the first recording session for the album. Reviews were not kind, particularly for the totally unsuitable "Little Green Apples".

Some rock and pop songs – particularly those with strong melodies – can be adapted into beautiful and intriguing jazz versions, but not all of them. So when I read the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival description of this show and realized that the Lost Fingers would be dedicating almost all the concert to gypsy jazz versions of rock, house, disco, and pop songs, a little warning light went on in my brain.

Read more: The Lost Fingers take gypsy jazz to places it doesn't belong (review)

 

Keep On Keepin' On: the power of love, commitment, and mentorship (review)

Keep On Keepin' On [2014]
with Clark Terry and Justin Kauflin
directed by Alan Hicks
Wakefield International Film Festival, February 21-22, 2015


Keep On Keepin' On will receive its Ottawa-Gatineau premiere at the Wakefield International Film Festival, with two showings on February 21 and 22.


Parents find this out all too quickly: it's not what you say, it's what you do when it comes to raising children. How you act is more important than what you tell them.

And that's also what makes this recent documentary about the great jazz trumpeter Clark Terry so intensely believable and so emotionally strong. In the film, you can see Terry working with his students, passing on his love and knowledge of particular songs and of jazz in general, and connecting with his longtime musical colleagues. In archival clips, you can see him in action in his heyday, playing his heart out and clearly communicating his joy in the music.

Keep On Keepin 'On posterTerry is now 94. He came to fame playing in Count Basie's band, and then spent almost a decade in what he referred in as the “University of Ellingtonia” with Duke Ellington, before becoming the first African American staff musician at the NBC TV network in 1960. In 1991, he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master; in 2010, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; in 2013, he was inducted into the Jazz at Lincoln Center Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame. He has performed on more than 900 recordings, including several collaborations with Oscar Peterson.

Biographies of him say that he established a lasting reputation in his long career for “his wide range of styles (from swing to hard bop), technical proficiency, and infectious good humor” – and that's what comes through in this film, despite Terry's increasing physical frailty throughout. In 84-minutes, it tells a compelling story, both about Terry's illustrious career, but also about how he's kept on going into his 90s.

But it wouldn't be so strong if it wasn't also about one of his long-time students, jazz pianist Justin Kauflin. They first met at the William Paterson School of Music in New Jersey, where Terry taught as a visiting professor, and Kauflin has kept returning for private lessons even when Terry moved to Arkansas. The film shows Kauflin trying to establish his own career but even more importantly finding his own voice as a musician, and the intense work he puts into this despite setbacks.

Read more: Keep On Keepin' On: the power of love, commitment, and mentorship (review)

 

Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 2: having fun with jazz

Jean-Michel Pilc Trio (National Arts Centre Fourth Stage)
Matt Wilson Quartet (National Arts Centre Fourth Stage)
Late-night jam sessions (Arc The Hotel)
2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 2
Saturday, February 7, 2015 - 7 p.m., 9 p.m., 10:30 p.m.

It was remarkable how many times people I talked to about Saturday evening's winter jazzfest performances mentioned how much fun the shows were. I wasn't initially going to use that word in this review – one wants to be original, after all – but in fact, simple fun, both on the bandstand and in the audience, was an important part of both shows, by the Jean-Michel Pilc Trio and by the Matt Wilson Quartet.

Not that either concert was simple. They both involved highly talented musicians playing full-out and creating complicated and unexpected patterns on the fly.

But on top of all of that musical thought and dexterity was a deep love of and enjoyment in performing the music. Whether it was Matt Wilson's big grin or Jeff Lederer dancing as he played his tenor sax or the smiles flashing among Pilc's trio, you could see an underlying joy and playfulness.

Read more: Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 2: having fun with jazz

   

Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 1: Megan Jerome presents a rich blend of instruments and observations

Megan Jerome Together Ensemble
2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 1
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Friday, February 6, 2015 - 5 p.m.

Megan Jerome went to a funeral on the morning of the day of her Winter Jazz Festival appearance. It was for her late mother's best friend, and it symbolized a change in the last few years in the music she'd been composing – to happier and less fraught.

The concert also featured a new, full-bodied sound for Jerome, with her Together Ensemble – Jerome on Wurlitzer, Don Cummings on full-size Hammond organ (and giant Leslie speaker), Fred Guignon on electric guitar, and husband Mike Essoudry on drums. The ensemble has been playing around town since late last fall, and the instruments provided a strong base for Jerome's soprano and the artful lyrics in her songs.

Jerome's music can't be easily categorized: the nearest might be alt-cabaret with jazz touches. Her background is in jazz piano, Essoudry plays everything from mainstream jazz to avant-garde improvisation, Cummings performs in both jazz and R&B/soul circles, while Guignon has primarily played in folk groups.

But it was a far richer blend than your average singer-songwriter show: Jerome's vocals floated over intricate patterns from Cummings' organ and Guignon's guitar, which both counterpointed and echoed her voice and provided a strong underlying groove and power

Read more: Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 1: Megan Jerome presents a rich blend of instruments and observations

   

Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 1: the Nancy Walker Quintet layers its music well

Nancy Walker Quintet
2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 1
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Friday, February 6, 2015 - 7 p.m.

It's surprising how relatively infrequently Toronto jazz musicians make it up to Ottawa for shows – you wouldn't think the two cities were in the same province and only five hours apart. But, in the last three years, pianist Nancy Walker has only been sporadically in Ottawa and not at all as a leader, despite having picked up an enthusiastic Ottawa fan base from many years of playing in the Geggie house band for the jazz festival jams.

What finally brought her back here was her recently-released album, ‘Til Now Is Secret [Addo, 2014]. This concert primarily featured pieces from that CD, and four of the five musicians who played on it (drummer Jim Doxas sat in for Ethan Ardelli, who wasn't available for this date).

It was a strong set-list – all originals by Walker – and they were given an intense and propulsive treatment by the quintet. There was no one star in the show: Walker, Doxas, bassist Kieran Overs, guitarist Ted Quinlan, and reed player Shirantha Beddage all contributed noticeably to the sound.

Read more: Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival Day 1: the Nancy Walker Quintet layers its music well

   

Audacious vocalist Phil Minton inspires IMOO improvisers

Phil Minton ©Alayne McGregor, 2014

Concert #111: Phil Minton
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO)
Raw Sugar Café
Sunday, December 7, 2014

British vocalist Phil Minton has taken the human voice to completely unexpected places and possibilities in the last 40-odd years. His improvisations don't use words – nor even word-like sounds. Instead, through extended vocal techniques, Minton creates a huge variety of sounds with different textures and timbres and rhythms.

His voice produces snake-like hisses, bird whistles, and guttural lion growls, and he fits them together into coherent sonic landscapes that range from barely audible whispering to crack-the-whip shrieks to what sounds remarkably like static. He turns the voice into a percussive instrument, but also a sibilant and even a tuneful one, and adds considerable emotional depth as well. To listen to Minton is to be constantly – and happily – surprised.

Ottawa's A B Series, which presents musical and literary events, brought Minton back to Ottawa for a long weekend starting last Friday. Over the weekend, he taught Ottawa volunteers how to sing in his Feral Choir, teaching them that anyone who can breathe can create beautiful or interesting sounds – outside of standard cultural references.

Tonight (Monday, December 8), he will conduct the Feral Choir in a free concert at St John's Anglican Church at Somerset and Elgin downtown at 7:30 p.m., and then perform solo there in a ticketed concert at 9 p.m.

Minton also collaborated with a wide collection of Ottawa's most dedicated improvisers at an IMOO concert Sunday evening – a concert which broke down the barriers between vocal and instrumental music.

Read more: Audacious vocalist Phil Minton inspires IMOO improvisers

   

The Brian Browne Trio shows why the jazz piano trio has enduring appeal (review)

Brian Browne Trio
NAC Fourth Stage, Ottawa
Saturday, November 15, 2014 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos from this concert.

The energy was palpable inside the NAC Fourth Stage on Saturday, as pianist Brian Browne, bassist Neil Swainson, and drummer Terry Clarke began to play.

Brian Browne Trio ©Brett Delmage, 2014

But it was almost as much from the audience as from the stage: these were listeners intent on and eager for the music. The room was completely packed, filling almost as soon as the doors opened, and there were lots of smiles on faces as first Clarke appeared, then Swainson, and finally Browne.

Clarke began the evening with a complex and changing series of patterns on his drum using brushes; after a minute or so, Swainson added in a steady, full-bodied bass riff; and then Browne entered with a strong swinging piano. It was a full-on trio production – lots of interplay, changing tempos alternating between more syncopated and more bluesy, and trading fours (alternating quick solos) between Clarke and Browne – before ending in a strong flourish.

The trio then slowed down for a delicate and heartfelt version of Burt Bacharach's “What the World Needs Now Is Love”. That set the pattern for the evening – varied but always melodic. Browne had no sheet music in front him, playing instead from memory, and the two sheets of paper on the piano just had some song titles jotted on them, not a formal, numbered set list.

Read more: The Brian Browne Trio shows why the jazz piano trio has enduring appeal (review)