Sunday, May 01, 2016
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Miles Ahead, but not in reality (movie review)

Miles Ahead [2015]
directed by and starring Don Cheadle
1 hour, 40 minutes
at the ByTowne Cinema, April 29 to May 5

If I could have just closed my eyes and only listened to the soundtrack, or only watched the concert sequence in its last five minutes, I would have really enjoyed this film

In Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle portrays Miles Davis as primarily a strung-out, unstable, and washed-up character, and hardly shows Davis' acknowledged charisma and intelligence and musical talent.But instead I sat through several car chases, a gunfight at a boxing match, and people being beaten up and shot at – all a complete invention – for what was supposed to be a biopic of one of the greatest jazz trumpeters, band-leaders, and composers of all time.

This was not, to my mind, an accurate or fair depiction of Miles Davis.

These are the facts: from 1975 to 1980, Miles Davis stopped performing, stopped recording albums, and even stopped playing his trumpet. This interregnum started because Davis was mentally and physically and spiritually exhausted, needing to create a fresh artistic vision. But, unlike other times in his life when he recovered after a short time and went on with renewed creativity, this time he fell into a morass of drugs (particularly cocaine), one-night stands, and depression. As Davis explains in his autobiography, his house was filthy and full of cockroaches, and he shut out most of his old friends. He was also continuing to suffer from health problems, including a painfully arthritic hip.

It's also true that Davis had a violent streak; he admitted he beat up his first wife, Frances Taylor Davis, a number of times. She eventually left him in 1965 when his paranoia and violent arguments became too much for her. He could also be verbally very nasty, although he was also generous and very loyal to his friends.

He was (deservedly) a proud man, and he was left angry and embittered by too-frequent racist treatment, including being assaulted for no reason by the police.

Read more: Miles Ahead, but not in reality (movie review)


Michael Kaeshammer and his audience have fun with energetic and varied music

Michael Kaeshammer
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Theatre
Saturday, April 23, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The first thing Michael Kaeshammer told the audience at the NAC Theatre is, “We're going to have a little bit of fun. I love playing the piano, and it's always fun to hang out with these guys.”

And that fun is what he and his band delivered for two sets, each more than an hour long, of energetic, upbeat music.

Michael Kaeshammer was a man in motion at his NAC concert Saturday, frequently playing both inside the piano and on its keyboard. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Kaeshammer was a man in motion: standing as much as sitting at the keyboard of his grand piano, and playing both on the keys and on the strings inside. In the opening number, he had one hand playing the piano keyboard and the other playing the Fender Rhodes set up behind him, adding a swampy organ sound to the mix. On “Stop That Train”, he swept from one end of the keyboard to the other, playing with his entire body. Other times he would walk around the stage, enjoying listening to his band perform, or chatting with the audience, sometimes at length.

Playing his favourite boogie-woogie, blues, and New Orleans jazz numbers, including songs from many of his albums, Kaeshammer was accompanied by five experienced jazz musicians from Toronto and Montreal. Drummer Roger Travassos, bassist Devon Henderson, trumpeter William Sperandei, tenor saxophonist Dany Roy, and trombonist Muhammad Abdul Al-Khabyyr are all musicians he'd played with for several years, and will be on his next album, No Filter, to be released in September.

Almost every seat in the main floor of the theatre was occupied, with a few people also in the balcony. The audience gave the band a warm reception from the beginning, with people clapping in time to the very first number, singing along in the second set, and consistently applauding strongly.

Read more: Michael Kaeshammer and his audience have fun with energetic and varied music


Song of Lahore shows jazz triumphing over intolerance (movie review)

One of the many Pakistani jazz musicians from Sachal Studios showcased in the documentary Song of Lahore.

Song of Lahore [2015]
directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken
ByTowne Cinema, April 22-26

The documentary film Song of Lahore is a fascinating mix of endearing commonalities and striking differences. The love of jazz displayed by everyone in this film – whether they live in Lahore, Pakistan, or New York City – brought me into the film and kept me gripped by the story. But the cultural differences and obstacles which the Pakistani musicians face: those left me flabbergasted and shocked.

The film is about the men – most with a long tradition of musical performance in their families – who are part of Sachal Studios, a musical recording outfit in Lahore, and how they used jazz to reach out again into the world and to help revive live music in their own community.

Read more: Song of Lahore shows jazz triumphing over intolerance (movie review)


Sitar, violin, guitar & cajon entice the audience at high-energy Sultans of String show

The Sultans of String with Anwar Khurshid
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, April 14, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The Sultans of String played to the crowd – with a great deal of success – at their high-energy show at the NAC Fourth Stage Thursday evening. The room was packed, and, from the first song onwards, the group's wide-ranging mix of musical sources clearly connected with much of the audience.

Kevin Laliberté (guitar) and Anwar Khurshid (sitar) played a two song duet combining their different musical traditions at the Sultans of String concert at the NAC. It was one of the highights of the show. ©Brett Delmage, 2016The Sultans were primarily playing from their latest album, Subcontinental Drift, which adds an extra voice and musical tradition – Pakistani-Canadian musician Anwar Khurshid and his sitar – to their existing mix of Gypsy jazz, Arabic and Cuban rhythms, and flamenco. On the right of the stage, Khurshid sat on a raised stage with his sitar; in the middle were bassist Drew Birston, violinist Chris McKhool, and guitarist Kevin Laliberté, each with an amp and a substantial pedal/effects board; and on the left was percussionist Rosendo 'Chendy' Leon, who fitted in an amazing number of drums, cymbals, and percussion instruments into a small space.

In classical Indian music, the violin, guitar, and percussion (though tablas instead of cajons) do feature prominently, so it wasn't a big jump to combine sitar with the Sultans' standard instrumentation – and the reverse was true, too, with the sitar adding a metallic sharpness reminiscent of pedal steel to a few of the Sultans' older hits.

And with nearly 200 years of British rule, there has been considerable cultural exchange already in the Indian subcontinent. The second song in the show demonstrated this – “The Rakes of Mallow” is a song which, when Khurshid originally played it for them, McKhool and Laliberté immediately recognized as an Irish fiddle tune. In fact, it's also a traditional Pakistani tune – by adoption. The version they played in the show had a bit of both traditions: first the traditional Irish interpretation on violin and guitar, followed by Khurshid joining in with his high-energy version on sitar, with vocals in Urdu.

Read more: Sitar, violin, guitar & cajon entice the audience at high-energy Sultans of String show


Polished performances from the Carleton University student Jazz Ensemble

Carleton University Jazz Ensemble
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University
Thursday, April 7, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Vocalists Alex Harea and Mackenzie di Millo sang di Millo's lyrics to Herbir Hancock's 'Maiden Voyage' at the Carleton University Jazz Ensemble concert April 7. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

It was an evening of tight ensemble playing with a touch of showbiz sparkle, as the Carleton University Jazz Ensemble presented its year-end concert Thursday.

The material: mostly jazz classics from the 60s and 70s, particularly by Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Cannonball and Nat Adderley. The style: polished and with considerable verve, with smooth entrances and introductions. The men generally wore suits and the women dresses, and (as was pointed out from the stage), trombonist Eric Cathcart even wore a trombone-themed tie.

The evening opened with the rhythm section of the Studio B Band vigorously pumping out the relentless beat of Hancock's “Cantaloupe Island”, and the horn section and vocalist making a grand entrance a few bars later. In the 70-minute show, there were two bands (Studio B and Studio A), each playing five songs.

Both bands included several vocalists, some doubling on other instruments. Particularly notable was the 7-piece Studio B band's rendition of Cannonball Adderley's “Sack o’ woe”, with Lucia Iacovitti-Villeneuve and Kelsey Hayes both brightly scatting, together and separately. That band closed with Corea's “Armando’s Rhumba”, giving it a brassy intro and strong Latin beat, followed by wordless vocals, and with alternating sparkling piano and horn fanfares closing it out.

Read more: Polished performances from the Carleton University student Jazz Ensemble


Born To Be Blue stays true to Chet Baker's music, but romanticizes his life (movie review)

Jazz has a habit of promoting legends, particularly about its best musicians. So it's no surprise that the new film, Born To Be Blue, takes the narrative of part of Chet Baker's life and turns it into a story, one that's an even better story than reality.

Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in the film 'Born To Be Blue'. The film has its Ottawa debut from April 1 to 5 at the ByTowne Cinema.Baker's biography is inherently glamorous (if not an example that you'd want your children to follow). There's his prodigious natural affinity with the trumpet, which supposedly made Charlie Parker issue the warning to NYC jazz trumpeters like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis that Baker was a “little white cat on the coast who's gonna eat you up”. There's Baker's alternately romantic and tragic long-term addiction to heroin which slowly turned him into a wraith of his original crew-cut, handsome self. There's his mysterious death in 1988, falling from a window of a cheap Amsterdam hotel.

There's the early photos of Baker by famed jazz photographer William Claxton, whose camera turned Baker into movie-star handsome – helped by Baker's instinctive style and ability to play to that camera.

And ultimately there's the beautiful, mellow, melancholy music Baker made with his trumpet and his voice, particularly with his signature tune, “My Funny Valentine”. He and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan revived the little-known Rogers and Hart ballad in 1952 for their first recording for Fantasy Records, and his “cool” yet deeply emotional rendition of that song defined his style and made him hugely popular.

What Born To Be Blue does really well, more than anything else, is capture that music and that style. The music, both the incidental jazz interludes and the actual songs, is simply gorgeous. That's due to Toronto composer and pianist David Braid, who wrote and arranged the jazz score – as well as researching it, transcribing music from recordings, orchestrating, and producing and recording it.

Read more: Born To Be Blue stays true to Chet Baker's music, but romanticizes his life (movie review)


Only applause broke the silence as the Sonoluminescence Trio played the Record Centre

Sonoluminescence Trio (David Mott, William Parker, Jesse Stewart) with painter Jeff Schlanger
The Record Centre
Thursday, March 17, 2016 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

All the members of the Sonoluminescence Trio - plus painter Jeff Schlanger - turned into a surprise waterphone quartet at their well-received show at the Record Centre Thursday. The trio plus Schlanger play GigSpace in Ottawa for two shows in Friday, and continue to Toronto on Saturday, and Guelph and Hamilton on Sunday. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

The audience was sitting crowded against record bins and standing in the aisles, peering over shoulders to catch what the musicians were doing. They tightly filled the narrow store right to the back. And they were utterly silent and intent during the hour-long show – except when they burst into loud applause.

The Sonoluminescence Trio – David Mott on baritone saxophone, William Parker on double bass, and Jesse Stewart on drums – drew a fascinated crowd in their first appearance at the Record Centre.

But it wasn't just the trio's fluid musical interaction that kept the audience's attention. For their Ontario tour this week, they're being accompanied by painter Jeff Schlanger, who sat at a low easel beside the musicians. He drew as they performed, using calligraphy pens and coloured markers on a large sheet of paper.

The trio played for just over an hour, and during that time, Schlanger steadily refined and added to a colourful depiction of what he saw and heard. He frequently switched among pens, and often drew with two pens at once, creating art whose energetic flow reflected the music. Schlanger calls this practice “musicWitness” and has done it for decades, in locations ranging from NYC to Berlin to Finland to Paris to Toronto. editors had previously seen him witness a concert at the Guelph Jazz Festival.

Read more: Only applause broke the silence as the Sonoluminescence Trio played the Record Centre


First impressions: Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes with Miguel de Armas

Miguel de Armas is a hardworking and respected musician who has shared his authentic, high-energy, and original Afro-Cuban music with Ottawa music lovers in special performances and regular, monthly shows. Audiences have consistently responded enthusiastically and in large numbers to his groups' music.

The Marshes Golf Club's Ironstone Grill was a comfy place to enjoy jazz on Feb. 26 ©2016 Brett DelmageOn January 15, de Armas launched his newest series, Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes, at the Ironstone Grill at The Marshes Golf Club. Each week, the pianist collaborates with a different group of local musicians playing jazz standards and Latin music.

For the many jazz listeners who are familiar with the Brookstreet Options Jazz Lounge in the Kanata North Business Park, the Marshes Gold Club is on the opposite (east) side of the golf course from Brookstreet. It's a 15-minute walk between the two on a cold winter night, or a five-minute walk from the route 93 bus which also serves Brookstreet.

The event's promotional message invokes imagery of “your favorite NYC jazz club”. Now, the nineteenth hole at a golf course in a suburban business park - especially in the middle of an Ottawa winter - doesn't really fit that imagery. But on's first visit to Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes on February 26, we were pleasantly surprised. Think “Après-ski” with jazz, in a warm and physically-appealing chalet-style building. Editor Alayne McGregor and I arrived before the musicians did, and we stayed for the first set before we had to leave to hear The Harley Card Trio at Options Jazz Lounge.

What we discovered was a cozy environment that was neither too hot nor cold or drafty. Sight lines to the stage were clear from all tables.

After the musicians started to play, the Ironstone Grill's acoustics immediately appealed to me. The sound was clear throughout the space, and had a natural reverb from the peaked, vaulted ceiling that sounded just right to my ears.

That evening, de Armas had teamed up with Normand Glaude on double bass and René Lavoie on tenor sax and flute. De Armas and Lavoie have played together several times, including at Folkrum last fall and in a GigSpace concert, and you could see how comfortable all three were together, enjoying stretching out and adding Latin flair to standards like “Monk's Dream” The audience particularly liked "I Remember April" – both for its lovely melody and for its promise of warmer temperatures!

Read more: First impressions: Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes with Miguel de Armas


The Harley Card Trio creates a layered and nuanced collaboration at Brookstreet

The Harley Card Trio (with Petr Cancura and Alex Bilodeau)
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Friday and Saturday, February 26-27, 2016

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Harley Card and Petr Cancura will be back at the Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata tonight, playing music on the quieter and more atmospheric side with Alex Bilodeau ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Toronto guitarist Harley Card has brought his electric guitar, a stack of his own compositions, and a deep background in jazz standards up to Ottawa this weekend, for his Friday and Saturday shows at the Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata.

He's teamed up with two well-known Ottawa musicians – Petr Cancura, this time on tenor and soprano sax, and Alex Bilodeau on double bass – for shows combining his and Cancura's compositions with lyrical standards, all generally on the quieter and more atmospheric side. was there for their second and third sets on Friday. There were some careful consultations on the bandstand before some of the numbers, and the result was a finely-layered and nuanced collaboration with many intertwined lines. Bilodeau provided melodic bass solos as well as consistent strong riffs underpinning the music; Cancura created strong interjections, light flutters, and deep long lines on his saxophones exploring melodies and textures; and Card played fluid and expressive guitar producing both delicate melodies and intricate, constantly-morphing patterns.

Read more: The Harley Card Trio creates a layered and nuanced collaboration at Brookstreet


A wild night at Irene's with the Alive! Ensemble and the music of Grant Green (review)

Alex Moxon's Alive! Ensemble
Irene's Pub
Sunday, February 7, 2016 – 9 p.m.

It was a wild night at Irene's on Sunday, as Ottawa guitarist Alex Moxon revived his Grant Green tribute.

Alex Moxon's Alive! Ensemble will play every Sunday night in February at Irene's (l-r: Alex Moxon, Michel Delage, Marc Decho, Linsey Wellman, Clayton Connell) ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Green was a renowned jazz/bop guitarist who flourished in the 1960s and 70s. He was particularly influential in soul jazz and organ trio music. Moxon took two of Green's best-known albums, Alive! and Live at the Lighthouse, and rearranged the songs for his quintet – with Clayton Connell on keyboards, Linsey Wellman on alto sax, Marc Decho on electric bass, and Michel Delage on drums.

He'd only played the material in performance once before, a year ago in his Nachtmusik series with several of the same musicians. In preparation for that show, Moxon had completely transcribed the two albums and created individual parts for the musicians. But that was only the start: he emphasized that they weren't playing the album's music note for note – rather, they were reinterpreting and extending it.

Read more: A wild night at Irene's with the Alive! Ensemble and the music of Grant Green (review)


From all over the globe, the Florian Hoefner Group unites in presenting luminous jazz (review)

Florian Hoefner Group
Kildare Room, St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts
Saturday, January 30, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

In this era of far-flung jazz partnerships, the Florian Hoefner Group is still exceptional. Hoefner himself was born and raised in Germany, and now lives in St. John's, Newfoundland. Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake was born and raised in Vancouver, and now lives in New York City. Drummer Peter Kronreif is from Salzburg, Austria, and is also now in NYC. Double bassist Sam Anning lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Florian Hoefner has spent his time in Newfoundland productively, writing the complex and melodic compositions which he presented with his group in Ottawa on January 30. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

But despite the thousands of kilometres often separating them, these four musicians showed a remarkable musical unity and fluency together in their Ottawa concert. The Winterlude show was sponsored by the German Embassy, and was part of a cross-Canada CD release tour for Hoefner's just-released third album, Luminosity.

The connection – unsurprisingly – is through New York, the jazz melting pot, to which Hoefner moved in 2008 and where all of them lived for some years. Hoefner has played with Anning and Kronreif since 2011. Blake joined them for this album and the tour.

Hoefner has only performed in Ottawa once before, at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge two years ago together with Anning and Kronreif, but Blake is well-known here as a saxophonist's saxophonist. Blake's more recent performances in Ottawa with Robi Botos, Alan Jones, and Bryn Roberts showed him to be a forceful, fluent player, but also one who enhances the entire group's sound and works to support the other musicians. You could see that same approach in this concert.

The downstairs Kildare Room at Saint Brigid's was packed for the concert, with hopeful listeners who had not pre-registered waiting at the door hoping to get in up until the concert started, almost half an hour late. That the tickets were free certainly helped, but the enthusiastic response of the audience to the music showed a stronger connection than that.

Read more: From all over the globe, the Florian Hoefner Group unites in presenting luminous jazz (review)


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