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A hard-driving quartet finds new corners of modern jazz

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

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Two CDs by Nick Fraser create beautiful moments through collaborative improvisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Read our interview with Hollins about this show

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ottawa jazz fans show their appreciation for Oliver Jones' 76-year career (review)

Oliver Jones Trio Farewell Tour
NAC Presents
Theatre, National Arts Centre, Ottawa
Thursday, May 19, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Updated May 25, 2015

Some musicians might add special guests or a spectacular repertoire for their farewell tour. Oliver Jones just continues to play the jazz tunes he loves – superbly well.

Oliver Jones had an easy rapport with both the audience and his musicians (including bassist Éric Lagacé) at his Ottawa farewell concert at the National Arts Centre on May 19. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Supported by his “sons”, the musicians he's collaborated with for the last decade – Éric Lagacé on double bass and Jim Doxas on drums – the Montreal pianist performed two fast-moving sets of standards to a sold-out house in the NAC Theatre on Thursday. The show was a paean to the Great American Songbook with a big side helping of Oscar Peterson, well-seasoned with swing and good humor.

In January, Jones announced he would be retiring for good this year, after a triple heart bypass last year and 76 years of playing piano. That gave a special importance to this show as the last time he might ever play Ottawa.

The audience acknowledged this with an immediate and hearty standing ovation as soon as Jones came on stage. Throughout the show, he was warmly received, with several people standing to clap after notable musical passages, and very strong applause after each song.

Read more: Ottawa jazz fans show their appreciation for Oliver Jones' 76-year career (review)

 

The Rachel Therrien Trio rethinks and reenergizes jazz classics

The Rachel Therrien Trio
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, May 14, 2016 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The Rachel Therrien trio demonstrated how standards and jazz classics could be reenergized and reimagined in their appealing show at the Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge Saturday evening.

Rachel Therrien's trio (with Charles Trudel on piano) reenergized and reimagined the classics to great effect in their May 14 show at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Therrien on trumpet and flugelhorn was performing with two of the musicians from her long-standing Montreal quintet: Charles Trudel on piano, and Simon Pagé on six-string electric bass (last heard in Ottawa last fall with Guillaume Martineau). Therrien's quintet won the Grand Prix award at last year's Montreal Jazz Festival, where she presented her second album, Home Inspiration.

She played one song from that album during the second set – a moody piece with her on flugelhorn. With Trudel and Pagé providing a steady driving beat, her nuanced, fluid lines lightly danced over them, producing contrasting textures. That was, regrettably, the only original in the show.

It wasn't ideal conditions for performance: during the first two sets, a large contingent was talking loudly beside the bar, competing with the music. Nevertheless, for the tables of listeners who sat near the stage, listening closely and applauding regularly, there was much to enjoy.

I was particularly impressed by how Pagé expanded his role as bassist. In the first set, he opened Miles Davis' “Blue in Green” by tapping a steady percussion riff on the wood of his bass. He then recorded and looped that riff using his extensive pedal board, and added bass notes on top of it. Therrien on flugelhorn and Trudel on piano then joined in, creating a more accented and modern, and less “pretty” version of the jazz classic.

Read more: The Rachel Therrien Trio rethinks and reenergizes jazz classics

 

The Mike Murley Trio celebrates the beautiful and less-known in jazz (review)

Mike Murley Trio, with Reg Schwager and Steve Wallace
2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival
NAC Fourth Stage
Friday, February 5, 2016 – 7 p.m.

This week, the Mike Murley Trio released their second CD, Ship Without a Sail, in a show in Toronto. But Ottawa audiences got a good taste of that music when the trio played the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival back in February.

And a beautiful impression it was. As soon as he stepped on stage, Murley told the audience that he, guitarist Reg Schwager, and bassist Steve Wallace have been playing together for a long time. You could hear that experience in their easy communication and supple playing together.

While the trio may have been named after Murley, this was clearly an equilateral triangle in terms of musical interaction and contribution. I particularly enjoyed how Wallace played his double bass as much as a melodic as a rhythmic instrument, creating a strong third voice in a deeper register. Wallace rarely performs in Ottawa, and it was a pleasure to hear him.

It was a friendly, relaxed show, with Murley well and truly breaking the ice early into the first number. He developed a puzzled look on his face as he listened to a buzz in his tenor saxophone – and then stopped, reached into the bell of the sax, and drew out the bottle of water he had put there to carry on-stage, and then forgotten to remove! The audience cracked up when he pointed out the importance of staying hydrated, and the trio restarted their upbeat rendition of the Blossom Dearie classic, “You for Me”.

A highlight was the ballad “Looking Back”, the title track of the trio's first CD, which was written by pianist Jimmy Rowles (better known for “The Peacocks”). Melancholy and a bit enigmatic, the piece featured Murley's heartfelt rendition of the beautiful and memorable melody over Schwager's delicate guitar patterns and Wallace's bowed bass. It also featured an extended and nuanced pizzicato solo from Wallace.

Read more: The Mike Murley Trio celebrates the beautiful and less-known in jazz (review)

 

Sweet swing fills the church as the Hard Bop Association pays tribute to Duke Ellington

Pay the Duke: The Hard Bop Association plays Duke Ellington
Doors Open for Music at Southminster series
Southminster United Church
Wednesday, May 11, 2016 – 12 noon

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Duke Ellington's music – reinterpreted for a new century – filled Southminster United Church with sweet swing and lots of vitality Wednesday at noon.

(l-r) Richard Page and Ed Lister both contributed original arrangements for the show ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Led by trumpeter Ed Lister, a quintet of Ottawa jazz musicians paid loving tribute to classic tunes like “Caravan”, “Satin Doll”, “Cottontail”, and “Black and Tan Fantasy” – but in new arrangements by Lister and saxophonist Richard Page that were arresting and dynamic.

With a supple and steady rhythm section of Alex Bilodeau on double bass and David Pontello on drums keeping the swing going, Lister, Page, and pianist Mark Ferguson were able to stretch out and take the tunes to new places without ever losing track of the melodies. In particular, Page's playing the baritone sax, instead of the more usual tenor, in songs like “Satin Doll” added a gruffer bottom and more interesting textures to the well-known melodies. In “Black and Tan Fantasy”, you could imagine yourself in a 20s speakeasy with Lister's muted, bluesy trumpet lines and Ferguson's fast, inflected piano.

Page also contributed one of his own pieces, “Duke's Rhumba”, which was inspired by the Ellington tune “Oclupaca”. Its vibe and rhythm fit beautifully in with the Ellington canon. Lister's mellow flugelhorn nicely contrasted with the resonant baritone sax in alternating lines, and they steadily built up the insinuating rhythm together.

The quintet played without amplification, but were easily heard – and, in fact, the church's reverberant acoustics added richness to the sound.

The show ended with “Take the 'A' Train” – but played initially more slowly than the usual breakneck pace and then built to a rousing conclusion. The audience, who filled the church more than half-full, responded with strong and extended applause.

Read more: Sweet swing fills the church as the Hard Bop Association pays tribute to Duke Ellington

 

Fawn Fritzen matches originals with vocal jazz classics in a finely-tuned show

Fawn Fritzen Trio
Steinway Piano Gallery Ottawa
Wednesday, May 11, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Judging from her Ottawa CD release show, Fawn Fritzen is a jazz vocalist to watch.

In two one-hour sets, Fritzen charmed her audience with a nicely-judged mixture of jazz standards, gospel numbers, and originals, delivered with both sincerity and considerable animation. She sang a beautiful lullaby in Mandarin (her first language), and added lyrics in both French and German to standards in English, in a wide-ranging set list which never flagged.

Fawn Fritzen and David Restivo ©Brett Delmage, 2016

The show was the second-last stop on a six-city tour of Ontario and Quebec (she's in Montreal tonight) – a rare chance to hear Fritzen, because she's based in Whitehorse, Yukon. She was showcasing her just-released second CD, Pairings, which consists of duets between her and a variety of Canadian jazz instrumentalists.

Two of those instrumentalists, both from Toronto, were on tour with her: David Restivo on piano and George Koller on double bass. Both have considerable experience performing with jazz vocalists, which showed in their sensitive playing and easy rapport. Several songs, including George and Ira Gershwin's “Do Do Do”, opened dramatically with Koller's signature growling bowed bass, and he also contributed occasional scatting and background vocals. Restivo in particular enhanced the ballads with sparkling solos and thoughtful intros.

Fritzen told the audience about her two-year quest to make Pairings, initially grabbing opportunities to record when musicians visited Whitehorse, and then finishing it off in Toronto. She sang most of the songs on the album, many of which were not recorded with piano or bass. Those featuring guitar or saxophone she adapted for piano, but she was especially inventive with the Cole Porter number “Begin the Beguine”, which is a percussion-voice duet on the album. For the concert, Koller (“my secret weapon”) drummed on the front and top of his double bass, adding a repeated, propulsive rhythm underneath her sensuous vocals.

Read more: Fawn Fritzen matches originals with vocal jazz classics in a finely-tuned show

 

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. OttawaJazzScene.ca 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 OttawaJazzScene.ca'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.

OttawaJazzScene.ca 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