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Guillaume Martineau's cinematic music electrifies the NAC Fourth Stage

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

View photos of The Guillaume Martineau Quintet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Allison Au Quartet's original music warmly received at MJF

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

View photos of The Allison Au Quartet at MJF 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Diane White expresses her love of Sixties music in jazz

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

View photos of Diane White and her trio at MJF 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

View photos of The Jazz Co-op at MJF 2015

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

View photos of this performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

View photos of this performance

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

View photos of this performance

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Updated October 21

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

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

View photos of this performance

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

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

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

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

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

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


Peter Hum: Alpha Moment (CD review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

View photos of this performance

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jazz Monday: The Sean Duhaime Trio fills Le Petit Chicago with fusion

Jansen Richard ©Brett Delmage, 2015

This month Le Petit Chicago is hosting a reunion. After a three-year hiatus, Ottawa guitarist Sean Duhaime is again performing with his long-standing jazz trio.

They've been filling the downtown Gatineau club with standards and originals, played with a jazz fusion edge. The trio: Duhaime on electric guitar, Laura Greenberg on electric bass, and Jansen Richard on drums, is the August host band for the long-running Jazz Mondays series.

When heard the trio on August 17, they played a wide-ranging set for the first hour: everything from a bright, catchy version of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves”, to the dirty blues of “Let It Ride” by the Robert Glasper Experiment, to the electric fusion of Duhaime's own “Bert”.

They opened with a dynamic rendition of Sonny Rollins' “Tenor Madness”, and continued with the ballad “Little Lady” by Vince Rimbach, with an evocative and emotional guitar solo from Duhaime. A Duhaime original, “Tomadachi”, quickly built up the energy with high-speed guitar and gravelly bass lines, along with varied and energetic drumming – and ending with a cymbal tap.

Read more: Jazz Monday: The Sean Duhaime Trio fills Le Petit Chicago with fusion


Trio Jérôme Beaulieu doesn't miss a beat in show with drummer Greg Ritchie

Jérôme Beaulieu ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Trio Jérôme Beaulieu
Festival de Jazz Desjardins
Parc de l'Imaginaire, Gatineau (Aylmer)
Friday, July 31, 2015

View photos of this performance

In many ways, Parc de l'Imaginaire, a small greenspace next to the Aylmer Marina, is an ideal place to hear music. Quiet and intimate, it's verdant and shady and cool even in a heat wave. Musicians playing in the park's small covered bandstand can easily be seen from a 270 degree circle in the park.

The Festival de Jazz Desjardins, which has been held there mid-summer for the last 29 years, attracts an interested audience which consistently fills the park and listens carefully – which was a perfect match for Montreal pianist Jérôme Beaulieu's music, whose melodicism reaches out to this audience.

Beaulieu's trio had two crowd-pleasing Ottawa concerts in 2014 – at the National Arts Centre and at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. In the 75 minutes of this show, their first Gatineau concert, they connected with the audience just as strongly.

They had some obstacles: Beaulieu's long-time drummer had another gig and this was the trio's first show with his (temporary) replacement, who necessarily had to work from charts. And the high winds that were the remnants of that day's unsettled weather meant that all the musicians were fighting to keep their sheet music from being blown away, holding it down with multiple clips.

The replacement, on the other hand, was veteran drummer Greg Ritchie, well-known for his work with Christine Jensen and Joel Miller. Ritchie just recently returned to Montreal after a decade playing in the New York City jazz scene. He joined bassist Philippe Leduc in the trio, and adeptly adapted his playing to the music: swinging on a Monk tune; more nuanced brushes behind quiet, intricate piano on a tribute to pianist Chilly Gonzales; intense and propulsive on a Beaulieu original.

Read more: Trio Jérôme Beaulieu doesn't miss a beat in show with drummer Greg Ritchie


Brian Barlow's classic big band arrangements are a big hit

There were many smiles during and after the Carleton University Faculty Big Band Concert ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The Jazz Camp Faculty Big Band, led by Brian Barlow
Carleton University Jazz Camp
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University
Friday, August 7, 2015 – 7 p.m.

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If you closed your eyes, it felt like a 50s ballroom in Harlem. You could almost see dancers gliding and swinging across the floor to the energetic music.

With Brian Barlow in command, the Carleton University Jazz Camp Faculty Big Band played classic big band music Friday night, and particularly favourites by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. There were lots of smiles on stage, and many listeners swaying to the music in the audience.

For more than 15 years, Barlow was the percussionist in Rob McConnell's Boss Brass, and that's only part of his decades of experience performing in and arranging for big bands. He currently leads his own big band, for which he originally wrote the arrangements featured at this concert.

Read more: Brian Barlow's classic big band arrangements are a big hit


The Emie R. Roussel Trio balances melody and groove in a happy Festival Desjardins show

Emie R. Roussel (piano) and Sébastien Pellerin (bass) easily commanded the attention of the audience at le Festival de Jazz Desjardins ©Brett Delmage, 2015Emie R. Roussel Trio
Festival de Jazz Desjardins
Parc de l'Imaginaire, Gatineau (Aylmer)
Thursday, July 30, 2015

Quebec jazz pianist Emie R. Roussel attracted an attentive audience and a standing ovation for her 75-minute show in Parc de l'Imaginaire in Aylmer Thursday. Her free concert was the second in this year's Festival de Jazz Desjardins, which runs until Saturday.

Together with her trio, Roussel performed originals, mostly from her 2015 album, Quantum, plus some from her previous CD, Transit. That 2013 CD featured the trio in dramatic conversation with a string quartet, while Quantum added more groove and R&B colours to classic piano jazz.

It was much the same material as Roussel played in her National Arts Centre debut in April. However, to my mind, the music was better integrated in this show, the groove underlining but not overwhelming the more delicate, introspective moments.

“Funambule” (Tightrope Walker) showed the more romantic, dramatic side of the trio, with an emphatic double bass solo from Sébastien Pellerin, and ringing keyboard lines. It received strong applause. On the other hand, drummer Dominic Cloutier introduced “Club” with a strong rat-a-tat drum solo which grew in complexity and intensity. Joined by Pellerin's electric bass and Roussel's Fender Rhodes-like keyboards, that piece strongly reminded me of 70s organ trio music, with a touch of funk – a cheery and crowd-pleasing number.

Read more: The Emie R. Roussel Trio balances melody and groove in a happy Festival Desjardins show


The Drew Jurecka Trio plays swirling rhythms with verve and enthusiasm

Drew Jurecka Trio
Ottawa Chamberfest, Chamberfringe series
Saint Brigid's Centre for the Arts, Kildare Room
Friday, July 24, 2015 – 10 p.m.

The Drew Jurecka Trio's bright music was an immediate hit with its Chamberfringe audience Friday night.

The trio's combination of violin, piano, and double bass was a natural for their upbeat repertoire: mostly jazz standards from the last hundred years, combined with a few Jurecka originals. But it was how they played that material – with verve, style, and enthusiasm – that set the concert alight.

Jurecka is a veteran on the Toronto jazz scene, primarily playing violin but also doubling on many other instruments, including clarinet and saxophone. A long-time member of the late Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards, he currently tours with Jill Barber, and leads his own groups like the Hogtown Syncopators and the Hot Jazz String Quartet. He has also backed Diana Krall, Shirley Horn, and Dianne Reeves.

For 85 minutes, the trio – with Mark Kieswetter on piano, and Clark Johnston on double bass – kept their late-night audience not only awake, but clapping enthusiastically after each song and each solo. There were relatively few jazz regulars in attendance, but there was an immediate connection to the music in an audience which ranged from 20-year-olds to seniors.

They opened with the sweet, romantic “Lady, Be Good!” by the Gershwins, which featured swirling violin lines over a dancing beat on piano and bass. It set the tone for the concert: a warm vibe, infectious rhythms, and lots of smooth interplay among the trio.

Read more: The Drew Jurecka Trio plays swirling rhythms with verve and enthusiasm


Majestic, beautiful music from Abdullah Ibrahim and the Mukashi Trio (review)

Abdullah Ibrahim “Mukashi” Trio
Studio Series
Ottawa Jazz Festival
National Arts Centre Studio
Tuesday, June 30, 2015

In Ottawa, South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim communicated strictly through his music. During his trio's 90-minute concert on the last night of the Ottawa Jazz Festival, much was said, but not a word was spoken.

The three musicians – Ibrahim on grand piano, Noah Jackson on cello and double bass, and Cleave Guyton on clarinet, flute, and piccolo – performed an uninterrupted flow of music for the entire concert, without announcing any of the pieces. They did, however, have scores in front of them, and Jackson said afterwards that Ibrahim signaled them musically as to which piece he wanted to play next.

The cumulative effect was majestic and beautiful.

The 300-seat NAC Studio was completely sold out, and the audience was already primed – judging by the vehement initial applause – to enjoy the music. But it was also clear that Ibrahim's trio kept the listeners' attention throughout. No one moved, no one left.

Read more: Majestic, beautiful music from Abdullah Ibrahim and the Mukashi Trio (review)