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

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

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

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

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

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

The songs in the 75-minute show were short, pointed vignettes, with topics ranging from a local homeless man, to a painting by Marc Chagall, to an man stalking a woman through various Ottawa locations, to the beauties of Meech Lake. Several of the songs featured extensive wordplay, morphing from one related word to another like an M.C. Escher woodcut.

In style, they ranged from jazzy to confessional singer-songwriter to country (with a near touch of Dolly Parton) to gospel. I particularly enjoyed the racy torch song which opened the show, which Jerome dedicated to her mother and her friend: slow and sensual, it also included some strong solos from all musicians.

The first half of the show featured songs from Jerome's previous CDs; the second half was songs she had written since her mother's death a few years before, songs she described as “less desperate and lonely”. They were indeed more upbeat and uplifting; several had a strong gospel feel and all of them celebrated life and love – with a strong rhythms pushing the music along.

The whole concert had and informal, friendly vibe, including explanations of each of the songs. There was lots of smiles and laughter on both sides of the footlights, and strong applause at the end. The room was unfortunately only half-full for the concert: I suspect that Jerome's later-night fans might have had problems with the concert's scheduling at 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.

The Together Ensemble will be back at Irene's in the Glebe for a month of late-night Sundays in April. The release concert for their new CD, featuring Jerome's more recent compositions, will be at the NAC Fourth Stage on May 14.

    – Alayne McGregor

Note: OttawaJazzScene.ca received review access to the 2015 Winter Jazz Festival but was denied access for our photojournalist. Therefore, we are unable to publish photos with the reviews.

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