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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. heard the first of the two sets Sunday (the Alive! album). From the first notes, you could tell this was going to be an intense performance, with all the musicians really into the music and collaborating fluidly. Connell got a strong organ groove going in the opening number, underlaid by a powerful riff on bass and drums, and Moxon's inflected guitar assertively soared over them. Wellman, energized by his performance at IMOO shortly before, added a muscular circling sax solo with a biting edge.

The songs varied between full-bodied soulful ballads and more upbeat R&B numbers, but regardless it was a loud, high-energy show – with lots of grins on-stage and everyone moving to the beat, both in the band and in the audience. Wellman and Moxon in particular pushed the music with wild sax solos and vehement guitar lines. With listeners arriving steadily throughout the set, the audience was enthusiastic and intent.

The ensemble will return to Irene's for three more Sundays this month. Moxon said they would be continuing to refine the material over the month – and to expect a different interpretation each night.

    – Alayne McGregor

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