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The Ken Harper Trio brings commitment and energy to new concert series at Southminster

The Ken Harper Trio with Artie Roth and Bob Brough
Concerts by the Canal
Southminster United Church
Saturday, October 15, 2016 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

This fall, Southminster United Church in Ottawa South began offering Saturday evening concerts, in addition to its popular Wednesday noon concerts. The third show in this new series – and the first jazz concert – featured the long-time trio of Ottawa drummer Ken Harper with two Toronto musicians, Artie Roth on double bass and Bob Brough on tenor sax.

The Ken Harper Trio played mainstream jazz with passion, skill, and creativity at their concert at Southminster United Church  ©Brett Delmage, 2016

With busy schedules and a 450 km distance to travel, this trio doesn't get together to perform as often as they'd like – Harper estimates only about four times a year – but you could hear an easy connection and a like-minded approach in their music.

Harper and Roth met in 1988, when they both started studying music at York University, and later teamed up with veteran saxophonist Brough for this trio. Over the past two years, they've played several Ottawa-area locations: clubs, a house concert, and GigSpace, but this was their biggest Ottawa venue yet.

Other than an announcement mic that wasn’t always turned on or used properly, the concert was all-acoustic, with a beautiful, rounded sound. The musicians made a point of playing to the space, using its resonance, and playing softly enough that their instruments could be heard overlaying and complementing each other. Harper's cymbal sounds were crisp and ringing; Roth's bass was clear and full; Brough's tenor lines were rich and commanding.

The set list mixed originals by all three with well-chosen jazz classics – and lots of blues, starting with Brough's swinging opening number. I particularly enjoyed Roth's “Strike”, which reminded me of a Mingus in style, with a powerful collaborative feel; and his “Blues for All that's Left Unspoken”, a double bass showcase in which he created interesting vibrating and inflected effects by running his hands across and along the strings, but which also equally involved emphatic drumming from Harper and hard-edged bluesy sax lines from Brough.

Brough's “Sweet Jessica” was an evocative waltz dedicated to his daughter, a lovely interlude among the blues. It was followed by Benny Golson's “Whisper Not”, one of my favourite jazz classics. The trio's interpretation developed and became more complex throughout the piece, featuring a syncopated bass solo, thumping drums, and extended sax lines, while still preserving the memorable melody.

There was a great deal of energy coming from the stage – if more sublimated on the quieter numbers – and particularly at the beginning of the second set. Harper gave an unconventional start to Duke Ellington's “In a Sentimental Mood”, by running a bow along the edges of several of his cymbals, creating shining lines of melody. Roth added bowed notes on his bass, their quiet, deep fierceness underlining the bright cymbal vibrations. To this intense atmosphere, Brough then contributed buzzing sax lines – and after a minute or so, he and Roth's music coalesced into the recognizable melody of the song. It was a subdued and elegant interpretation which emphasized the fragility and the sadness of the sentimental mood in the piece, and was performed with great feeling.

It was followed by a punctuated rendition of Ellington's “Caravan”, which kept its very identifiable theme but gave it a considerable percussive momentum. “Aurora En Pekin”, a Cuban song from the 1920s, featured Harper hand-drumming on bongos and Roth's inflected pizzicato rhythms – all anchoring the warm melancholy melody on saxophone. The whole felt like a sensuous dance, strong and romantic.

The show's last piece was by Harper. “Blues for Yesterday” started compellingly with full-bodied and propulsive performances from all three. An insistent bass solo was followed by demanding tenor lines against pounding drums – and then they had fun playing with the theme, before ending emphatically with crashing drums and a long deep note on saxophone. The audience, which had been interested and listening carefully and intently throughout, responded with warm and extended applause.

The Ken Harper Trio plays mainstream jazz with passion, skill, and creativity. Harper, Roth and Brough listen carefully to each other, and perform with considerable simpatico. It's the kind of music that warms you on a chilly fall night and leaves you energized and happy. I'd definitely look forward to hearing this group again.

    – Alayne McGregor

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Set list:

  • Blues for Now (Bob Brough)
  • Strike (Artie Roth)
  • Invitation (Bronislau Kaper)
  • Sweet Jessica (Bob Brough)
  • Whisper Not (Benny Golson)
  • Blues for All that's Left Unspoken (Artie Roth)
  • In a Sentimental Mood (Duke Ellington)
  • Caravan (Duke Ellington)
  • Aurora En Pekin (Alfredo Boloña Jiménez)
  • Softly as in a Morning Sunrise (Romberg/Hammerstein)
  • Ramblin' (Ornette Coleman)
  • Blues for Yesterday (Ken Harper)

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