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The Crooked Jazz Trio doesn't travel straight-ahead

The Crooked Jazz Trio
The Record Centre
Sunday, November 20, 2016 – 4 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Outside was the first snowstorm of the season: wet, cold, slippery. Inside the Record Centre, the Crooked Jazz Trio performed music that ranged from toasty to sizzling.

Crooked Jazz Trio: Dave Schroeder (bass), Jeff Asselin (drums), Steve Boudreau (keys) ©2016 Brett DelmageThe trio is Dave Schroeder on electric bass and guitar, Steve Boudreau on keyboards, and Jeff Asselin on drums – three Ottawa jazz musicians who each spent a great deal of time away from this city, studying and touring, and who are now back and playing jazz together.

But not straight-ahead jazz. Schroeder said that their name comes from their flexible approach to the music: “We're what could be called '"jazz'" but we are in no way bound to adhere to any stylistic limitations. And I play electric bass (though I do intend to play upright with the trio as well), and that is not a 'straight' or traditional approach to jazz. And we're all shifty and 'crooked' in that sense. So we're happy to corrupt any style of music!”

They opened Sunday's show with Boudreau's “Schraday”, a tip of the hat to Schroeder. It was a warm, inviting number, with a Dr. John vibe and an easy New Orleans-style groove, with Boudreau vamping on keyboards and Schroeder playing harmonica. They built up the pace in the next number, Boudreau's “Running Gun”, a more exploratory number with a strong forward momentum.

Schroeder and Boudreau are both former members of the local jazz band The Beeched Wailers, and they included “Harvest Stroll”, a piece Boudreau had written for that group – but given a quite different interpretation. This version opened slowly and slinkily, and created a integral groove with the bass line underlying the strong organ riffs. Asselin played brushes on his snares and cymbals, but still created emphatic rhythms underneath.

Schroeder said one reason he liked playing with this trio was that many of his tunes suited the line-up. “I don't generate as much music as Steve does, but I have tunes that will suit the trio. Playing with the Beeched Wailers, a lot of my music wasn't that effective with the quintet, but I really like to write for a trio. So it's nice to get those tunes off the ground.”

“Roger and Paul” was his cheerful tribute to two young men with muscular dystrophy whom he used to help care for. Paul was a very laid-back person, he explained: in fact, he was “the laziest human being I ever knew – and I teach at university!” It was a happy tune with bright highlights, taken at a saunter, with a very full, relaxed sound.

The followed that with the one non-original in the show: a high-velocity, punctuated take on the jazz classic “Donna Lee” with strong underlying rumbling rhythms. Schroeder told the intent listeners that it was the opening number of bassist Jaco Pastorius' debut solo album, and that Pastorius had said he took nine years to work on it before recording. “I'm on year 8.”

The three have known each other for years: “I've been playing with these guys like Steve since I was 16 or 17 years old, right?” Asselin said. They all graduated from Carleton University in 2004, and then moved outwards: Boudreau to study for his Masters at the New England Conservatory in Boston and then tour with musicals for several years; Schroeder to gain his doctorate at the University of Miami; Asselin to study in the U.S. and tour there and in Europe.

“We used to play together at Le Petit Chicago, when Jeff and his brother Brian, who's a dear friend of ours as well, and Steve used to play in a band at Petit Chicago. When I would come back from the States, some times I would sit in with them. That was probably the last time we were semi-regular in terms of gigging,” Schroeder said.

They started playing together again this summer. “And so finally, now's the time! We're all settled in and we're all in Ottawa and we wanted to make it happen.”

During the hour-long show, customers, of all ages from attentive toddlers to seniors, continued to enter the Record Centre, but very few left. Most stayed around, absorbed in the music and applauding warmly. The show closed with two Schroeder originals: “Honestly I Lied”, a funky number influenced by Chris Potter, and “Greasy Zip Line”, a blues/rock number showcasing Schroeder on electric guitar, with Boudreau contributing rippling organ riffs and Asselin a hard-edged drum solo.

In the works for the trio is recording their first album, with the extra incentive of Asselin having installed a recording suite in his house.

“We're definitely going to get that album done,” Schroeder said. “Jeff's chomping at the bit with his new gear, so hopefully we can get that done, maybe over the Christmas break. I'm really anxious to get something down. I'm already thinking ahead to our second album [both he and Jeff laugh]. We want to get the first one done, and just keep going.”

    – Alayne McGregor

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Set List

  1. Schraday (Steve Boudreau)
  2. Running Gun (Steve Boudreau)
  3. Harvest Stroll (Steve Boudreau)
  4. Roger and Paul (Dave Schroeder)
  5. Donna Lee (Miles Davis / Charlie Parker)
  6. Light It Up (Steve Boudreau)
  7. Honestly, I Lied (Dave Schroeder)
  8. Greasy Zip Line (Dave Schroeder)