There was a big smile on Jumpin' Jimmy Leroux's face on January 12. Leroux coordinates the music on Thursday nights at the Brass Monkey, a brightly-lit basement pool hall and performance space on Greenbank Road in Ottawa's suburban west end.
That evening was an experiment, the hall's first jazz night instead of the local rock bands Leroux usually programs for his new talent showcase. And to his delight, it attracted about 35 interested listeners to hear three Ottawa-area jazz groups, filling almost all the seats available. They enthusiastically applauded the music, and even Leroux's between-set jokes.
“It's a cold Canadian night,” Leroux told the audience, “and the easiest thing is to stay home on your couch. But here you came out to support music. Thanks!”
Up first on stage was Easy Living, a quartet providing smooth and easy-going versions of jazz standards including “But Not For Me” and “Summertime”. Vocalist Fiona George provided a flowing and clear version of “My Little Boat”, with guitarist Jim Mattson, bassist Len Leclair, and drummer Dan Quinlan warming the place with bright samba rhythms.
Mattson and vocalist Diane Ross have been performing together for several years now, after meeting at the Carleton University jazz camp, and clearly were musically at ease together as the second act of the evening. (They were also the one act which had performed before at the Brass Monkey.) Ross' soulful, expressive soprano was underlined by Mattson's fluid and understated guitar, as they presented a series of pop, folk, and country standards sung in a jazz style, to strong applause. I particularly liked their improvisations on “Wayfarin' Stranger”.
The third band was a premiere. This was the first public gig for Nightshift, led by guitarist Ernie Fraser, and featuring Sid Arnold on trumpet, Bob Johnson on tenor sax, David Miller on keys, and Kevin Cooke and Jim Hamer on bass and drums.
They played an hour-long set of jazz fusion with a strong funky edge, and featuring lots of horn collaboration, dominant guitar lines, and insistent drumming. It was bright, upbeat music, which even got two women up and dancing. I particularly enjoyed “City Lights”, a quiet and evocative number which opened with thoughtful keyboard lines and muted trumpet.
It was good to see a suburban venue showcasing jazz groups – and audiences responding to that opportunity. Let's hope we see jazz continue to spread and be heard throughout the community in 2017.
– Alayne McGregor