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Chris Maskell and Gentiane MG play approachable yet complex jazz

Chris Maskell and Gentiane MG Duo
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios, Ottawa
Friday, January 27, 2017 - 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The minimalist configuration of tenor sax and keyboards is not your usual jazz group. Most musicians would add a rhythm section of bass and drums and possibly another horn. But Chris Maskell and Gentiane MG (Michaud-Gagnon) showed that the two instruments could speak very well together in an intimate show in Ottawa.

 ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Saxophonist Maskell and pianist Gentiane MG met through McGill University, where both are currently studying in the demanding Masters in Jazz Performance program. They've played several shows together in Montreal, and demonstrated an easy camaraderie in this show, which was Gentiane MG's Ottawa debut.

This was also only the second show in the Live @ Record Runner series. The Record Runner Rehearsal Studios are somewhat hidden away in the west-end Colonnade Road business park, which was bleak and dark that January evening and could have used street numbers more visible from the road. However, there is regular OC Transpo service to the park, with bus stops right at the building. Once inside, the studios were notably warm and welcoming, and even offered refreshments at the intermission.

The concert was held in a cozy and comfortable 37-seat “Great Room”. Record Runner owner Paul Adjeleian has made a point of designing good acoustics and sound separation into the studios. Gentiane MG’s keyboard sounded clear and warm using the room's built-in speakers. The room was full, including some of Maskell's friends and family from Ottawa.

The set list was primarily standards, but performed with intense attention. The duo began with “Gemma”, a ballad by Maskell which he's performed in other Ottawa shows. It contrasted rough-edged saxophone with quiet piano in an expressively romantic piece.

I liked how Gentiane MG opened “Solar”, with careful, spacious piano lines reminding me of a nursery rhyme – and then gradually modulating into a more resonant and emotional rendition. Maskell's saxophone entered quietly, and they embarked on a thoughtful conversation, finding variations in the piece's theme.

Another highlight of that hour-long set was a medley of the standard “Alone Together” with the bebop classic “Confirmation”, combining circling sax lines with piano flourishes in a fast, swinging duet.

The shorter second set included an interlaced blues by Gentiane MG, beginning with evocative sax passages over flurries of piano notes. Both took the blues idiom into more abstract territory, creating a contemplative conversation – and then separated again, with Maskell emphasizing the light and bright and Gentiane MG the deep and sad. It was an engrossing piece I wouldn't mind hearing again.

They closed with the ballad “What's New”, played tenderly and romantically with sustained notes adding to the song's wistful and delicate feel. The audience responded with strong applause.

What I particularly enjoyed about this show is how the duo were inspired by each other to create new visions of primarily well-known jazz pieces. A sax fantasia would be followed by punctuated piano and then fast ripples of notes; rich sax lines were matched by strong, joyful piano. But at the same time, neither ever lost track of the original songs, nor bounced so high off the melodies that they couldn't easily return.

One listener told me later that he particularly liked this concert because he could relate to the melodies. It's not a bad thing for music to be approachable, to give something for less-frequent jazz listeners to hold on to while adding interesting complexity for those more familiar with the pieces. Chris Maskell and Gentiane MG clearly have a good understanding of and appreciation of the jazz canon and the ability to build on it in inventive ways – and to create an enjoyable evening for their audience.

    – Alayne McGregor

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Set 1

  1. Gemma (Chris Maskell)
  2. Solar (Miles Davis)
  3. I Fall in Love Too Easily (Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn)
    seguing into On Green Dolphin Street (Bronisław Kaper)
  4. Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma)
  5. Alone Together (Arthur Schwartz)
    seguing into Confirmation (Charlie Parker)

Set 2

  1. I Hear a Rhapsody (George Fragos, Jack Baker, Dick Gasparre)
  2. Kyra's Blues (Gentiane MG)
  3. Darn That Dream (Jimmy Van Heusen, Eddie DeLange)
  4. What's New (Bob Haggart, Johnny Burke)

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

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