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JUNOfest night 2: all eyes on the stage for projects from the heart

JUNOfest 2017 Jazz Night #2: Adam Saikaley Trio, Quinsin Nachoff Trio and Septet, Brandi Disterheft Quartet, Dave Young Quintet
Live! on Elgin
Saturday, April 1, 2017 - 9 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of these performances

The second evening of JUNOfest jazz concerts emphasized instrumental music, with ensembles playing both swinging mainstream jazz and more experimental orchestral jazz music.

In three 45-minute sets, Quinsin Nachoff, Brandi Disterheft, and Dave Young presented music which they had recorded on their Juno-nominated albums (or, as Nachoff said with a smile, “our Juno-losing albums”).

If anything, Live! on Elgin was even more packed than Friday night, with appreciative applause from the audience throughout. Listeners were focused on the music, and any conversations were quiet and respectful of the performances and other listeners. Jazz fans of all ages were present, enjoying the music.

Ottawa pianist Adam Saikaley opened the evening, playing his original music with his trio: bassist Alex Bilodeau and drummer Michel Delage. Unfortunately, I was still reporting on the Juno Awards dinner (which ran substantially late) at the same time as his set.

Quinsin Nachoff Septet and Trio

Flux, the album for which Quinsin Nachoff was nominated, takes its inspiration from both jazz and classical music. Nachoff is well-known as a jazz saxophonist and as a composer writing for his own jazz groups, but he has also written for the Penderecki String Quartet, the Turning Point Ensemble, and the Cecilia String Quartet.

Roberto Occhipinti conducted the Quinsin Nachoff Septet  ©2017 Brett Delmage

For this show, he performed with five well-known Ottawa musicians in the Sussex Brass Quintet – tuba player Keith Hartshorn-Walton, trumpeters Nicholas Dyson and Ed Lister, trombonist Mark Ferguson, and French horn player Nigel Bell – as well as with renowned Toronto drummer Terry Clarke. And there was an eighth musician on the stage: Toronto bassist and producer Roberto Occhipinti, who conducted the septet.

The full septet opened with the “Complimentary Opposites”, which was on Flux, and was originally first movement of a suite commissioned by Peter Knight's 5+2 Brass Ensemble in Australia. Strongly orchestral in feel, it developed from the bright carnival-like music and celebratory brass of its beginning into a more ominous feel, like a storm bearing down, before ending with a strong held note on trombone. I was impressed how well Nachoff interlaced the different instruments, fitting their lines together so that their different tonalities could each be properly heard – from gleaming trumpet fanfares to deep tuba thumps.

The next two pieces were performed by a trio: Nachoff's tenor sax, Hartshorn-Walton's tuba, and Clarke's drums. “Gravitas” had the tuba and tenor sax lines curling around each other, each instrument exploring the top and bottom of its musical range – and kept in time by Clarke's light, metallic rhythms on cymbals and snare. It evoked strong applause.

Nachoff described “Clairvoyant Jest” as a “peppier number”. It had a swinging rhythm, with fast drumming, and rapidly varying sax and tuba lines – from fluttering, to up and down, to repeated riffs. At one point the tuba and sax were playing in counterpoint against each other. The piece ended with all three in a rapid, back-and-forth conversation.

The septet then returned with the second movement of the suite. Opening with a muted and disquieting trombone solo from Ferguson, the piece openly somberly, reminding me of waves rolling in on a deserted beach. Lister and Dyson entered strongly on trumpet, giving it more of a classical feel. The trumpets developed a harder edge, crying over atmospheric tuba and French horn, and then all the instruments joined in a full-bodied fanfare. The trumpets continued to drive the piece as instruments intertwined in an increasingly full sound, before the piece ended abruptly. The audience responded with loud and enthusiastic applause.

Brandi Disterheft ©2017 Brett Delmage

Brandi Disterheft Quartet

Bassist and vocalist Brandi Disterheft was nominated for Blue Canvas, an album she recorded with two American jazz giants: Harold Mabern and Joe Farnsworth. For this show, she teamed up with Toronto musicians she had played with before – guitarist Reg Schwager and drummer Morgan Childs – plus pianist Amanda Tosoff. All three had played in other JUNOfest shows.

Disterheft's set was delayed because of what appeared to be technical problems, and her quartet ended up playing for only 34 minutes. But it was a very full and busy half-hour, combining originals and upbeat standards.

“Put on a Happy Face” set the pace, opening with a strongly resonant bass solo from Disterheft, and then becoming an optimistic, swinging number. It had a notable forward momentum, with forceful solo contributions from each of the musicians.

Disterheft told the audience that “I Remember April” was her mother's favourite song – but didn't give it the usual arrangement. Instead, she began with a fast repeating bass riff, over which Schwager added slinky guitar. While her vocals were sincere and sweet, they were also taken at speed, with the end result of turning what's usually considered a wistful song into something more confident.

I particularly liked the long intro Disterheft gave for her song “Blue Canvas”. Speaking over a steady bass rhythm, she explained why she liked staying out for late-night jam sessions near her apartment in Harlem – even when her husband complains that it's 2 a.m. and she should be home. The song itself was a riff-heavy number, with a strong up and down groove and determined lyrics: “Hand me a brush and I'll play for you!”

In the ballad “If Dreams Come True”, made famous by vocalist Nancy Wilson, Disterheft gave the lyrics a warm and inviting feel, aided by Schwager's pointillist guitar and Tosoff's sparkling piano – all played at breakneck speed.

Disterheft ended with a boogaloo blues which she dubbed “Airplane Blues”, filled with amusing verbal double entendres. Over a high-velocity blues rhythm, she sung about her man the airplane pilot and his many skills, including flying her. With Schwager's inflected guitar and Tosoff's stride piano, it was a sizzling end to an interesting, if rushed, set.

Dave Young and Kevin Turcotte ©2017 Brett Delmage

Dave Young Quintet

Bassist Dave Young took the stage about 12:15 with an all-star Toronto quintet – trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, tenor saxophonist Perry White, guitarist Reg Schwager, and drummer Terry Clarke – and the abundant music just kept rolling out for more than an hour. Throughout, Young talked about the music and told stories (occasionally embroidered) about the band, all of whom he'd played with for years.

Young's nominated album, One Way Up, concentrates on his favourite hard bop and post-bop classics, plus several originals, and he included several tracks from it in his set. The quintet opened with the swinging “Why Wait” by Stanley Clarke, and gave it a rich, multi-faceted interpretation that inspired several bouts of clapping for solos. Turcotte contributed punctuated streams of notes on trumpet; Young provided deep, rounded bass riffs; White's tenor sax solos were flowing and expressive.

Young told the audience that Roland Rahsaan Kirk was one of his favourite sax players. Kirk's “Black Diamond” featured White and Turcotte playing contrasting lines against each other over quiet bass and guitar and ringing cymbals. The sax and trumpet lines gradually coalesced and then separated into inspiring and eloquent solos. Young's bass solo was conversational and delicate, ending in strong vibrating notes, and evoked strong applause from the audience.

Young include two of his originals from the album in the set. “Love for Scale” (based on the standard “Love for Sale”) was an energetic, fun piece with lots of room for soloing over a strong groove. “The Night is Long” was dedicated to Roberto Occhipinti, who produced the album. It was a romantic ballad at first defined by its low bass line, over which Turcotte and White played the delicate, reminiscent melody. Schwager added a strongly emotional and deep guitar solo.

The night ended with a rousing version of the Duke Ellington standard, “Caravan”. Young joked that it was “for the die-hard jazz fans – just a little rearranged, but you'll catch it even if we don't”. It was a hard-edged, fast-paced rendition, played with high spirits, and ended with an extended flourish. The audience kept the musicians up on stage for several minutes with extended, strong applause.

   – Alayne McGregor

Read our other stories about the 2017 Juno Awards