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The beauty of Horace Silver's lesser-known tunes shines in Brookstreet tribute (review)

Tribute to Horace Silver
with Michel Delage, Steve Boudreau, Alex Bilodeau, Ed Lister, and Richard Page
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, May 27, 2017 – 8 p.m.

Even for fans of pianist and composer Horace Silver, the music performed at Michel Delage's May tribute show was substantially different.

The latest jazz tribute from Michel Delage (r) featured lesser-known, but high-quality music by hard bop piano master Horace Silver. Also playing: pianist Steve Boudreau and bassist Alex Bilodeau, along with (not shown) saxophonist Richard Page and trumpeter Ed Lister ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Yes, it certainly was Silver's music, and just as enjoyable as I expected – but it went beyond the standard pieces one always hears. Instead, the quintet treated the listeners in the Options Jazz Lounge to a collection of hard bop tunes and soulful ballads which demonstrated the depth of Silver's writing. Four of them were taken from his less-known 1973 album, In Pursuit of the 27th Man.

For this show, drummer Michel Delage assembled a quintet of Ottawa musicians: his frequent musical partner Alex Bilodeau on double bass, Steve Boudreau taking Silver's place on piano and transcribing much of the material, and the strong front line of Ed Lister on trumpet and Richard Page on baritone sax. Page showed the versatility of his baritone in this show, often playing smoothly up in the tenor range to reflect the original instrumentation on the albums (In Pursuit of the 27th Man, for example, featured Michael Brecker on tenor).

Lister and Page have often performed together. In fact their “Hard Bop Association” group often played Silver's tunes. You could hear that easy familiarity in their lovingly-blended tones throughout the evening. They frequently played together – in unison, alternating lines, or playing contrasting lines – in energetic, inventive, and evocative forms.

The quintet opened the night with the popular “Mexican Hip Dance” – bright and upbeat – and continued with the lesser-known “Liberated Brother” from the 1973 album. It had a comfortable, mellow energy, with a strong forward groove on bass and drums, over which Lister added emphatic trumpet, Boudreau warm and soulful piano, and Page low and resonant baritone.

Other lesser-known pieces were also well worth attention. “Hey, Guy” and “Ah! So” celebrated Silver's raw blues energy, while “Gregory is Here” was a hard-edged propulsive piece featuring a glimmering piano solo and deep growls on the baritone. “Strong Vibes” opened with insistent hand drumming from Delage, followed by ominous, interrupted lines on baritone and trumpet over deep piano chords, and then moved into an extended exploration by all before ending with Lister and Page playing softly in unison.

I particularly enjoyed several of the slower pieces, such as “The End of a Love Affair”, with its rich, melancholy melody. The deep, vibrating groove of “Soulville” gave great opportunities for Boudreau, Page, and Lister to play over top, adding a noticeably raw New Orleans raunch at points. “Silver's Serenade” was a flowing, thoughtful piece, featuring an other-worldly yet intense piano solo from Boudreau.

“Que Pasa” was a standout, the entire group creating an arresting mood with their full-bodied rendition of its graceful Latin melody and insinuating rhythms. Bilodeau's bass solo recreated the tune in long resonant notes, warm and inviting.

And there were the Silver hits: the rhythmic “Nutville”, including a powerful drum solo from Delage in which his sticks moved so fast you could only see their paths in the air, and the propulsive and groovy “The Jody Grind”.

While there was a wide selection of styles in the music, it did become noticeable by the middle of the second set that the group's organization of each piece was very similar: intro, sax and trumpet together, trumpet solo, sax solo, piano solo, further playing and perhaps and bass or drums solo, and then the sax and trumpet coming back again for the close. Delage did some trading 4's with other musicians in a few pieces and there were some other variations, but mostly the group stuck to that pattern. I would have preferred a bit more variation: the piano solo first, for example.

The quintet closed with the title track from In Pursuit of the 27th Man, building its energy in an extended exploration. Page took his baritone circling up and up into squeal territory and then back down to commanding lower registers, Lister contributed hard-edged trumpet lines, and Boudreau created fast streams of chiming notes on the piano. Bilodeau and Delage added a supercharged bass-drums duet, and all the musicians pushed faster and faster, coming back to the theme and then separating again before ending abruptly – and satisfyingly.

Since Delage started his monthly tribute series at Brookstreet in March, 2015, we've consistently heard interesting takes on the jazz masters in those shows we've attended. Delage has covered the greats, which have included Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Thelonious Monk, and Wayne Shorter, but also influential and talented jazz musicians not everyone has heard of, such as Gene Ammons, Lennie Tristano, or the great organ quartets.

And he's consistently involved other musicians – from Ottawa and elsewhere in Ontario and Quebec – in developing and exploring this music. There's been excellent playing from musicians from away like Nancy Walker and Mike Rud, and many fine local performances as well.

One of the great things about jazz is its deep history and huge sourcebook. Delage’s tribute series at Options has presented many opportunities to learn more about that canon while enjoying fine music.

    – Alayne McGregor

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Set 1:

  1. Mexican Hip Dance
  2. Liberated Brother
  3. Hey, Guy
  4. Strange Vibes
  5. Nutville

Set 2:

  1. The End of a Love Affair
  2. Soulville
  3. Gregory is Here
  4. Que Pasa?
  5. The Jody Grind
  6. Yeah!

Set 3:

  1. Silver's Serenade
  2. Ah! So
  3. In Pursuit of the 27th Man

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