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Thursday Night at the Carleton Jazz Camp: Having Fun Playing Together

Carleton University Jazz Camp Concert #4
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University

They were serious enough about their music to also have a bit of fun.

Thursday night's concert at the Carleton University Jazz Camp was a mixture of ensembles, composed of the jazz professionals teaching at the camp. Some had played together for years; others had never met before this week. But what they all had in common was a commitment to listen and make good music together.

Kieran Overs (bass) and Alex Dean (sax) perform in the first Carleton University Jazz Camp concert series. ©Brett Delmage, 2010The concert opened with two pieces by Ottawa musicians Mark Ferguson on piano and Mike Tremblay on tenor sax. The two put out their first duo album (Home) last year, and the pieces reflected the style of that album: rough-edged yet soulful, with an emphasis on melody.

They were followed by a trio of veteran Toronto  tenor sax player Alex Dean, veteran Toronto bassist Kieran Overs (double bass), and Ottawa drummer Mike Essoudry. They played two standards, starting with "Purple Gazelle" (aka "Angelica") by Duke Ellington. The bass and drums opened with a syncopated duet, and then Dean entered with the melody. He quickly moved to an energetic improvisation (I could imagine someone jitterbugging to it), then up and down from high notes to growls in a virtuoso set-piece. Overs and Essoudry happily followed along, the bass line in particular echoing the rhythm.

The next song showed similar tight ensemble playing, with Dean starting out with the melody but then deferring to Overs for a bass solo (with occasional filling-in notes on the sax) before returning to the main melody line. All three musicians showed a real understanding of dynamic range, Essoudry deliberately muting his drums in quiet passages.

Tremblay and Ferguson then rejoined the group for another six pieces. There was a relaxed vibe on stage – the "dinosaur" jokes were dragged out again – and that was reflected in the smoothness and unison of the performance. Highlights were the saxophone duet on "Stella", where Tremblay and Dean played in, around, over, and beside each other, and Tremblay's 2003 composition, "Fields Are Free", where the musicians easily adjusted to each others' changes in the beat, and the two again exchanged sax parts and then played together.

Mark Ferguson (piano), Alex Dean (sax), Mike Tremblay (sax) and Mike Essoudry (drums). ©Brett Delmage, 2010Dean introduced a new composition, "Something About Farming", which he has recorded for his upcoming album, in which he and Ferguson exchanged piano and sax lines, each egging the other on for faster and more brilliant riffs. Ferguson then introduced "Moonrise", which will be on his and Tremblay's second CD, to be released this fall, with a number of musical jokes (for example, on "Moon River"). The music itself was treated seriously, starting with Overs playing the melody on the bass over the rhythm on piano, and then Tremblay introducing the main theme on sax. The bass remained a major player throughout, even during the sax duets, and ended the piece as the other instruments subsided.

The audience was enthusiastic throughout, and even demanded an unplanned encore. That ended up being a 15-minute, high-intensity improvisation by all the musicians, and finally satisfied everyone.

The concert was one of five evening concerts organized by Ottawa guitarist and jazz camp instructor Tim Bedner as an entertaining and educational  component of the first Carleton University Jazz Camp. For students and Ottawa-Gatineau jazz fans alike, the Jazz Camp concerts filled the typical August musical hole with delightful evenings of music by some very talented Canadian musicians.

     – Alayne McGregor