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Brian Browne Trio opens 2011 Carleton U Jazz Camp concert series

Elise Letourneau scats with the Brian Browne Trio. ©Brett Delmage, 2011Brian Browne Trio with Elise Letourneau
Monday, August 8, 2011
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University

Brian Browne's brand of fast-moving, percussive, and melodic jazz clearly clicked with his audience at the first faculty concert at the 2011 Carleton University Jazz Camp.

His 80-minute set elicited two standing ovations, with an encore in between. And during the concert itself, audience members were intently listening as  Browne ranged from Beatles and Billy Joel covers, to jazz classics like "Django" (by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet), and "Poinciana" (made famous by pianist Ahmad Jamal).

After many decades in music, Browne is clearly comfortable at the piano. He made fun of his own expertise by starting the concert and immediately engaging the audience's attention with "Chopsticks", which quickly morphed into his rollicking composition "Happy Little Mothers", but not before the audience got the joke.

Browne's strong playing, which frequently featured syncopation and repeated bass figures, was well matched by drummer Jeff Asselin and bassist Vitas  Paukstaitis. Their combined sound spilled out and filled the 444-seat theatre, and yet each of them showed considerable dynamic range. Asselin most  often used brushes, and got most of his texture through frequent use of cymbals. Paukstaitis' bass sound was rich and resonant, melding well with the piano. Browne started off "Willow Weep for Me" with a bluesy, gospel feel, which Paukstaitis matched with an earthy, soulful bass solo. And in "Can't  Buy Me Love", the infectious rhythm on piano was echoed and underlined by Asselin's drums and his later drum solo.

But the highlight of the concert was when Elise Letourneau added her vocals to the trio. Letourneau and Browne have played together a number of times at restaurants around the Ottawa and with the Capital Vox choir, and they melded immediately. Letourneau sang three very different songs: a ballad, a  blues, and a fun bopping song. "The Meaning of the Blues" showed off her husky voice and ability to showcase the drama in a song, but my favourite was  Horace Silver's "Doodlin'". Over a highly syncopated rhythm section, Letourneau's voice flowed in a continuous line that echoed the beat, whether scatting or delivering the lyrics. At one point, she scatted in duet with the piano.

Browne's encore was "Scarborough Fair". The traditional folk song has a pretty but rather slight melody (both in its original incarnation and as adapted by Simon and Garfunkel). His version kept the base of the melody, but added richness and depth to it, and doubled the pace for a far more intense experience.

The concert series continues Tuesday with two experienced Toronto jazz musicians: saxophonist Alex Dean and bassist Kieran Overs, playing with Asselin on drums. Then six of Ottawa's best-known jazz musicians perform a tribute to Charlie Parker on Wednesday, and veteran Ottawa jazz/chamber guitarist Roddy Ellias brings a trio in on Thursday. If none of them can quite match Browne in years of experience, they should have plenty enough to produce some interesting music.

    – Alayne McGregor

Other coverage of the 2011 Carleton University Jazz Camp:

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2011