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John MacLeod Big Band (review)

John MacLeod, Emily Denison, Daniel Desgroseilliers, Nicholas Dyson  ©Brett Delmage, 2012

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John MacLeod Big Band
Carleton University Jazz Camp
Friday, August 10, 2012
Kailash Mital Theatre
Carleton University

There's really no substitute for a big band: the large number of musicians give you a depth and diversity of sound and a variety of musical interactions not possible in a smaller ensemble. While the format is not as popular, or as economically possible, now as in the 40s or 50s, some musicians still love the challenges and rewards of writing for big bands.

Such as trumpeter John MacLeod, who brought his charts for his Toronto-based Rex Hotel Jazz Orchestra to Ottawa this week, for a band composed of faculty from the Carleton University Jazz Camp, professional Ottawa musicians, and five advanced students from the camp. MacLeod wasn't starting from scratch, though: from his orchestra he had the drummer, Ted Warren, plus two musicians who regularly play with the orchestra: Kelly Jefferson and Brian Dickinson. And the students were all long-standing members of either the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra or the Nepean All-City Jazz Band, while many of the other musicians had played with the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra (formerly Impressions in Jazz Orchestra).

Despite only having a short time to rehearse, those 20 musicians produced crisp, clear renditions of MacLeod's charts, with strong solo performances, including by several of the students.

Three of the numbers were MacLeod's own originals, another was by Toronto saxophonist Mike Murley, and another by trombonist and big band composer Bob Brookmeyer. The obligatory Ellington number was a mash-up by composer Clare Fischer of “Take the A-Train” and a Brazilian number, called “O Pato Takes a Train”. The closest to a big band standard was “Come Rain or Come Shine”, where Elise Letourneau delivered a swinging vocal over an strong brassy sound, with a sizzling trumpet solo by Chris Lane.

A particular highlight was MacLeod's “A Day On Sawyer's Lake”, depicting a day in the Haliburtons, with some lovely flute work and a particularly expressive, long solo on tenor by Jefferson. It was followed by Murley's “gut-bucket blues”, “Sometimes You Feel Like That”, which featured a gravelly, muted trumpet from MacLeod, several nuanced tenor solos from Mike Tremblay, and a delightfully assertive bowed solo from John Geggie on bass. Then Mike Essoudry entered with, of all instruments, a glockenspiel, and added sparkling single notes to MacLeod's quiet ballad, “Sparkles”, with clarinets and flutes filling in the background.

MacLeod then stepped up to the mic to sing the retro and very Canadian "I see by the clock on the wall that it's time to wish you one and all...” closing number from Wayne and Schuster, followed by a bright fanfare from the whole orchestra. The audience responded with an immediate standing ovation, in recognition of a very approachable and enjoyable concert.

This concert was the final 2012 concert by Carleton University Jazz Camp faculty, and it followed a Duos Night, a performance by Los Gringos, and the Jefferson-Tremblay Quintet. While the concerts were primarily part of the jazz camp educational experience, the public was also welcome to attend. Jazz fans who attended this year heard some of the best local and national professional jazz musicians as well as our local emerging young talent – for the very modest ticket price of $10 per show.

The John MacLeod Big Band:

  • Conductor and Trumpet, Cornet: John MacLeod

  • Piano: Brian Dickinson
  • Drums: Ted Warren
  • Bass: John Geggie
  • Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet: Kelly Jefferson, Chris Maskell, Mike Tremblay, Claire Devlin, David Renaud
  • Trombones: Daniel Desgroseilliers, Zack Smith, Mark Ferguson, Moe Wozniak, Steve Guerin
  • French horn: Martin Bender
  • Trumpets: Emily Denison, Nicholas Dyson, Megan Jutting, Chris Lane
  • Vocals: Elise Letourneau
  • Glockenspiel: Mike Essoudry

    – Alayne McGregor

See also:  John MacLeod harnesses the creative energy of a big band with his Rex Hotel Jazz Orchestra

All images ©Brett Delmage, 2012
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