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Renée Yoxon and her Gentlemen Friends swing the park (review)

Renée Yoxon and Craig Pedersen enjoy the music during their concert in Aylmer July 25. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Renée Yoxon and her Gentlemen Friends
Parc de l'imaginaire
Gatineau (secteur Aylmer), PQ
Festival de Jazz Desjardins
Thursday, July 25, 2013 – 7:30 p.m.

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Local jazz vocalist Renée Yoxon resurrected the songs of the Swing Era (and a little bit beyond) for a delighted crowd of more than 300 in Aylmer Thursday. It was the second show in the four-concert Festival de Jazz Desjardins this week.

It was almost all easily recognizable music – “All of Me”, “Don't Get Around Much Anymore”, “Fly Me to the Moon”, “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Frim Fram Sauce”, “Pennies from Heaven” – but Yoxon and her Gentlemen Friends performed it with verve, and added their own twists.

Yoxon regularly brings this group – Craig Pedersen on trumpet, François Gravel on Fender Rhodes, Mark Fraser on bass, David Pontello on drums – to play at swing dances, where the music needs to be upbeat, engaging, and above all danceable. In Aylmer, she got a few people dancing in place and swaying to the music, but the audience primarily showed their enjoyment with loud applause, including a standing ovation at the end, and intent listening. The toddlers and children in the audience were a bit more expressive: those who didn't sit and listen used it as background for tree climbing, and running around.

The music was anchored by Yoxon's strong, expressive voice. She played with phrasing and timing to freshen even well-known standards and sang the lyrics as though they meant something to her personally. But equally important were Pedersen, whose muted trumpet added the appropriate old-timey feel to songs like “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and whose lines underlined, echoed, and commented on the vocal melody; and Gravel, whose phrasing on the Rhodes on “Blue and Sentimental” was understated and delicate yet beautiful and melancholy. Both were particularly strong on “St. James Infirmary”, a “blues dancing number”, that allowed them to stretch out and growl. Pontello and Fraser provided a strong swinging background to underline the soloists.

The group closed with “I'm an Errand Girl for Rhythm” (by Nat King Cole, but feminized and popularized by Diana Krall), one of the swingingest pieces of the night. The audience called them back for an encore, and they responded with "All right, OK, You Win (I'm in Love with You)”, popularized by everyone from Peggy Lee to Joe Williams, but with plenty of energy left in it to leave the audience clapping again.

The Festival continues with the Jesse Stewart Trio on Friday, and Michael Occhipinti's Sicilian Jazz Project on Saturday. Performances will be cancelled in case of rain.

    – Alayne McGregor

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All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2013
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