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This week, you can get a glimpse into how guitar music is expanding in the 21st century.
An 48-piece orchestra of electric and classical guitars, with an improvised light show playing in sync on the ceiling above them. A free six-hour small-concert showcase of guitar music by dozens of Canadian composers, performed by many different guitarists. Feature concerts by jazz guitar masters Gord Grdina and Miles Okazaki, and lectures by composers Mike Rud, Tim Brady, and Trevor Babb. Jazz, electro-acoustic, new music, and modern classical music, and many points in between.
These are all part of the 21st century guitar conference, running from Thursday to Sunday at the University of Ottawa and the Carleton Dominion Chalmers Centre. The conference will also focus on guitar skill acquisition and guitar pedagogy, using new advances in cognitive science and neuroplasticity.
The interdisciplinary conference is the brainchild of guitarist Amy Brandon, who is currently working on her own PhD, examining “the cognitive aspects of how we navigate the guitar when we're performing”. Although she now lives in Nova Scotia, Brandon was raised here and is a long-time member of Ottawa's jazz scene.
The idea first came to her about three years ago. “I had been to a couple of guitar conferences as part of my PhD and I noticed that a lot of them were focused mostly on music from about a hundred years ago or further back. I thought that was really interesting because I know of so much incredible new music for guitar. I just wanted to have a conference that was focused exclusively on that.”
The James McGowan Trio immersed themselves and their audience in the joy of jazz Saturday evening, creating an upbeat vibe that suited the warm summer evening.
While the local musicians in this trio – McGowan on piano, Marc Decho on six-string electric bass, Valeriy Nehovora on drums – knew each other before, this was the first time they'd played together as a group. They came together smoothly and easily, playing modern jazz classics and two of McGowan's originals.
Each contributed substantially to the sound: McGowan creating reflective and inventive openings and moving piano passages, Decho adding melodic and flowing solos which spanned the guitar/bass divide, and Nehovora maintaining a strong underlying drive while adding fine cymbal and drum touches that made the pieces sparkle, and inserting well-timed “trading 4's” passages.
Opening with a swinging version of the standard “Beautiful Love”, the trio played three diverse sets: bossa nova, bebop, modal jazz, show tunes, and Pat Metheny all featured in the set list. Highlights included the dancing and immersive “Morning” by Clare Fischer; the entwined trio work on “On Green Dolphin Street”; their sincere and uplifting version of Oscar Peterson's “Hymn to Freedom”; the grooving and scintillating “Mercy Mercy Mercy”; and an unusual take on “God Bless the Child” which was much more accented and almost celebratory. Before their full-bodied and dynamic version of “Willow Weep for Me”, McGowan (ever the university professor) explained how that tune was written by Ann Ronell, who had to fight to be recognized as a female composer.
Four trumpets, one rhythm section, and a lot of funky jazz fusion. That's the sound which Ottawa trumpeter Nick Dyson is aiming for in his new group, Point Blank Brass.
It will play its first – and so far only – show next Wednesday at Irene's Pub in the Glebe. Dyson promises “rock elements, and jazz elements, and funk elements, and soul music elements – and a whole lot of decibels.”
It's not a lineup you usually hear in either rock or jazz, where that size of trumpet section is reserved for a big band. Dyson is reaching back to the early 70s and a soul/jazz/rock band called Chase for his inspiration.
It was led by trumpeter Bill Chase, who had played for the previous decade in big bands led by Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton, and Woody Herman, and combined a front line of four cascading trumpets with a driving rhythm section. The group was immediately successful, with its first single reaching #24 on Billboard, and a GRAMMY nomination for Best New Artist, but ended in 1974 when Chase and several other band members died in a plane crash.
Other groups in the late 60s and 70s, such as Blood, Sweat & Tears, Tower of Power, and Chicago, also included horns, but they combined trumpets with trombone and saxophone. Chase was unique in using only trumpets, and creating fresh arrangements for them.
“If you do a little reading about Bill Chase and the Chase band, you hear about the Chase cascade, where everybody starts high and then only certain people move,” Dyson said. “It creates this really cool effect. I think the idea for a lot of it is to take a four-trumpet approach to an instrumental funk band. Bill Chase knew a lot of trumpet players, a lot of people that liked to do that kind of trumpet playing, so I think he came across a really interesting fusion at that point.”
Each week OttawaJazzScene.ca highlights a live jazz or improvised music performance in Ottawa-Gatineau in our comprehensive Live Jazz Guide. There's a great deal of interesting, new jazz to choose from every week, so it's often a difficult choice!
Friday, August 23, 2019: In Memory of The Inspiring Touch of João Gilberto at Festival Japan
João Gilberto Prado Pereira de Oliveira was a major innovator in Brazilian jazz. One of the main architects of the bossa nova, his intimate and nuanced style of guitar playing and singing were central to its sound. He had the first bossa nova hit with "Chege de Saudade" by composers Antônio Carlos “Tom” Jobim and Vincente de Moraes, which combined samba rhythms with American cool jazz. The style swept Brazil in the late 50s, went international with Gilberto and Jobim's jazz score to the film Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus), and then migrated to the U.S.
In 1962, saxophonist Stan Getz invited Gilberto to record with him, and the resulting album, Getz/Gilberto, won the 1965 GRAMMY for record of the year and went on to become one of the highest-selling jazz albums of all time. Many of its compositions by Jobim and de Moraes have become jazz standards, including "Corcovado," "Desafinado" and "Doralice" – but the biggest hit by far was "Garota de Ipanema (Girl From Ipanema)", with Gilberto and his then-wife Astrud on vocals.
Gilberto moved to the U.S. after a military dictatorship took over in Brazil in the mid-60s, but returned in 1980, and continued to record and tour, working with a younger generation of Brazilian musicians. He died at age 88 on July 6.
His legacy will be remembered here in Ottawa on Friday by a local jazz quintet of musicians who regularly play Brazilian music.
Regina Gomes Teixeira is best known for her work with Florquestra, which has been performing regular "Brazillustration" concerts celebrating different strands of Brazilian music including the bossa nova. Teixeira was born in the culturally rich North-East of Brazil, and, at 17, became the lead singer of Dedo Verde, a popular samba band from Guimaraes. After moving to Canada, Regina became actively involved in promoting her Brazilian culture by hosting annual Brazilian carnivals. She regularly guests with local Latin groups, including Wave and Claudia Salguero.
Robert Wannell is saying goodbye to Ottawa – with jazz standards.
Next week, the young guitarist presents a show at the Art House Cafe featuring the music he's found he loves best: classic jazz from the 1950s to 70s. He'll play with his frequent musical companions – double bassist Chris Pond, and drummer José Monchito Hernández García – plus saxophonist Sam Cousineau, who has recently returned to Ottawa.
“I wasn't planning on going out with a bang or anything. I just wanted to play one last fun show in Ottawa before I head out.”
Wannell promises a set list of lesser-known tunes. “The idea was I didn't want to play songs that have been played a thousand times before, like 'All the Things You Are'. The classic standards that get thrown around at a jazz jam, you know? Not that those are bad songs or anything, but we just wanted to pull from a different pool of music.”
They'll also include some better-known Hank Mobley tunes, but the band wanted to get “a little deeper into the music, to find songs that we all like that aren't necessarily run-of-the-mill jazz standards. Cool, harmonically-interesting songs.”
It's a choice of music which Wannell has been gradually moving towards, in his four years studying at Humber College in Toronto and this last year back in Ottawa.
Saxophonist Sam Cousineau has returned to Ottawa from two years in Texas, with a taste for the food and many new jazz experiences. You can hear the musical results this month as he returns to the local scene.
Cousineau graduated in May with a Master of Music in Jazz Studies from the University of North Texas, one of the top jazz schools in the United States. He studied there for two years, and played in and toured with the school's renowned One O'Clock Lab Band.
It was a natural next step for the young alto saxophonist, who has “always wanted to be a professional musician, performing.”
Cousineau has a deep love for straight-ahead jazz. He's been recruited by Ottawa trumpeter Ed Lister to join a new group, The Bow Street Runners, which will be performing each Sunday evening in August at Irene's Pub. The group's music (originals inspired by the Latin / hard bop blends of Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, and Monk, plus standards) is “definitely down my alley”, he said.
As a child, he said, “I remember the first time I heard Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley play – and that music has really stuck with me.” He's always played alto sax: “for me I think there's a special thing in the alto that I don't find in the tenor. It's hard to explain – like this clear beauty in the instrument that I find I might not get from the tenor. I'll be honest – I do find the alto much more difficult to play than the tenor: tuning and I find that it's very finicky, but that's for me to deal with in the practice room. But, in short, I think the alto saxophone is closest to my voice. And if I look at my alto saxophone heroes now like Dick Oatts, David Binney, Jon Gordon, Kenny Garrett, Lee Konitz, they all have their unique approach to the instrument that I find is very captivating.”
Huu Bac Quach plays instruments rarely heard in jazz: the Vietnamese dan bau, the Chinese erhu, and Andean quena bamboo flutes. But at his quintet's concert on Saturday, the music and his friendly demeanour instantly broke through any cultural barriers with the audience. They not only listened with great appreciation; afterwards, they crowded around the stage to chat and ask questions for more than half an hour.
Quach describes his music as a mix of Western and Eastern. The same could be said for himself: he was born in Vietnam, but came to Canada as a two-year-old, and was raised in small-town Quebec. During the concert, he spoke fluent and idiomatic Quebec French, exchanging jokes and comments with the audience.
He brought a high-powered and inventive jazz quintet with him from Montreal. Double bassist Jean Félix Mailloux, violinist Marie-Neige Lavigne, and pianist Guillaume Martineau all play in the OPUS Award-winning chamber jazz group Cordâme, whose latest album contains music inspired by Debussy. Martineau, whose background is in both classical music and jazz, was a Radio Canada Revelations jazz winner and combines chamber music, jazz, and rock in his own projects, including a jazz recreation of Nirvana at the 2019 Montreal Jazz Festival. Drummer Etienne Mason is an improviser and multi-instrumentalist who included field recordings in his original compositions inspired by Quebec's winter, and who creates drum and synth tracks.
The concert featured Quach's own compositions, about half from his 2017 debut album, On the Steps of St. Paul's, and half newer pieces. While the dan bau, erhu, and quena were prominent in the mix, the essential shape of his music was Western, drawing from both melodic jazz and classical music with an occasional tinge of French chanson. It was both varied and immediately approachable, easily keeping one's attention as the instruments smoothly danced together and complemented each other.
Sunday evening saw the debut of a new jazz series in Westboro, featuring a rare collaboration between two popular local gypsy jazz guitarists.
At the Westboro branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, about 20 jazz listeners heard two hour-long sets by Justin Duhaime and Christian Flores. Duhaime told the audience that he and Flores, a founding member of local jazz group Django Libre, hadn't played together for a long time – but they fluently navigated favourites in the gypsy jazz repertoire together, before an appreciative audience.
The set list included music by Django Reinhardt and his successors, plus jazz standards, including several less-commonly-played tunes. Duhaime provided enthusiastic introductions and explanations of many tunes. The guitarists comfortably played in unison and traded off the lead, one playing rhythm to the other's lead, and then switching, with each adding his own take on the tune.
Highlights included the two daring each other to take Fats Waller's “Honeysuckle Rose” further and further out, to the delight of the audience; the fast yet expressively melancholy “Bossa Dorado”, with contrasting intricate interpretations; the tender “Seul ce soir”; the energetic and fun “Limehouse Blues”; the spirited and almost funky “Heavy Artillery”; the vibrant swing of “After You've Gone”; the hypnotic vibe of “Made for Wesley”; and the gentle minor key melody of “Clair de Lune”. The vivid “Blues Clair” and the sweet “Troublant Boléro” were less familiar pieces well worth hearing.
The show was organized by local jazz fan Carol Raoult, who's aiming to run a monthly jazz series at the Westboro Legion starting in the fall. She said she has already lined up several local jazz groups interested in performing there.