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In their acoustic jazz duo, guitarist François Jalbert and pianist Jérôme Beaulieu play music with no place to hide.
“There's no cheat. It's very real. There's no reverb. There's no editing. It's basically like we were playing in a living room – that's exactly how it would sound like,” Jalbert said.
The two Montreal jazz musicians released a duo album of their original compositions last fall. They'll give it its Ottawa debut in the quiet and cozy Fourth Stage – where listeners can curl up in plush barrel chairs to listen – at Canada's National Arts Centre on Thursday, as part of the NAC Presents series.
It's melodic, intimate music, with some influences from bluegrass and folk. The individual voices of piano and guitar are each clearly heard, both in solos and in playing different intertwining lines. No effects are added. It's pure acoustic sound.
“It's been actually one of the main challenges of that record is that it's just so naked,” Beaulieu told OttawaJazzScene.ca, and Jalbert agreed: “Yes. If it doesn't groove it's your problem!”
When OttawaJazzScene.ca interviewed the two by phone last week, the conversation was just as interactive as their playing, with each of them building on what the other said. It reflects their long musical and personal friendship – with the music evolving naturally from years of playing together.
Jalbert and Beaulieu met when studying jazz performance at l'Université de Montreal.
“We used to just go and jam together in rehearsal spaces, just for the fun of it, on our lunch breaks from school,” Beaulieu said.
“We just started playing for fun,” Jalbert explained. “We were like jamming at parties, just songs that we liked. Gypsy jazz, or bluegrass, or covers of pop songs. We played basically any style that we liked, with no restraints. So that's why there are a bunch of influences [in the music].”
“It became a sound, because we learned how to position ourselves towards one another. And then it became a thing, but it wasn't really thought up from the beginning to go in that direction,” Beaulieu said.
“We just got quickly to this point where basically we found out that we each have all of the possibilities on our respective instruments, so we figured we'd be able to do some music together, and position ourselves into those different roles that are acceptable to us by our instruments. It just got very natural very quickly and it was a lot of fun.”
Love, anguish, and triumph are celebrated in jazz vocalist/pianist Elizabeth Shepherd's latest album, a personal tribute to many visions of Montreal. She gave the album its premiere in Ottawa on Thursday at Canada’s National Arts Centre.
It was the first stop on her launch tour for MONtreal (a play on the French for “my Montreal”), that will shortly take her and her four bandmates across Western Canada, as well as to Toronto and of course Montreal – and next year over to Europe.
The album, though, is very specifically tied to Montreal, which Shepherd considers her home town. At the NAC show, she performed all 11 tracks on the album, plus two tunes on earlier albums, to a welcoming and interested reception from the audience.
As she told the crowd, each track on the album is associated with a specific location in the city, and based on an interview with someone living there, telling the story of their Montreal. Some, like her mother, she knew well; others were complete strangers picked at random. Over a five-year period, she interviewed 40-50 people, then culled the interviews down to 11 and wrote and recorded the songs.
"...it seems the first thing people try to do is classify you. They’re all trying to figure out whether to call you a rock singer, a folk singer, or whether you have a country sound. The only sound I have is me."
That's how Anne Murray introduces CBC TV's new series ‘From the Vaults’ in an opening archival clip. It's an observation that could often be said about jazz, which is frequently evolving, embracing, extending - and hard to classify sometimes.
The series’ six weekly shows – to which OttawaJazzScene.ca was given an advance view – span 60 years of Canadian music on CBC-TV. They include segments which will be of specific interest to jazz and blues fans. Other segments have interesting angles on Canadian musical history, and on our society and the culture which helped create and shape it. The first show airs on Thursday, November 15 at 9 p.m. on CBC TV. It will also be available on the CBC TV streaming app.
Episode 1, 'Land of Opportunities' features Sammy Davis Jr performing jazz standards in his own CBC special. ‘Parade’ aired during a tumultuous time in U.S. history when it would have been impossible for him to appear on U.S. television as a black performer. Another segment shows Muddy Waters and other well-known blues musicians performing together in a pioneering CBC show whose producers improvised to create a successful and unique show.
Guitarist Alex Moxon has been a highly visible player in Ottawa's jazz scene for the last decade, primarily in groups where he shares the creative duties with others (the HML Trio, the Chocolate Hot Pockets, F8-BIT, and Modasaurus).
Next week, he steps into the studio to record his first CD as leader, with a quartet of sure-handed Ottawa musicians showcasing his own compositions. Some pieces, he's played before with his other groups, but others are new – and all are in a more acoustic and reflective mode. He doesn't use pedals or effects with his guitar on these tunes, unlike in the more groove-oriented CHP.
Moxon and his quartet have been preparing for the recording by playing this material in different contexts: a house concert, as host band for Jazz Mondays most of this month at Le Petit Chicago, and this Saturday evening (November 17) at the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata. Performing with him are Steve Boudreau on piano, John Geggie on double bass, and Michel Delage on drums – all musicians he's played with before, but not in his regular bands.
The Grey Jazz Big Band has members who were living during World War II – a claim few other bands can make, and one which made them a perfect choice for a “Concert to Remember” on the Remembrance Day weekend.
It was the second consecutive year that the band had performed on this weekend at the Centrepointe Studio Theatre, with a programme which remembered popular and big band swing tunes from across the 20th century. The matinée show sold out the 220-seat theatre in 2017 and came very near to that this year, with only a few seats empty.
There were 17 instrumentalists on stage, plus band director Brian Boggs as conductor, and vocalists Mary Frances Simpson and Bill Luxton. Each wore a poppy in his or her lapel, and several also wore military or RCMP service pins or military service ribbons. The men also wore red neckties, several Canada-flag-themed.
It was an engaging and energetic show, played by musicians who clearly loved and were familiar with the music – so much so that they put too many tunes in the set list and had to drop a few on the fly! They opened with George Gershwin's martial-themed “Strike Up the Band” and rolled right into twirling rhythms of Glenn Miller's WWII-era tune “Tuxedo Junction”, with Luxton explaining that this title referred to a jazz and blues club in the Birmingham, Alabama area.
One evening a month, musicians living in Ottawa's southern suburb bring jazz to their own neighbourhood.
Tuba player Keith Hartshorn-Walton only lives a few minutes away from the Anabia Cupcakery Café, a cozy café and bar in a Barrhaven mall, and for the last five months has brought in different combinations of jazz musicians, mostly from this area, to play on a Friday night. There's no cover charge, but the musicians did draw attention to their donation basket several times during the show.
OttawaJazzScene.ca was there for the November show. Outside there was driving rain, wet snow, and soaking-cold slush, but inside it was bright and cheery, with retro-style paintings of women in 1940s styles on the walls. Tables and armchairs were set up around an open area reserved for the performance. Every table was taken in the café, with lots of coffee cups steaming on them, and most of the customers were listening to the music.