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From their first number onwards, the Jeremy Ledbetter Trio captured the attention and the appreciation of their audience at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios.
The material they performed was almost all from Ledbetter's recent trio CD, but this wasn't the trio that Ledbetter had on that album. Instead, the Toronto jazz pianist played with Ottawa bassist Marc Decho and Toronto drummer Sarah Thawer.
Although they had had two rehearsals in Toronto a few weeks before, this was the three musicians' first public performance together. “We hope you enjoy it, as we get to know each other here,” Ledbetter told the audience. “But of course, it's very important that you be a part of this, too. I'm going to talk to you a lot, because it's important to me that you feel that you're a part of this, too. That's one of the most important things about any music, is that it be played with passion and energy and that it feel as interesting and engaging to listen to as it is to play.”
The result was a vigorous and energetic performance, with laughter and smiles on-stage and off. They opened with “Amanecer”, the opening track on the CD, and that piece set the style for the evening: interactive, and full-bodied. Its opening, at first solo keyboards and then with light cymbals and bass, felt reverent and hopeful, reminding me somewhat of Pat Metheny. It grew steadily more intense and propulsive, and then quietened for a rounded and attuned bass solo, and then sprang back up in celebratory mood before ending in a strong drum flourish. Around me in the audience, I heard “Wow!” and strong applause.
Two different worlds collided Friday evening, in a rare aural-visual live improvisation.
On one side of the room, Linsey Wellman stood upright and played baritone saxophone. On the other side, filmmaker Matthieu Hallé sat on an equipment case on the floor, bent over his film projector, electronics, and two burning candles. And between them, projected on a large white wall, were the constantly-shifting images that Wellman was responding to in his playing, and which Hallé was manipulating in response to Wellman's performance.
For 45 minutes, the audience in General Assembly was immersed in a stream of images and sound, as Hallé presented his new piece, “May the Waves Rise From Its Floor”. It was a flowing and mostly calm stream of images and music, developing in smooth transitions between barely-there penumbral shapes and bright sunlit images, and back again. Sometimes it felt like one's hazy vision on waking up; other times like multiple layers peeking through clouds.
It was a night of vibrant and melodic jazz, as Stay Tuned/Restez-à-lécoute showcased two vocalists in two sets at the Lebanese Palace on Tuesday, November 20.
The Ottawa jazz ensemble attracted an almost-full house, as it played an upbeat mix of standards and a few originals. The group has been often heard hosting JazzWorks jam sessions and performing at benefits for causes like equitable land development in Africa or support for Eritrean and Syrian refugee families, but its dedication and skill was completely professional.
Their spokesperson, pianist Karl Nerenberg, has frequently said that the group's mission is to bring the love of jazz to everyone – and you could see that in how their music connected with the audience, who regularly applauded and even occasionally got up to dance. Nerenberg added to the outreach through his friendly introductions, comfortably talking about the composers and telling anecdotes about the songs and their historical background – and perhaps reflecting his own background as a journalist and documentary filmmaker.
Michèle Castonguay was the vocalist for the first set, of which I heard most, but not all, because of a time conflict with another event. She sang with a smile and added bright scatted sections to standards like “You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To” and “Taking a Chance on Love”. On ballads like “'Round Midnight” and “Georgia”, she put her heart into the lyrics, giving them their full emotional due. She easily navigated the different time signatures in the Freddie Hubbard hard bop number “Up Jumped Spring” and gave it a warm, conversational vibe that was a hit with the audience.
Toronto jazz pianist Jeremy Ledbetter wants to welcome and include all listeners, whether or not they're hardcore jazz fans.
“One of the places I think a lot of jazz takes a wrong turn is it becomes very isolationist. It shuts off interaction between the players and the audience. It becomes all about interaction between the players, and all about the audience observing this interaction between the players. But then all the things that happen are like almost inside jokes that the audience isn’t a part of. And I don’t think that’s what jazz was originally supposed to be, and I don’t think it’s what it’s supposed to be now.”
He'll be putting that open philosophy into practice on Saturday, when he performs at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios with multi-talented Ottawa bassist Marc Decho and rising-star Toronto drummer Sarah Thawer.
Ledbetter is best known on the Toronto music scene for CaneFire, his seven-piece Caribbean Latin jazz group. His newest project, though, is his jazz piano trio with award-winning Toronto musicians Rich Brown and Larnell Lewis. In June, the trio released its first album, Got a Light?, and on Saturday, Ledbetter, Decho, and Thawer will showcase music from that album here in Ottawa.
Got a Light? is an indirect reference to the Twin Peaks TV show, but Ledbetter said that he had other reasons for putting a question in the title.
“So naming the album with a question, automatically it’s involving the audience, right? We’re asking you something, so it makes you a part of it already. And “Got a Light?” obliquely refers to the idea of lighting something on fire, or perhaps lighting a fuse and blowing something up. So it refers to the energy, but again including the audience in a part of that. You’re not here to watch us blow up the stage. We would like you to help us,” he said, laughing.
Listening to Canadian pianist Bryn Roberts and Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund, you can hear the musical rapport they've built up from playing together for more than a dozen years.
They have just released their second duo album together, and will showcase it to audiences in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa this week, including Saturday at GigSpace.
Hide the Moon and the Stars is a collection of their own compositions, plus one jazz standard. It was recorded in the same way that they perform, with just the sound of Roberts on grand piano and Lund on archtop guitar.
There's a richness and melodic beauty to the tunes on the album – but also unexpected textures and intriguing contrasts, in a collection with depth and substance. The music is evocative yet simple, with no unnecessary notes.
Originally from Winnipeg and with seven years of steadily increasing visibility in Montreal's jazz scene, Roberts released his debut album in 2000 to considerable acclaim and a Montreal Jazz Festival appearance. He moved to New York City in 2001 and has released two further quartet albums since, plus two duo albums with Lund. He’s recorded with Seamus Blake, Matt Penman, Jochen Rueckert, and Drew Gress, and often plays with legendary bassist Chuck Israels. He also regularly accompanies renowned singer-songwriters such as Shawn Colvin and Rosanne Cash.
Lage (pronounced Lah-gay) Lund became well-known after his win at the 2005 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Guitar Competition. Praised publicly by Pat Metheny and Kurt Rosenwinkel, he's several times won the Rising Star guitar category of the DownBeat Critics Poll. He’s released four albums, the latest being the trio CD Idlewild.
Roberts spoke to OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor last week about the album and about his musical partnership with Lund. This is an edited and condensed version of our interview.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What appeals to you about the piano-guitar duo format?
Roberts: I've always been a big fan of the piano and the guitar together, even though it can be counter-intuitive because they're both chord instruments. There's the potential for harmonic clashes and things like that. But I've always just loved the colour of it, and in particular I was influenced a lot by the Bill Evans and Jim Hall recordings, which were to me some of the best music ever made.
“It was great! Just instant chemistry,” says saxophonist/flutist Tariq Amery of the first time he played with Miguel de Armas Jr., at the Beeched Wailers' Tuesday night jam at Irene's Pub. The duo shared that chemistry with a small but highly satisfied group of listeners in the cozy confines of the Art House Cafe on Saturday.
For the past month, Ottawa has had a new Cuban import. Miguel de Armas Jr., the son of the well-known Ottawa-based Afro-Cuban pianist/composer Miguel de Armas, is visiting Canada for the next six months – and performing around Ottawa. De Armas Jr., who is also a pianist, recently graduated from Cuba's rigorous university music program.
“I love his phrasing and the way he forms his lines. It's just a very unique approach. His energy when he's playing – he just takes you with him,” Amery said of his brief experience playing with de Armas Jr. That connection was clearly evident in their musical collaboration and the extensive improvisation it allowed in this performance, their second formal show together.
Outside, it was dark and dauntingly cold, with freezing rain making the experience more unpleasant by the minute. But inside, one completely forgot about that as the two musicians drew everyone into their obvious joy of making music together, interspersed with laughter and dialogue. There was enthusiastic applause after each number. One couple had heard them at their previous coffeehouse gig and came out to hear them again.