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Justin Gray
Justin Gray with his bass veena (photo by Sean O’Neill, provided by Gray)

Wednesday, August 8, 10 p.m.: Chamberfest: Justin Gray's Synthesis at La Nouvelle Scène

Read the OttawaJazzScene.ca in-depth interview with Justin Gray about this show.

If you listen to New Horizons, the first album from Justin Gray's Synthesis project, you'll hear both the unmistakable sound of North Indian ragas, but also strong jazz underpinnings, in a mesmerizing and beautiful and often eye-opening combination. It's a natural combination for Gray, who is well-known as a jazz bassist in the Toronto scene, but who also has a long-time interest in classical Indian music, starting from his days studying jazz performance at Humber College when he took a workshop in Indian classical music.

Since 2005, Gray has traveled to India to study with his Guru, Shantanu Bhattacharyya, and work with musicians in a traditional Indian classical setting. He has learned primarily vocal Hindustani classical music from Bhattacharyya, and then translated that to his own instrumental compositions and bass playing. Hindustani music also incorporates improvisation, like jazz, but in a different manner, primarily in the context of the different ragas that define the music.

Starting in 2010, Gray realized he could go further with a new instrument that combined the capabilities of Indian instruments like the sitar, the sarod, and the veena with those of the Western bass guitar. He designed the instrument and his friend, Canadian luthier Les Godfrey, built it - and Gray plays it in this group. It's called the bass veena and is still a one-of-a-kind instrument, but one that Gray has become very adept on.

At Gray's late-night concert at Chamberfest on Wednesday, you can hear a group of fine jazz and classical musicians from Toronto, all of whom played on the New Horizons album, perform music from the album and other compositions by Gray. It's richly ornamented music with many layers, but at its core calm and lovely - a good way to end the evening. (And don't miss the Tibetan singing bowls!)

Justin Gray (bass veena), Ted Quinlan (guitar), Drew Jurecka (violin), Rebekah Wolkstein (violin), Ed Hanley (tabla), and Derek Gray (drums and Tibetan singing bowls) will perform Gray's Synthesis project as part of Chamberfest's Chamberfringe series, on Wednesday, August 8, at 10 p.m. at La Nouvelle Scène. Tickets are $25, available on the Chamberfest website or at the door. La Nouvelle Scène is located at 333 King Edward, about a block north of Rideau Street. OC Transpo routes 7, 12, 14, and 18 all stop on Rideau Street nearby, and the theatre is also walking distance from the Mackenzie-King station on the Transitway.

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