Every Sunday OttawaJazzScene.ca recommends a live jazz or improvised music performance in Ottawa-Gatineau from the dozens of live jazz events in our comprehensive Live Jazz Guide we send to donors. There's a lot of wonderful jazz being presented, so it's often a difficult choice.

IMOOfest 2013 ©Brett Delmage, 2013
The IMOO Orchestra (seen here at IMOOfest 2013) will return this year, with some different members but the same energy. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Friday to Sunday, September 21 to 23, 2018: IMOO Fest 2018

This weekend, a wide range of talented jazz musicians are visiting Ottawa. OttawaJazzScene.ca has heard almost all of them before, in impressively innovative and musical – but always different – shows.

They're appearing at IMOO Fest 2018, a three-day festival of jazz and creative music happening Friday to Sunday, with multiple performances each day ranging from solos to a full-scale orchestra. The Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (and specifically local jazz fan Brad Evans) is organizing the festival; it's the first IMOO Fest since 2014.

A full pass and individual day passes are available at very reasonable prices.

Looking for fine Canadian jazz, mostly in the mainstream but sometimes touching the edges? Drummer Nick Fraser (always an Ottawa favourite) will showcase his Toronto-based New Quartet, with saxophonist Karen Ng, (ex-Ottawa) trumpeter Emily Denison, and bassist Alex Fournier. Ottawa jazz stalwarts Petr Cancura (sax) and Jesse Stewart (drums) will debut a new duo collaboration. Each has a strong grounding in the jazz tradition, but has combined it with other musical influences.

The six-piece group Nomad, a fixture in Montreal's jazz scene, will energetically combine structure with improvisation and lyrical melody. Montrealer Craig Pedersen will bring back his long-standing Quartet, whose influences range from Miles Davis to John Zorn, playing "high-energy, ear-bleeding free-jazz".

Looking for new sounds? Pianist Adam Saikaley and clarinetist Elizabeth Millar can each create sound designs from raucous to extremely subtle. Baritone saxophonist David Mott and percussionist Jesse Stewart will continue their long-time musical partnership discovering beautiful music in the moment.

The IMOO String Quartet will superimpose instruments of many types, from cello to violin to guitar, and then give them an electronic jolt – strings as you have not heard them before. Linsey Wellman will devise original and arresting improvisations on the baritone saxophone.

Satoko Fujii ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Japan's Satoko Fujii will perform in several groups at IMOO Fest 2018 this weekend ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Top of the bill are the festival's artists-in-residence: Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, in a rare appearance in Ottawa. OttawaJazzScene.ca heard Fujii and Tamura at the Guelph Jazz Festival in 2013, and highly enjoyed their empathetic and kinetic music. They've been partners since 1992 in both life and music, and we could sense their strong connection and understanding in their music. Fujii is a virtuosic pianist and improviser and an original composer who creates a structure and flow in her pieces while allowing improvisation to enliven them.

Fujii is currently on tour across Canada and the U.S. with her new trio, This Is It!, with Tamura and percussionist Takashi Itani. They've just released the trio's debut recording, 1538, which was described as "a rambunctious stew of explosive group dynamics and interludes of gorgeous piano ruminations beside prickly percussive keyboard moments" in a review on AllAboutJazz.com. It's only one of a dozen CDs Fujii is releasing in 2018, as she celebrates her 60th birthday with a CD release every month.

This is It! will perform Saturday evening, but that's not the only time you'll be able to hear Fujii and Tamura. Tamura will open IMOO Fest on Friday with a solo trumpet performance, an example of the varied solo explorations he's been making and recording for the past 20 years, and which reviewers have described as "stunning" and "fabulous".

On Saturday afternoon, Fujii and Tamura will perform a separate trio concert with Jesse Stewart. On Sunday, the evening will open with a solo set by Fujii on GigSpace's grand piano. The festival will close with Fujii directing the IMOO Orchestra (her trio plus many of Ottawa's best-known improvising musicians) in a new arrangement of her “Fukushima Suite”. The five-movement suite is her personal contemplation of the Japanese nuclear power plant meltdown in 2011 and its after-effects.

The festival's evening concerts will be held in two easily-accessible halls in Hintonburg: General Assembly on Friday, and GigSpace on Saturday and Sunday. Both venues are intimate and quiet, where you can fully connect with the music and hear even the quietest moments of performance.

Improvised music shows are "hear-once" events, never to be repeated again because of changing circumstances (and usually, absence of musical scores.) That's particularly true of festivals like IMOO Fest 2018. It's an exciting opportunity to hear music at the forefront of jazz and improvisation, with top names from Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Japan, playing in several unique combinations.

You can see the full schedule and detailed descriptions of each show, and purchase advance passes, on the IMOO website.

IMOO Fest 2018 will be held

  • on Friday, September 21: at General Assembly. General Assembly is located at the rear of 5 Fairmont Avenue (at Wellington Street West) in the Hintonburg neighbourhood of Ottawa. OC Transpo routes 11 (on Wellington Street West) and 14 (on Gladstone Avenue) stop close by. The Bayview Transitway/LRT stop is about 15 minutes walk away, via the off-road path and the staircase up to the Somerset Street Bridge. 
  • on Saturday and Sunday, September 22-23: Evening shows are at GigSpace. GigSpace is located within in Alcorn Music Studios at 953 Gladstone Avenue, one long block west of Preston Avenue. OC Transpo route 14 runs by GigSpace; route 85 runs down Preston Avenue nearby.

A weekend pass to the festival is $75. Day passes are $20 (Friday), $40 (Saturday), and $40 (Sunday). Passes can be purchased on the IMOO website or at the door. The Saturday and Sunday matinees are not included in the passes. The Sunday afternoon show at The Record Centre is a pay-what-you-can event; the Saturday afternoon concert at Glebe-St. James United Church is $20 at the door.