Vocalist Denielle Bassels with clarinetist/saxophonist Jacob Gorzhaltsan, played a high-energy and swinging show Saturday evening, bringing a ballroom full of listeners to their feet for a standing ovation. ©2014, Brett Delmage
Vocalist Denielle Bassels with clarinetist/saxophonist Jacob Gorzhaltsan, played a high-energy and swinging show Saturday evening, bringing a ballroom full of listeners to their feet for a standing ovation. ©2014, Brett Delmage

Denielle Bassels Quintet

Probably the biggest surprise at this year's Merrickville's Jazz Fest was Toronto vocalist Denielle Bassels. She was an unknown quantity when she walked onto the stage of the Baldachin Ballroom on Saturday, October 18, but her charisma and her quintet's swinging music quickly grabbed the audience's attention.

Playing to a packed room, the quintet combined swing, jazz, gypsy jazz, and a touch of funk. They took jazz standards, songs made popular by Nina Simone and Edith Piaf, a movie theme, and a pop song, and then added originals by Bassels and guitarist Andy Mac. The jazzified result got several audience members dancing, and then everyone on their feet for a standing ovation, followed by an encore.

They opened with “Gypsy Summer”, the title track of their recently-released EP. You could immediately see this was going to be a high energy show, with Bassels' scatting soaring over Mac's fast Django Reinhardt-influenced guitar, and Jacob Gorzhaltsan's bright clarinet solos curlicuing over and under.

The first jazz singer Bassels heard and loved was Nina Simone. She included several Simone numbers in the show, including some lesser-known ones. “Forbidden Fruit”, the story of Eve and the apple, was introduced with a slinky groove on Gorzhaltsan's tenor sax and Mac's guitar. Bassels sung it in a call-and-response gospel style, clearly dramatizing the story, accented by growls on tenor. The result was very catchy, and the audience responded with strong applause.

The better-known “My Baby Just Cares for Me” was given a punk/ska treatment (mostly evident in the guitar) and featured smooth tenor solos alternating with Bassels' expressive vocal phrasing.

The iconic French singer Edith Piaf is another of Bassels' favourites. She sung “Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler” with an excellent French accent and with a bit of a tease in her voice. She started “Je Cherche Un Homme” in English and then switched to French for a loving paean to a lover, featuring a resonant bass solo from Scott Hunter.

The British pop band The Kinks were known for their intelligent pop songs, particularly between 1966 and 1970, which often had music-hall and jazz undertones. Bassels is a big Kinks fan, and her cover of their 1966 hit, “Sunny Afternoon”, made the most of that song's ironic lyrics, underlined by rough-edged tenor and hard drumming by Joe Ryan. It was an inspired choice.

Given the quintet's style, it's no surprise they liked Benoît Charest's theme song from the animated film “The Triplets of Belleville”. They played a rousing version of “Belleville Rendezvous”, featuring a intense vibrating clarinet solo. Bassels sung the lyrics with a smile and ended the song with a long vocal fade – and then praised the dancing at the back of the room.

The group also presented several standards. “When I Get Low I Get High” (made famous by Ella Fitzgerald) was played with a very danceable feel. “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me” (sung by Bing Crosby) unrolled at an almost frantic pace with a touch of the blues. “Comes Love” contrasted a smooth, silky vocal with punctuated and a bit down-and-dirty tenor.

Interspersed among those were several originals by Bassels, including the swinging “I'll Go Your Way”, and most notably the inspirational “Cool Cool Water”. She wrote the song after her older brother told her about the epic of Gilgamesh; its message was not to give up before reaching your goal. The drama in the lyrics was emphasized by bowed bass and accented guitar.

Andy Mac also contributed “Enchanted Gardens”, which showed his strong gypsy jazz influences, including Reinhardt successors like Bireli Lagrene and Adrien Moignard. He contrasted the guitar with equally intense and fluid clarinet solos by Gorzhaltsan.

The quintet closed with “I Wanna Be Like You” from the Disney movie of The Jungle Book – played as an in-your-face swing tune with scatting. With the audience clapping along already, the standing ovation immediately afterwards was no surprise.

Their encore was a final Nina Simone song, “Funkier Than a Mosquito's Tweeter”, which Bassels said was originally written for Ike and Tina Turner. The group went all out on the song, getting seriously funky and grooving, and clearly having a great time.

Bassels has a winning combination here: a strong, clear voice and excellent enunciation and great stage presence, along with a tight rhythm section, forceful gypsy-jazz-influenced guitar, and expressive clarinet and tenor sax. She put on a winning, upbeat show in Merrickville. Several listeners told me afterwards that they'd love to hear her again in Ottawa.

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Caridad Cruz & Miguel De Armas

Near the end of Bassels' show, an announcement warned the Afro-Cuban fans in the audience that vocalist Caridad Cruz and pianist Miguel de Armas would shortly start their show in the pub downstairs.

Those who came late to that show (including OttawaJazzScene.ca reporters) found it so overflowing with happy listeners that they couldn't get in. “I'm the organizer and even I can't get in!” said festival co-founder Peggy Holloway, standing in the queue to get in, but glad to witness yet another packed concert.

From the sidewalk next to the pub's window, it sounded great (albeit considerably lower in volume and somewhat muffled!) and looked like fun.

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Adam Daudrich Trio

In the afternoon, ex-Ottawa, now-Montreal, pianist Adam Daudrich brought his trio, with drummer Marc Beland and bassist Martin Garbulinski, to a local church. As promised, their sound was in the tradition of piano trio jazz: melodic and full-bodied, with lots of interplay.

Adam Daudrich and Martin Garbulinski (bass). ©2014, Brett Delmage
Adam Daudrich and Martin Garbulinski (bass). ©2014, Brett Delmage

They included romantic and varied versions of standards like “I Can't Get Started” and “How Long Has This Been Going On?”. “Falling in Love with Love” was dedicated to the late jazz pianist, composer, and teacher Jan Jarczyk, whom Daudrich credited with getting him through his music degree, and said was “the type of personality for a musician to follow.” He said he thought Jarczyk would like his arrangement of the standard: he began with the melody, and then added variations on piano, delicate and exact. After Garbulinski took up the melody on bass, Daudrich returned with brilliant fast sequences. It was an altogether delightful interpretation.

“Three Views of a Secret” by jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius – a less expected choice – was given an extended and multifaceted exploration, with starts and stops, and changes in rhythms and moods from ominous to full-tilt forward to thoughtful. It ended with one last abrupt note on piano.

Daudrich also included several of his own compositions. “The Shoe” started out gently swinging, and, with an extended bass solo, became steadily more rhythmic. Daudrich got the audience to triple clap to the beat on the choruses. With strong, syncopated solos on bass, piano, and drums, it was a sunny, bright piece.

“Get Nice” (from the EP the trio released in 2013) was fast-paced, with sparkling piano underlaid by deep bass riffs, and with an alternating and intense drums/piano duet.

Daudrich has been adding vocals to his repertoire over the past few years, both in his Downtown Canada project and as a solo artist. He added his light, well-modulated tenor to two songs: an upbeat version of “Pennies from Heaven” and “When It's Sleepy Time Down South”, a song originally popularized by Louis Armstrong. In both cases, his singing had lots of feeling and emphasis, expressing the lyrics well. In Sleepy Time, he didn't try to match Armstrong's gravelly voice, but he did add a distinct bass line on the piano, as well as playing with the time in the melody.

Daudrich ended the show by singing and playing on “Sometimes I'm Happy”, scatting in places and switching between tenor and baritone. The audience responded with a standing ovation.

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2014

East Side Jazz Quartet

OttawaJazzScene.ca also heard the first 45 minutes of the East Side Jazz Quartet, who filled the local Legion Hall with attentive listeners. The concert marked the official release of the seven-song CD Imaginary Squirrels, the most recent group of tunes by Ottawa alto saxophonist Ralph Hopper.

For the performance, Hopper was joined by Matt Aston on drums, Ed Stevens on guitar, and Paul Soble on bass. The four songs we heard (all originals) were mellow and melodic modern jazz, well-received by the audience. “Squeaky Beach” (surely one of the more original sing titles I've heard) was inspired by an actual beach in south-east Australia. Hopper said the sand really did squeak under their feet there. Like a beach, the music was sunshiny, with a calypso feel and with interesting use of guitar effects.

The CD's title song was inspired by another nice day, as Hopper watched his dog's ears twitch as he dozed and chased squirrels in his sleep. It featured long, easy sax lines over swinging guitar: a comfortable piece for a lazy afternoon.

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Neil Sealy Quartet

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2014

    – Alayne McGregor

Read and watch OttawaJazzScene.ca's full coverage of the 2014 Merrickville's Jazz Fest

Full disclosure: Merrickville's Jazz Fest arranged a billet for Alayne McGregor and Brett Delmage to make it possible for us to report more from the festival during the festival.