Saxophonist Mike Tremblay, guitarist Tim Bedner, and bassist Ben Heard will be playing without the safety net of multiple takes on Friday evening, when they record their show live for a CD in front of an audience at GigSpace.
“I wanted to see if I could put together a program and have the challenge of 'no second takes'. This is recording, and it's a live concert, and it's nice to be under that pressure,” said Tremblay, who leads the new trio for this occasion.
“When you're in the studio, you do two or three takes of full tunes and then you sit on them and listen for a while - 'Do we need to go back and record them again?' It's really nice to just go in and say 'Here it is'. And tapes don't lie. This is how you play,” Tremblay said, laughing at the other end the phone.
Joining him and Bedner, both who have decades of experience performing and teaching, will be Ben Heard. He graduated from high school just this week.
“It's a bit daunting for me. I've done tapes and stuff like that but never a true recording with the intention of it being released,” said Heard. “It's funny, because when I play gigs with older players and there's been a CD table, we've always joked how I bring my full discography – which of course is nothing.”
“I'm so honoured, playing with Tim Bedner and Mike Tremblay. I'm excited but scared in a way too. In a healthy way.”
Experience performing together
“This is 'old school' jazz recording. We just show up to the session and see what happens,” Bedner said, laughing.
“I'm going to trust Mike that he knows what he's doing. But I am glad we're having a rehearsal,” Bedner added, speaking to his own healthy concerns about doing the best possible job.
The members of the trio have extensive experience playing or working together in pairs, developing the trust needed to perform without a net.
Heard was in Grade 9 when Tremblay discovered him while teaching one of the Ottawa Jazz Festival's “Jazz Ed” workshops. He's continued working with him for four years now, including after Heard moved to Canterbury High School, where Tremblay runs the senior jazz ensemble.
Tremblay has been impressed. “Here's a 17-year old kid who sounds like he's been playing for forty years. He's just really, really got it together. The first time I met him I listened to him and said 'oh my goodness'. He just sounds so strong. It's just amazing. One of the things I enjoy about him is he can play with a lot of intensity but at a really quiet level. And super responsive.”
Heard's performance skills have been recognized by others too. He's been named to the National Youth Jazz Combo, and awarded scholarships to Humber College and to the Humber in the City Summer Workshop.
What makes this concert particularly notable is that Heard is leaving Ottawa to study at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto beginning in the fall.
“We probably won't see him in Ottawa again. I think he's going to be scooped up and go places. So good for him! But I thought 'By the time he's done everything and is working, I probably won't be able to afford him.' This will be a good opportunity,” Tremblay said, laughing.
Bedner estimates that he first played with Tremblay in 2008, and “the first time I played with Mike, right away, I fell in love with his playing and sound.”
Since then they've continued to perform publicly: at the former ZenKitchen (“we had a chance to stretch out a bit playing duo and it was a lot of fun”), at Carleton University Jazz Camp (which Tremblay directs and Tim is assistant director of), and at other gigs.
He's looking forward to his role in the trio, where he won't have to play his seven-string guitar with extended bass range. “I'm usually in a duo format with a horn player or bass player or saxophone player. I don't often get the chance to really be a sideman.”
Tremblay says that Bedner was a natural fit for this concert. “I really wanted to get the musicians that I'm really comfortable working with and Tim Bedner for sure - he's just such a responsive, emotional, reactive, intelligent, clever player. So he was a no-brainer.”
Bedner and Heard have not played publicly together. But for Heard, “guitar, I'm very familiar with. The way it's worked out with me, among my peers there haven't been that many piano players, whereas there's been Justin Orok and Robert Wannell and all these great guitar players. So I play with guitarists a lot.”
A new CD, after six years
It's been a busy six years for Tremblay since the release concert for Home, the popular CD which he released jointly with Mark Ferguson.
“I'm excited to do something under my own name again. As a teacher and a sideman, you're busy playing so many different types of music all year that you never really take the time to ask, 'What do you want to do? What do YOU want to do? What do you really want to do?'
“And it took me a couple of months just thinking about tunes and what, exactly, I wanted to play. So it will be a nice opportunity. And hopefully, for the friends and family that come, I get a chance to play something that is meaningful to me. I'm looking forward to that.”
Tremblay said he really enjoys the sound of saxophone, guitar, and bass. “I reflect upon three Mike Murley CDs. One is Live at The Senator, with Ed Bickert, and Steve Wallace. That's one of my favourite, all-time albums. It's that sound that I was after.”
Heard said that the sax-guitar-bass format attracted him as well.
“It's an odd format and that's part of the reason I am excited about this gig. It's a convenient one for when you're playing jobbing gigs and that's why I've played in it a lot. But when it comes to actual, bona-fide performances, you don't see it that frequently.”
According to Tremblay, the concert will include “a few originals, two or three, and the rest are going to be tunes that's we're going to be comfortable playing, that we can feel really good about communicating and that people will maybe recognize. Some older tunes, a couple of more popular type tunes in there. So it'll be nice. I think it will be a lot of fun.”
Meaningful music. Simpatico. Excellent musicianship. A terrific venue to perform and record in (GigSpace was previously a recording studio). A highly respected recording engineer (Normand Glaude has produced an increasing number of excellent, local jazz CDs). And some healthy nervousness. It sounds like all the necessary ingredients for a successful live music recording are in place.
Except the audience
Listeners are the essential difference between a studio recording and a live recording. Where else is the ambient noise and the sense of a live performance going to come from? Or applause? Or energy reflected back to the performers? Or from a purely acoustic consideration, the dampening of the acoustic space?
The concert date of Friday, June 19 was “an opening that GigSpace had so I jumped on it and then realized after that the jazz festival coincided,” Tremblay said. But it conflicts with the first full night of this year's Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Coincidently, six years ago on June 24, 2009, the CD release concert for his CD Home also coincided with the first day of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. That year, however, the festival added an additional evening of free programming at the very last minute, on the day before it was officially scheduled to start. The Home CD release sold out the Unitarian Church regardless.
Tremblay is hopeful that this concert will also do well. “Mine is such a small concert that I think the people who want to come are going to be able to come and hopefully we'll have a good house. Hopefully.”
Performing without a net. For those in attendance, it's captivating.
– Brett Delmage