Ottawa guitarist Wayne Eagles has always preferred music with interaction and interplay, where all the musicians are important contributors.
And that's the feel he wants to convey with his group trio \ DEF, and its brand-new album of hard-hitting jazz originals. The trio will debut the album at a free show at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on Saturday afternoon.
“I would say that most of the music that I enjoy is something that does have this sense of interaction and interplay, where it's not just one person soloing, but there's a real give and take with the rhythm section and the other players. That's always been something I've found intriguing in music, and challenging in music – that communication that flows like a dialogue or has a compositional sense,” Eagles said.
The “DEF” in trio \ DEF stands for Marc-André Drouin on electric bass, Eagles on electric guitar, and Ian Froman on drums – and Eagles insists all three are essential to the group's multi-layered, intense sound. All three come from the Ottawa area: Drouin from Bourget, a small Valley town just east of Ottawa, and Froman and Eagles from the city itself, but Drouin and Froman have since moved far afield.
Drouin is now part of Montreal's jazz and other music scenes, after studying and working in Boston and Los Angeles. “I've worked with Marc on and off for quite a long time," Eagles said. "When I first met Marc he was astonishing but he was literally a kid, a teenager. And he just had incredible drive and proficiency and, of course, over the years that's even more the case. He's just a beautiful player with a beautiful sound and a beautiful melodicism. He can play a large number of roles and he's quick! You can give him difficult pieces of music and he brings something interesting to the conversation."
Froman, who is best-known in Canada for his collaborations with Mike Murley in Metalwood and DMBQ, has lived in New York for the past 25-odd years. “Ian is a very renowned player in New York. He still plays with the likes of [John] Abercrombie and [Dave] Liebman. He just came back from a tour of China with [guitarist] Sheryl Bailey. And a very busy educator of course, a prof at Berklee as well as several other schools. So that's just a level of experience and confidence that can only help bring things together cohesively.”
Froman has also occasionally switched with another “F”: Boston drummer Lee Fish, who performed as part of the group for several shows in 2013 and 2014.
A "live off the floor" album
The album, which is simply titled “trio \ DEF”, was recorded in the Ottawa area last summer, shortly after the trio's enthusiastically-received appearance at the 2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival. Eagles, who wrote all but one of the pieces on the album, said he had been thinking about an album since 2013, but the final impetus was receiving a City of Ottawa recording grant, and “everything just fell into place nicely.”
“The material was still fresh from doing the gig so it was good timing. And then slowly but surely we edited and mixed the recordings since last summer.”
The session itself only took about six hours. Everything was “live off the floor”, he said, with only minor edits later for clarity. You can hear that live feel in the album, beginning in the first track with its intense, immediate atmosphere created by sharp cymbals contrasting with deep, disquieting bass lines and light, hesitant guitar notes.
The music ranges from robustly funky numbers, to atmospheric soundscapes, to ballads – one ballad dedicated to Eagles' daughter Natasha and another to his son Jake. The record is organized into “groups of three where the first tune is a new tune which hasn't been recorded yet, and the next tune is a previous tune which we reworked, and then another new tune.” The older pieces were significantly revised and expanded for this recording, he said.
Eagles describes the CD as “contemporary jazz”. The music also has a good dose of improvisation: “Every time we play the tunes there will be some differences. These are a couple of very accomplished musicians I'm fortunate to play with who have great ears and listen carefully. That was very much a goal, that there would be some changing it up as the tunes go along.”
Eagles wrote five of the seven songs on the CD, and co-wrote one with Bruce Wittet. He said his compositions were influenced by jazz fusion drummer/composer Tony Williams, and ECM artists like the Gateway Trio (John Abercrombie, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette), American guitarist David Torn, and Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal. In recent years, Eagles said, he had been revisiting Rypdal's earlier albums, with their “texturalism and delays and effects and beautiful kinds of sound”.
Froman also brings influences to the group from drummer Elvin Jones and ECM bassist Miroslav Vitous (he studied under both at Berklee), Eagles said.
Playing around with song titles
Eagles said he had fun with the song titles, with names like “BC-ing-ya” and “At Most, Spheric”. The opening track was originally called “Ominous” and morphed into “OmniMouse”. “Vas-y” came from Froman's interjection just as they started recording that track.
The final track is by guitarist Ken Rosser, and is also a play on words. “Or Not!” refers to Ornette Coleman, “because the whole point is that it's group improvisation, and it's in one key but it's not.” The group was playing that piece in the studio as they were getting levels, and “it was a happy accident it ended up recorded and we liked it.”
This album is a deliberate contrast to his three previous CDs as leader or co-leader, Eagles said – some of which were “more aggressive jazz-rock ones and the last one was a bit more experimental with a double duo”. Eagles is best known in Ottawa for playing in jazz-fusion groups such as the Super Awesome Club and the 3Jimmys. For many years, he has directed the student Jazz Fusion Ensemble at Carleton University, as part of teaching in the university's music department. He was also co-organizer of Carleton University's Guitar Now! Festival in 2013, which brought together guitarists from a broad variety of music: from classical to country to jazz, to learn from each other and exchange ideas.
“I just wanted to make sure I was reflecting some of the other things I do. I've always been drawn to ECM-type Terje Rypdal, David Torn, contemporary jazz and things of that nature, so I wanted to reflect that side of my writing and my playing. So the guitar [is] more clean and less effects, and just a little more 'jazz rhythm section'. I think we accomplished that.”
In fact, Eagles' own musical background contains lots of straight-ahead jazz. At an early age, he saw Ella Fitzgerald with Joe Pass and Oscar Peterson at the National Arts Centre, and, not much after that, his parents took him to a guitar clinic with Herb Ellis at the Ottawa Folklore Centre. He started playing guitar at age 8, and “was always drawn to music that had improvising”, whether records by jazz guitarists like Joe Pass or Lenny Breau, or progressive rock, or Miles Davis fusion records.
Excited about the project and wanting to keep it going
Eagles said he was “really looking forward” to Saturday's show and “feeling excited and prepared. Having spent the last several months mixing and recording this material has been great, and we'll have a good chance to get together in advance of the show and run through things.”
The album will be for sale (physical CD and download cards) at the Ottawa Jazz Festival's CD tent as of the Saturday show, Eagles said, and available on-line shortly thereafter. He's looking for other Canadian club or festival dates for the group, “to keep this going and get it out playing wherever we can.”
Their biggest challenge, in fact, is simply coordinating schedules in order to perform together, he said. Their 2014 jazzfest gig, for example, was “a bit of a seat of the pants gig, because Marc had commitments at the Montreal festival. We traded some recordings and sheet music and so on and had some chats, but really for that gig we just had an opportunity to rehearse in the sound check before it.”
“Marc's a busy, full-time player in Montreal and, of course, Ian's busy teaching and playing and just occasionally touring. So far we've managed to have some windows where things can happen. And it's nice that everybody is excited about the project, proud of the record, and anxious to keep it going.”
– Alayne McGregor
trio \ DEF will perform a free concert at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, on the Laurier Avenue Music Stage in Marion Dewar Plaza in front of Ottawa City Hall on Saturday, June 27, 2015 at 2 p.m.
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