Rob Graves and Ken Harper inspired each other into extra invention and intensity ©2016 Brett Delmage
Rob Graves and Ken Harper inspired each other into extra invention and intensity ©2016 Brett Delmage

The Ken Harper Trio with guest Rob Graves
Irene's Pub
Sunday, January 17, 2016 – 9 p.m.

View photos of The Ken Harper Trio at Irene's

Ottawa jazz drummer Ken Harper is leading his trio in a month of Sundays at Irene's this month – with different guests and a different sound each week. caught up with Harper on January 17, his third of five evenings, when he played with percussionist Rob Graves and the other members of his trio: Alex Moxon on guitar and effects, and Mark Fraser on double bass.

It was an evening of surprising textures and varied rhythms, as Graves and Harper inspired each other into extra invention and intensity. They opened with an impromptu and extended improvised piece, with drums and congas in deep conversation while Fraser added melodic riffs on bass. It grabbed the audience's attention with its almost hypnotic feel.

Graves played (in Moxon's words) “everything” – two congas, a small double drum, another hand drum, a cow-bell, a triangle, a string of bells, a clave, a small cymbal, various shakers, and possibly a few more instruments which we missed. He constantly switched among instruments, responding to the other musicians.

Most of the show featured jazz classics: Dizzy Gillespie's “Night in Tunisia”, Duke Ellington's “Caravan”, and a soft, sensual version of Horace Silver's “Cape Verdean Blues”, among them. The group added in several blues, and ended with a Stevie Wonder number. A noticeable Afro-Cuban feel informed much of the music, as well as a strong collaborative feel. “Sunny”, for example, featured bright notes on triangle from Graves accenting a grooving melody on guitar from Moxon, followed by an inflected bass solo, and then a strong drums/percussion duet aka duel.

Particularly impressive was a slower number, Bill Frisell's “Strange Meeting”, with thoughtful solos from each band member.

Since November, 2014, Irene's has featured a different group each month in its Super Soul Sundays – almost all jazz or jazz-influenced groups. Harper said he decided to play on Sundays there this month because “I'm just interested in playing as much jazz as I can in Ottawa and in a city like Ottawa you really have to get out and make the venues.”

He wasn't looking for a specific sound, he said. “I just like to put something together, like what we're doing tonight. Just start it, and let it happen more organically. I prefer to work organically like that than start out with an idea and chart things out and say this is what I want it to sound like. Because in the end, it's going to sound like whatever it sounds like.”

Harper said he picked the guest musicians – which already included vocalist Gerri Trimble, saxophonist/flutist René Lavoie, and tenor saxophonist Vince Rimbach – because they're “people I like playing with and want to play with – and don't always get the chance to.”

He said he hoped to continue playing with this quartet. “I like the way it sounds. It doesn't have that same sort of hard-driving swing sound. Like the way we played “A Night in Tunisia”. Typically, that tune is played with a real hard drive, like the Art Blakey or Charlie Parker kind of old style. But it was fun to play like that in 6/8, and it takes on something different.”

Harper will be back on January 24, playing with Ed Lister on the trumpet and Moxon and Fraser. On January 31, Rimbach will return, along with Lister and Fraser. Harper said he was looking forward to playing in a chordless format that night, “which opens it up a little more. We'll probably do more Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, freer stuff.”

    – Alayne McGregor

The Ken Harper Trio, with guests, plays each Sunday in January from 9 p.m. to midnight at Irene's, 885 Bank Street in the Glebe.