For trumpeter Ed Lister, ERU-ERA is a very personal project.
He brought together the seven-piece Ottawa jazz/groove band in 2015, and has written almost all its material. And he named it after himself: “Eruera” is his other given name – in Māori, his mother's native language. It's the Māori version of “Edward” and has been borne by several notable New Zealanders.
“So I just hyphenated it,” Lister said. “I thought it would be kind of cool. A bit of a tongue-twister, but...”
On Saturday, ERU-ERA will release its first album, ERA-LUDE, consisting of all his own compositions. The CD release show will be at Irene's Pub in the Glebe, where they recorded the album live last July.
Lister is one of the busiest players in Ottawa's jazz scene. He arrived in Ottawa in April, 2011, and within a few months was teaming up with local players in jazz groups like the Hard Bop Association and the Chocolate Hot Pockets. He runs his own record label, London Gentleman Records, and is a popular on-call trumpet player for many projects and recordings. And he leads or co-leads many local bands – The Chocolate Hot Pockets, ERU-ERA, 33Z, the LGR Band, and the Prime Rib Big Band – writing and/or arranging much of their material.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor interviewed Lister this week about ERU-ERA's music and how he developed it, and how Ottawa's music scene helped that development. This is a lightly edited version of the conversation.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: I'm getting the impression that ERU-ERA is a very personal project for you?
Ed Lister: Yes, I put it together from all the kinds of the stuff that have been influencing me over the past few years. It's all original music of mine, with a couple of reinterpretations thrown in, but for the most part it's all original stuff. I call it hyper-groove music.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What was the inspiration for starting this group back in 2015?
Lister: The Chocolate Hot Pockets is one of my main groups that I've been a part of for 6½ years now. I love playing with those guys but I wanted to do something similar to that but a little bit more danceable and with more horns. So that was the logic behind it – I wanted to do the same kind of thing but maybe a little bit more on steroids, a couple more horns and an extra rhythm section player and an extra keyboard player.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Did you have any specific role models for this band?
Lister: I'd say Roy Hargrove, the trumpet player, and the RH Factor. And then Snarky Puppy's always been a big one for most of us in our generation. Probably D'Angelo, a little bit of that. Something that I can put across to people who aren't so into the crazy, intense chords and harmonies – something a little more danceable.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Have you diverged from your original inspiration?
No, I've stayed on course, but just refined what I wanted to sound like. I experimented with a few things at the start and then I found what worked and I hung in on that.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did you pick the musicians you recruited for this band?
Lister: A lot of them I hadn't played with too much in the past. I'd seen Steve Adubofuor, the drummer – he played in my big, 12-piece LGR Band, which is an 80s pop and funk cover band. He was an insane player. I loved his playing, so I wanted to do something in an original band with him. So he was an easy pick.
And then Ben di Millo, the guitar player, he was in a band with Steve before I met them. I saw Ben playing and he had a whole different kind of beat in his playing – and yet again he wasn't too well known on the local jazz scene per se. And so I thought, Yes, I'm going to use Ben for this.
[Saxophonist] Brady Leafloor, he's been in town all his life but I didn't really see him too much, [just] here and there with some of the jazz guys. So the same thing, I wanted to do an original project with Brady. I'd already played with him in a couple of cover bands.
Rich [Page], I'd been playing with for a long time and he was a logical choice for the baritone sax. And then [bassist] Marc Decho, the same thing, I'd been playing with for a while but I hadn't really locked him down for an original project of mine.
And [keyboard player] Clayton [Connell] is just Clayton. I play with him all the time. He's a perfect choice for that kind of soul-groove, neo-soul sound. It was a no-brainer.
So that was the basis of it: a lot of the people in the band I hadn't played with before so I wanted to showcase them to other musicians in town, so people knew they were great players.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: I understand that ERU-ERA actually comes from your own name. Can you explain this?
Lister: My mom is from New Zealand, and has a Polynesian background. That is my name: “Eruera” in Māori, which is the native language in New Zealand. So I just hyphenated it. I thought it would be kind of cool. A bit of a tongue-twister, but...
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Have you been to New Zealand yourself?
Lister: Yes, we went there when we were younger. We were there for about a year and a half in total. My mom and my dad took us out of school and we basically toured the world. My mom home-schooled us on the road. So we went all over the world, and then we ended up in New Zealand with her family for six months. So I've been there quite a bit when I was younger.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: But you grew up otherwise in England?
Lister: Yes, I grew up in south London.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: When you first got the idea for ERU-ERA, did you just sit down and do this massive writing burst? How did the compositions come to be?
Lister: Before I put the band together, I made sure I had a show's worth of material. I hate having bands where you put a band together and no one knows what they're doing on the first rehearsal. So I did a burst of maybe seven or eight songs, and then we did a residency at Irene's Pub [in November, 2015]. It was a success – and when I know something's working, I do a lot of composing and writing. So I went to the basement. I think the book's about 28 original songs right now.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Did you write any of the pieces with any of the musicians in mind?
Lister: Some of them, yes. I typically do that for a lot of bands I write for. The Chocolate Hot Pockets in particular is a good example of writing for the specific players. But [for ERU-ERA], I had more of a vibe in mind than writing for the individuals, but I guess as time's gone on now, I have started writing feature pieces for soloists in the band.
I'm trying to avoid it being a jammy band. I don't like having a seven-piece band where six people take solos on every song. The way I run this band is there's no more than one or two solos per song, just to keep the songs slightly more condensed and interesting. When you have big bands where everyone takes solos, it can drag on quite a bit. I'm not a fan of that.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How have the other musicians refined the music and contributed to the sound?
Lister: When we actually go into an improvised section, that's probably where the band shines because then they stretch out a bit more, but for the actual melodies and the arrangements of the songs they're so meticulously composed you can't really do anything but play what I've written down. When we get to the solo sections, it opens up, and I guess they take the grooves that I have in mind and they slip them around and reinterpret them. There's a lot of space for that in the improvised sections.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: You've described ERU-ERA as “tribal funk and groove”, but when I was listening to several of your videos, I could certainly hear the groove but I could also hear more than that. I was hearing Herbie-Hancock-style jazz fusion as well. So is it just groove, or is it groove-plus?
Lister: Yes, groove-plus. I call it “hyper-groove” because I'm incorporating a bunch of different stuff. I have a couple of pieces I've written which definitely are inspired by the glam-rock band Yes, and some real cheesy kind of 80s stuff as well. I throw a bunch of different stuff in there and it's all stuff I grew up listening to and liked. Yes, I'd say groove-plus is a very good definition.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Why did you pick Irene's Pub for recording this album live?
Lister: I have a really good relationship with Irene's. They've been really great to me over the last few years. It's a great place to workshop some new bands on the Sunday residencies, and then their stage is really good and their sound guys are great there. So it was a no-brainer for me. I always bring out good crowds at Irene's and in return, they give me a choice of nights.
[For the live album recording], we had a Friday and a Saturday weekend. That's not always the case in Ottawa that you get a Friday and a Saturday night at a venue. So it seemed like a really cool idea to do it over two nights. And then both nights were absolutely packed to the rafters – you couldn't move in there! So that also helped with my relationship with Irene's.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: You did a live album because you wanted that kind of live vibe?
Lister: Yes, I find most bands ... if you look at Snarky Puppy's best stuff, they're recording live in the studio with a live audience.
Our band, we did four tracks in the studio and it came out great – but it still lacked that really high-energy explosive stuff. We're a really solid band as a live show, we sound really tight, so I thought [a live recording] would be a great way.
It also was also big budget-saver for us. We used door money from both nights, which was quite substantial after we filled it both nights, and that allowed us to pay for the CDs and some advertising. And then Clayton and Ben in the band, they mixed and mastered it themselves. So we cut out all the studio costs. It turned out to be probably about $7,000 cheaper than it would have been if we were to do it in the studio – and we got a 12-track album out of it.
And it sounds great, too! We ran two boards: a sound guy in the back of the room doing the live sound and then we had another mixing desk we rented and a snake and a big recording set-up on-stage which we could mix from stage ourselves. We took every channel, so then we could isolate everything in the studio and mix it and put some post-mixing effects on.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did you pick the tracks for the album?
Lister: I went through all of the material from both nights and just picked the stuff that had no mistakes in it. When you play live, there's always going to be mistakes, unless you're the most flawless band in the world. There's always going to be stuff where someone might miss something or someone's slightly out of tune. So I went through everything and I just picked maybe 12 or 13 songs that had really good takes. And then we used seven full tracks, and then we actually took about five snippets from different songs, where maybe the beginning wasn't very good but the middle was really good. So we used them as fade-in and fade-outs on the album.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: So that's the trade-off you have to make with making a live album: that you can't control it quite as much?
Lister: Exactly. And having the two nights was definitely something that was needed, because there wouldn't have been enough material from the first night. So we ended up using a few songs from the first night and a few songs from the second night. Doing it over two nights was definitely a smart move.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What is the title of the new album?
Lister: It's called ERA-LUDE because there's some interludes sparsely in the album. There are fades-in and fades-out interludes, so I just call it ERA-LUDE.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What has living in Ottawa contributed to you as a composer and as a musician?
Lister: It definitely has allowed me to basically do as I wish in my creativity. There's a lot of great musicians in Ottawa – I'm still meeting some of them today, people I haven't played with before. Ottawa's been really great to me. I have no complaints at all – other than minus 40 degrees!
It was a struggle when I first came here; the venues were, a few of them were closing down here and there and a lot of them were a little hard to get into. But I feel, as of right now, Ottawa is actually doing really well for live music and accommodating musicians. People are coming out now in quite good numbers.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: You began ERU-ERA with a residency at Irene's. How have residencies at places like Le Petit Chicago and Irene's helped you as a composer?
Lister: Both of those venues will give you a one-month residency – it's great. That's where you go first. You put your ideas together and then you make sure you have a solid book of music and you choose the right guys for it. The residencies are a Godsend, really. You can workshop it, and then within that month, people start hearing about it, and word gets around. Then you start putting on bigger shows. So they're definitely a necessity in town, and I'm glad there's a couple venues at least that will allow you to do it.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Is it easier for you to be a full-time musician here in Ottawa than it would be in England?
Lister: Yes, as of right now for me. As a trumpet player, there's only a few of us in town working full-time, so it's been good to me as a trumpet player. In London, there's a lot more competition – I know about 30 or 40 trumpet players in London who are all crazy-good players – but they are all working well enough because it's obviously a bigger city. There's 12 million people in London as opposed to 1 million in Ottawa. So I think it's equal proportions, but I've found it easier in Ottawa. Before Ottawa, I was on cruise ships and just travelling around everywhere, so I never really had settled myself down anywhere.
I've always been the kind of person who just wants to see how far I can take something and push it even more.
– Ed Lister
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Looking at many of the projects that you lead or co-lead – the LGR Band, ERU-ERA, the Prime Rib Big Band, 33Z – they seem to be on a larger scale. Why is this? Do you tend to think larger-scale when you're composing?
Lister: Yes, I totally do. With the Hot Pockets, it's such an intricate group and I love it, but I always want to do something bigger and better. That's just part of who I am, I think [he laughs]. I just love the possibilities you have with more voices. The [Prime Rib] Big Band has been a real treat for me, writing for eight horn players! And that's not even a full-sized big band, it's a scaled-down big band.
So I totally enjoy the bigger projects. I'm always looking at doing something with an orchestra. Right now, I'm trying to work out how I can do that.
And probably because a lot of people don't want to take them on, I just thought there was a niche there for me to slip in and do something on a larger scale. Because it's a hell of a lot of work. It's hours. One big band chart for me, if it's an original chart, can take me 18, 20 hours – and that's if I'm on point, everything is firing the way I want it to.
A lot of people often go towards a trio or a quartet because you just have to put one melody line and some chords and it's good to go. But I've always been the kind of person who just wants to see how far I can take something and push it even more. So there will be some bigger bands than that coming up soon.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: But what about the economics? How do you manage to pay more musicians?
Lister: It's not really been a problem for me. With the big band at Irene's once a month, we have good crowds every month so everyone gets some beer money and some gas money and a couple of drinks. Everyone gets paid – probably [as much] normally as most trios would get in a bar band gig, because we have a bigger following with the big band.
And then I'll also put on annual shows and hire out venues. I hired out the Nicholas Arts Court for the [Prime Rib] Big Band over Christmas and everyone got paid well, and got free BBQ food, and enjoyed themselves. So, yes, I make sure that no one's going to be annoyed at getting nothing. There's nothing I like less than going to a gig that's had a lot of work and then no money on the end of it.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What are you planning to do with your record label, London Gentleman Records (LGR)?
Lister: That's been on the back burner for the last few months, with all my writing. And now it's acting as a tour-booking service, as opposed to a label. But we have a few CDs that have come out on the label now, and a few different artists under the label. So now we're just shopping it around and we're actually doing tours for the bands. Last year we booked a couple of six-week tours for two of the bands, and we're working on a tour in 2018. It's gently simmering in the background because I've been so busy with a bunch of original projects of mine. But the Prime Rib Big Band is under the label and so is ERU-ERA, so I guess they go hand in hand a little bit.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What are your future plans for ERA-ERU, now that the album is out?
Lister: Festivals, basically. I've put in for maybe 12 or 15 festivals in the Ontario and Quebec area, so I'm going to see what happens this year over the summer. And then any festival I get, I'll book tour dates around it. There'll be a summer tour for sure. And the same with the Big Band. Right now, I'm working on both of them for the same thing.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: You figure these groups will go over well at festivals?
Lister: Yes, and in particular ERU-ERA will cross some boundaries into the groove and the soul festivals. It's good festival music, for sure.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Any other plans?
Lister: I'm just always on the go, so I don't know [laughs]. The big band has a bunch of gigs and I'm playing a few gigs at the [Ottawa] Winter Jazz Festival. I'm playing with the Hilario Durán Big Band and then the Michael Jackson tribute with the 33Z. And I'm working with horn charts right now for a band who are recording an album and they need horns on their album, so I'm doing stuff here, there, and everywhere.
ERU-ERA (Ed Lister - trumpet, Richard Page - baritone sax, Brady Leafloor - tenor sax, Clayton Connell - keyboards and synthesizer, Ben Di Millo - guitar, Marc Decho - six-string bass, Stephen Adubofuor - drums) release their debut album, ERU-LUDE, on Saturday, January 13, 2018, at Irene's Pub. The show starts at 9:30 p.m., but early arrival is advisable because the pub is not large. Admission is $20, including a copy of the CD, or $15 without the CD. Irene's is located at 885 Bank Street in the Glebe; OC Transpo routes 6 and 7 run immediately by the pub.