Roby Lakatos
Gypsy jazz violin virtuoso Roby Lakatos will perform two shows at the 2018 Chamberfest, showing off both his classical and jazz chops (photo provided by Ottawa Chamberfest)

Updated July 19
Gypsy jazz, Gershwin, and the Great American songbook will all be featured in the 2018 edition of the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival (Chamberfest).

On May 1, the festival unveiled the full list of shows which it will present from July 26 to August 9, 2018 in a slightly longer programme than usual to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The announced shows are primarily from the core classical repertoire, but several are also of interest to jazz fans.

On July 26 and 27, violin virtuoso Roby Lakatos will appear with his gypsy jazz quartet. Lakatos comes from a family of Romani violinists descended from Janos Bihari, an influential composer and performer who brought gypsy music into aristocratic fashion in the early 19th century, and whose melodies were used by Liszt and Beethoven.

Lakatos moves easily between classical, jazz, and his native Hungarian folk idioms. His violin training came both from within his own family, and at the Béla Bartók Conservatory of Budapest, where he won the first prize for classical violin in 1984. His biography notes that he has collaborated with Vadim Repin and Stéphane Grappelli, and his playing was greatly admired by Sir Yehudi Menuhin, who always made a point of visiting the club in Brussels to hear Lakatos. In the jazz realm, his ensemble has played with Herbie Hancock, Nigel Kennedy, and Randy Brecker.

Last fall, Lakatos and guitarist Biréli Lagrène – who also played with Stéphane Grappelli as a youth – released Tribute to Stéphane & Django, along with the big band of the Modern Art Orchestra, and jazz drummer Niek de Bruijn and guitarist Andreas Varady. The CD/DVD included Jazz Manouche standards such as "Djangology", "Nuages", "Minor Swing", and "Nuits de Saint-Germain-Des-Près".

Lakatos will perform a classically-oriented concert on July 26 at Dominion Chalmers United Church, and a jazzier late-night concert on July 27 at the École Secondaire de la Salle in Lowertown. [Read our review and see the pictures of the July 27 show.]

Most tributes to Jazz Age composer George Gershwin either concentrate on the piano or give his music a full orchestral treatment. But Montreal's Buzz Brass quintet has a different idea: their Gershwin show combines piano with two trumpets, two trombones, and French horn.

At Chamberfest, their “I’ve Got Rhythm” salute to Gershwin will be centred on pianist Matt Herskowitz, whose repertoire ranges across classical music, jazz, world music, and free improvisation. Herskowitz's jazz creds include playing on the jazz soundtrack of The Triplets of Belleville, and receiving a Québec Félix nomination for Best Jazz Album.

In 2007, Herskowitz released a solo album, Matt Herskowitz Plays George Gershwin, featuring his original solo arrangements of the “Cuban Overture” and “Rhapsody in Blue”. His previous joint shows with the Buzz Brass have included those numbers, plus “Three Preludes”, “An American in Paris”, “A Foggy Day / Nice Work if You Can Get it”, and “Summertime”.

The show is part of the festival's popular late-night Chamberfringe series at La Nouvelle Scène, at 10 p.m. on Saturday, July 28.

On August 1, Transylvanian folk-jazz vocalist Koszika will present her Transcontinental Drift concert at La Nouvelle Scène celebrating the "unlikely friendship between tango and the jazz standard", along with jazz bassist John Geggie,  jazz guitarist Graham Campbell, a string quartet, clarinetist James Campbell, and pianist James Parker.

Three Toronto jazz musicians whose music can cross over into chamber music - pianist David Braid, cellist Andrew Downing, and vocalist Maryem Tollar - combine with jazz/pop/classical vocalist Patricia O'Callaghan, a guitar quartet, and the Gryphon Trio on August 2. They'll perform ¡Duende!, a tribute to the "poetry, music, and very essence of Spain", including its influence on artists ranging from Federico Garcia Lorca to Manuel De Falla to Leonard Cohen, at Dominion Chalmers United Church.

In his lifetime, Leonard Bernstein may have been best known as the flamboyant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, but his music (both classical and for Broadway) continues to burnish his reputation today. On Sunday, August 5, the festival presents a tribute to Bernstein's 100th birthday.

Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann will perform a two-piano concert of Bernstein's contributions to the Great American Songbook at La Nouvelle Scène, as part of the Chamberfringe series. The Vancouver-based duo will showcase many of Bernstein's “most recognizable works and arrangements”, including classic songs from the musicals West Side Story and On the Town.

The Iranian-Austrian Golnar & Mahan Trio blends "jazz with oriental folk elements, odd meter polyrhythms, Afro-Cuban music, etc and have created a new way of story telling in which the lyrics, mostly in Farsi, and the compositions go hand in hand". They've been showcased at several European jazz festivals. At their August 6 show at La Nouvelle Scène, they'll perform with vocalist Mona Matbou Riahi, who combines contemporary music and free improvisation integrated with Iranian music elements.

On August 7, jazz violinist Drew Jurecka – a popular Chamberfest performer – is back with the Payadora Tango Ensemble and vocalist Elbio Fernandez for a Chamberfringe show. The Toronto ensemble's repertoire “draws from the height of Buenos Aires’ Tango tradition, including compositions and arrangements by De Caro, Pugliese, Troilo, and Salgan, to the masterful, contemporary sounds of Astor Piazzolla and beyond.” The ensemble's latest album, Volando, includes jazz-influenced tango pieces. It was produced by Jurecka and features one of his compositions.

Then on August 8, Jurecka is back for another Chamberfringe show – this time in an Indo-jazz crossover collaboration led by jazz bassist Justin Gray. Gray was a notable part of the Amos Hoffman Quartet show here in 2016; he also performs in David Mott's Stream Quartet.

Gray's Toronto-based Synthesis group includes Jurecka, jazz guitarist Ted Quinlan, tabla player Ed Hanley, drummer Derek Gray, and violinist Rebekah Wolkstein (also a member of Payadora).

Last October, Synthesis released a debut album, New Horizons, of all original music by Gray – a “synthesis” of the traditions of Indian classical, jazz, western classical, electronic, and R&B music. On the album, he plays bass veena – a multi-stringed fretless bass designed for Indian Classical and Indo-Jazz music performance. Gray co-created the instrument with Canadian luthier Les Godfrey, and is the first musician to perform on it worldwide. He plays it sitting down, like a sitar, with the instrument in his lap.

Other concerts which may be of interest to jazz fans:

  • August 2: Algonquin Ensemble: Tom Thomson’s Voice Through Music (with Laura Nerenberg and John Geggie)
  • August 4: Mosaïques (playing compositions by several composers including David Braid)
  • August 6: New Music Now 1: Sky High (conducted by jazz/classical composer Scott Good)

Individual tickets for these shows went on sale May 1. Festival passes were on sale as of March 22.

May 3: Added the Transcontintal Drift (August 1), ¡Duende! (August 2), Golnar & Mahan Trio (August 6), Algonquin Ensemble (August 2), Mosaïques (August 4), and New Music Now 1: Sky High (August 6).
July 19: Updated the location of the Roby Lakatos late-night jazz show on July 27 to École Secondaire de la Salle in Lowertown.