Friday evening and Saturday morning – hours 8 through 23 – of the 2018 Jazz Ramble continued to demonstrate the diversity and strength of Ottawa's jazz scene.
At 5 p.m., the Lucas Haneman Express – with Haneman on guitar, Megan Laurence on vocals, and Martin Newman on bass, but minus their drummer Jeff Asselin – played a quieter set, more acoustic than their usual electric blues.
They were followed by Jazz Festival programming director Petr Cancura, who again brought a new project to the Ramble, as he did in 2016. This time, he went in a very different direction, writing tunes influenced by singer-songwriter music, instead of his previous jazz and roots music. Cancura later told OttawaJazzScene.ca that he would be leaving for New York City right after the Ramble, in order to record these originals with musicians there. The Ramble show allowed him to workshop the tunes, he said, and the musicians he played with here (guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist J.P. Lapensée, and drummer Michel Delage) “were very gracious to do it.”
The inspiration for this project comes out of Cancura's love of songs. “I love listening to great singer-singwriters. There's not many jazz players that take on 'songs', and play them as though they were a singer. So this is really my model for these new songs, and this new project.”
He said it was greatly influenced by his Crossroads collaborations with local singer-songwriters which he organized for two years as part of the NAC Presents series, and the work he consciously did to ensure that these singers' stories were never submerged in his jazz arrangements. “They're directly working on telling stories and how to best represent those stories, and I think that gets lost sometimes in jazz. I think we can reclaim that. I think you can still tell stories.”
For singer and bassist Angelique Francis, her 7 p.m. show was a family affair. She performed with her two sisters, Kira on backing vocals and Kharincia on tenor and baritone sax, plus her father Kiran on drums. The only non-family member on stage was guitarist Garrett Warner.
Their set mixed jazz, R&B, and blues, with Angelique's vocals evoking shades of Bessie Smith or Muddy Waters. Also playing both double bass and electric bass as well as blues harmonica, she performed both covers and her own originals. The result was polished and engaging.
Francis has serious star power. She played the audience like a revivalist preacher, telling stories, singing uplifting lyrics, and doing her best to get the audience up and dancing. A few started moving, and then more, and by the end of their set, many were dancing, clapping, and singing along to the group's final Mardi-Gras-inspired song.
The Rakestar Arkestra not only plays the compositons of American jazz innovator Sun Ra; they've also absorbed his adventurous spirit and innovative combinations of sound. Their Ramble set was an immersive and multi-layered experience, with the seven band members in costume producing spoken word loops, declaiming poetry, and playing anthemic music. They ended with a march through the store and out onto the sidewalk and back, with everyone, including a large part of the full audience, chanting Sun Ra's hymn, “We Travel The Spaceways”.
The Hard Drop Quintet, led by trumpeter Ed Lister, was easily the Ramble's biggest draw. More than 60 listeners crammed into the store to hear the quintet's hard bop-influenced jazz. For this show, Lister played with two regular group members, tenor saxophonist Pete Pereira and drummer Michel Delage, with Steve Boudreau on Rhodes piano and Caylan Penny on bass sitting in.
Lister first unveiled this group in April at Irene's, and this was only their sixth public show. But they'd clearly already developed a following. Their driving, hard-edged music combined a silky-smooth deep groove with funky Rhodes, gospel-tinged sax, and demanding trumpet, and featured dynamic originals and covers of R&B tunes. It had the audience swaying to the beat, and responding with strong applause and cheers.
Listen to Keith Hartshorn-Walton talk about his three shows with tuba at the Jazz Ramble
At the 2016 Ramble, husband-and-wife duo Mélanie and Keith Hartshorn-Walton were warmly received for their voice and tuba versions of songs en français. Since then, they've expanded into a quartet called Mélanie E, with guitarist Alex Tompkins and drummer Michel Delage, and recorded a CD.
Their 10 p.m. show featured songs from Chemin – originals and Québeçois pop songs given a jazz shine. Sunny and assured, the music had no trouble jumping the language barrier, and provided considerable instrumental interest with reflective guitar and deep inflected tuba solos. The quartet played songs by Quebec icons like Robert Charlebois and Félix Leclerc, but also originals by Tompkins (with added French lyrics by Mélanie) and by Mélanie and Keith – all engaging and upbeat and garnering strong applause from the audience.
The one act that notably did not fit the Ramble's style was Ottawa singer-songwriter Julie Corrigan. Corrigan has an appealingly husky voice, original material based on her own experiences, and an inviting stage manner. She would be a fine choice at CityFolk. But her brand of country-folk had no relationship to jazz, and was a jarring transition within the event: many listeners went home or migrated out to the sidewalk. Nevertheless, the small audience for her 11 p.m. set listened respectfully and attentively, and applauded politely.
The midnight hour was ushered in by saxophonist Tariq Amery and his SAD3 trio with bassist Harrison Singer and drummer Michel Delage, and guests Sean Duhaime on guitar and Peter Hum on Rhodes. This was a raw, high-energy set, featuring classics by Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie, and standards including “Days of Wine and Roses”.
With a powerful, Coltranesque style on tenor, Amery dominated the proceedings, athletically moving up and down with the music. Singer and Delage primarily stayed in the background, but contributed elastic bass lines and fast flurries of drumming in places. Hum added a bluesy, interrogatory feel to the Dizzy number, and Duhaime's flowing guitar lines nicely contrasted with Amery's finely-pointed sax lines in several pieces – ending in strong and extended applause.
Listen to Linsey Wellman talk about his Jazz Ramble shows, and in particular his solo baritone sax compositions
The early hours of the morning were when the Ramble showcased smaller, more experimental projects. At 1 a.m., Linsey Wellman showed off his growing prowess on the baritone saxophone with an extended original composition. It had some similarities in form with the alto sax compositions he'd performed at the 2016 Ramble, deepening gradually from the very sparse (light breathing through the mouthpiece) to dissonant roars, and using circular breathing to create uninterrupted streams of sound. I particularly liked how his sounds gradually defined their space, coalescing into first a light groove, then fast circles, then a textured drone, then flurries of squeals, then bright notes jumping on top of a circular drone, then a noticeable Doppler Effect. Throughout, it was an intensely focused and high-energy piece which used the full range of the baritone. At one point I was wondering where he got any more breath to keep playing. As the piece faded to barely-there breathing again, it was greeted by strong applause.
Wellman continued with a gospel-influenced tune by 60s NYC saxophonist Albert Ayler, whose music he's played in Bernard Stepien's Ayler/Christmas carols project. While the tune was overall serene and hopeful, Wellman ornamented it with dissonant lines and a fantasia of squeaks, before ending by reverently singing the last few lines of the lyrics.
At 2 a.m., Alex Moxon followed with a solo guitar set, using tasteful effects to add sounds ranging from church organ to chimes. At 3 a.m., Michel Delage and Moxon played a drums-guitar duo. At 4 a.m., saxophonist Julian Selody stepped away from his role as jazzfest ticket-seller and organizer, and played a solo set: mellow music with just him and his sax, with drone recording filling in the spaces. At 5 a.m., Garrett Warner, a recent Carleton University music graduate, played a duo set with another guitarist.
Guitarist Garry Elliott has had several successful shows playing classic guitar-organ tunes from the 60s and 70s in collaboration with Bumpin' Binary: the duo of Mike Essoudry on drums and Don Cummings on Hammond organ. But the Hammond organ unexpectedly wouldn't start up for their 6 a.m. show. Cummings made a rapid save by moving to the Rhodes piano already on-stage. The show went on, and the audience was upbeat and amused.
Cummings continued on Rhodes for Bumpin' Binary's own show at 7 a.m., playing groove-based jazz.
DrumSwamp is saxophonist Rob Frayne's funky rhythm-based project, featuring Liz Hanson on a plethora of drums and Brazilian percussion instruments. With Alvaro de Minaya joining her on percussion, and Petr Cancura joining Frayne on sax, plus Megan Jerome on vocals, Mike Essoudry on drums, and Don Cummngs on Rhodes, their 8 a.m. set started off the morning with a strong groove.
The final act of the Ramble was the youngest, led by saxophonist Melissa Brown, who is still in high school. Brown was joined by two of her bandmates in the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra – pianist Anthony Kubelka and drummer Jennie Seaborn – plus fellow high-school vocalist Laura Seaborn. Their band, formed especially for the Ramble, was called The Two Percent, and they played classic jazz tunes with verve and considerable accomplishment. At the end, Brown told the audience that she was really glad to have had the chance to play at the Ramble, and to have pulled this band together.
This year's Ramble line-up didn't reflect quite all of Ottawa-Gatineau's jazz scene – Cuban, Brazilian, gypsy jazz, and swing musicians were again noticeably absent, and instrumentalists predominated over vocalists – but it did provide an insightful slice of current and broadly diverse local jazz.
The 2016 Jazz Ramble incubated several strong new projects. It will be interesting to see how many hatch out from this event and reach the main jazz stages in the season ahead.
With files from Brett Delmage. Note: While Delmage was present for the entire Ramble, McGregor was at home sleeping in the early morning.
Read related stories by OttawaJazzScene.ca:
- Second Jazz Ramble attracts eager listeners [10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, May 25]
- "Some real high notes" at the second Jazz Ramble [overview]
- The Record Centre spins a 24-hour nonstop live 'Jazz Ramble' on Tuesday 
- Ottawa's jazz fans discover new groups and new sounds in the 24 hours of the Jazz Ramble