The Festival de Jazz Desjardins in Aylmer will feature two tributes to important milestones in jazz and two individual jazz voices this month.
A recreation of the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue; a tribute to Ry Cooder's ground-breaking collaboration with Cuban musicians, The Buena Vista Social Club; a trio show by Ottawa guitar master Roddy Ellias; and a quadrilingual show by jazz vocalist Diane Nalini and her trio – you can hear all these in the four nights of the outdoor festival, from July 25 to 28.
This is the 32nd year of the Desjardins festival and it is again free to all. Its concerts are held in Parc de l'Imaginaire in Aylmer, immediately across from the Aylmer Marina. All concerts start at 7:30 p.m. and finish between 9 and 10 p.m. Picnics and families are welcome. Bring your own lawn chairs or blankets because seating is not provided. And hope for clear skies, because concerts are canceled in the event of rain. Donations are welcomed.
The festival is run by la Ville de Gatineau, which will also offer world music concerts (shading into jazz) in the park on the first three Wednesdays of July, with Boogát, Laetitia Zonzambé, and Mamselle Ruiz.
Wednesday, July 25: Montreal trumpeter Ron Di Lauro opens this year's Desjardins festival with his sextet of accomplished Montreal musicians: Jean-Pierre Zanella on alto sax, André Leroux on tenor sax, Geoff Lapp on piano, Michel Donato on bass, and Dave Laing on drums. Di Lauro was awarded the prestigious Oscar Peterson Prize in 2014 by the Montreal Jazz Festival, and his sextet has toured across Canada.
Their mission: to relive the energy and mood of Miles Davis' iconic album, Kind of Blue. Originally recorded in 1959, the album is considered a cornerstone of modern jazz, whose influence continues to this day. Its five compositions – “So What”, “Freddie Freeloader”, “Blue in Green”, “All Blues”, and “Flamenco Sketches” – exemplify the tonality and innovativeness of modal jazz, and have become standards. The album features many of the best jazz players of the 1960s: Davis on trumpet, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane on saxophone, Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums – a very difficult sextet to live up to!
Di Lauro's sextet will also play some of Davis' other well-known pieces to fill out the show.
Thursday, July 26: Ottawa jazz guitarist Roddy Ellias brings his trio to the park, with Montrealers Adrian Vedady on bass and Greg Ritchie on drums. Ellias has played with Vedady extensively, including on both of his last two albums, and has collaborated with Ritchie in Petr Cancura's Crossroads group.
Ellias is a master interpreter of jazz standards who has played with everyone from Lee Konitz, to Tom Harrell, to Kenny Wheeler, to Lorne Lofsky, to Kirk MacDonald, to Andrew Downing, to Joel Frahm, to Vic Juris, to David Liebman. He's also a notable composer in his own right, combining the “elements, aesthetics and techniques of classical music with those of jazz”. His most recent CD was a collaboration with NYC pianist Marc Copland.
At this show, the trio will play primarily Ellias' original music. Expect nuanced and melodic tunes, with a strong understanding of the jazz tradition but taking it to interesting places, with clarity and simplicity. And maybe a standard or two will slip in!
Friday, July 27: Ottawa jazz vocalist Diane Nalini will combine jazz standards with her original tunes in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish, for her trio show. She'll perform pieces from all four of her CDs, and give the audience a preview of a few new songs she'll record on her next project.
Swing, bossa nova, blues and chanson française will all be included. Nalini promises an overall fun and energetic feel, with some dreamy and laid-back pieces in between.
She'll perform with husband Adrian Cho on bass and Magnus Paulson on guitar. They've frequently performed together in Cho's long-standing Ottawa Jazz Orchestra series at the National Arts Centre.
“One of the things I love about working with Adrian and Magnus is that they both listen with wide ears and we play together regularly, both in my trio as well as with the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra, so we know each other well and have a lot of fun having musical conversations with each other. That is one of the things I love best about being a jazz singer - exchanging improvised ideas and building new interpretations of songs each time we perform them!” she told OttawaJazzScene.ca
Saturday, July 28: Afro-Cuban pianist Rafael Zaldivar, a strong presence in Montreal's jazz scene, will present his homage to The Buena Vista Social Club – the landmark album that spurred a renaissance of interest in Cuban music in North America.
The album was recorded by Americans Ry Cooder and Nick Gold over seven days in Havana in 1996. It brought together many of the great names of the golden age of Cuban music in the 1950s, several of whom were coaxed out of retirement for the sessions. It became an unexpected international best-seller and the most successful album in the history of Cuban music.
It's a new project for Zaldivar, which he presented at the Upstairs Club in Montreal in 2017. That show really got the audience engaged, he said, and even writing to him after the show. “They say: 'OK, I like the Buena Vista Social Club, and I used to listen to the CDs and I know the singers, I know this piece.'”
This project is often the only idea people have had of Cuban music, he said, so he will be using that familiarity to introduce music that “will relate to the Buena Vista repertoire but will also give me space to express myself, and to express the sides of myself that is not necessarily jazz or Afro-Cuban Latin jazz – which is the traditional Cuban repertoire itself.”
He'll play traditional songs from the 1920s and 30s, including “Siboney”, and “El Manisero” [The Peanut Vendor]. “Manisero is a piece that any Cuban knows in the street – pieces that are just simple songs, simple melodies. And I will be playing that in a really traditional way, in a way that I used to play it when I was living in Cuba.”
Growing up in Cuba, Zaldivar said, he would listen to and learn from the older piano masters, including Rubén González, who played in the Buena Vista Social Club. He also had the the chance to meet renowned pianist Frank Emilio Flynn in 1998. “I used to listen to him performing the piano in that kind of traditional, melancholic way, that relates to a certain period of Cuban history, the history of Emilio's before the Revolution.”
All of those musicians performed traditional Cuban music in a way “that was really connected and related to daily experiences, and the sound of the performance basically is a resume of the taste of those years of Cuban music in the 20s and the 30s, where every single note was important, every single phrase was important, where a singer from the street used to sing, and then there used to be songs by musicians inspired by the day-to-day interchanges. So this is not about imitating older persons, older groups, older sounds. This is also about being inserted into a society and discovering how rich it is inside.”
He said he loved music from that era: “This is when we had a big diversity in terms of voices. We had different voices with different pianists, like Frank Emilio Flynn [who] was in a lot of groups at the same time but everybody was sounding different.”
Zaldivar will perform with four Montreal musicians: vocalist Mireille Boily, drummer Michel Medrano, bassist Levi Dover, and a percussionist. Read our feature interview with Zaldivar about his other projects.
Parc de l'Imaginaire presents world music on Wednesdays in July
Wednesday, July 11: Montreal vocalist Laetitia Zonzambé will combine the sounds and rhythms of her homeland, the Central African Republic, with jazz, blues and soul.
Starting her career in 1999, she became a major pop star in her home country, representing the Central African Republic for the 2007 Panafrican Festival of Music in Brazzaville. But her country was in turmoil from a protracted military and social crisis from 1996 to 2003. The songs she sings, in French, English, Sango and other central African languages, are often reflections of the hard times she has lived through. She has made Montreal her home for the last decade, and toured across Canada.
Her latest album is Sanza Soul . In Sango (the language of the Central African Republic), “Sanza” is clothing made of different pieces of colored fabrics. This “symbolizes Laetitia’s artistic approach, which musical creation is inspired by assimilated elements over time”.
Wednesday, July 18: Mamselle Ruiz is an singer-songwriter from Mexico who now lives in Montreal. Her music reflects this North-South blend, with rhythms from Latin American, the bossa nova, traditional Mexican folklore, and funk. The songs on her latest album, Miel de Cactus, are sung mainly in Spanish, but also in Portuguese and French, testimony of a past and a double geography and offering a music full of contrasts. In 2013-14, Radio Canada chose her as its Révélations artist in the world music category.
How to get to the free shows
The Parc de L'Imaginaire is beside Le Centre d'exposition L'Imagier at 9 Front Street in Gatineau, about 15 km from downtown Ottawa, at the western limit of Aylmer. It's an enjoyable trip by bike. Cross the Ottawa river by the Champlain or Chaudière Bridges; Champlain is more comfortable and connects to the Ottawa River NCC path.) On the Québec side of the Ottawa River continue west on the NCC multi-use path; it takes you directly into the park.
It's a pleasant mid-summer ride along the river path, about an hour long from the Westboro area. Remember to bring lights for the trip home. We usually return on the Upper Aylmer Road because it's better lit. (The Lower Aylmer Road/Chemin Lucerne has been heavily potholed in past years.)
You can also reach the park by automobile and by the Outaouais public transit service, STO (info: 819-770-3242). The STO routes into Aylmer have changed again this year and become even less clear: it's best to get directions via the STO Planibus webpage.
You could even try boating to the park if you can tie up at the Aylmer marina across the street.
For more information (en français): www.limagier.qc.ca
Read about previous editions of the Festival de Jazz Desjardins:
- Jazz in and out of the tradition in Aylmer at the 2017 Festival de Jazz Desjardins 
- Aylmer's free outdoor jazz festival announces a younger line-up for this summer 
- High-profile Montreal and Ottawa jazz artists to perform in Aylmer this summer 
- Festival de Jazz Desjardins and other free jazz concerts come to Aylmer in July 
- The other outdoor jazz festival: in Aylmer in July and August 
- Pssst! Jazz in Aylmer in July and August!