Kellylee Evans and Peter Liu ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Jazz vocalists Kellylee Evans and Peter Liu are two of the headliners at the 2018 Merrickville's Jazz Fest. They're performing separately, on two different evenings ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Kellylee Evans, Ori Dagan, Rafael Zaldivar, and Nick Maclean will headline the 2018 edition of Merrickville's Jazz Fest (MJF) – along with a Saturday night swing dance with Peter Liu and the Pollcats.

The festival, now in its 8th year, runs from Thursday, October 11, to Sunday, October 14 in Merrickville, a small, historic town about an hour's drive (77 km) south of Ottawa. Jazz will again animate the venues known warmly to MJF audiences: local restaurants, churches, the Baldachin Hotel ballroom, the town's community centre, and its arts centre.

MJF continues to uphold its firm commitment to the jazz mainstream, with no side trips into rock and pop acts. Its 2018 line-up showcases a wide variety of jazz styles, from standards, to Afro-Cuban and Latin, to funk and groove, to contemporary jazz. It mixes promising and established jazz artists, vocals and instrumental jazz, local musicians with those from Toronto and Montreal, and familiar jazz faces with those new to this area.

Ottawa jazz vocalist Karen Oxorn will open the festival with a completely new collaboration, “Vocals and Violin”. She's teaming up with three veteran Toronto jazz musicians, performing standards by some of the group’s favourite performers and songwriters to the accompaniment of guitar, bass, and violin. The Thursday evening concert is free to anyone who has bought a festival pass or ticket to another festival show.

If you missed several popular or sold-out jazz shows in Ottawa this year, you have another chance in Merrickville. Vocalist Kellylee Evans will perform songs from her latest soul/pop/jazz album, Come On. Garry Elliott and Steve Boudreau's Quartet will preview their upcoming second CD, Opus 2. Toronto saxophonist Colleen Allen, who was Mark Ferguson's guest at GigSpace last spring, will perform with Toronto pianist and vocalist Fern Lindzon.

The Nick Maclean Quartet is back after a vibrant mid-summer tour which included Ottawa, this time with the group's original bassist and drummer. They'll showcase the group's recent album of music of and inspired by Herbie Hancock's 1960s Blue Note recordings, in an uncommon trumpet-piano-bass-drums format.

Montreal pianist Rafael Zaldivar made a splash at the Ottawa Jazz Festival and in Aylmer this summer. He will team up at MJF with two Ottawa musicians well-known for playing Afro-Cuban jazz: bassist Marc Decho and drummer Frank Martinez. Zaldivar, who was born and educated in Cuba, performs both his own originals using Cuban rhythms, and from the long-time heritage of Cuban jazz and popular song.

Vocal jazz is prominent at the festival. Toronto vocalist Ori Dagan, who was last in Ottawa three years ago, recently released a tribute album to Nat King Cole which not only included Cole's own songs, but also Dagan's original songs “inspired by facets of Cole’s life, music and legacy”.

22-year-old Montreal jazz vocalist Laura Anglade, whom the Upstairs Club notes “has made a big impression on the Montreal Jazz scene within the last year”, brings her quintet to the festival, including guitarist Sam Kirmayer. Anglade's influences come from classic jazz, including Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day, Chet Baker and Blossom Dearie.

Merrickville's Jazz Fest has been the first place Ottawa audiences have had the opportunity to hear out-of-town groups, and 2018 is no exception. From Montreal comes a quintet led by guitarist Samuel Gaudreault and pianist Jonathan Turgeon. They recently released an album, Jonctions, which draws “inspiration from jazz in the 60’s, while also exploring more contemporary jazz”.

From Toronto comes bassist Ken McDonald's Quartet, with sounds ranging from deep funk from New Orleans, to the intense modern jazz, to the meditative Arabic sound of North Africa.

Young saxophonist Landen Vieira brings two well-known Toronto jazz musicians, pianist Dave Restivo and drummer Morgan Childs, with him to the festival. Vieira's debut release, Dream, draws from the tradition, including jazz icons Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, and Wayne Shorter.

Several Ottawa groups are also prominent at the festival. The five-horn, nine-piece group Alternate Takes will officially release its new CD, Urban Flower, at the festival. The group's name comes from its preference for creating “original versions of the jazz repertoire featuring arrangements by band leader Jean Trudel and other arrangers who have done charts just for them”.

Ginny Simonds and her quintet with vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton will perform at a free jazz worship service on the Sunday morning, including some of the music of Canadian composer Joe Sealy which Simonds has been featuring in several Ottawa shows this year. Pimienta Blanca will spice up the Friday dinner hour with their Latin jazz mix of Samba Jazz, Bossa Nova, Salsa, Mambo, and Son.

Saxophonist Vince Rimbach and guitarist Tim Bedner both enjoy creating new standards from more recent popular music. Their quartet will present jazz takes on the music of Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and the Beatles, as well as of jazz composers Pat Metheny and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Peter Liu and the Pollcats are one of Ottawa's most popular vintage swing bands, playing for dances at the Canadian War Museum and the Mackenzie-King Estate as well as more conventional halls. They'll take over the Merrickville Community Center on the Saturday evening to play music you can enjoy with both your ears and your feet, along with dance demonstrations from the Side Street Swing group. The band will feature tunes from their recently-released swing themed album, Count On Lindy. “Lindy” is Lindy Hop, a dance which co-evolved with swing music in the 1930s and 40s, and which will be featured at the dance. 

A pass for the entire festival is $80, while single-day passes are $50 and individual concerts are $25. For those concerts held in restaurants, listeners must also make a reservation. Tickets and passes are available on-line.

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