Highly charged music, combining the energy of horns with the power of guitar, bass, and drums, and taking elements from both jazz and rock – that's the music that Wayne Eagles is presenting in his new monthly series called “OUT THERE SOUNDS”.
The jazz guitarist began the jazz fusion series in January, and has presented three concerts so far, with a fourth scheduled for next week. They've included both younger and veteran members of Ottawa's jazz scene.
The bands perform in the House of TARG, a downstairs live music spot in Ottawa South. Jazz lovers will remember this space as the former New Bayou/Cabana Supper Club, which hosted JazzWorks jams and other local jazz shows for many years before it closed in 2009.
The music stage is surrounded by video games, with video games facing it. You might catch the smell of fresh, handmade frying perogies wafting from the kitchen at the far end of the room.
The most recent edition of this series was on Wednesday, March 27, featuring two Ottawa fusion bands: the Shane Calkins Trio (the opening act), and PreDestined. They attracted an interested crowd, which applauded regularly and was listening more than playing the games. Listeners sat in the chairs by tabletop video games, leaned up against the pinball machines, or simply stood facing the stage.
This evening marked the release of PreDestined's first album, Rising. In their hour-long set, the quintet played a dramatic and soulful selection of originals, with the front line of Brady Leafloor on tenor sax and Nick Miller on guitar strongly backed by Matt Welsh on drums, J.P. Lapensée on bass, and Miguel de Armas Jr. on keyboards. Welsh introduced the numbers, telling jokes and keeping the set moving well.
The group's music was clearly influenced by 70s jazz fusion: their tune “Flashpoint”, for example, definitely had a Michael Brecker vibe. The musicians played smoothly and interactively together, while still leaving lots of room for inventive solos. The overall impression they left was upbeat, approachable, and distinctly electric.
Guitarist Calkins and his trio, with bassist Harrison Singer and drummer Jamie Orser, played originals and some covers, more on the forceful rock side, but with skill and strong band communication. Particularly interesting was their piece "Continuum", which featured intense guitar strokes and crashing drums over a warm and melodic bass melody. Calkins says his influences include jazz fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and progressive rock guitarists Guthrie Govan and Plini.
In his description of the series, Eagles says that he wants to “showcase mind-blowing musicianship that pushes the boundaries of rock, blues and funk through the power of jazz harmony, improvisation and inspiration from Out There!”
OttawaJazzScene.ca's Brett Delmage interviewed Eagles between sets about jazz fusion and the OUT THERE SOUNDS series. This is a lightly edited record of that conversation.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did you personally get interested in this music?
Wayne Eagles: I’m 54 now. I started playing guitar when I was eight. I always had very musical parents. They weren’t musicians per se, but they listened to a really diverse range of music and were really great about taking me to concerts: everything from classical things to jazz and otherwise. It opened me up to appreciating all kinds of music.
I went to jazz concerts when I was young and even jazz guitar masterclasses when I was quite young, with Herb Ellis and people like that. It was not necessarily stuff I understood at the time, but it was great. So, lots of exposure to different music when I was young. Other than my parents' records, probably some of my first jazz records were things like Miles Davis, [and his album] Jack Johnson, and things like that, John McLaughlin records. So a lot of my first jazz records were really more on the jazz-rock side of things.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: It’s great to have that broad exposure. It opens your mind to all the possibilities of music.
Wayne Eagles: I certainly hope so (laughing).
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Has jazz fusion evolved over the past 25 years?
Wayne Eagles: I would say absolutely. I would think that fusion probably went through a rough patch where fusion meant a certain radio format, or smooth jazz. That music isn’t of particular interest to me. I think any music that combines a range of styles and interest, even ECM records and things like that have a combined a set of influences, could be defined as fusion, for certain.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: With jazz embracing and extending into so much, and with rock styles evolving and extending over decades, how has that affected jazz fusion?
Wayne Eagles: A lot of where fusion in particular started was musicians such as Miles Davis getting interested in bands like Sly and the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix, and incorporating those sorts of textures and sounds with more jazz changes or an improvisational philosophy. And of course, the progressive rock bands, some of those were more improvisational than others. I think it all comes full circle. Jazz has always been embracing different cultures and textures and sounds and influences. That certainly continues, from hip-hop and beyond (he laughs).
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Some people are dismissive of fusion – how do you respond to that?
Wayne Eagles: It did become a a bit of a thing that everybody was doing for a while in the 70s. Everyone seemed to be playing in the fusion style whether or not a jazz-informed musician. And of course when we started to get commercial radio formats that were fusion, I think that softened the brand a little bit.
But I think it’s come back since then.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Why did you start this Jazz Fusion Series, “OUT THERE SOUNDS|?
Wayne Eagles: We’ve tried a few different things here.
We’ve run the Fusion Ensemble at Carleton University for about 10 years, and the last two or three years we’ve had our term-end concerts at the House of TARG and they’ve always gone well. And sometimes I’ve had bands I’ve been involved with – whether the Super Awesome Club or some trio thing – and I’ll share the night with them. And things have gone well. Of course, the House of TARG has had things like the F8-BIT video jazz band play here for over a year.
The House of TARG is a music venue. They've got a little bit known as a punk venue or a metal venue but they are really open to a great range of styles. So they were kind enough to ask if we could try to expand and try some different music. I was happy to give that a try. It’s been fun so far.
So we’re doing it once a month. This is our third event tonight. On April 10 we have another event, with the Carleton U Fusion Ensemble, as well as James Anderson, who is a current student, doing a CD release. And then in May, we have Rob Frayne’s DrumSwamp and another band based around Isaac Isenor and some music graduates from Carleton. All adventurous. It’s certainly jazz-informed music but it’s going to suit the fun nature of the club and things being a little bit noisier in here with the arcades and everything else. So we'll find a good fit.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?
Wayne Eagles: A big thanks to the House of TARG for being open to some different music, and for being supportive. Most of the people who work here at the House of TARG are musicians so it’s great having things in a supportive environment.
Read related stories on OttawaJazzScene.ca: