The Avant-Garde Bar is long and narrow. As you walk by its window at 135½ Besserer Street, you can see the stage in front: a space normally filled by a four or five-piece band.
But on Friday, December 2, it will feature not one, but two, big bands – a concert that should fill the space with music right to the back as well as straining its capacity up front with first 9, and then 19 musicians at one time.
The out-of-town band is the Franky Rousseau Large Band, a collective of musicians from Montreal and New York City. They're led by guitarist Rousseau, originally from Montreal, but who has been studying and playing in New York for the last 2½ years. He recently graduated from the New School For Jazz And Contemporary Music, having studied with Vic Juris, Lage Lund, Ari Hoenig, Steve Cardenas, Kirk Nurock, and Ben Wendel, among others.
His ensemble will be playing all originals. Its influences draw upon contemporary jazz, electronica, folk and modern classical music. Featured with the ensemble will be Los Angeles-based pianist Austin Peralta.
The Ottawa stop is part of a Montreal - Toronto - New York City tour – a not inconsiderable effort given its 19-member size.
But also important to Ottawa audiences is the fact that this event has inspired local saxophonist Richard Page to create a nine-piece band, a nonet, which he plans to continue working with well after this week. This is by no means the first large ensemble Richard has arranged and composed for, but he's trying some new initiatives with it.
The event will feature Richard's nonet first at about 8 p.m., playing for an hour. Then after a 25-minute break to rearrange instruments, the Large Band will fill the stage and play for the rest of the evening.
OttawaJazzScene Editor Alayne McGregor talked with Richard last week about the event, and what kind of music audiences should expect.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Why the nonet and why now?
Richard Page: Franky Rousseau, who is the guitar player coming up from New York with his large ensemble (which happens to be a big band), and I were on a gig together with a mutual friend from New York. He was going to be passing through Ottawa to go to Toronto on tour with his band, and he said "We should do something together": set up a set each and play.
So I was throwing some ideas around, and I thought I don't have a lot of time, and I should just put a quartet together and open it up. But I figured, he's got a big band, so I should put together one of my ensembles and everything seems to have worked out.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Are you sure you're going to be able to fit everybody on the stage at the Avant-Garde? It's going to be tight, right?
Richard: It's going to be very tight. I've done ten pieces at the Avant-Garde before. Right when I first came to town, I did eight pieces as well. So I know that at least ten will fit at least one row off the stage; I have no clue how he's going to fit his band in. But he [Franky] has said they've played smaller spaces. So... I trust he knows.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How does Franky Rousseau's music relate to yours? Do the two bands complement each other?
Richard: That's a good question. Franky Rousseau's band sounds very much like Darcy James Argue. It's really very modern. It's very powerful music; it's beautiful music. And he has electronics. He's bringing two keyboard players with him, which is really interesting. One guy is playing piano and the other guy is doing the electronics thing behind him. It's a really incredible concept that he has with his band.
I think they complement each other, although my band is totally different. My band is very much rooted in the 60s and the way I'm setting my set up to go is more or less chronological in feel. By the time you've got to the end of my set, you've hit an Ornette Coleman groove feel, which I believe will set up Franky's band very nicely.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What's [pianist] Austin Peralta's role in Franky Rousseau's band?
Richard: He's the featured player. I've heard he's one of the next great ones from everybody whom I've talked to about him. But I've actually never heard him play. I'm really looking forward to hearing him play.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: You talked about boppin' free jazz – does that mean that the early 60s is the era that's inspiring you?
Richard: Absolutely. The forms of the music are really based on Tadd Dameron and Duke Ellington: extremely traditional forms. Even the free tunes – I've got a couple of free-ish tunes that we're doing – are fairly traditional forms. But the harmonies and the melodies on top of that really accentuate the 60s, as far as late Coltrane, Charles Mingus. You've got some Monk in there. A lot of Ornette Coleman and Dewey Redman influences as well.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Is it all going to be original material?
Richard: Absolutely original material, yes.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did you pick the instrumentation for the music you're doing?
Richard: Based on the players that I know and that I enjoy playing with: that's part of the reason I picked the instrumentation. The other is just the ability – for example, I have two trumpets, as opposed to having a trombone player, and part of that reason is to keep the lightness in the ensemble working. We've got two tenor [sax] players as well, so adding something down low to just offset, keep balance within the group.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: So that's why you have the baritone.
Richard: Yes, I've got the baritone [sax], and I've got two tenors, myself and Vince Rimbach, and then I've got alto and two trumpets on the top end. Just keep everything balanced, and it works! Soundwise everybody gets a chance to be heard.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: I know you've played frequently with some of the musicians in this group, but what about Vince Rimbach and Jarrod Goldsmith: how much have you played with them?
Richard: I've worked with Jarrod and Vince in Big Band Caravane, so that's my connection with them. We all sat beside each other, so I know the humour and the playing is all in sync. We're worked together in that set-up, so it's a lot of fun with them. But outside of that, I haven't really done much work with either outside of that band, so I'm excited to get back into a band situation with them.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How about the other musicians?
Richard: Let's start with the rhythm section: Alex [Moxon], J.P. [Lapensée], and I – actually the whole rhythm section – were all together at the Avant-Garde for about six months, and that was a pretty good run. And I've know Alex and J.P. for a couple years since we were part of the founding year of the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra.
David [Pontello] I haven't known as long, but David I've worked with more than with actually anybody else in the city. Usually he's my first-call guy on drums, anywhere from swing bands to my trios. Everything. He's got great time, so he's nice to play with, and he knows what I want. I like that.
Zak [Frantz] and I have played a lot of jams together: we haven't done a lot of other work together, but every time we play on the stage we feed off each other really well. When Zak was hosting Le Petit Chicago with Brian [Asselin], I was there every week when I first came to town, sitting in with them and having a lot of fun. Zak and I continue to sit in on each other's gigs: I enjoy that.
Ed [Lister] is more or less my musical partner in crime. Ed is great. Ed came out to Petit Chicago when he first came to town and we played about three notes together and we just knew that the sounds worked. I don't get along with ... I should preface this: I love working with other horn players, and I love working with all the players involved with the project, but I don't usually get along with horn players on a long-term basis. And I really believe it's a sound thing: I'm a very aggressive, very in your face kind of player and when you're dealing with other horn players who might not be as intense sometimes that relationship over time tends to break down because the ideals are not the same.
And then with Ed, Ed is just as in your face and just as loud and just as up-front in his playing. And he plays the trumpet; he doesn't play the saxophone which is also nice.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: This work with your nonet: how does it flow out of the previous larger ensembles that you had?
Richard: Definitely I've learned a lot from the other ensembles. My eight-piece band wasn't big enough in the sense that I was playing a lot of saxophone parts and I wasn't able to focus on my music, where I was busy trying to make sure that the sections were being held together. And a ten-piece was too big, a ten-piece was too heavy-sounding for me. So I really believe that nine-piece is going to work. And I've really stripped down my parts to where I'm not really .. I'm part of the band, but I'm primarily going to be playing solos and a little bit of conducting. But it's not going to be like ... I'm not going to sit there and solidly play sections with the band. I'm going to be there to enjoy that part of the music.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Last night, we saw Beatlemania. I saw that [Capital Vox choir director] Elise Letourneau stuck with conducting, because with almost 75 people on that stage, she had to concentrate on listening to and conducting that music and making it stay together, because that was as much any one person could do.
Richard: Absolutely. On that topic, I was reading some stuff about Artie Shaw, and he said the same thing: the better your orchestra gets, the less you get to play. I really believe that. For all these groups, I've been very much involved in the band aspect. This time I'm taking a different approach where I'm going to play some solos and I'm going to play some heads: the arrangements really do end up featuring me but I'm leaving lots of space for everyone else, and I'm not going to be playing those section parts like I was before. I'm not worried about the harmony. If I need to step back and not play a section, there's always going to be someone there playing the same part. So I've covered myself that way better than I ever have.
And this book has actually been the easiest book for me to write that I've written for any larger band that I've played with. It's very spacious: it's very much ... I'm going to point at someone, and they're going to blow a solo, and then I'm going to point to the next one and they're going to blow a solo. It's the intimacy of a
quartet with the power of a big band.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Are you planning to do something more with the nonet after this concert?
Richard: Absolutely. We're going to be recording the night, at least for demo purposes. It's hard to book a nonet outside of festival season. So I think that's the real goal for me: to start getting some festival work with these guys. I would like to at some point do an album of nonet charts but I'd like to have a little more regular work with it before I start taking it into the studio.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: So what will the audience hear if they come out to the Avant-Garde bar Friday night?
Richard: I think Ottawa hasn't seen a show like this yet. I think the energy of having two large groups in the same small venue is something that everybody needs to experience. When I was in Hamilton, I always saw the Corktown Big Band, which was Darcy Hepner's band, that played all the Thad Jones book. Seeing them in the little Corktown Pub every Wednesday night was something that made a huge impact on me as a player, because seeing a big band in a space that only holds enough for a big band and a couple of other people is an experience unto itself.
But I don't think Ottawa will see a show that is like this; I don't think they've seen a show like this outside the jazz festival but I also don't think they're going to see another show like this for a while where it's a totally original book of material for both bands and the bands are both totally dedicated to the music they're playing. It's not a dinner gig.
I think that's the big thing: the intensity. It's going to be a very intense show.