Three of Canada's most creative composers and improvising musicians will perform together for the first time at GigSpace on Saturday. And to play the best concert possible, they won't be rehearsing ahead of time.

Christine Duncan ©Brett Delmage
Christine Duncan ©Brett Delmage
“Discovery. That's what's great about music, especially improvising. That way we're really going to have to listen to each other and it's going to be fun. It's going to be very fresh,” said Ottawa guitarist, improviser, composer, and recently-awarded Ottawa Jazz Hero, Roddy Ellias.

He'll be joined by fellow Ottawan Jesse Stewart on percussion (and very possibly other surprises, which even Stewart may not know about until the musical moment summons them) and Toronto vocalist Christine Duncan. In addition to her own vocal work, Duncan is known recently for her work forming and re-forming and conducting the Element Choir, which played three times at Ottawa Chamberfest last August. Many Ottawa-Gatineau jazz musicians will also remember her teaching and singing over the years as a faculty member at the JazzWorks jazz camp.

“We're going to be meeting for the first time and making music together. It's going to be fun,” said Stewart, who, like Ellias, is familiar with Duncan's work, but has not played with her in a formal concert.

“In terms of more improvising vocalists, there aren't actually that many, at least in Canada. Christine is a very good musician, a very good improviser. In terms of improvising vocalists, I thought she would be an interesting fit.”

“[Jesse Stewart] is a composer. And he improvises like a composer. So he knows how to take an idea, he knows how to listen, and he knows how to develop the idea, listen, be empathetic, be open,” said Ellias, speaking to another dimension of the music they'll collectively create at Saturday's concert.

Jesse Stewart explores a different sound from a snare drum ©Brett Delmage, 2011
Jesse Stewart explores a different sound from a snare drum ©Brett Delmage, 2011
All three musicians are difficult to categorize – other than having a strong current of improvisation in their music. Ellias composes for chamber music ensembles and jazz trios; he is equally comfortable playing standards or mainstream jazz or music coming out of the moment. Stewart won a Juno for his work with the hard-driving Stretch Orchestra, but is also well-known for producing ear-expanding music using unconventional instruments made of ice or stone or water. Duncan has used her strong, multi-octave voice as the singer for Hugh Fraser's VEJI big band and on her five CDs: she also can produce a huge variety of wordless vocals and unclassifiable sounds in music which ranges from dissonant to abstract to shimmering.

This is the final concert of Ellias' 2012-13 series at GigSpace, which has included two jazz trios, a solo guitar concert, a jazz guitar duo, and a chamber jazz concert with Chinese pipa. It's the first year that the series has been presented at GigSpace. In previous years, it happened at the late Cafe Paradiso – which frequently had a high ambient noise level that couldn't have properly supported the music that Ellias has presented in his series this year, and which Stewart envisions playing with Ellias and Duncan.

In 2011, Stewart performed a solo percussion concert at the National Gallery; afterwards he described the acoustics of the art gallery he played in as “an integral part of the performance.” He spoke about the role that he expected GigSpace would play in Saturday's improvised performance.

Roddy Ellias: We're really going to have to listen to each other and it's going to be fun  ©Brett Delmage, 2009
Roddy Ellias: We're really going to have to listen to each other and it's going to be fun ©Brett Delmage, 2009
“I really like the feel of that room. It's got a good vibe. The two times I was there, it was a very, very attentive audience. A very quiet listening environment. People were really focused and paying attention. Because of that, it enables all kinds of sonic exploration and very subtle and quite nuanced sonic explorations, the likes of which might not read, might not be heard very clearly in a club setting.

It was a real treat to play there and I have no doubt that it will be again on Saturday.”

   – Brett Delmage

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