André St. Jacques was eager to hear the opening night of the Ottawa Jazz Festival's late-night jam sessions, at their new location at the AlphaSoul Café in Hintonburg.
So after listening to concerts in Confederation Park, he pointed his four-wheel motorized scooter westward. 45 minutes and 3.5 km later, he arrived at the café and rolled right in. He happily listened until the music closed down at 1:45 a.m.
St. Jacques, the long-time host of the radio show Jazz et Compagnie on CHUO-FM, was only one of a group of listeners and musicians who drove, cycled, walked and rolled to reach the café Thursday night. There they heard several sets of almost completely-acoustic music – a pleasant contrast to music earlier in the evening in the park – which nevertheless filled the place from front to back. The sound was good even on the back patio at the far end of the café.
Three Montreal musicians – pianist Josh Rager, bassist Fraser Hollins, and drummer Rich Irwin – are hosting the first four nights of the jams (June 20-23). They played the first set themselves and then invited up guests.
The stand-out was tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, who is in Ottawa to perform with Tom Harrell's group Friday evening. In the three extended songs he played with a rotating group of musicians, his strong, clear, and assertive sax energized the space. Also playing were bassist Kodi Hutchinson, whose Hutchinson Andrew Trio had performed on the main stage earlier that evening; local drummer Ted Zarras; and pianist Deniz Lim-Sersan, who is currently studying at Humber College in Toronto.
The crowd listened intently and applauded enthusiastically. At least two listeners also applauded the café's refreshments, which included two local brands of beer, and fresh soups, sandwiches, and other healthy fare for those who had missed their dinner rushing from concert to concert.
This is the first time the Ottawa Jazz Festival jams have been located outside downtown. For more than a decade, the jams had been run at local downtown hotels, most recently at Arc The Hotel.
The restaurant was moderately filled but not full, although, to be fair, the first night of the Ottawa jams has tended to be less busy. At the end, Rager announced that the Friday night jam will start half an hour earlier, at 10:30 p.m. That was the normal start time for festival jam sessions for many years, and in past years listeners often had arrived even earlier than that.
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