Ottawa audiences will get the very first chance to hear a new trio this weekend – featuring three musicians active in jazz and chamber music scenes.
Guitarist Roddy Ellias, multi-instrumentalist Petr Cancura, and cellist Andrew Downing have formed a trio called trekan. They'll play chamber jazz, with perhaps a touch of bluegrass and Turkish music, at GigSpace on Saturday.
This will be their first public performance, Ellias told OttawaJazzScene.ca, although they recorded a three-song demo together three to four months ago and have been talking and sending around music since.
Saturday will also be a rare chance for Ottawa listeners to hear Cancura in concert. Despite regularly returning to Ottawa from Brooklyn for his job as programming manager of the Ottawa Jazz Festival, he hasn't performed publicly in Ottawa since last June's festival, and infrequently before then in the past five years. Downing, from Toronto, has visited Ottawa regularly in the last year, playing in groups led by Nick Fraser, Jayme Stone, and David Occhipinti.
Ellias said he really enjoyed playing with Cancura and Downing.
“They're both really good writers. They're both really good improvisers, who listen, and we have similar aesthetics. We like a wide variety of things and we like to take chances and do different things and like free playing. And we're very compatible people, which is important.”
Cancura and Ellias have had a longstanding arrangement to play together whenever Cancura's in Ottawa.
“He's in town once a month so he comes over to my house and we play. We love doing a duo, but we thought it would be nice to maybe make this into a trio. And we racked our brains and came up with Andrew. I'd been wanting to do something with Andrew and he with me for a long time, and I think Petr had already done some work with him, so it turns out to be a great fit,” Ellias said.
The trio's name originates from the Norwegian word for triangle, which Ellias said implied that each member in the trio was equally important – “and that we have the market cornered!” Any of the three instruments can take the lead, or be in an accompaniment role: “even Petr with clarinet can do arpeggios in the background or he might play mandolin background lines.”
It won't be “rhythm-section-oriented” like a piano trio: instead, lots of melody, and “a nice blend”, he said.
Each musician is contributing four songs to Saturday's set list. Cancura will primarily play clarinet, but may also double on mandolin or saxophone. He'll add in his long-standing interest in Americana and roots music, while Downing's pieces may be influenced by his interest in Turkish music.
The demo included one song by each: “one of them was a piece of mine which was very chamber-y; one of them was a piece of Petr's that was very bluegrass-y; and one of them was a piece of Andrew's which was very Turkish and in an odd time signature. So we thought well, this is nice: it defines the outer limits of what we're going to do. But at the same time we decided we needed to focus a little bit more so we decided that we'll just stick with more of a chamber approach.”
And a conversation. “I love playing with these guys because they listen and they respond – they're very reactive musicians. Nothing's set, right? So somebody hears something, and somebody responds to it, and I like that a lot.”
trekan will be recording a CD this summer, with the help of a grant they received based on the demo. They'll be trying out some possible pieces at Saturday's show, Ellias said. But after that, they don't have any definite gigs yet booked, “so this is just the beginning of that journey.”
And it's one of a number of projects Ellias has the freedom to undertake now that he's retired from full-time teaching. Last weekend, he was rehearsing with the four-guitar Walrus Quartet in Toronto. Next week, he goes to Montreal to mix the first Roddy Ellias Trio CD, which he hoped would be released in a month.
He's also starting a new project with Toronto singer Felicity Williams. And then there's looking for funding for a possible second installment in 2015 of the successful Guitar Now! festival he organized last May at Carleton University.
“And I'm going to start doing some solo stuff again, too. And some writing. I'll keep myself occupied.”
– Alayne McGregor