Don Byron (photo: Christine Southworth)
Don Byron (photo: Christine Southworth)

The Ottawa Chamberfest will feature renowned jazz clarinetist Don Byron this summer in three shows – two jazz, and one more reminiscent of Brahms.

That's typical of this year's festival and in particular its late-night Chamberfringe. Many of its concerts will cross musical boundaries, combining jazz, classical, world music, and other genres:

“I'm thrilled to be able to have a number of very cool jazz components at this festival,” Chamberfest artistic director Roman Borys told at the festival launch April 15. “It's always a very special treat for me."

For jazz fans, the highest-profile show will be Don Byron's New Gospel Quintet on July 25. In 2012, Byron released Love, Peace, and Soul, a jazz hommage to the gospel tradition, and in particular the legacies of Thomas A. Dorsey and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. He's been touring that combination of traditional Christian hymns with the rhythmic disciplines of jazz and blues ever since.

Roman Borys saw Byron perform with the quintet last fall in Toronto: “It was just fantastic.” That lineup included several Toronto jazz musicians who will also play at Chamberfest: Michael Occhipinti (guitar) and Roberto Occhipinti (bass), and Juno-awarding winning vocalist Divine Brown, who has a five-octave vocal range.

Both Byron and Borys are friends with Michael Occhipinti, and Occhipinti had suggested a collaboration between himself, the Gryphon Trio (which includes Borys on cello), and Byron. So Borys and Byron then met in Borys' kitchen and hit it off.

“I'm thrilled to have him up here. It's quite overdue,” Borys said.

In fact, Byron fans will have an entire weekend to enjoy seeing him. On July 26, Occhipinti's Sicilian Jazz Project will perform. While local audiences could have seen this project in Aylmer last summer and at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival in February, this won't be a repeat. The band will be playing new material; a new vocalist, Franco-Italian singer Pilar, will make her North American debut; and Byron will join in too.

And then the next day, Byron and the Gryphon Trio will perform a free concert: the world premiere of a new quartet by Byron – the first in a series of jazz collaborations that the chamber music trio hopes to unveil over the next few years.

When asked to describe the new piece, Borys said, “He has a very very wide range as a composer. When I spoke with him a few weeks ago, he said, 'Well, it's kind of sounding like Brahms!' So it will be a piece that isn't necessarily jazz ... it will just be Don Byron the composer: it will represent everything he is as an artist, and that's quite a wide ... he's a man of great artistic breadth.”

Even Byron's infrequent appearances in Ottawa show that. He was last here at the 2012 Ottawa Jazz Festival backing up Allen Toussaint. At the 2007 jazz festival, his septet celebrated the music of soul legend Junior Walker in a mainstage performance. He has also created jazz music inspired by everything from funk-drenched R&B to klezmer to Duke Ellington

"Something right out of Star Trek"

The following Friday (August 1), Ottawa improvising percussionist and composer Jesse Stewart will move off the earth for his newest project: Sounds from Space: The Voyager Golden Record Remix Project.

Back in 1977, when the two Voyager space probes were launched to explore the outer ranges of the solar system and beyond, two golden records were affixed to the probes, containing images and sounds which NASA hoped would represent humanity. Stewart will remix those images and sounds using his newest instrument, the Reactable, which he unveiled in February for Memories of Ice at Winterlude. The Reactable allows him to combine, overlay, and morph audio and video clips to create a new composition – or to improvise on the spot.

Borys describes it as “something right out of Star Trek.”

“Jesse is an incredibly innovative artist. He's a performance artist, he's a jazz drummer, he's an incredible creative force, and I wanted to give him a special platform this year. He took that to his workshop and he came back to me with this amazing idea to do this riff with the Golden Records project. It really fits particularly well with the spirit of the Chamberfringe series as I see it: innovative, stepping way outside anybody's sense of boundaries, but yet it's an intimate artistic exploration.”

The Lemon Bucket Orkestra to create a true community concert

Borys was also excited about the return of the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, whose wild late-night concert at last year's festival brought their audience to its feet. This year, the Orkestra will be in Ottawa for a week, working with community groups, culminating with a concert on August 2.

In Toronto, the Orkestra holds an annual community performance called the Blackout every August 11, commemorating the day the power went out over most of Eastern North America in 2003. Borys said. “They reach out in the months prior and they just connect with all sorts of community groups, whether it's a local samba group, whether it's a Ukrainian dance troupe. They have great expertise actually in gathering forces, coming up with a common language, a common plan, and then surprising everybody.”

The Orkestra has already started doing this in Ottawa, with Stewart's help – but it's too early to tell what the final form the event will take or who will be involved. Even its location is secret, only be revealed over social media near the date.

“This really fabulous community project is difficult to describe now because I know it's going to change and take many turns,” Borys said. “But it's really exciting. The way they go about unleashing their public performances always involves being like two steps away from doing something illegal, which makes it very exciting and lots of fun!”

Jazz that reaches back in time, and around the world – or goes video

Other jazz-related events at the 2014 Chamberfest include:

  • July 24: CBC radio host and jazz trombonist Tom Allen’s “From Weimar to Vaudeville”: a theatrical reimagining of the 1920s and 30s with music by Fats Waller, Fletcher Henderson, and Kurt Weill, as well as classical compositions and original cast songs.
  • July 26: a free afternoon concert with the Sultans of String, who combine Gypsy jazz, Spanish flamenco, global roots, and Cuban rhythms.
  • July 29: violinist Mark Fewer will give a free late afternoon talk about his career as a classical and jazz musician. Fewer was the featured soloist on Phil Dwyer's Juno-award-winning album, Changing Seasons, and brought down the house with his 40th birthday concert at the 2012 Chamberfest.
  • July 29: Toronto guitarist Graham Campbell frequently plays jazz, reggae, and traditional and modern Brazilian music (among other genres) and has composed for both big bands and string quartets. He'll be working with the classical Afiara Quartet and clarinetist James Campbell (who played with Phil Nimmons and David Braid at the 2011 Chamberfest). The festival says the result will be a lush chamber sound brought to jazz, Brazilian choro, and newer works.
  • August 2: The members of the Grammy-nominated group Tiempo Libre were all classically trained in Cuba's conservatories. They will be showcasing their 2009 album Bach in Havana, which blends the rhythms and melodies of Afro-Cuban jazz and the melodies and harmonies of Johann Sebastian Bach.
  • August 2: The versatile Toronto multi-instrumentalist/composer Andrew Downing has had a long-standing interest in Turkish music and culture, visiting the country frequently. At this concert, he and Güç Başar Gülle from Istanbul will play selections from their first collaborative CD, Anahtar: a collection of new compositions about İstanbul and its mosaic of cultures, beliefs and people, played on ud (Turkish lute), cello, percussion, and kaval. The music is inspired both by centuries-old Ottoman/Turkish Makam music, and by the Gezi Park protests Downing witnessed in Istanbul last year. Those who attended the Trekan concert last January with Downing, Roddy Ellias, and Petr Cancura might remember them playing one of Downing's Turkish-inspired compositions in a jazz context, to beautiful effect.
  • August 3: Avant-garde guitarist Tim Brady gives a free late afternoon talk about his 24 Frames project. Also appearing: pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico
  • August 5: Tim Brady performs 24 Frames for video and electric guitar, his second major collaboration with Montréal video artist Martin Messier. Brady's work as a composer combines elements of contemporary chamber music, jazz, rock and electroacoustic music; he last performed this project in Ottawa in 2011.

The lineups for several free and two ticketed concerts have yet to be announced.

    – Alayne McGregor

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