The 2018 edition of Merrickville's Jazz Fest closed Sunday with a powerful performance by Ottawa vocalist Kellylee Evans. Supported by three Toronto musicians, Evans both exhorted and entertained her audience with personal stories and uplifting music which combined soul, pop, and jazz.
It was part dancefest, part revival meeting, and a consistently joyful and stirring show.
Five colourful musicians created a powerhouse of Afro-Cuban energy Saturday evening. OKAN (violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez and percussionist Magdelys Savigne) from Toronto collaborated with Ottawa pianist Miguel de Armas to present new compositions and arrangements very much in the Afro-Cuban and jazz traditions, but in their own modern voices.
Violin, congas, cajon, and Batá drums combined with piano, electric bass (Roberto Riverón), and drums (Frank Martinez) in music that ranged from folkloric chants to Cuban son to Thelonious Monk to rumbas to intensely personal songs.
Every seat was taken in the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage – and there were fans perched in the window ledges as well. Each song was greeted with strong applause, and by the last song, most of the audience was up dancing, and stayed on their feet to give the group a standing ovation and to demand an encore.
The ensemble is back in the Fourth Stage Sunday evening (October 14) for a second show. Tickets are still available.
Nominations are now open for a two-year term on the board of directors of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. The board is responsible for the festival, including decisions on the overall artistic direction such as the balance of jazz and non-jazz, overall size and budget of the festival, and the role of the festival in the community.
If you want to take an active role in directing the festival, this is your only opportunity to apply, once a year.
Nominations must be received by Wednesday, October 31, 2018. Anyone can run for the board, but you must be nominated by an active festival volunteer. A list of volunteers was printed in the summer festival program guide.
Cuban violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez was very lonely four years ago, in her first full winter after arriving in Canada. But she turned that experience into a song of hope.
“I was 23. I was extremely sad, and I didn't even know why. I started writing, and this one is about how hard it is to leave Cuba, and all things that I left behind: my family, my mother, my country, my language. And even though I really wanted to leave Cuba for the longest time, I found myself missing home and missing my family, and missing everything I knew. The only thing I had was hope, here, because it was a new country and a new life.”
The song has become the title track of the debut album by OKAN, the Afro-Cuban band which Rodriguez co-leads with percussionist Magdelys Savigne. With the album release this month, the band is touring Ontario, including two joint concerts this weekend with Afro-Cuban jazz pianist Miguel de Armas at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa
Rodriguez called her song (and the album) “Laberinto”, which means “labyrinth” in Yoruba, an Afro-Cuban dialect. “It's like a journey that we went through. I wrote it as a ballad years ago, and then Magdelys was the one that made the full arrangement with percussion. The percussion is representing the journey, the constant movement that we had to go through as immigrants.”
Both Rodriguez and Savigne originally came to Canada as members of Maqueque, the award-winning, all-female Cuban jazz group led by Canadian saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett. Savigne was a founding member, while Rodriguez joined a year later. Both appeared on Maqueque's most recent album, Oddara, and when Maqueque performed in Ottawa in 2016.
Rodriguez, in fact, almost didn't stay. She arrived in Canada in February, 2013, and returned home 11 days later. “I was like, 'No! I ain't staying here.' Even though I really wanted to leave Cuba. In February, it was so, so, so extremely cold.” She returned that summer and realized the Canadian climate could be nice – and was able to brave the next winter.
Kellylee Evans, Ori Dagan, Rafael Zaldivar, and Nick Maclean will headline the 2018 edition of Merrickville's Jazz Fest (MJF) – along with a Saturday night swing dance with Peter Liu and the Pollcats.
The festival, now in its 8th year, runs from Thursday, October 11, to Sunday, October 14 in Merrickville, a small, historic town about an hour's drive (77 km) south of Ottawa. Jazz will again animate the venues known warmly to MJF audiences: local restaurants, churches, the Baldachin Hotel ballroom, the town's community centre, and its arts centre.
MJF continues to uphold its firm commitment to the jazz mainstream, with no side trips into rock and pop acts. Its 2018 line-up showcases a wide variety of jazz styles, from standards, to Afro-Cuban and Latin, to funk and groove, to contemporary jazz. It mixes promising and established jazz artists, vocals and instrumental jazz, local musicians with those from Toronto and Montreal, and familiar jazz faces with those new to this area.
Ottawa jazz vocalist Karen Oxorn will open the festival with a completely new collaboration, “Vocals and Violin”. She's teaming up with three veteran Toronto jazz musicians, performing standards by some of the group’s favourite performers and songwriters to the accompaniment of guitar, bass, and violin. The Thursday evening concert is free to anyone who has bought a festival pass or ticket to another festival show.
Saxophonist Samuel Blais is an important voice in Montreal's jazz scene, playing in groups small and large, including l'Orchestre Nationale de Jazz de Montreal. He's had long-time collaborations with musicians from both sides of the border (New York City and Montreal).
His current quartet features some of the strongest younger voices from his own city, who are also known for creating their own music: pianist Jérôme Beaulieu (MISC and Bellflower), bassist Olivier Babaz, and drummer Alain Bourgeois (Parc X).
After a four-year break, Blais has just released a new CD with this quartet. He's on tour this week in Quebec and Ontario to showcase the CD, Equilibrium. They'll perform on Friday, September 28, at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios in Ottawa.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor talked to Blais on the phone this week, before his second show in Toronto. This is a lightly edited version of the interview.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What are you playing at Record Runner?
Blais: We’re going to play all the nine tunes from the new record, and probably one or two from previous albums.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did you team up with this all-Montreal quartet? I was looking back at your previous Ottawa shows, and, five years ago, you were doing more cross-border collaborations.
Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii looked slightly bemused as she addressed the near-capacity audience at IMOO Fest 2018 in GigSpace Saturday evening.
"We've had such a special week", she said, with a tornado and a power outage. But this "special treatment" hasn't been too bad so far, she assured the crowd.
IMOO Fest 2018, which Fujii and her trio were headlining, had showed considerable resilience this weekend. The music never stopped, even when the power did for most of Ottawa due to the damage caused by two tornados (EF/3 and EF/2) late Friday afternoon.
The festival concludes this evening (Sunday) with four hour-long shows at GigSpace starting at 6 p.m., including a solo piano set by Fujii and her conducting the IMOO Orchestra in one of her large-scale compositions.
Enthusiastic listeners make a vibrant jazz scene.
Our first Listener of the Month, Brad Evans is, without question, one of these listeners.
Like many other jazz fans, Evans doesn’t have formal music training. That hasn’t stopped him from organizing a music festival this weekend which includes renowned Canadian jazz musicians and Japanese improvisers: IMOO Fest 2018.
He talked with me about his journey into jazz listening. This is an edited version of our conversation.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How many shows on average have you seen in the last year?
Brad Evans:I go out about twice a week from about May to November and hibernate a bit in the winter. It depends on the weather and road conditions, and sometimes even my mood. If it’s pitch black at a 6 p.m. on a Sunday, sometimes I can’t get motivated.
“Doing something like this is something I daydreamed about for a few years”, says Brad Evans, the driving force, financial backer, and very much hands-on organizer of IMOO Fest 2018. The festival, which runs from this Friday through Sunday, features top jazz and improving musicians from Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Japan performing original music that won’t be heard the same way again.
Evans is a software developer by day, and a very enthusiastic live music fan during the evenings and weekends. We’ve seen him at many, many live performances over the years, and he's a regular at the biweekly Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais (IMOO) shows. It isn’t surprising that he is OttawaJazzScene.ca’s first Listener of the Month this month. He’s had a fascinating journey into jazz and improvised music.
Improvisation is normally thought of as happening on the stage, as it will happen on the stages this weekend at IMOO Fest. But Evans has also invoked his own improvisational magic – and determination – in the past year to bring together his dream festival, which other listeners can enjoy with him this weekend.
He shared with me how IMOO Fest 2018 came to be, from daydream to tickets you can buy. This is an edited transcript of our conversation.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did you get involved in IMOO Fest 2018?
Brad Evans: It was June of last year, 15 months ago, I was looking ahead to this year. I knew that at some point this year my house would be paid off, so I could do something stupid with my money after that [he laughs].