After 15 years playing together in Montreal, clarinetist Lori Freedman and bassist Nicolas Caloia decided it was time to create music together, in a daring new duo they call Mercury.
The music they're creating isn't straight jazz, and it takes improvised music to new places. They say they are “on the brink of finding a new sound aesthetic: unpredictable, untempered, organic, and irregular, but none-the-less, with cadence, consonance, transparency and silence.”
Freedman and Caloia are both prominent in Montreal's “actuelle” music community, performing what could be called freely improvised, or avant-garde, or new music. Caloia, who is originally from Ottawa (he moved to Montreal in 1989), is a composer, improviser, and double bassist. He leads groups ranging from duos, to his Tilting quartet, to Spell (his 10-piece marching band), to his 30-piece Ratchet Orchestra.
Freedman is a virtuoso player on all the clarinets, from the little Eb to the giant contrabass clarinet. She specializes in playing music by living composers – “I don't know when the last time I played music by a dead composer was” – but in contexts ranging from contemporary chamber music (including at Ottawa Chamberfest) to highly avant-garde. In addition to writing her own compositions, she often performs music specifically composed for her. She's a fearless jazz improviser: at the first Ottawa IMOOfest in 2012, every eye was riveted on her solo performance.
Saturday (April 21, 2018) is Record Store Day, a day which celebrates the culture of independent record stores. To mark it, OttawaJazzScene.ca interviewed John Thompson, the owner of The Record Centre in Ottawa. His store's core business is vintage vinyl and audio equipment, but he's expanded beyond that into supporting Ottawa's live music scene.
John Thompson is always on the hunt for great music.
For decades, he's been collecting and selling used vinyl – making a living doing exactly he loves and not having a "real job" – with jazz records a good part of his stock.
But more recently, he's expanded into current music – hosting live shows by local and touring musicians, and running his own record label.
Since 2014, Thompson's Record Centre store in Hintonburg has become a place for local musicians, including many jazz groups, to showcase their projects. The store has hosted more than 300 shows in the last four years. Some live-off-the-floor recordings at the store have been released on the store's own Record Centre record label.
One of the biggest live music events at the store was all jazz: 24 groups in 24 hours at the Jazz Ramble in 2016. Thompson said the store will be repeating that event next month: hosting a second Jazz Ramble in conjunction with the Ottawa Jazz Festival. The 2018 ramble will run from 10 a.m. on Friday, May 25 to 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 26.
The store has a large jazz collection, reflecting Thompson's own love of jazz. On a recent visit, he showed off many recent jazz acquisitions on vinyl – from Dave Brubeck to Roland Raahsan Kirk to Sun Ra, with some highly uncommon treasures.
When Roddy Ellias, Marc Copland, and Adrian Vedady entered the studio last May to record their first album together, they dumped their egos outside the door.
"There was nobody saying, 'Well, I'm playing this'. Everybody's listening to everybody and trying to just find something that fits together nicely. It's a real group dynamic and a group approach, with no ego," Ellias said.
The Ottawa guitarist, NYC pianist, and Montreal bassist debuted as a trio in Ottawa in 2012. They're back this weekend for two shows – Saturday in Montreal and Sunday in Ottawa – which will mark the official release of their first album, Sticks and Stones.
When the three performed at the Ottawa Jazz Festival last June, listeners who responded to OttawaJazzScene.ca's Jazz Festival Favs Poll were delighted. Descriptions of the show ranged from "Superb interactive musicianship and excellent compositions" to "Wonderfully simpatico with each other".
For Ellias, this trio has been a very special experience. "It's rare when you get three people so connected. The group dynamic is fantastic – it's a dream!"
While all three musicians take solos in the music, "none of us are over-extending. We're just trying to stay in the mood of the piece, and play the the piece. It's more about playing together and the group thing and making musical statements."
At Ottawa's summer music festivals – the Jazz Festival, Music & Beyond, Bluesfest, and Chamberfest – almost all of the hundreds of people who who keep the festival going are volunteers. And these festivals are already looking for volunteers for this summer.
Whether you want to sell tickets, usher at concerts, work on stages, sell beer or T-shirts, or pick up garbage (surprisingly, it can be fun), there’s a volunteer task that you could enjoy doing.
This Sunday (April 15), the Ottawa Jazz Festival is opening up applications for new volunteers (returning volunteers do not need to reapply). You will be asked about your skills, availability, and what volunteer jobs you're interested in. Applications for more popular slots close quickly, so it's advisable to apply soon.
For his current Dream Band project, Rob Frayne is simply writing what he loves.
"At this point, I think I'm old enough just to play from the heart. I turned 60 this year, and I realized, 'What the heck! Let's just go for it!' "
The Ottawa jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist will showcase 14 musicians at the NAC Fourth Stage on Wednesday, April 18, playing his recent compositions and arrangements. For this concert, he said, "I'm trying just to be myself" – and giving the same free-thinking direction to his musicians.
Frayne himself is a powerhouse in Ottawa's jazz scene: as a composer, arranger, teacher, and instrumentalist. He has led groups like the groundbreaking Chelsea Bridge, co-founded the JazzWorks jazz camp, and played across North America and beyond with everyone from Kenny Wheeler to the Gil Evans Orchestra to the Shuffle Demons.
He has picked his "dream" musicians, from Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, for this show – just as he did for previous Dream Band shows in 2012, 2013, and 2015. Each musician in the 2018 band has a considerable jazz pedigree: trombonist William Carn and alto saxophonist Tara Davidson, for example, were JUNO Award nominees this year.
The music they'll play reaches beyond mainstream jazz. One the one side there's percussion and groove; on the other, classical brass and woodwinds. And all of that's combined with jazz soloists on trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and guitar.
"There's two sides that are new: the South African, like Dollar Brand [early Abdullah Ibrahim] groovy African jazz, and the classical thing are different. Before, I think it was more straight-ahead, more jazzy. This time, it's a little more folk, a little more classical."
Compared to previous Dream Bands, this music is "a bit looser. It's a bit more groove-oriented. Half of the stuff is like that. Half the stuff is like lots of percussion and simple South African township jive groove. But the other half is, because I had the flute and clarinet and tuba, I was all of the sudden excited to use the classical vibe."
Updated April 12
The City of Ottawa is looking at both practical and bureaucratic methods of promoting local music, including finding new performance places and making it easier to load in equipment.
It has unveiled a proposed music strategy, to be implemented by both the city and the local music industry from now until 2020. The three-year strategy was unanimously passed at the city's Finance and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday and by City Council on April 11.
The strategy argues that the city will benefit from a vibrant music economy through "job creation, economic growth, tourism development, city brand building and artistic growth. A strong music community also aids in attracting highly skilled employees from across various industries, who put a high value on quality of life."
The goal is to "create hometown pride and global renown". It aims to create a "music friendly" environment where "musicians and music businesses of all sizes and types, from live music venues to studios to manufacturers, can flourish".
The committee approved implementing only the first stage of the strategy, with primarily bureaucratic changes. They include reassigning a city staff person to be a Music Development Officer, responsible for implementing the strategy in coordination with the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC), and providing $100,000 in funding to OMIC in 2018. It also agreed to promote music-friendly policies in planning, transportation, and bylaw/police departments (for example, noise regulations).
Sweet but with a rough edge, and deeply emotional, the harmonica is an unmistakable – but not often heard – jazz voice. As Normand Glaude has been increasingly adding harmonica to his jazz shows over the past few years he's been delighted at how many people in his audiences recognize and enjoy it.
“Every time I get the harmonica out there's always a number of people that come to me and say 'Wow, I love the way you sound. It just reminds me of Toots!'”
That's Toots Thielemans, the Belgian-American master of the jazz harmonica, who in his 65-year career turned it into a recognized jazz instrument and collaborated with the cream of jazz musicians. He's one of Glaude's musical heroes, and Glaude will present a tribute to his music on Friday, April 6.
Glaude is a well-appreciated member of Ottawa's jazz scene. For almost three decades, he's played double and electric bass, produced shows, and been a recording engineer and producer. He's a favourite accompanist, especially for local jazz vocalists, and has recorded many albums in his Morning Anthem Studio.
But the harmonica is both the oldest and the newest addition to his repertoire. It was the first instrument he learned, at age 4 or 5 – “I was playing reels and jigs and such as a kid.” But he let it go in favour of other instruments, eventually concentrating on the bass. “I really enjoyed being part of the foundation of the music in any group, orchestration, and that role [as bassist] has been one that I think has fit my personality really well.”
About 2010 he picked up the harmonica again. “I've always enjoyed the sound on bass, but it just doesn't have the appeal and the voice that, say, the harmonica has. It was very much of a little secret.”
Updated March 26, 2018
Diana Krall was a double winner tonight at the 2018 JUNO Awards – in her home province.
Krall's latest album, Turn Up the Quiet, was named Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, and Krall was named Jack Richardson Producer of the Year for two of its tracks: “L-O-V-E” and “Night and Day”. She performed both of those songs in her concert at Ottawa's National Arts Centre on December 2.
Toronto bassist Mike Downes won Jazz Album of the Year: Solo for his album Root Structure. At the ceremony, Downes thanked his bandmates, drummer Larnell Lewis, guitarist Ted Quinlan, and JUNO-winning pianist Robi Botos, saying "They put music first". He also acknowledged the other nominees, and said he was "so proud to be part of the community creating all of this". This was Downes' second JUNO nomination and second win (he won for Ripple Effect in 2014).
Mike Murley, David Braid, Anders Mogensen and Johnny Åman won Jazz Album of the Year: Group for The North. It's a joint Canadian-Scandinavian project whose original music is inspired by the experience of living and playing jazz in northern countries. Murley and Braid, who are both from Toronto, have often played in each others' projects. They have each been nominated for 8 JUNOs and (separately) won 2.
The awards were given out at the JUNO Gala Dinner tonight in Vancouver, at which most non-pop awards were announced.
Updated July 19
Gypsy jazz, Gershwin, and the Great American songbook will all be featured in the 2018 edition of the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival (Chamberfest).
On May 1, the festival unveiled the full list of shows which it will present from July 26 to August 9, 2018 in a slightly longer programme than usual to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The announced shows are primarily from the core classical repertoire, but several are also of interest to jazz fans.
On July 26 and 27, violin virtuoso Roby Lakatos will appear with his gypsy jazz quartet. Lakatos comes from a family of Romani violinists descended from Janos Bihari, an influential composer and performer who brought gypsy music into aristocratic fashion in the early 19th century, and whose melodies were used by Liszt and Beethoven.
Lakatos moves easily between classical, jazz, and his native Hungarian folk idioms. His violin training came both from within his own family, and at the Béla Bartók Conservatory of Budapest, where he won the first prize for classical violin in 1984. His biography notes that he has collaborated with Vadim Repin and Stéphane Grappelli, and his playing was greatly admired by Sir Yehudi Menuhin, who always made a point of visiting the club in Brussels to hear Lakatos. In the jazz realm, his ensemble has played with Herbie Hancock, Nigel Kennedy, and Randy Brecker.
Last fall, Lakatos and guitarist Biréli Lagrène – who also played with Stéphane Grappelli as a youth – released Tribute to Stéphane & Django, along with the big band of the Modern Art Orchestra, and jazz drummer Niek de Bruijn and guitarist Andreas Varady. The CD/DVD included Jazz Manouche standards such as "Djangology", "Nuages", "Minor Swing", and "Nuits de Saint-Germain-Des-Près".
Lakatos will perform a classically-oriented concert on July 26 at Dominion Chalmers United Church, and a jazzier late-night concert on July 27 at the École Secondaire de la Salle in Lowertown. [Read our review and see the pictures of the July 27 show.]
Most tributes to Jazz Age composer George Gershwin either concentrate on the piano or give his music a full orchestral treatment. But Montreal's Buzz Brass quintet has a different idea: their Gershwin show combines piano with two trumpets, two trombones, and French horn.
Ross Taggart was a central figure in Vancouver's and Canada’s jazz scene, as a pianist, saxophonist, educator, and composer. CBC Radio's “Hot Air” jazz program described him as “one of our most beloved jazz musicians, and a founding member of many of the best jazz bands in BC.” When he became seriously ill with cancer in 2012, musicians immediately organized a benefit for him. He died in 2013, at only 45.
He was also a very important person in pianist Sharon Minemoto's life. He was her teacher, the saxophonist in her jazz quintet, and for a number of years her husband – and always a beloved friend.
Minemoto has dedicated her new CD, Safe Travels, to Taggart, and she and her quartet are about begin a short Ontario tour to introduce it here. Their first stop, on Friday, March 23, is at GigSpace in Ottawa, followed by shows in Waterloo and Toronto.
She emphasizes this won't be a sad occasion.
“I hope that they will hear our passion for the music, and I hope that if any of them know Ross they will perhaps hear the humour in it. Because we really don't feel a lot of sadness when we're playing that music anymore. It's mostly just remembering all the fun times that we had with Ross.”