Django [2017]
directed by Étienne Comar
ByTowne Cinema (August 4-10, 2017)

To modern ears, gypsy jazz (aka jazz manouche) sounds as fresh as when guitarist and composer Django Reinhardt first invented it. Rooted in the exotic music he learned growing up in gypsy caravans, and then reinvented through the American jazz of Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, his music was, by the late 1930s, hugely popular in France and England.

And no wonder! The combination of Reinhardt on guitar and Stéphane Grappelli on violin was intense and compelling, and Reinhardt's compositions like “Minor Swing” became immediate and memorable classics. Whether live or on recordings, the music of their Quintette du Hot Club de France grabbed their audiences with its all-encompassing swing and drive. You can see and hear that energy at the beginning of this film, with an extended recreation of a Paris concert by the quintet.

That's a real strength of this film: it never loses sight of the fact that music was the essence of Django Reinhardt and the core of his life. At one point, he's asked, “Do you know music?”, and replies, “No, but music knows me!”

To Django, music and his family and friends were what mattered – certainly not outside politics. As far as he was concerned, World War II was a gjado war – not a concern of himself or his fellow Roma (gypsies). Perhaps he was unwilling to recognize the evil, perhaps he was naïve, or perhaps he felt he had more important things to think about.

David Braid n' Strings
with David Braid, Mark Fewer, Annalee Patipatanakoon, Jethro Marks, and Roman Borys
Ottawa Chamberfest
La Nouvelle Scène
Saturday, July 29, 2017 – 10 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Toronto jazz pianist David Braid is well worth hearing on his own, but the all-star string quartet he performed with on July 29 at Chamberfest added immeasurably to the impact of his compositions – which, as he explained to the audience, was what he was aiming for.

David Braid with string quartet at Chamberfest ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Pianist David Braid's music was beautifully interpreted by a Chamberfest string quartet including violinists Mark Fewer and Annalee Patipatanakoon ©Brett Delmage, 2017

He said that he had originally written one of these pieces for solo piano – but the piece included many long notes, which a piano can't fully sustain. “So I was smarter and I arranged it for instruments that can do things like sustaining notes. Apparently I have sustaining note jealousy, as Mark Fewer pointed out.”

Over the last dozen years, Braid has slowly transformed his own performances from primarily mainstream jazz to longer, more complex works for more diverse groups: jazz orchestra and nonet, symphony orchestra, and brass quintet. In particular, he's collaborated with chamber music groups; since 2011, he has been regularly performing in Europe, China, and North America with string quartets.

At this concert, the musicians played Braid's compositions: some new pieces and some older pieces in new arrangements. His latest album, Flow [2016], is an exploration of these pieces with the Epoque String Quartet from Prague; it was nominated this year for a Juno Award in the Instrumental (aka 'this doesn't fit anywhere else') category. He included three pieces from that album here.

John Stetch played inside and outside the piano and the music at his Chamberfest show ©Brett Delmage, 2017
John Stetch played inside and outside the piano and the music at his Chamberfest show ©Brett Delmage, 2017

John Stetch
Ottawa Chamberfest
La Nouvelle Scène
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 – 10 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

There are times when classical music can feel too constrained, a bit too perfectly enunciated within very strict and unyielding borders. That's not an problem with jazz pianist John Stetch, who quickly kicked away the boundaries in his show at the 2017 Chamberfest.

Stetch primarily played pieces from his 2014 Juno-nominated album, Off With the Cuffs, which consists of his jazz reimaginings of pieces by classical composers including Bach, Mozart, and Chopin, and from his earlier album Ukrainianism, whose pieces are inspired by folk melodies from his Ukrainian-Canadian heritage. It was a similar set-list to his show in Ottawa last September, but with a few added jazz standards and some changes in the classical repertoire.

He opened the hour-long show with probably his least-populist piece, especially for a chamber music audience. “Rye, Not Wheat!” is based on an Ukrainian wedding song, or rather permutations of that melody. But by the time Stetch finished with it, what it actually sounded like was a scatter-shot presentation of miniature musical ideas, all interesting but none actually coalescing. Here, there, back again, over somewhere else: the moods, the styles, the sounds, the speed kept changing before finally dissolving into individual notes and fading out. It was technically interesting but also frustrating.

He followed that with a much more interesting piece: his exploration of Mozart's Sonata No. 333 in B flat major, played in a bright pointillist style (almost ragtime in feel), and including delicate brushing of the strings inside the piano. He played it fast, with minimal sustain and emphasizing rhythm over melody – and then abruptly changed to playing what sounded like a fragile lullaby. It appeared as though he was removing the outer structure of the piece and exposing its beating heart – it certainly made the performance less predictable!

Joel Quarrington and Dave Young ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Joel Quarrington and Dave Young ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Joel Quarrington and the Two Bass Hit
with Joel Quarrington, Dave Young, Bernie Senensky, and James Parker
Ottawa Chamberfest
National Gallery of Canada
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 – 1 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Double bassists stick together, even if one plays in a symphony orchestra and the other in a jazz quartet. Joel Quarrington has known Dave Young since Quarrington was 17, and that easy familiarity infused their performances in their 'Two Bass Hit' concert at Chamberfest Wednesday afternoon.

The show attracted packed audience to the National Gallery auditorium – many of whom were clearly Quarrington fans. When CBC radio producer Robert Harris introduced the show, he said Quarrington “used to be” the principal bassist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Voices all around the auditorium immediately corrected him: “he still is!”

Wes Montgomery Tribute
with Mike Rud, Michel Delage, Alex Bilodeau, and Peter Hum
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, June 10, 2017 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Fluid guitar, bright piano, propulsive bass and drums, and overall high energy: that's what the audience enjoyed Saturday in a tribute to guitarist and composer Wes Montgomery at Brookstreet.

Guitarist Mike Rud gave a vibrant performance of classic numbers by Wes Montgomery at Brookstreet, including duets with pianist Peter Hum ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Guitarist Mike Rud gave a vibrant performance of classic numbers by Wes Montgomery at Brookstreet, including duets with pianist Peter Hum ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Montgomery has been a long-time jazz hero to Montreal guitarist Mike Rud [Read the OttawaJazzScene.ca interview with Rud about this show], and he communicated that enthusiasm for Montgomery's repertoire to both his bandmates and those listening. The quartet played a good selection of well-known pieces by Montgomery, plus standards in the same style.

From the first few notes of the first set, there was a distinctive style evident in the music: fast but not flashy, accomplished and almost inevitable in the way one note followed the next. The songs felt polished to a fine sheen, logically consistent and carefully put together for maximum impact.

Overall, it had a strong early 60s vibe – in Montgomery's heyday – in the mode of the playing and the material: sophisticated and well-finished. And did I mention fast? Most of the pieces were really fast.

Tribute to Horace Silver
with Michel Delage, Steve Boudreau, Alex Bilodeau, Ed Lister, and Richard Page
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, May 27, 2017 – 8 p.m.

Even for fans of pianist and composer Horace Silver, the music performed at Michel Delage's May tribute show was substantially different.

The latest jazz tribute from Michel Delage (r) featured lesser-known, but high-quality music by hard bop piano master Horace Silver. Also playing: pianist Steve Boudreau and bassist Alex Bilodeau, along with (not shown) saxophonist Richard Page and trumpeter Ed Lister ©Brett Delmage, 2017
The latest jazz tribute from Michel Delage (r) featured lesser-known, but high-quality music by hard bop piano master Horace Silver. Also playing: pianist Steve Boudreau and bassist Alex Bilodeau, along with (not shown) saxophonist Richard Page and trumpeter Ed Lister ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Yes, it certainly was Silver's music, and just as enjoyable as I expected – but it went beyond the standard pieces one always hears. Instead, the quintet treated the listeners in the Options Jazz Lounge to a collection of hard bop tunes and soulful ballads which demonstrated the depth of Silver's writing. Four of them were taken from his less-known 1973 album, In Pursuit of the 27th Man.

For this show, drummer Michel Delage assembled a quintet of Ottawa musicians: his frequent musical partner Alex Bilodeau on double bass, Steve Boudreau taking Silver's place on piano and transcribing much of the material, and the strong front line of Ed Lister on trumpet and Richard Page on baritone sax. Page showed the versatility of his baritone in this show, often playing smoothly up in the tenor range to reflect the original instrumentation on the albums (In Pursuit of the 27th Man, for example, featured Michael Brecker on tenor).

Lister and Page have often performed together. In fact their “Hard Bop Association” group often played Silver's tunes. You could hear that easy familiarity in their lovingly-blended tones throughout the evening. They frequently played together – in unison, alternating lines, or playing contrasting lines – in energetic, inventive, and evocative forms.

D.D. Jackson
Ottawa Kiwanis Music Festival 2017 Highlights Concert
Algonquin Commons Theatre, Ottawa
Thursday, May 18, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.

Coming back to Ottawa gave D.D. Jackson the inspiration for a name for one of his new compositions.

The Ottawa-raised, now New Jersey-resident, pianist has recently returned to jazz, and has been on a furious composition kick lately. He's planned to record his new jazz pieces this summer for a new CD.

He told the audience at the Kiwanis Music Festival Highlights Concert Thursday evening that he had been trying to find a title for one piece, and realized that “in coming here, I had the perfect title from what I was trying to express, and didn't realize it – and that is 'Homecoming'.”

Jackson is back in his home town this week for two concerts. He was the special guest at the annual student highlights concert on Thursday, and will play a duo show at GigSpace on Friday.

To warm up, Jackson opened with Thelonious Monk's “I Mean You” – surrounding the angular melody with complex flurries of notes, almost obscuring the piece's highly-recognizable off-kilter rhythm. The original peeked through, but this was definitely a more dramatic and less-standard rendition. Jackson played it with his entire body, tapping his foot in time, almost attacking the keyboard in places, and at one point bending down to the keys to listen.

He then presented three new compositions: “These are brand-new – I've never played them for anybody.” He started with “Homecoming”, a beautiful ballad expressing both the joy and mixed feeling of returning. Its contemplative melody was accented by gleaming strings of pointillist notes flying above.

Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) #158: Our first house concert
with David Broscoe, David Jackson, Rory Magill, Linsey Wellman
Sunday, May 7, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

A new concert location gave inspiration for new sounds from four of Ottawa's mainstay improvising musicians at the most recent IMOO concert.

David Jackson did not bring his guitar, but he brought and performed samples of it  ©Brett Delmage, 2017
David Jackson did not bring his guitar, but he brought and performed samples of it ©Brett Delmage, 2017

With IMOO temporarily between regular locations – the House of Common space has been re-purposed and the General Assembly is not yet finished renovations – the Ottawa avant-garde jazz concert series needed a place for its bi-weekly concerts.

IMOO regular listener Bradley Evans stepped up, offering his suburban house in North Kanata for their next show. Evans' basement rec room turned out to be a fine location, very quiet and with lots of resonance, which the musicians took full advantage of. Evans brought down chairs from around the house and set up a simple concert space in the room, with hockey action figures cheering on from the high windowsills.

Rory Magill carried the different pieces of his xylophone around the bends in the stairs, and reassembled it. David Broscoe brought down his alto and baritone saxophones in their cases – plus a bag of interesting assorted musical accompaniments which included tuning forks, mallets, a metal tart pan, assorted pop cans, a Nigerian cowbell, a Chinese gong, and ceramic pieces from knob and tube electrical wiring, which he spread out on a cloth in front of him.

Modern Jazz Happening
with MAH2 (Musicians are Humans Too) and the Adema-Smith Quartet
Pressed
Wednesday, May 10, 2017 - 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Ottawa listeners turned out in force Wednesday, to welcome back two young musicians who have just finished their jazz studies at the University of Toronto, and to send off another who will start there next fall. It was the latest in a developing tradition of talented young musicians performing at Pressed in May after returning from music studies elsewhere.

Saxophonist Patrick Smith and trombonist Nicholas Adema consistently played delicious harmonies ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Saxophonist Patrick Smith and trombonist Nicholas Adema consistently played delicious harmonies ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Pressed was packed with listeners for a double bill: the Adema-Smith Quartet, and MAH2 (Musicians are Humans Too). All the seats were taken, and a few people were standing at the side of the room.MAH2 consists of drummer Keagan Eskritt from Ottawa plus two other U of T jazz students: trumpeter Kaelin Murphy from Owen Sound, and Caleb Klager from Calgary (and previously from Ottawa). The Adema-Smith Quartet is led by saxophonist Patrick Smith and trombonist Nicholas Adema, plus two “mainstays of the Ottawa scene” (as Smith described them): drummer Michel Delage and bassist J.P. Lapensée. Eskritt and Smith have just finished their final year of their bachelor's degree at U of T, while Adema begins his first year studying jazz there next fall.

Both sets showcased many originals by band members. MAH2 played primarily freely improvised pieces, each with a specified starting inspiration, such as the music of rapper J Dilla, or the devastation of the current local floods, or thoughts of summer. They also included compositions by Eskritt and Klager.

The GigSpace Jazz MicroFest opened Friday to full houses and enthusiastic applause throughout.

Karen Oxorn sang a breezy and upbeat set of standards inspired by recent jazz cruises, accompanied by Tim Bedner on guitar and Mark Alcorn on bass. ©2017 Brett Delmage
Karen Oxorn sang a breezy and upbeat set of standards inspired by recent jazz cruises, accompanied by Tim Bedner on guitar and Mark Alcorn on bass. ©2017 Brett Delmage
The festival, whose aim is to celebrate jazz in Ottawa, featured two vocal groups and two instrumental groups for its first evening – and not one of them sounded anything like the others.

Vocalist Karen Oxorn opened the festival with a breezy and fun set of standards all related to two jazz cruises she recently sailed on. She recounted the not-so-mournful tale of a lover on one ship who was not meant to be, and added a new original and well-crafted verse to “Nice 'n' Easy” talking about that experience. Accompanied by Tim Bedner on guitar and Mark Alcorn on bass, she sang several new-to-her sea-linked songs, as well as “Let's Get Lost”, a song she heard Cyrille Aimee sing during one of the jazz cruise concerts.

Oxorn also paid tribute to her perennial favourite singer, Ella Fitzgerald, with two songs, including a heartfelt and lovely “How Deep is the Ocean?”. I particularly liked the Stephen Sondheim number, “Live Alone And Like It”, a tune in which her smooth clear vocals nicely delivered the clever lyrics. She closed with the sweet Caribbean vibe of the Henri Salvador tune "Dans mon île" – another sea-related song – and told the audience that the song is said to have been an influence on Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim in developing the bossa nova.