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©Brett Delmage, 2018
Listeners take in the improvised performance by (l-r) Joane Hétu,  Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Pierre-Yves Martel, and Émilie Mouchous (not visible)  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

HMMH (Hétu / Martel / Mouchous / Hübsch)
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa and Outwards (IMOO)
General Assembly
Sunday, December 9, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

When you're operating on the bleeding edge of music, the old rules don't precisely apply.

New instruments, new methods of playing them, new combinations – all those characterized HMMH's concert at IMOO on Sunday. It was not a show that one could judge based on its fidelity to a musical text – it was, after all, completely improvised – nor was there a specific style or genre that it adhered to.

It was as much visual as aural – what exactly is making that sound? And it was almost as much of a process of exploration for the audience as it was for the musicians, as one listened to and absorbed the music that was being born in the moment.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
The duo constantly engaged listeners throughout their performance, despite other noisy NAC activities behind the audience  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

François Jalbert and Jérôme Beaulieu
NAC Presents
Canada's National Arts Centre, Peter Herrndorf Place
Thursday, November 22, 2018 – 8:30 p.m.

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It was a simple set-up: a bare stage with one grand piano and one acoustic guitar – and two long-time friends whose playing complemented and enhanced each other.

Guitarist François Jalbert and pianist Jérôme Beaulieu are well-known in Montreal's jazz and indie scenes. They've been playing together for years in different bands, and more recently as a duo. In 2017, they released an all-acoustic album together, This is a Real Place, and they performed primarily from that CD in this show.

The concert was thoughtful and intimate, with music that drew you in and repaid careful listening. The music ranged from folk to bluegrass to jazz ballads to jazz manouche, all given a strongly collaborative interpretation. From their opening number, “Clark's Reel”, a comfortable and upbeat number drawing on traditional sources but with a hint of dissonance to keep it lively, the audience was with the duo – swaying to the music, listening intently, and emphatically applauding, with even a few cheers.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Jeremy Ledbetter, Marc Decho, and Sarah Thawer played "with passion and energy" and engaged with their audience at Record Runner ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Jeremy Ledbetter Trio
Live @ Record Runner
Saturday, December 8, 2018 – 8 p.m.

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From their first number onwards, the Jeremy Ledbetter Trio captured the attention and the appreciation of their audience at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios.

The material they performed was almost all from Ledbetter's recent trio CD, but this wasn't the trio that Ledbetter had on that album. Instead, the Toronto jazz pianist played with Ottawa bassist Marc Decho and Toronto drummer Sarah Thawer.

Although they had had two rehearsals in Toronto a few weeks before, this was the three musicians' first public performance together. “We hope you enjoy it, as we get to know each other here,” Ledbetter told the audience. “But of course, it's very important that you be a part of this, too. I'm going to talk to you a lot, because it's important to me that you feel that you're a part of this, too. That's one of the most important things about any music, is that it be played with passion and energy and that it feel as interesting and engaging to listen to as it is to play.”

The result was a vigorous and energetic performance, with laughter and smiles on-stage and off. They opened with “Amanecer”, the opening track on the CD, and that piece set the style for the evening: interactive, and full-bodied. Its opening, at first solo keyboards and then with light cymbals and bass, felt reverent and hopeful, reminding me somewhat of Pat Metheny. It grew steadily more intense and propulsive, and then quietened for a rounded and attuned bass solo, and then sprang back up in celebratory mood before ending in a strong drum flourish. Around me in the audience, I heard “Wow!” and strong applause.

Matthieu Hallé presents his new improvised film ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Matthieu Hallé presents his new film, May the Waves Rise From Its Floor, in an improvised performance in Ottawa with Linsey Wellman ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Matthieu Hallé and Linsey Wellman: May the Waves Rise From Its Floor
General Assembly
Friday, November 30, 2018 – 8 p.m.

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Two different worlds collided Friday evening, in a rare aural-visual live improvisation.

On one side of the room, Linsey Wellman stood upright and played baritone saxophone. On the other side, filmmaker Matthieu Hallé sat on an equipment case on the floor, bent over his film projector, electronics, and two burning candles. And between them, projected on a large white wall, were the constantly-shifting images that Wellman was responding to in his playing, and which Hallé was manipulating in response to Wellman's performance.

For 45 minutes, the audience in General Assembly was immersed in a stream of images and sound, as Hallé presented his new piece, “May the Waves Rise From Its Floor”. It was a flowing and mostly calm stream of images and music, developing in smooth transitions between barely-there penumbral shapes and bright sunlit images, and back again. Sometimes it felt like one's hazy vision on waking up; other times like multiple layers peeking through clouds.

Stay Tuned ©Brett Delmage, 2018
(l-r) Karl Nerenberg, Charles Shadeed, Michèle Castonguay, Ron Ferguson of Stay Tuned played vibrant and melodic jazz, with lots of background info, at their show at the Lebanese Palace ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Stay Tuned/Restez-à-lécoute
The Lebanese Palace
Tuesday, November 20, 2018 – 7:30 p.m

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance in colour / in black and white

It was a night of vibrant and melodic jazz, as Stay Tuned/Restez-à-lécoute showcased two vocalists in two sets at the Lebanese Palace on Tuesday, November 20.

The Ottawa jazz ensemble attracted an almost-full house, as it played an upbeat mix of standards and a few originals. The group has been often heard hosting JazzWorks jam sessions and performing at benefits for causes like equitable land development in Africa or support for Eritrean and Syrian refugee families, but its dedication and skill was completely professional.

Their spokesperson, pianist Karl Nerenberg, has frequently said that the group's mission is to bring the love of jazz to everyone – and you could see that in how their music connected with the audience, who regularly applauded and even occasionally got up to dance. Nerenberg added to the outreach through his friendly introductions, comfortably talking about the composers and telling anecdotes about the songs and their historical background – and perhaps reflecting his own background as a journalist and documentary filmmaker.

Michèle Castonguay was the vocalist for the first set, of which I heard most, but not all, because of a time conflict with another event. She sang with a smile and added bright scatted sections to standards like “You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To” and “Taking a Chance on Love”. On ballads like “'Round Midnight” and “Georgia”, she put her heart into the lyrics, giving them their full emotional due. She easily navigated the different time signatures in the Freddie Hubbard hard bop number “Up Jumped Spring” and gave it a warm, conversational vibe that was a hit with the audience.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Tariq Amery and Miguel de Armas Jr. showed an obvious joy in making music together, interspersed with laughter and dialogue, in their duo show at the Art House Café on November 24. They have two more quartet shows in the next month. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Tariq Amery and Miguel de Armas Jr.
The Art House Café
Saturday, November 24, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

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“It was great! Just instant chemistry,” says saxophonist/flutist Tariq Amery of the first time he played with Miguel de Armas Jr., at the Beeched Wailers' Tuesday night jam at Irene's Pub. The duo shared that chemistry with a small but highly satisfied group of listeners in the cozy confines of the Art House Cafe on Saturday.

For the past month, Ottawa has had a new Cuban import. Miguel de Armas Jr., the son of the well-known Ottawa-based Afro-Cuban pianist/composer Miguel de Armas, is visiting Canada for the next six months – and performing around Ottawa. De Armas Jr., who is also a pianist, recently graduated from Cuba's rigorous university music program.

“I love his phrasing and the way he forms his lines. It's just a very unique approach. His energy when he's playing – he just takes you with him,” Amery said of his brief experience playing with de Armas Jr. That connection was clearly evident in their musical collaboration and the extensive improvisation it allowed in this performance, their second formal show together.

Outside, it was dark and dauntingly cold, with freezing rain making the experience more unpleasant by the minute. But inside, one completely forgot about that as the two musicians drew everyone into their obvious joy of making music together, interspersed with laughter and dialogue. There was enthusiastic applause after each number. One couple had heard them at their previous coffeehouse gig and came out to hear them again.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Throughout the show Elizabeth Shepherd told engaging stories about the inspiration for her songs. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Elizabeth Shepherd
NAC Presents
Canada's National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, November 15, 2018 - 8:30 p.m.

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Love, anguish, and triumph are celebrated in jazz vocalist/pianist Elizabeth Shepherd's latest album, a personal tribute to many visions of Montreal. She gave the album its premiere in Ottawa on Thursday at Canada’s National Arts Centre.

It was the first stop on her launch tour for MONtreal (a play on the French for “my Montreal”), that will shortly take her and her four bandmates across Western Canada, as well as to Toronto and of course Montreal – and next year over to Europe.

The album, though, is very specifically tied to Montreal, which Shepherd considers her home town. At the NAC show, she performed all 11 tracks on the album, plus two tunes on earlier albums, to a welcoming and interested reception from the audience.

As she told the crowd, each track on the album is associated with a specific location in the city, and based on an interview with someone living there, telling the story of their Montreal. Some, like her mother, she knew well; others were complete strangers picked at random. Over a five-year period, she interviewed 40-50 people, then culled the interviews down to 11 and wrote and recorded the songs.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Vocalists Mary Frances Simpson and Bill Luxton sang separately and in duets in the many big band vocal numbers presented by the Grey Jazz Big Band in their Concert to Remember ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Grey Jazz Big Band: A Concert to Remember
Centrepointe Studio Theatre
Friday, November 9, 2018 – 2 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The Grey Jazz Big Band has members who were living during World War II – a claim few other bands can make, and one which made them a perfect choice for a “Concert to Remember” on the Remembrance Day weekend.

It was the second consecutive year that the band had performed on this weekend at the Centrepointe Studio Theatre, with a programme which remembered popular and big band swing tunes from across the 20th century. The matinée show sold out the 220-seat theatre in 2017 and came very near to that this year, with only a few seats empty.

There were 17 instrumentalists on stage, plus band director Brian Boggs as conductor, and vocalists Mary Frances Simpson and Bill Luxton. Each wore a poppy in his or her lapel, and several also wore military or RCMP service pins or military service ribbons. The men also wore red neckties, several Canada-flag-themed.

It was an engaging and energetic show, played by musicians who clearly loved and were familiar with the music – so much so that they put too many tunes in the set list and had to drop a few on the fly! They opened with George Gershwin's martial-themed “Strike Up the Band” and rolled right into twirling rhythms of Glenn Miller's WWII-era tune “Tuxedo Junction”, with Luxton explaining that this title referred to a jazz and blues club in the Birmingham, Alabama area.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Craig Kennedy, Keith Hartshorn-Walton, and Richard Page played three classic Dixieland instruments: banjo, tuba, and clarinet for an evening of approachable and fun music.  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Keith Hartshorn-Walton, Richard Page, Craig Kennedy
The Barrhaven Neighbourhood Jazz Series at Anabia Cupcakery Cafe
Friday, November 9, 2018 – 8:30 p.m.

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One evening a month, musicians living in Ottawa's southern suburb bring jazz to their own neighbourhood.

Tuba player Keith Hartshorn-Walton only lives a few minutes away from the Anabia Cupcakery Café, a cozy café and bar in a Barrhaven mall, and for the last five months has brought in different combinations of jazz musicians, mostly from this area, to play on a Friday night. There's no cover charge, but the musicians did draw attention to their donation basket several times during the show.

OttawaJazzScene.ca was there for the November show. Outside there was driving rain, wet snow, and soaking-cold slush, but inside it was bright and cheery, with retro-style paintings of women in 1940s styles on the walls. Tables and armchairs were set up around an open area reserved for the performance. Every table was taken in the café, with lots of coffee cups steaming on them, and most of the customers were listening to the music.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Holly Cole and pianist Aaron Davis shared a happy moment in the sophisticated “Charade”. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Holly Cole
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre Theatre
Friday, November 2, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Holly Cole takes her music from many sources: the Great American Songbook, Tom Waits, pop songs. But in her voice and with the backing of her skilled band, they all turn into golden jazz.

At her National Arts Centre concert Friday, Cole received two standing ovations – and moments of complete silence and attention as well – as she presented tunes from across her career. The show was both an introduction to her latest CD, Holly, from 2018, and a selection of favourites reaching back to her first full-length album, Girl Talk, in 1990.

It's been 2½ years since Cole last performed in Ottawa, and 6 years since she was at the NAC, and her audience was as enthusiastic as ever. The 897-seat NAC Theatre was about 80% full, and from the very first song, the audience responded with very strong applause and cheers – to which Cole made the effort to respond in both French and English.

Backing Cole were Toronto jazz musicians she's played with for years: pianist Aaron Davis, saxophonist John Johnson, bassist George Koller, and drummer Davide DiRenzo. If Cole was the star, they were the muscle behind and the contrasting voices in her music – and she let them shine as well.