©Brett Delmage, 2018
Mike Rud ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Mike Rud, Don Cummings, and Michel Delage
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, March 31, 2018 – 8 p.m.

There's a strong tradition in modern jazz of combining guitar with organ, and Don Cummings and Mike Rud drew upon that soulful style last weekend at the Brookstreet Hotel. In their show on Saturday, Cummings' Hammond organ created swelling chords and a powerful vibe over which Rud added intense, flying guitar lines, with drummer Michel Delage propelling the music on drums.

The show was part of Delage's monthly tribute series in Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge, but it didn't have a specific theme. Instead, the musicians made a point of learning new-to-them repertoire for organ and guitar, generally from the hard bop and soul jazz era of the 1960s. They included pieces by organists Jack McDuff and Jimmy Smith, guitarists Kenny Burrell and George Benson, and jazz icons John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk, and Lee Morgan. I particularly enjoyed the trio's sincere and beautiful rendition of Ellington's “Come Sunday”.

Jason Robinson and Eric Hofbauer ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Jason Robinson and Eric Hofbauer played music from a suite composed by Ken Aldcroft, which they plan to record at the end of this tour ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Two Hours Early, Ten Minutes Late / Mars People
A celebration of the music of Ken Aldcroft
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais (IMOO)
Black Squirrel Books, Ottawa
Saturday, March 3, 2018 – 9 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The late guitarist and composer Ken Aldcroft was a linchpin in Canada's improvised jazz scene, as a performer, composer, bandleader, and organizer. And as five of his friends and fellow musicians showed on Saturday, he hasn't been forgotten, as a person and as a musical influence.

Their Ottawa concert was an exciting blend of the avant-garde with more traditional jazz and gospel. It showcased musicians using the full capabilities of their instruments to produce absorbing sounds and soundscapes. Throughout, they performed music written by or inspired by Aldcroft.

It was the second stop on an eight-concert tour of Ontario and Quebec, which began on Friday in Montreal and continues until next Saturday in Toronto. On the bill were two groups: Two Hours Early, Ten Minutes Late (Americans Jason Robinson on tenor sax and Eric Hofbauer on guitar), and Mars People (Canadians Joe Sorbara on drums, Daniel Kruger on guitar, and Emily Denison on trumpet).

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Dánae Olano ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Dánae Olano Trio
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Cuban pianist Dánae Olano loves the rich musical heritage of her native land, and is on a quest to introduce audiences to its many composers and styles, from the 19th century onwards.

There are many Cuban composers that even Cubans don't know about, she told an Ottawa audience Wednesday night. She wants to take that music, “which is rich, and make some arrangements and put it in a way that everybody will get the modern flavour, with jazz and with the rhythms that are right now in the Cuban scene.”

It's a project she's been working on for the last year, and she gave it its Ottawa debut in a vibrant and well-received concert at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios. Accompanying her were two Ottawa musicians who have a great deal of experience with Afro-Cuban jazz: Marc Decho on six-string electric bass and Frank Martinez on drums. Decho has played in Miguel de Armas' Latin Jazz Quartet for many years. Martinez, like Olano, is from Havana, Cuba, and both had much the same musical education – including attending the same elementary school and the same university, Cuba's Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), at the same time.

Olano is best known here as a founding member of Maqueque, a group created and led by Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett in order to celebrate the talent of Cuba's female jazz musicians. Since it was formed in 2013, that group has toured extensively across the U.S., Canada, and Australia. It won a JUNO in 2015 and was nominated for a Grammy in 2017. While Maqueque is going strong – it has another U.S. tour in March – its members are trying out their own projects as well.

That includes Olano. The 25-year-old has performed her Cuban piano concert with Toronto musicians twice: last May and this month. However, the Ottawa show came out of a chance meeting she had with Decho, when he was performing in Toronto last fall with de Armas. Olano thanked Decho at this show: “He's responsible for this happening. He said, let's do something together in Ottawa, and here I am!”

Updated February 22, 2018

Ottawa - São Paulo Return!
Doors Open for Music at Southminster
Southminster United Church
Wednesday, January 31, 2018 – 12 noon

Evandro Gracelli has traded the warmth and sun of São Paulo, Brazil, for the chills and slush of a February in Ottawa – for a month of playing with his many musical friends here, including two more concerts.

The guitarist and vocalist is in Ottawa until the beginning of March, strengthening old ties and building new ones. When he lived here in 2010-11, he energized the local Latin jazz scene, and added considerable flair to many local groups. He has two more shows coming up.

One of his strongest links was with vocalist Rachel Beausoleil, with whom he formed the group Sol da Capital. Beausoleil fell in love with what we call Brazilian jazz and they call “Música Popular Brasileira” (MPB), and ended up travelling to Brazil three times to learn more about it – performing there with Gracelli and other Brazilian musicians, and learning Portuguese. She recently successfully defended her PhD thesis on MPB.

They scheduled two Sol da Capital shows for Gracelli's return – one a few weeks ago at Southminster United Church which I attended, and one coming up this Wednesday. Besides Beausoleil and Gracelli, the group also includes three musicians well-known for playing Brazilian and Panamerican jazz: Jasmin Lalande on saxophones and flute, Sílvio Módolo on electric bass, and Angel Araos on drums and percussion.

Fred Hersch/Good Things Happen Slowly
Fred Hersch's autobiography, Good Things Happen Slowly, is a fascinating personal account of his personal and musical development.

Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz
by Fred Hersch
Crown Archetype, 2017
ISBN: 978-11019-0434-3
reviewed by Alayne McGregor

Fred Hersch, who performed here earlier this month, is a perennially-popular artist among Ottawa jazz fans. His recent autobiography is a fascinating look at an innovative and creative composer and performer.

In this book, pianist Fred Hersch turns his life into a composition with shape, and drive, and flow, driven by absorbing and not completely expected developments. There's slow passages, and some tragic ones – and periods of great triumph and joy.

There's also times when he's clearly improvising, trying and discarding musical and career options, but always continuing to explore his own voice as a composer and a musician.

Hersch is a pianist and composer, primarily in jazz, who is known both for his interpretations of jazz standards and for his own work. He primarily plays solo or with his trio, but he's also produced larger-scale works – for example, based on the poems of Walt Whitman. These days, he's one of the most acclaimed performers in jazz, but for many years he felt as though he didn't fit anywhere.

It's a fascinating personal account, particularly of times past in the 1970s to the 1990s – both in jazz and in the gay community. Hersch talks openly and confessionally about his family, his fellow musicians, his mentors, his friends and lovers, and his work and his art – but also places them in context, so one can understand the barriers he faced and the opportunities he had.

The book opens with a young man in Cincinnati who knows he's a talented musician and knows he's gay – but doesn't yet know how to create a life for himself which will use his talents fully and make him happy. It takes Hersch through his education, his early years on the road and in New York City, his initial recordings, and finally to the acclaimed musician he is today – all the way through talking about what he learned on the way.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Le Projet Brassens, (l-r) Pierre Monfils, Ed Stevens, Chris Smith, Hélène Knoerr, and Devon Woods, created an exciting mélange of the tunes of French icon Georges Brassens and jazz in their show January 28 at BDT.  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Le monde de George Brassens / The World of Georges Brassens
Le Projet Brassens / The Brassens Project
Les Brasseurs du Temps, Gatineau
Sunday, January 28, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

In France, Georges Brassens' lyrics are studied in school. In 1967, he was awarded the Grand Prix de Poésie de l'Academie Française, France's highest poetry award. And for almost three decades from the 1950s until his death in 1981, he was a hugely popular chansonnier in that country.

He's also a strong inspiration for jazz musicians, including the local group Le Projet Brassens. They demonstrated how well Brassens could combine with jazz in their well-received tribute on Sunday evening.

Brassens' songs are both romantic and frequently satirical. His targets include religion, the ossified class structure, social conformity, and moral hypocrisy with a wicked gleam in his (metaphorical) eye. His debut album was entitled “Georges Brassens chante les chansons poétiques (et souvent gaillardes) de ... Georges Brassens” [“Georges Brassens sings the poetic (and often rather risqué) songs of Georges Brassens”].

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Guitarist Sam Kirmayer and his quartet (with bassist Mike De Masi, drummer Dave Laing, and pianist Sean Fyfe) connected strongly with the audience in the intimate Record Runner Rehearsal Studios on January 25, combining Kirmayer's originals with classic but not overplayed jazz standards. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Sam Kirmayer Quartet
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Thursday, January 25, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Combining fine ensemble playing with interesting compositions and congenial introductions, Sam Kirmayer and his quartet strongly connected with their Ottawa audience Thursday.

The young Montreal guitarist is definitely attuned to the jazz tradition, but uses that tradition as a springboard for his own musical voice. The show combined original tunes from his 2017 debut CD with newer ones from his upcoming second release, as well as classic but not overplayed standards.

The result: a collection of approachable tunes which flowed easily from one to the other, in a friendly and inviting show which consistently evoked warm applause in the intimate room. It was the first show of mini-tour this weekend that also took the quartet to Quebec City and Montreal.

Kirmayer has said that one of his strongest influences is jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. His tune “Synecdoche”, for example, is based on Montgomery's classic “Four on Six”, which, in turn, was based on George Gershwin's “Summertime”. It's definitely its own tune – Kirmayer noted that he changed the key to the more-difficult E flat minor and added more chords and changed the rhythm– but you could hear a certain heritage in the music.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Doressa Dorcilhomme sang in the The Bytowne Big Band's inaugural concert  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Bytowne Big Band Presents The Best of Snarky Puppy
Live! on Elgin
Saturday, January 22, 2018 – 9 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Every time I've seen Snarky Puppy at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, it's been a standing-room only affair, with listeners packed shoulder to shoulder, all moving to the beat – great for energy, but not so good for hearing or seeing musical nuances.

And there is a great deal of nuance in the famed American jazz fusion orchestra's compositions. I was impressed how well the Bytowne Big Band expressed those more subtle intonations and expressions – while also keeping the energy level high – in its tribute concert Saturday evening.

With 14 local instrumentalists, plus vocalist Doressa Dorcilhomme, the Bytowne Big Band filled Live! on Elgin's stage to capacity. Nevertheless, their sound didn't overwhelm the compact, second-floor club. It was powerfully driven by two strong percussionists – Andrew Ferderber on drums, and Valeriy Nehovora on congas, bar chimes, and other percussion – but it reserved lots of space for individual solos and quieter passages.

Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas with The John Dapaah Trio,
with Michael Curtis Hanna and Roxanne Goodman
Doors Open for Music at Southminster
Southminster United Church
Wednesday, December 20, 2017 – 12 noon

We all joke about Christmas music and how there's too much of it at this time of year – but that's partly because it's important to us. At home, at school, at church, on the radio, with our friends, we all grew up with these songs and carols, and that tradition evokes strong emotions in us.

Ottawa pianist John Dapaah stayed true to the tradition in his pre-Christmas concert at Southminster – but gave it extra zest with his interpretations. Performing with his long-time jazz trio of J.P. Lapensée on electric bass and Jamie Holmes on drums, he enlivened the show with two local singers with strong jazz and gospel roots: Roxanne Goodman and Michael Curtis Hanna.

Performing before a nearly-full church, the musicians were dressed up for the occasion: the men in suits, Dapaah wearing a bright red bow tie, and Goodman in a glamorous black dress and a glittering necklace. They spent equal care on the music.

The trio opened with an instrumental version of the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas theme, “Christmas time is here”, with Dapaah's inviting piano outlining the melody. Goodman and Hanna entered partway through, their voices joining in warmly and expressively.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
Miguel de Armas, Marc Decho, Petr Cancura, Lucas Haneman, Michel Medrano, and Amado Dedéu Garcia received a standing ovation for their NAC Presents show December 6. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

The Miguel de Armas Trio, with special guests Amado Dedéu Garcia, Petr Cancura, and Lucas Haneman
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Wednesday, December 6, 2017 – 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

It's been more than five years now since Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas moved to Ottawa. In that time he's changed Ottawa and Ottawa has changed him.

He has substantially increased the prominence of Afro-Cuban jazz here, with his own group, his regular special concerts, and his Fiesta Cubana dance band – and attracted a considerable steady fan base.

De Armas has used the opportunity to write – creating many new compositions – and worked to steadily improve his conversational English. He's made a point of stretching himself by collaborating with a wide variety of local jazz musicians. He hasn't stuck to his comfort zone in Latin jazz, but instead has played with many different vocalists, guitarists, saxophonists, bassists, drummers, and even a violinist in his Friday night shows in Kanata, and at other venues.

He's also collaborated with high-profile Latin jazz musicians in Toronto and Montreal, including Jane Bunnett, Hilario Durán, Julio Hong, and Amado Dedéu Garcia.

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