Show reviews

Terri Lyne Carrington (photo by Tracy Love)
Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington will bring her new Social Science project to the Jazz Festival on Thursday, June 27 (photo by Tracy Love, used by permission)

Updated March 20, 2019
There's a wide range of interesting music at the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival. But of those so far announced, you won't go wrong with these:

Friday, June 21: Baritone Madness (Confederation Park Stage)

We don't know the three baritone saxophonists, but have heard and enjoyed Calgary bassist Kodi Hutchinson when he won the Grand Prize at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2013, as well as Vancouver pianist Tyler Hornby. And you can never have too many baris!

Saturday, June 22: The Patricia Barber Trio (NAC Studio)

“Constantly evolving, always intimate art”: that's how Patricia Barber's music has been described.

One reviewer noted that “She darkens, renews and completely takes possession of [songs], probing and questioning the inferences implicit in every word.”

The pianist, vocalist, and songwriter has just released a new album, Higher, her first in six years. It's a collection of originals and standards, including an art song cycle which she debuted with soprano Renée Fleming.

Saturday, June 22: Ranee Lee (Confederation Park Stage)

Ranee Lee is a triple threat as a vocalist, actress, and teacher and role model to generations of Montreal musicians. Her concert a few years ago in Ottawa was generous, expressive, and swinging, and well deserved the two standing ovations from the delighted audience.

©Brett Delmage, 2019
Zakari Frantz leads the Prime Rib Big Band with flying alto sax lines as they play Ed Lister's composition "Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda” (l-r: Nick Dyson, Zakari Frantz, Mark Ferguson, Petr Cancura, Nick Adema, Brian Asselin) ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Ed Lister's Prime Rib Big Band
Second Anniversary Show
Irene's Pub
Wednesday, March 6, 2019 – 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

On Wednesday, the Prime Rib Big Band filled every seat at Irene's Pub for a long set (100+ minutes) of dynamic big band music. All but one song was a meaty original, but they were very much in the tradition. The show marked their second anniversary as a band: two years in which they've played 30 concerts, including monthly shows at Irene's, festival dates, and special concerts.

The band is the creation of Ottawa trumpeter Ed Lister, who invited ten of his favourite jazz musicians to join in. They began with seven of his compositions and three classic big band numbers – and the promise of a continuing monthly gig if they could draw the crowds at Irene's in the Glebe.

Since then, Lister has continued writing tunes for the band, more than tripling its repertoire. For this show, he included one of the band's first tunes, and one he only debuted in February – plus a tune by Richard Page which he added to the band's book this month. Irene's now offers a full prime rib dinner on band nights. And judging from the reaction to this show, they've developed quite an audience for their big band music.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
After the last notes of Molly Johnson's rendition of "Summertime" died away, the audience called her and her band back with a standing ovation. (l-r: Robi Botos, Mike Downes, Molly Johnson, Davide DiRenzo) ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Molly Johnson
Shenkman Arts Centre, Ottawa
Friday, March 1, 2019 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Molly Johnson brought three friends and favourite musicians with her to Ottawa on Friday, for a concert that was inimitably hers in style and musical vibe.

To an easy and insinuating beat, she sashayed onto the stage at the Shenkman Arts Centre – and told the audience, “This is gonna be a little bit of groove, a little bit of soul, a little bit of jazz, and a little bit of Marvin Gaye 1976”. And then she launched into Gaye's “Inner City Blues”, a song which quietly but unwaveringly demanded more out of life.

Combining new tunes with standards and old favourites, the Toronto jazz vocalist presented a concert that celebrated hope and love, even in its sad songs. It was a very “Molly” show, with her talking intimately in an almost-stream of consciousness style to every single person of the hundreds in the large theatre. She told stories, praised her band members, joked about herself, got laughs when she lightly referred to current federal politics, and treated the stage much like her living room.

Ottawa Jazz Orchestra, Hidden Gems ©Brett Delmage, 2019
OJO members give accolades to Sandy Gordon at the end of the concert after he performed on four different instruments (l-r: Mark Ferguson, Adrian Cho, Mark Rehder, Rick Rangno, Sandy Gordon). ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Ottawa Jazz Orchestra performs “Hidden Gems”
Fourth Stage, Canada’s National Arts Centre
Saturday, February 23, 2019 – 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The Ottawa Jazz Orchestra (OJO) introduced a modern American jazz composer to its Ottawa audience Saturday – and everyone had a great deal of fun in the process.

It was a smaller and more relaxed show than the ambitious Strings in Focus concert the orchestra presented in January – but still definitely connected to jazz history and the jazz mainstream. It showcased the music of San-Francisco-Bay-area composer Reed Kotler, as arranged by trumpeter Bobby Shew.

Kotler is a “triple threat”: a pianist and multi-instrumentalist, a composer, and a software designer who has created tools to help musicians transcribe music. In that, he has a great deal in common with OJO's artistic director and bassist, Adrian Cho, who combines a software day job with a jazz avocation.

The tunes by Kotler which Cho selected for the concert were consistently appealing and approachable, in styles ranging from straight-ahead to ballads to even calypso. Many of these compositions were included in the 2002 album, Bobby Shew, Gary Foster and Friends: Play The Music Of Reed Kotler.

©Brett Delmage, 2019
David Renaud's clarinet playing immediately drew the quartet's attention - and that of the audience at the Options Jazz Lounge (l-r: David Renaud, John Steele, Justin Duhaime, Nabil Yaghi)  ©Brett Delmage, 2019

The Justin Duhaime Quartet with David Renaud
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Friday, February 22, 2019 – 8 p.m. to midnight

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

If the bright, inviting rhythms of gypsy jazz are most often heard on guitar and violin, they can equally effectively be performed on guitar and clarinet. In fact, during World War II when violinist Stéphane Grappelli was in England, Django Reinhardt replaced him in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France with clarinetist Hubert Rostaing. Reinhardt wrote some of his best-known tunes, including "Nuages", for guitar and clarinet.

Ottawa guitarist Justin Duhaime has been enthusiastically promoting Reinhardt's music for the past few years, most recently teaming up with fellow guitarist and jazz manouche enthusiast Nabil Yaghi to perform music written by Reinhardt and played in Reinhardt's style. Last summer, they collaborated with accomplished jazz clarinetist David Renaud in a sold-out show of music written and recorded in Paris during the Nazi occupation and beyond.

They brought the show, for its third airing, to the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata on Friday evening. It was a fast-paced and jam-packed evening of music, with Duhaime providing friendly introductions and explanations of the tunes. OttawaJazzScene.ca's reporters heard all of the first two sets and part of the third.

The set list included Reinhardt's own compositions, jazz standards which he recorded, and a few later pieces (such as Chick Corea's “Armando's Rhumba”) which Duhaime said were fun to imagine how he would have played them.

Florian Hoefner ©Brett Delmage, 2019
There was notable conceptual unity in the music of the Florian Hoefner Trio in the group's NAC concert on February 19. (l-r: Florian Hoefner, Andrew Downing, Nick Fraser) ©Brett Delmage, 2019

The Florian Hoefner Trio
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Tuesday, February 19, 2019 – 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

It was an evening of close listening – on-stage and off – as the Florian Hoefner Trio presented the music of their as-yet-unreleased debut album. And that listening revealed some real gems in the music.

Hoefner performs in several different groups with musicians from around the world; this is his Canadian trio. The German-born jazz pianist, who now lives and works in Newfoundland, has teamed up with two talented Toronto musicians: bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser. And despite living in different provinces, the three showed considerable rapport in their performance Tuesday.

Lorraine Desmarais Trio ©Brett Delmage, 2019
The Lorraine Desmarais Trio received two standing ovations in its sold-out tribute to Bill Evans at La Nouvelle Scène. ©Brett Delmage, 2019

The Lorraine Desmarais Trio
Bill Evans: Time Remembered (documentary film)
La Nouvelle Scène
Friday, January 25, 2019 – 6 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Before rapt listeners, Lorraine Desmarais deftly explored the legacy of Bill Evans on January 25.

The Montreal pianist, together with her long-time trio of bassist Frédéric Alarie and drummer Camile Belisle, gave an emotionally-charged performance at La Nouvelle Scène. It was her first concert in Ottawa in almost a decade, and received with distinct delight by the sold-out audience.

Evans released more than 70 albums in his 25-year career, and was known as a supremely intuitive interpreter and composer who added new concepts of harmonic language to jazz piano. He composed more than 60 tunes, many of which have become standards. His renditions of many Great American Songbook and modern pop tunes are considered classics.

Desmarais is a renowned Quebec jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader, who can easily hold her own with international stars. She was fully at ease with Evans' music – and clearly enjoying herself in the concert.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Saxophonist Mike Tremblay improvised over the playing of a 12-musician strings ensemble at the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra concert January 19, as he reinterpreted the Focus suite first performed by Stan Getz. ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Strings in Focus
Ottawa Jazz Orchestra
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, January 19, 2019

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The harp sitting in the middle of the stage confirmed it. This was not going to be your typical Ottawa Jazz Orchestra concert – or sound.

Instead, it was a celebration of strings in jazz, on a comparatively large scale. On a stage lengthened by eight feet and jutting an extra four feet into the audience sat six violinists, three viola players, two cellists, one bassist, one harpist, a pianist, a bassist, and a drummer, all directed by conductor Angus Armstrong.

In the first set, they accompanied vocalist Diane Nalini in classic arrangements of songs made famous by Ella Fitzgerald. In the second set, tenor saxophonist Mike Tremblay improvised in response to their performance of Eddie Sauter's compositions for Focus, an acclaimed Stan Getz album. 

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Megan Jerome's sunny smile encompassed everyone in the Fourth Stage at her Together Ensemble concert December 18. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Megan Jerome and the Together Ensemble
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Monday, December 17, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

It was a very personal – but also very sociable – concert at the NAC Fourth Stage as Ottawa vocalist Megan Jerome celebrated the one-year anniversary of her most recent album.

Jerome's sunny smile encompassed everyone in the room, as she praised her band, celebrated a friend's 50th birthday, told how she collaborated with choreographer Tedd Robinson, promoted everything from Pilates exercises to a friend's campaign to fund a community kitchen to teach kids in Vanier to cook, and explained how she used pictures as seeds for her songs.

Throughout, she sang her original music and lyrics, her appealing voice combining with the rich instrumentation of the musicians behind her in a stream of images, emotions, melody, harmony – and quite a few love songs.

Jerome, sitting behind her vintage Wurlitzer piano, was supported by her Together Ensemble: Don Cummings on Hammond organ (provided by the NAC so he didn't have to cart in his own), Fred Guignion on electric guitar, and husband Mike Essoudry on drums. Her latest CD, Ooh Aah! had had its release at the Fourth Stage a year before, almost to the day. She performed many of the songs from that CD, along with others across her career.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
The saxophone line of Melissa Brown, Wesley Reissner, and Patrick Vafaie (l-r, front) were featured in the Brad Turner composition “Hey, That's My Bike!”, which closed the Nepean All-City Jazz Band fall concert.
©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Ottawa Junior Jazz Band
The Nepean All-City Jazz Band
Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School, Ottawa
Tuesday, December 18, 2018 - 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band performance, and the Nepean All-City Jazz Band performance

If you'd ever wondered which is louder, a big band or a fire alarm, the question was conclusively answered last month at a joint concert by the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band (OJJB) and the Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB).

The punctuated snarl of the fire alarm won.

Just after 9 p.m., the NACJB was in full flight playing Tom Kubis' “Grimey Yet Slimey Blues” in the auditorium of Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School in Barrhaven. The alarm went off loudly and with a bright flashing light, the music abruptly stopped, and the entire audience dutifully trooped out of the school. Three firefighters arrived within a few minutes and quickly confirmed there was no fire. Then everyone returned after a 10-minute break – to hear the band resume right where they had broken off, fully immersed again in the energy of the piece.

Each year, the two student bands present a joint concert in December. It's a shaking-in show, the first chance for new band members to perform before a live audience and play the music they had been learning and rehearsing for the past three months. OJJB Director Mandar Gumaste said it was the first time it had ever been interrupted by a fire alarm.

The concert opened with a seven-song set by the OJJB, performing a mix of big band standards and more modern pieces. It was an energetic performance, tight and clear, of innovative and generally upbeat arrangements. The band's performance of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's “Such Sweet Thunder”, with its many strong individual solo sections, garnered particularly strong applause. Gumaste noted that half of the band was new this year, but you wouldn't have known that from their smooth performances in numbers such as “Spain” and “Hot House”.

As OJJB's members were leaving the stage at the end of their set, the trombone section stayed behind and played “Jingle Bells” – an extra fillip of Christmas cheer that was nicely done.