Nancy Walker Quintet
2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, Day 1
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Friday, February 6, 2015 - 7 p.m.

It's surprising how relatively infrequently Toronto jazz musicians make it up to Ottawa for shows – you wouldn't think the two cities were in the same province and only five hours apart. But, in the last three years, pianist Nancy Walker has only been sporadically in Ottawa and not at all as a leader, despite having picked up an enthusiastic Ottawa fan base from many years of playing in the Geggie house band for the jazz festival jams.

What finally brought her back here was her recently-released album, ‘Til Now Is Secret [Addo, 2014]. This concert primarily featured pieces from that CD, and four of the five musicians who played on it (drummer Jim Doxas sat in for Ethan Ardelli, who wasn't available for this date).

It was a strong set-list – all originals by Walker – and they were given an intense and propulsive treatment by the quintet. There was no one star in the show: Walker, Doxas, bassist Kieran Overs, guitarist Ted Quinlan, and reed player Shirantha Beddage all contributed noticeably to the sound.

I was delighted to be introduced to Beddage's playing. Alternating among bass clarinet, clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, he was a strong presence throughout, producing clear ribbons of sound at one point, deep percussive riffs at another, and evocatively mournful lines at another. His baritone sax playing was particularly memorable: it provided both a strong underpinning and an emphatic lead throughout.

The quintet opened with the title song from the album. Initially it was just quiet, calm piano but it quickly moved to the multi-layered and complex feel that characterized the entire concert, with Quinlan's guitar adding texture and flow, and Beddage's assured clarinet gliding over all.

Each piece had a narrative, often extended: “I Read It Somewhere”, for example, began with rippling piano contrasted with long notes on clarinet, then continued into a raindrop-like percussive section which morphed into long, joyous lines. It became quieter with more individual notes, then turned louder and harder with pounding drums, and finally created new, rougher patterns which finally ended in a sequence of repeated single notes on guitar.

Doxas began “You Again” (a piece not on any of Walker's albums) with an extended and inventive drum solo, opening with echoing light cymbals and building to full-out intensity but with each note allowed its full space. Walker described it as a “groovy tune in an odd metre”: the section where she and Overs traded riffs, both deep and resonant, was particularly satisfying.

“Shades of Many Shades”, inspired by Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, featured repeated contrasting polyphonic patterns and changing tempos, with Beddage on alto sax and Quinlan on guitar adding emotional resonance.

I particularly enjoyed the slow, evocative “Chemin des Cascades”, which had the feel of film noir and was reminiscent of Charlie Haden's Quartet West. “Folding” was a hopeful piece, featuring some beautiful clarinet lines, unexpected hand drumming and paper-crumpling from Doxas, and perfectly-spaced piano notes.

The concert ended with two more up-beat and energetic pieces: the newer “Search and Rescue”, and “Night on Earth”, which was dedicated to filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. Each featured patterns which developed and changed repeatedly with many internal duets among the musicians.

Walker noted she had to drop two pieces in order to stay within the 75-minute time limit for the show. I was disappointed not to hear the Spanish-influenced “Luna Llena”, which was one of my favourite pieces on the CD. But this concert was undoubtedly a fine group performance of intricate and consistently interesting music – and was recognized as that by strong extended applause from the audience at the end.

Set list:

  • ‘Til Now Is Secret
  • I Read It Somewhere
  • You Again
  • Chemin des Cascades
  • Shade Of Many Shades
  • Folding
  • Search and Rescue
  • Night on Earth

    – Alayne McGregor

Note: received review access to the 2015 Winter Jazz Festival but was denied access for our photojournalist. Therefore, we are unable to publish photos with the reviews.

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