Drew Jurecka Trio
Ottawa Chamberfest, Chamberfringe series
Saint Brigid's Centre for the Arts, Kildare Room
Friday, July 24, 2015 – 10 p.m.

The Drew Jurecka Trio's bright music was an immediate hit with its Chamberfringe audience Friday night.

The trio's combination of violin, piano, and double bass was a natural for their upbeat repertoire: mostly jazz standards from the last hundred years, combined with a few Jurecka originals. But it was how they played that material – with verve, style, and enthusiasm – that set the concert alight.

Jurecka is a veteran on the Toronto jazz scene, primarily playing violin but also doubling on many other instruments, including clarinet and saxophone. A long-time member of the late Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards, he currently tours with Jill Barber, and leads his own groups like the Hogtown Syncopators and the Hot Jazz String Quartet. He has also backed Diana Krall, Shirley Horn, and Dianne Reeves.

For 85 minutes, the trio – with Mark Kieswetter on piano, and Clark Johnston on double bass – kept their late-night audience not only awake, but clapping enthusiastically after each song and each solo. There were relatively few jazz regulars in attendance, but there was an immediate connection to the music in an audience which ranged from 20-year-olds to seniors.

They opened with the sweet, romantic “Lady, Be Good!” by the Gershwins, which featured swirling violin lines over a dancing beat on piano and bass. It set the tone for the concert: a warm vibe, infectious rhythms, and lots of smooth interplay among the trio.

Some pieces were dramatic and melancholy (Irving Berlin's “The Russian Lullaby”); some were beautiful and thoughtful (“Softly as a Morning Sunrise”, which was played as a violin-bass duet with intertwining pizzicato rhythms, and “September Song”, which was a violin-piano duet). In the latter, Kieswetter and Jurecka emphasized the song's wistfulness, with Jurecka at one point playing a barely-strand of melody over full piano chords.

Jurecka sang on several numbers: the light-hearted “On a Treasure Island”, which no one took too seriously, least of all him; and “Out of Nowhere”, a romantic ballad on which he also played clarinet.

He also paid credit to several jazz violinists who had influenced him. “Desert Sands” by violinist Stuff Smith was given a particularly interesting treatment with both Johnston and Jurecka opening it with a fast pizzicato riff, which Johnston continued while Jurecka introduced the swinging melody. Several times during the song they repeated their pizzicato duet; Johnston also played solo variations on that riff, while Jurecka filled the room with intense lines of melody. It was a riveting piece, with lots of vitality.

Jurecka said another major influence was jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, and his musical partner, guitarist Django Reinhardt, who developed their “Hot Club” style in France in the 1920s and 30s by adapting and reinterpreting American jazz records. The trio performed two pieces by Reinhardt: the sweet and romantic “Manoir de Mes Rêves” and the energetic “Micro”. The latter is a contrafact (a new melody on the chord progressions of an existing song) which Reinhardt based on “I Got Rhythm”, and featured violin flourishes and rippling piano – fun to listen to, just like its inspiration.

Jurecka also included several of his own pieces, which had a similar style and feel to the classics in the set list. I particularly enjoyed “On the Roof”, a piece he co-wrote with Toronto guitarist Nathan Hiltz as a tribute to jazz musicians Joe Venuto and Eddie Long, which opened as a romantic ballad but was enlivened by several swinging passages and vibrating notes on violin.

One piece Jurecka wrote on a plane to distract him from a harrowing ride and images of imminent death: it turned out to be a fluid, happy piece with motifs that kept developing in interesting ways throughout. But he noted he doesn't find naming songs easy, so that piece doesn't yet have a name. Another, a quiet romantic piece, he named “Rebecca” after his wife – at her suggestion after he didn't like any of the other names he was offered.

The trio has recorded an album, which Jurecka said he was currently in the process of mixing and hoped to release in the fall. If it has anywhere near the crowd appeal and verve of Friday's live show, it should do well.

    – Alayne McGregor

Set list:

  1. Lady, Be Good! (George and Ira Gershwin)
  2. The Russian Lullaby (Irving Berlin)
  3. On Treasure Island (Joe Burke, with Edgard Leslie)
  4. Manoir de Mes Rêves (Django Reinhardt)
  5. Desert Sands (Stuff Smith)
  6. On the Roof (Drew Jurecka and Nathan Hiltz)
  7. Softly as in a Morning Sunrise (Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II)
  8. September Song (Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson)
  9. Untitled (Drew Jurecka)
  10. Out of Nowhere (Johnny Green and Edward Heyman)
  11. Rebecca (Drew Jurecka)
  12. Micro (Django Reinhardt)