Richard Page's long and fruitful musical teaming with trumpeter Ed Lister was up-front in The Night on the Town Band's performance at MJF©Brett Delmage, 2015
Richard Page's long and fruitful musical teaming with trumpeter Ed Lister was up-front in The Night on the Town Band's performance at MJF©Brett Delmage, 2015

Richard Page's Night on the Town Band
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Baldachin Inn Ballroom
Sunday, October 18, 2015 – 7 p.m.

View photos of this performance

Ottawa saxophonist Richard Page has been developing his Night on the Town Band over the last year, playing deliberately-accessible and fun – but also original – music. The success of that approach could be seen in the enthusiastic response the band received at the closing night concert of Merrickville's Jazz Fest.

The band is made up of younger musicians respected on Ottawa's jazz scene – drummer Michel Delage, double bassist Alex Bilodeau, guitarist Terence Wright – and most importantly, trumpeter Ed Lister, with whom Page has had a long and fruitful musical teaming. Page and Lister both share a love of hard bop and funk and soul, and have created several groups to play that music.

The two are the front-line horns in Marc Decho's Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers, which was a huge hit at Merrickville in 2014 and has continued to play regularly and successfully around Ottawa ever since. Both the Stompers and this band share a similar mix of instruments, with Lister using several different mutes on his trumpet and Page playing clarinet and baritone and tenor sax. The difference is that the Night on the Town Band plays Page's own music.

Page is a prolific composer, in both longer-form chamber jazz and big band formats, as well as straight jazz tunes. He told the audience on Sunday that he created the band because he had a number of his tunes “which I didn't know what to do with. I decided to try them together and with this group – and they worked!”

The Night on the Town Band has played several times at Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago, and appeared at last June's Ottawa Jazz Festival. But I thought their concert at Merrickville was a cut above anything I'd heard them do before, in terms of group tightness and a distinctive sound – perhaps because they had recorded an album exactly a month before. They gave the diverse set list an engaging work-out and easily captured the audience's attention.

They opened the varied set-list with “Broken Toe”, which featured deep growling notes on baritone sax contrasting with more delicate, melodic lines on electric guitar and muted trumpet. It was a fast-paced opening to the show, with lots of group interaction producing a notable groove.

“Duke's Rhumba”, by contrast, was a blues with a quiet Latin tinge, an extended piece with notable solos. Page contributed slow, moody lines on clarinet; Wright produced glistening guitar lines; Bilodeau played melodic and deep bass riffs; and Lister created a fast sparkle of notes on trumpet which coalesced into a subdued whole. The piece started and ended with a duet between clarinet and muted trumpet, repeating the mournful theme.

By this point, the audience was enjoying itself: the piece got strong applause.

And that enjoyment continued with “An Afternoon with Sailor Jerry”, a dirty blues with lots of swing which featured wah-wah trumpet lines, bright, syncopated guitar, and intense tenor sax. It got the crowd clapping and cheering partway through.

“East Coast Sunset” was a piece not only new to the audience, but also to the band. Page wrote it in 2009 and had dug it out the previous evening and gave it a short rehearsal with the band that afternoon. Regardless, it worked well: a quiet lament with the guitar, bass, and drums holding the piece together and trumpet and tenor sax creating coordinated but contrasting melodies.

I was particularly impressed with “Tangoesque”, which Page originally wrote for string quartet. It opened with his deep, sensuous line on clarinet. Lister joined in on muted trumpet, and both continued playing a sinuous melody. It was a mesmerizing piece, with each musician in turn adding to the swaying feel, before it ended with bright notes on guitar and slowly fading clarinet.

“H Double-Oh Tee” was the nearest Page got to hard bop in this show, with a fast swinging introduction on baritone sax and muted trumpet, well supported by the rhythm section. It was altogether upbeat, with an emphatic, almost furious drum solo from Delage, and bright, flowing guitar from Wright.

The group closed with a song that shouldn't have worked, but did. “White Picket Fence” is Page's one and only country-and-western song. He told the crowd it was a fun song to play, and it turned out to be a fun song to listen to, despite starting off slowly and a bit melancholy. It built up with contrasting voices from the different instruments all playing the melody – before ending slowly and with feeling.

The audience praised the hour-long show with an immediate standing ovation.

Page says that he hopes to release the band's first album in the next few months, and will schedule more live gigs for the band at that time. Listeners should watch out for those shows: this is a talented group of Ottawa musicians playing fine original music, and is well worth listening to.

    – Alayne McGregor

Read's reviews of concerts at the 2015 Merrickville's Jazz Fest, and interviews with musicians appearing at the festival:

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2015