Betty Ann Bryanton Presents Sideways Bend Reprise
Les Brasseurs du Temps, Gatineau
Saturday, September 10, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Like many jazz fans, Ottawa vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton prefers the night to the morning – and figures she should be able to sleep in on a Saturday! But the City of Ottawa allows construction to start at 7 a.m. weekdays and Saturdays. Over the last 18 months, with three different large buildings going up in her neighbourhood, she's heard far too many loud beeps and bangs at times she'd rather be sleeping.

Betty Ann Bryanton and her sextet brought a finely-tuned set list and lots of joy to their packed Sideways Bend Reprise show at BDT on September 10 ©Brett Delmage, 2016
Betty Ann Bryanton and her sextet brought a finely-tuned set list and lots of joy to their packed Sideways Bend Reprise show at BDT on September 10 ©Brett Delmage, 2016

At her Sideways Bend show on Saturday, she took revenge – in song.

“The Noisy Blues” was a fast-paced blues which she wrote one morning when she was woken up, again. She and her band played it with an edge, and added beeping, barking, bird calls, and other raucous noises to demonstrate exactly how annoying the noise really was. With lots of energy and even some scatting, it was a performance that grabbed the audience and received strong applause.

But it was only one of the highlights in a well-tuned performance of jazz vocal pieces which Bryanton organized. After a sold-out premiere at GigSpace last May, this was the second time she had presented the material. This reprise show also sold out, with the lower room of Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau completely packed.

In two sets, each more than an hour long, Bryanton performed songs from across the 20th century, ranging from ballads to blues to Latin to upbeat jazz numbers. She had spent a year preparing the original show, and this clearly showed in its professionalism and smoothness. And with Pierre Monfils on guitar, Howard Tweddle on electric and double bass, Lu Frattaroli on drums, David R. Miller on keyboards, and Dmitry Egunov on soprano and tenor sax, she had a good local band which was clearly comfortable with the music.

The show opened with a spirited and extended version of W.C. Handy's “St. Louis Blues”, the oldest number in the show. The band started playing quietly even before the lights dimmed, and got steadily louder before Bryanton entered, singing with feeling and bluesy intent. Egunov accented her vocals with soprano sax (as he did frequently during the show), and both he and Monfils added insistent solos. It was a great opener – and a riskier and less-common choice for a vocalist.

They followed that with a warm, Latin number: “Flamingo” by Ted Grouya, with Bryanton explaining how Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn discovered this song and made it a hit. A minimalist arrangement (just guitar and bass and vocals) of “Midnight Sun” was next.

I particularly liked their version of George Gershwin's “My Man's Gone Now”, which was inspired by Nina Simone's arrangement, which Bryanton had transcribed for the band. Dramatic and haunting, it featured echoing drums and strong, ominous piano chords. Bryanton's vocals evoked vivid pictures and the bereft feeling in the lyrics.

Frattaroli opened “My Favourite Things” with a sustained drum solo, beginning with a fantasia of shimmering cymbals in many combinations, eventually adding edged drumming, and ending with a thumping flourish – and evoking strong applause. The band gave the song a more punctuated feel, emphasizing the beat, and Bryanton ended it by jumping for joy.

She also included several tender love songs, sung in a conversational style with her voice caressing the lyrics: “Remind Me”, “Guess Who I Saw Today”, and “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing”.

But the band seemed to have the most fun with the upbeat numbers: for example, their swinging second-set medley in which Monfils sung a a duo with her on “Hit the Road, Jack”, and the band went wild on the theme from Spiderman (Frattaroli even wore a Spiderman T-shirt). On “Caravan”, Bryanton's modulated vocals contrasted with Egunov's fierce soprano sax and Miller's vibrating piano, creating an inviting vibe.

Bryanton enjoyed “Choro”, a piano instrumental by Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, so much that she wrote lyrics for it. Miller opened the piece with strong chords which unfolded into a melody over which Bryanton sung, creating a passionate and memorable love song.

I was glad to see the inclusion of a more modern song (from 1996): “Robert Frost” by New York bassist and composer Jay Leonhart. It's about the poet, and whether the composer would have been able to write more if he'd had the same resources and time as Frost, and didn't have to write in the chaos of the city. The band began the song thoughtfully and developed it into a more accented piece, with an expressive guitar solo from Monfils underlining Bryanton's vocals.

They band closed with the well-known (both as a jazz and pop song) “I Can See Clearly Now”. With Frattaroli playing the cajon with brushes, and Tweddle moving to double bass, the band gave it a rousing rendition, with Bryanton's heartfelt vocals building up over powerful rhythms – a buoyant close to a well-received show.

Bryanton had pitched this show as an exploration of “beautiful but rare jazz tunes” which are “off the beaten path”. I'd agree with the beautiful, but I'm not so sure about the rare: there were only three songs in each set that I didn't immediately recognize.

Nevertheless, she should be given kudos for looking for less-common tunes and doing them well. I would just have liked to have been surprised even more, because I know there are many good tunes, both from the heyday of the Great American Songbook and by more recent composers, that deserve more exposure. Why not a piece by Alec Wilder, for example? Let's hear more rare jazz songs!

    – Alayne McGregor

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Set List

Set 1:

  •  St. Louis Blues / W.C. Handy
  • Flamingo / Ted Grouya
  • Midnight Sun / Sonny Burke and Lionel Hampton, lyrics by Johnny Mercer
  • The Look of Love / Burt Bacharach and Hal David
  • My Man's Gone Now / George Gershwin
  • Remind Me / Jerome Kern, lyrics by Dorothy Fields
  • The Noisy Blues / Betty Ann Bryanton
  • My Favourite Things / Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein

Set 2:

  • Guess Who I Saw Today / Murray Grand, lyrics by Elisse Boyd
  • Caravan / Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington
  • I’ve Got A Crush On You / George Gershwin
  • Medley: Bei Mir Bistu Shein (Jacob Jacobs and Sholom Secunda) / Hit the Road, Jack (Percy Mayfield) / I Love Paris (Cole Porter) / Spiderman Theme (Paul Francis Webster, Robert Harris)
  • A Flower is a Lovesome Thing / Billy Strayhorn
  • Choro / Antonio Carlos Jobim, lyrics by Betty Ann Bryanton
  • Medley: Somewhere Over the Rainbow + What a Wonderful World / as done by Israel "Iz" Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole
  • Robert Frost / Jay Leonhart
  • I Can See Clearly Now / Johnny Nash