David Renaud and Brian Browne
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Friday, April 14, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Clarinetist David Renaud and pianist Brian Browne have an easy rapport, born of shared musical tastes and a joint willingness to experiment and have fun with their music.

David Renaud (r) enjoys one of Brian Browne's solos at their show at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios April 14. ©Brett Delmage, 2017
David Renaud (r) enjoys one of Brian Browne's solos at their show at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios April 14. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

The duo communicated that rapport with their audience on Friday, in a happy and varied show at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios. They played songs from the two albums they've recorded together: 2016's First Love, and the just-released Encore.

Jazz standards, gospel numbers, and blues all appeared in the set list, played with nuance and a great deal of verve – and the occasional unexpected musical tease by Browne. These were all well-known pieces – in fact, Browne played completely from memory, without any sheet music – but the duo didn't take them for granted. They immersed themselves in each song's melody and rhythms, and then used them as stepping-off places for exploration.

The two Ottawa musicians have known each other for years. “He's good for me. He makes me listen,” Renaud told the audience.

They opened with “Beautiful Love”, one of Renaud's favourite tunes, and gave it a vibrant reading. While Renaud followed and expanded on the melody, Browne counterpoised more fragmented and sparse piano rhythms over which the clarinet could shine brightly – and then in his own solo, reimagined the melody in a sustained, stride piano style.

On the duo's first CD, Renaud played only Bb and A clarinets. He recounted how he pulled out a bass clarinet for that CD's release concert, “just because it seemed like a bright idea”, and was highly impressed with the bass clarinet sound when he listened to the recording of that concert. “Wow! We've got to do more of that!”

He pulled out the bass clarinet and introduced the audience to it before playing Hoagy Carmichael's classic “Lazy River”. The instrument's full-bodied, gritty sound was an excellent match for the song's insinuating melody, and Renaud took it to both very deep echoing notes and light high notes in his rendition. Browne played a strong rhythmic accompaniment to the clarinet and then built on that rhythm in his solo, giving the music a bell-like quality. They ended the piece as a swinging conversation, each responding to the other.

“God Bless the Child” needs a careful approach to encompass both its inherent sadness and its sardonic understanding of human nature. Renaud emphasized the melancholy, taking his bass clarinet right down to the bottom of its range in this piece. He played the melody slowly and with deep feeling – a rich ribbon of sound – over Browne's stripped-down piano lines. In his solo, Browne gradually increased the depth and complexity of his sound, while keeping the same solemn pace and intense feeling – while mixing in a bit of hope as well.

Renaud told the audience that he had been trying to reproduce exactly how he performed this song on the CD, but realized that trying to reproduce music just gets in the way. “You just have to let go and listen to what's inside and just do.”

“Amazing Grace” was one of the highlights of the duo's first CD, and the duo has played it at all their concerts since the CD's release. Renaud told the audience that the hymn was written by a former slave ship captain turned pastor and anti-slavery activist, and suggested that its melody is based on an African slave song based on a pentatonic (blues) scale. The duo played it with simply and sincerely and beautifully, with the Renaud's clarinet soaring over resonant piano.

Lighter numbers were also prominent in the show, including the lively “Blue Skies”, and the sweet and reminiscent “Alice in Wonderland”. “Ain't Misbehavin' ” kicked up its heels in their dancing version, and the duo simply had fun with “The Sunny Side of the Street”, adding trills and musical interjections to their fast and fluid rendition.

I particularly enjoyed “Basin Street Blues”, a musical conversation in which Renaud let his bass clarinet slink along the melody in easy companionship with Browne's sparkling piano – and surprise the audience with a few unexpected jumps. “Caravan” combined vibrating clarinet lines (sounding almost as though played underwater at one point) with dramatic piano swoops and runs, and ended with an extended duet.

But the slower numbers were the biggest crowd-pleasers – and a hit with Renaud, too. “I do admit there's a lot of ballads on the first album – but they're beautiful!” he told the audience.

They performed “Georgia” quietly and gently, giving it a wistful feel – and evoked strong applause and a “Beautiful!”. “Softly as a Morning Sunrise” stilled the room, with its haunting melody taken in several different directions but always compelling.

The “Great” rehearsal room within Record Runner Rehearsal Studios was particularly suited to Renaud and Browne's music. Unlike a restaurant show, there were no outside sounds to distract. I heard the finest nuances: clicking keys on Renaud's clarinet, the vibrating reed on his tenor sax, or Browne's most pianissimo touch on the keys.

The audience applauded, laughed, and generally seemed to be enjoying themselves throughout the show. Near the end, they spontaneously started clapping in time to the duo's high-speed tenor sax-piano version of “All of Me”, getting into the swing of the music. Record Runner owner Paul Adjeleian added to the warm vibe with enthusiastic introductions and thank-yous at the beginning and end of the show. Right at the end, it was announced that this was Adjeleian's birthday, and the audience shared in a cake, complementing the refreshments they had been offered at intermission.

Renaud and Browne closed with “Angel Eyes”, played simply and lovingly, with finesse and grace and the occasional flurry of notes on the piano. The audience responded with very strong and extended applause.

It was a memorable evening. No surprise, with two highly-experienced musicians who take the music seriously – and themselves not so much.

    – Alayne McGregor

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Set List

Set 1:

  • Beautiful Love
  • Lazy River
  • God Bless the Child
  • Amazing Grace
  • Blue Skies
  • Alice in Wonderland

Set 2:

  • Sunny Side of the Street
  • Basin Street Blues
  • Georgia
  • Ain't Misbehavin'
  • Softly as a Morning Sunrise
  • Caravan
  • All of Me
  • Angel Eyes

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