©Brett Delmage, 2018
Guitarist Sam Kirmayer and his quartet (with bassist Mike De Masi, drummer Dave Laing, and pianist Sean Fyfe) connected strongly with the audience in the intimate Record Runner Rehearsal Studios on January 25, combining Kirmayer's originals with classic but not overplayed jazz standards. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Sam Kirmayer Quartet
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Thursday, January 25, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Combining fine ensemble playing with interesting compositions and congenial introductions, Sam Kirmayer and his quartet strongly connected with their Ottawa audience Thursday.

The young Montreal guitarist is definitely attuned to the jazz tradition, but uses that tradition as a springboard for his own musical voice. The show combined original tunes from his 2017 debut CD with newer ones from his upcoming second release, as well as classic but not overplayed standards.

The result: a collection of approachable tunes which flowed easily from one to the other, in a friendly and inviting show which consistently evoked warm applause in the intimate room. It was the first show of mini-tour this weekend that also took the quartet to Quebec City and Montreal.

Kirmayer has said that one of his strongest influences is jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. His tune “Synecdoche”, for example, is based on Montgomery's classic “Four on Six”, which, in turn, was based on George Gershwin's “Summertime”. It's definitely its own tune – Kirmayer noted that he changed the key to the more-difficult E flat minor and added more chords and changed the rhythm– but you could hear a certain heritage in the music.

In fact, the quartet's overall sound somewhat owed a debt to Montgomery: the strong, propulsive bass and drums, the sparkling keyboards, and the nuanced and flowing guitar in Thursday's show were all characteristic of Montgomery's recordings as well. But it's a pattern that one can run many variations on, and the quartet took their own path in this concert.

Unlike many jazz guitarists of his generation, the 27-year-old Kirmayer doesn't have a box of assorted effects boxes and pedals by his feet. Instead, his was an unadorned electric guitar sound, rounded and clear and expressive. That was matched by the other three musicians: Sean Fyfe's keyboard sound was lucid and exact, with no extra notes, and Mike De Masi used his double bass to add warmth and emphasis in the lower registers and contrasting melodies in his solos. Dave Laing again showed why he is a go-to jazz drummer in Montreal; his drumming strongly energized the music and added the exact level of texture and fullness needed by each song, without unneeded decoration.

This was the first time the entire quartet had performed together since the release of Kirmayer's Opening Statement CD last April. With Fyfe living in NYC and the other three in Montreal, Kirmayer said it can be difficult for them to get together. In the first set, Fyfe's eyes were mostly glued to his charts, but by the second set, everyone had relaxed and added more improvisation and exploration to the pieces.

Throughout the show, Kirmayer talked about the inspirations for his songs. The opening number, “Jiro's Dream”, was inspired by a documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and its message of following one's path as far as one is able to; “High and Low” by the film of that name by Akira Kurosawa; “What Could Have Been” by Paul Auster's alternate-history novel, 4 3 2 1.

I particularly enjoyed “Cazelais Oublié”, one of Kirmayer's newer tunes, which he explained was inspired by his own neighbourhood of St. Henri in Montreal. That area is undergoing extensive gentrification, except for Kirmayer's own rue Cazelais, because his street faces a major highway interchange which has been under construction for years. Kirmayer said there was even a benefit to that: no one complained about his practicing or rehearsals because of all the construction noise!

It was an upbeat and vibrant number, but with a touch of nostalgia. Laing moved all over the drumset driving the number, and dancing notes on guitar and swinging and accented keyboards expressed the melody.

The jazz standards in the show complemented the originals, the quartet giving them swinging and smooth ensemble performances, and Kirmayer paying tribute to the jazz musicians associated with them, including Wynton Kelly and Booker Little.

Cole Porter's “Get Out of Town” was a stand-out number, with each of the musicians using the tune as a springboard for extended exploration in their solos and adding to the energy with fast flurries of notes, shimmering cymbals, and a powerful groove. The musicians were repeatedly trading fours, with hard and swift exchanges between Laing's intense drumming, De Masi's warm bass notes, and Fyfe's punctuated keyboards.

I was also impressed with the ballad “The Night We Called It a Day”, given a thoughtful rendition, with a quiet and restrained solo guitar introduction, rustling cymbals and snares, deep resonant bass notes, and warm, lyrical keyboards. Kirmayer's guitar really delved into the song and fully explored its melancholy theme, with bluesy and emotional edge that had considerable impact.

The quartet closed the show with “Synecdoche”, its bright and memorable riff given an accented and fast exploration by all. Kirmayer's fluid guitar, Fyfe's syncopated keyboards, De Masi's warm and expansive bass notes, and Laing's rolling and pounding drum solo all added to the joyous feel. When it ended in a sparkle of guitar notes, they audience responded with strong and extended applause.

Then one listener asked, “Well, can't we have an encore?”, to strong general agreement. The quartet closed with a celebratory version of the classic “Just in Time”, with fast and chiming keyboard lines and sleek guitar. When it closed with a hard guitar and drums flourish, about half the audience stood for a standing ovation.

I was impressed with Kirmayer's three newer tunes in this show, which complemented those on his debut album. His second album, due out later this year, will feature him with Laing and Hammond B3 organist Ben Patterson – but given how well the tunes worked with this quartet, I'm already looking forward to that CD, and to hearing Kirmayer again.

Set list:

Set 1

  1. Jiro's Dream / Kirmayer
  2. High and Low / Kirmayer
  3. Young and Foolish / Albert Hague, Arnold B. Horwitt
  4. On a Clear Day / Burton Lane
  5. Opening Statement / Booker Little

Set 2

  1. Cazelais Oublié / Kirmayer
  2. What Could Have Been / Kirmayer
  3. The Night We Called It a Day / Matt Dennis, Tom Adair
  4. Get Out of Town / Cole Porter
  5. Synecdoche / Kirmayer
  6. (encore) Just in Time

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