©Brett Delmage, 2018
Roland Racz, Zakari Frantz, and Phil Charbonneau intently watch an unseen solo by leader Mike Essoudry ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Epoch Quintet
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Saturday, May 12, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Drummer and composer Mike Essoudry has been a consistently-innovative and interesting jazz voice in Ottawa for many years. His own music is diverse – avant-garde improvisation in duo projects and with the Rakestar Arkestra; the groove-oriented drums-organ duo Bumpin' Binary; his popular brass bands including his former Mash Potato Mashers and his current Bank Street Bonbons; and intricate through-composed modern jazz in his own ensembles, like his current Epoch Quintet.

Essoudry thinks large when it comes to groups. His ensembles have previously been sextets, septets, and octets; this quintet is the smallest he's brought together to play modern jazz.

They're all musicians he's played with before. Guitarist Alex Moxon and alto saxophonist Zakari Frantz are well-known on the local jazz scene; pianist Roland Racz moved to Ottawa a few years ago from Hungary, where he had won many jazz and classical awards, and has been steadily increasing his profile here. Phil Charbonneau, on double bass, has a strong jazz and improv background, but lately has been playing more with indie groups like the Hilotrons.

This performance was the group's first formal concert, and featured many of the same pieces they'd tried out last September at Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago LINK. For this ensemble, Essoudry wrote some new tunes and also reworked older compositions – some written as long as 15 years ago. But they fitted together well: rich, flowing music which showed off the talent of these musicians.

The compositions they played were complex and multi-layered – particularly in their time signatures. Essoudry told the audience that one piece contained sections in 6/4, 4/4, and 13/8, but “Don't worry about getting it – just enjoy it!”

They opened with the compelling “All the Kingsmen”, a hopeful and collaborative piece which combined Frantz's flowing sax lines with Moxon's fluid guitar and Racz's vivid organ lines on keyboards – all propelled forward by Essoudry's light but insistent drumming.

Next were similarly strong ensemble pieces: “The Time is Now”, a ballad with an evocative melody expressed in interlaced sax and guitar; “The Black Flower”, a warm and inviting tune which built to deep waves of sound and ended in a flurry of cymbals; and “Tribeca Blues”, a joyous piece driven by circling sax, steel-edged guitar, energetic drumming, and dancing keyboards.

They also included one 60s piece by jazz icon Herbie Hancock, “Tell Me a Bedtime Story”, which combines sparkling piano and melodic saxophone lines into a memorable tune. You could hear the influences of Hancock's 60s style on Essoudry's pieces in this show – in particular, the freshness and immediacy of the music, and its clarity (and lack of muddiness). Even when everyone was playing, you could always hear the individual musicians as part of the musical mosaic.

In the second set, I particularly enjoyed “The Fifth Eye”. It opened with an extended bass solo from Charbonneau, whose rounded notes spread out slowly, resonating through the room. As the other musicians joined in, it developed into a mellow and full-bodied piece interweaving the different instrumental voices – and adding a touch of swing.

“Lament”, which Essoudry originally wrote for his octet, similarly opened with a deep bass riff into which Essoudry added light, metallic cymbal taps. It was a stately, sad tune, whose drama was enhanced with bowed bass, and by the vibrating and moaning notes Essoudry created by running his fingers on his drumskins. Both Moxon and Charbonneau had extensive effects pedals at their feet, and Moxon used them tastefully in this tune to add extra overtones to his guitar,

“Kaprekar Smith” was a more in-your-face tune, with hard, interrupted guitar and drums and a distinct Balkan feel.

The quintet closed with “Circular”, a piece Essoudry wrote 15 years before. It was funkier – and, as Essoudry joked, very “safe” for listening or dancing, since its time signature was a basic 4/4. If you liked Hancock in his early 70s jazz fusion period, you'd like this tune – bright and sunny, it left everyone feeling upbeat. The audience applauded warmly at the end, as they had throughout the show.

All through the show, there was a friendly vibe, with Essoudry announcing and explaining each tune to the audience. The band even added an impromptu Happy Birthday at one point for the mother of Record Runner owner Paul Adjeleian. As always, you could hear every note in Record Runner's intimate listening room, which particularly complemented Essoudry's nuanced music, and the modulated performances of the musicians.

The performance reminded me of a delicious Indian curry – with a variety of intense flavours, each complementing but not drowning out the others. I particularly liked how each musician was carefully listening to the rest of the ensemble, and fitting in with the flow of the music. It made for an engrossing and highly enjoyable evening.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Set List

All compositions by Mike Essoudry unless otherwise specified

Set 1:

  1. All the Kingsmen
  2. The Time is Now
  3. Tell Me a Bedtime Story (Herbie Hancock)
  4. Black Flower
  5. Tribeca Blues

Set 2:

  1. Kaprekar Smith
  2. The Fifth Eye
  3. Lament
  4. Circular

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