©Brett Delmage, 2018
Keith Hartshorn-Walton on sousaphone and Mike Essoudry on drums provided the backbone for the Bank Street Bonbons in their Canada Day show at the Ottawa Jazz Festival ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Bank Street Bonbons
Ottawa Jazz Festival, Ontario Stage
Sunday, July 1 - 3 to 4 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The Bank Street Bonbons could be called a brass band. But that would be the same as calling gazpacho tomato soup. There's a lot more than just brass in their music.

The eight-piece Ottawa jazz group – seven horns plus leader Mike Essoudry on drums – has come a considerable way since their debut at Irene's Pub in May, 2016. Over the last two years, Essoudry has written a much larger book of tunes specifically for this group, replacing the repurposed Mash Potato Mashers tunes and covers which they started out with. The result: music that's fun to dance to, and but has lots of depth for listeners.

At their Canada Day show at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, the Bonbons played a full set of Essoudry's originals, some from the group's debut CD, and some destined for their next album.

An enthusiastic mid-afternoon crowd filled the Ontario Stage tent in Confederation Park to hear the Bonbons. There wasn't much dancing, however, because it was an excruciatingly hot and humid day. The electric fan at the side didn't cool down the stage much: all the musicians were frequently mopping their faces with towels and gulping water, but that didn't slow down their playing.

On the upbeat side were pieces like “Funk Muffin”, which matched Keith Hartshorn-Walton's deep emphatic melody on sousaphone with a rolling drumbeat, and call-and-response lines between the trombones and the trumpets and saxophones. After a twisting alto sax solo from Zakari Frantz and Ed Lister's raw-edged trumpet solo, the entire band joined in to create a festive groove that easily inspired strong and extended applause.

Bank Street Bonbons ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Horns in unison: Nick Dyson, Ed Lister, Tyler Harris, Zakari Frantz of the Bank Street Bonbons ©Brett Delmage, 2018

I particularly enjoyed the more “chill” vibe of “Stoner Down” – a Kenny Wheeleresque piece which opened with fluttering horn lines over dark sousaphone thumps and a steady drumbeat. After Nick Dyson's warm and full trumpet solo, all the horns joined into the melody and gradually created a sustained yet subdued groove, ending in a last long held note.

Similarly, “Sneaking” was a more orchestral piece, with an evocative and restrained melody on alto sax and trombone slowly building up to a climax before returning to its original theme. It clearly hearkened back to Essoudry's quieter compositions for his sextet, while still fitting the sound and instrumentation of this group.

Among Essoudry's new tunes, “Singing Plains” was a standout: a fast number which opened with Balkan-influenced alto-sax melodies from Frantz and Tyler Harris, and was anchored by Walton's strong bass line on sousaphone. Frantz and Lister repeatedly traded aggressive short solos on alto sax and trumpet before the whole band joined in for a powerful close.

“Move!”, the title tune of the Bonbons' 2017 CD, featured a revolving series of instruments, each contributing their own variations to the melody and the beat. Ryan Purchase's hard-edged trombone pushed the energy up even further before the entire group joined in an exhilarating ensemble push.

The show's closing number, “Fleet”, opened with steady hand claps, and then burst into a bright, dancing groove. With Frantz and Lister adding intense, circling solos, the tune developed a distinctive groove, and ended in a brass and drums fantasia.

The audience responded with an exuberant standing ovation – ignoring the heat in favour of celebrating the music.

Set List

(all compositions by Mike Essoudry)

  1. Gimme More
  2. Distillation
  3. 20 Million
  4. Stoner Down
  5. Funk Muffin
  6. What Have We Learned
  7. Singing Plains
  8. Move
  9. Sneaking
  10. Fleet

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