Ron Di Lauro Sextet - Kind of Blue Tribute
2018 Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire
The British Hotel, Gatineau
Wednesday, July 25, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

It was with “Blue in Green” that the Ron Di Lauro Sextet really caught fire on Wednesday night in Aylmer.

The sextet's concert was a tribute to Miles Davis' iconic album, Kind of Blue, and it had already quieted a noisy room and evoked strong applause after every number. But the mid-set “Blue in Green” took the music to another level, with slow singing trumpet lines over reflective piano, bringing out the bleakness and loneliness behind the beauty in this song's melody. The music only got more powerful after that, in a strong ensemble performance which could both swing out mightily and explore quiet minor-key changes with deep care and intensity.

The pieces they performed were all recorded by Miles Davis in 1958 or 1959. The sextet opened with two jazz standards from the 1958 Miles album, and closed with another from Milestones [1958], with the entirety of the 1959 Kind of Blue album played, in order, in the middle.

The sextet featured a renowned and highly experienced group of Montreal jazz musicians: Di Lauro on trumpet, Jean-Pierre Zanella on alto sax, André Leroux on tenor sax, Geoff Lapp on piano, Michel Donato on double bass, and Dave Laing on drums. Di Lauro told the audience they'd played this music more than 80 times across Quebec (including in 2012 in Gatineau). While Leroux and Laing performed at this year's Ottawa Jazz Festival, and have appeared there before, and Donato has been featured several times at Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire, the others have not been often heard here.

This was the first concert in this year's Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire, in the Aylmer (western) sector of Gatineau. The festival is normally held outdoors in the Parc de l'Imaginaire but with uncertain weather, the festival elected to move this show indoors to the nearby British Hotel, in its large main-floor dining room.

As the concert time approached, the room steadily filled with hundreds of listeners, joining those who had come earlier for dinner or drinks. Effectively every seat was taken, and on three sides of the dining area, there was a packed ring of standees. I didn't see anyone leaving during the show, and the audience response to each number was immediate and enthusiastic.

But it was very noisy, unlike the very quiet concerts we've heard in this series in the Parc de l'Imaginaire. The room's surfaces were hard and reflected back the loud conversations pre-concert. The sextet, perhaps recognizing this, played fast-paced and upbeat versions of the standards “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Love for Sale”, each showcasing the different musicians in vivid solos and showing the musicians' easy familiarity with and love of the material. The background noise gradually died down during those numbers, though not completely.

If you go to any jam or listen to jazz radio, you'll have heard four of the five pieces from Kind of Blue many times. The opening riffs from “So What” and “All Blues” are instantly familiar. This sextet's interpretations were respectful, but not excessively so – the trumpet and sax solos in particular were individual and interesting in their own right and definitely commanding one's attention. I particularly enjoyed how Donato and Laing, while mostly staying in the background, provided the deep rhythms that added richness to the music.

Of the five pieces, my favourites were the last three, which were in a quieter, more introspective mood. On the last one, “Flamenco Sketches”, Di Lauro played beautiful and reverent muted trumpet lines; Zanella inflected alto sax lines, almost sobbing; Leroux a rich, joyful tenor solo; and Lapp a deeply emotional piano solo dipping to almost inaudible in places. Their playing immersed you in the tune's sorrow and loveliness.

As soon as the last notes of that tune died out, the audience started cheering and clapping and then rose for a standing ovation.

The group's closing number was “Two Bass Hit”, a robust, swinging number. Laing drove the music with speedy drumming and a resounding solo, and Zanella and Leroux contributed extended and all-out sax solos, with the piece ending with a huge trumpet/sax fanfare. The audience immediately sprang up for a second standing ovation.

The Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire continues this week with shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The festival will announce each afternoon whether the weather will allow the concert to be held in the park or moved to the British Hotel. Follow the @OttawaJazzScene twitter feed for an update each afternoon after 2:30 p.m. The forecast is so far showing improving weather.

Set List

  • On Green Dolphin Street (Bronisław Kaper, Ned Washington)
  • Love for Sale (Cole Porter)

Kind of Blue:

  • So What
  • Freddie Freeloader
  • Blue in Green
  • All Blues
  • Flamenco Sketches

  • Two Bass Hit (John Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie)

Read related stories by OttawaJazzScene.ca:

July 31: Corrected the name of the series to Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire