Tenth Ward Shakedown
The Art House Café
Friday, October 26, 2018 – 8 p.m.
The Tenth Ward is a wedge-shaped section of central New Orleans. In jazz terms, it's best known as the home of Charles “Buddy” Bolden, a charismatic and powerful cornetist who, at the turn of the 20th century, became the father of New Orleans jazz.
New Orleans has been called “the birthplace of jazz” – in its most approachable way. Its jazz has a swinging, stomping, syncopated beat that makes people want to dance. From Bolden through Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton to modern masters like Trombone Shorty and Kermit Ruffins, the city's jazz is noted for its feel-good energy, freedom of expression through improvisation, spontaneity, and fun.
And that's the vibe a crowded room heard at The Art House Café on Friday evening.
The Ottawa jazz group Tenth Ward Shakedown – Tariq Amery on saxophone, Sean Duhaime on electric guitar, and Keith Hartshorn-Walton on double bass – has been presenting this material at the Café in monthly shows since last April. In August, they added a drummer to the line-up, contributing even more energy to the mix; for this evening, it was Andrew Ferderber.
In two sets, they played a mix of music by New Orleans musicians – Sidney Bechet, the Meters, and the archetypal Big Easy trad tune, “When the Saints Come Marching In” – plus jazz standards given a New Orleans kick.
Their energy never flagged over more than two hours of music. Amery in particular is a dynamo in concert, swirling his soprano sax around and about and constantly moving with the music. The others mostly stood still, but their fingers didn't – Duhaime produced fast flurries of notes on his guitar and high harmonics, Hartshorn-Walton deep, velvety bass lines, and Ferderber strongly propulsive drumming that drove all the tunes. Their wide range of dynamics in “Tenor Madness” was typical: from swinging, to in the groove, to super-fast, to stately and deep, to thumping drums, to swinging again.
I particularly enjoyed Amery's dramatic soprano intro to Bechet's “Petite Fleur”, bittersweet and sinuous, followed by Duhaime's fluttering guitar solo, both following but also expanding on the melody over a hard, martial drumbeat. The elegant yet exultant “Days of Wine and Roses” was another stand-out, as was the shining sax-guitar duet in “All of Me”.
The Art House Café is located just outside downtown proper on Somerset Street West at Bay. It's an old, much-converted mansion, accessed from the street by a large staircase leading into an open terrace. Its main floor is divided into a warren of rooms, with a large bar/coffee bar at the front. It's also an arts hub, with varied paintings and drawings by local artists filling every open space on the walls. When we were there, the entire main floor was crowded with people drinking, eating, and talking.
The concert space was in a room to the left of the front door, which might originally have been the front parlour. It was a cozy space, with a few small tables, but for this show mostly filled by solid, wood chairs in rows. It accommodated 20-odd listeners, and the room was set far enough away from the remainder of the floor that conversation in the rest of the café didn't interfere with the music.
The whole space had much the same vibe as the late lamented Raw Sugar Café or the pre-reconstruction Café Nostalgica, with listeners sitting cosily right up to the musicians.
Those who say that jazz is only for the old should have been at this show. With the exception of Hartshorn-Walton, the band members are still all in their 20s – and that was the age range of most of their listeners as well, who were applauding strongly and clearly enjoying the show. At least some of the people had heard the group before and vocally noted their disappointment that Amery hadn't brought his flute to play as well as his saxophone. One man offered to “fl-Uber” it over!
By the end of the first set, every seat was taken; some people left in the set break but more came in, filling up the room again. Listeners of all ages also listened enthusiastically from the hallway outside the room.
On a cold autumn evening, this was a warm and happy show. Most of the selections were “mother's milk” pieces to these experienced jazz musicians, but they took them seriously and played them vigorously and with imagination and verve. They closed with two pure-New Orleans numbers: a slightly raucous and celebratory “When the Saints Come Marching In”, morphing partway through into the harder and distinctive groove of The Meters' “Cissy Strut”, fast and decisive with each instrument fitting around and through each others' lines. It ended with a last full-out, high, extended flourish on soprano sax – and very strong applause and cheers.
The next Tenth Ward Shakedown show is scheduled for Friday, November 23 at the Art House Café.
- Summertime [George Gershwin]
- Caravan [Juan Tizol]
- Tenor Madness [Sonny Rollins]
- Petite Fleur [Sidney Bechet]
- Take the 'A' Train [Billy Strayhorn]
- Days of Wine and Roses [Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer]
- All the Things You Are [Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II]
- All of Me [Gerald Marks, Seymour Simons]
- Cherokee [Ray Noble]
- When the Saints Go Marching In [traditional]
- Cissy Strut [The Meters]