Stay Tuned ©Brett Delmage, 2018
(l-r) Karl Nerenberg, Charles Shadeed, Michèle Castonguay, Ron Ferguson of Stay Tuned played vibrant and melodic jazz, with lots of background info, at their show at the Lebanese Palace ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Stay Tuned/Restez-à-lécoute
The Lebanese Palace
Tuesday, November 20, 2018 – 7:30 p.m

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance in colour / in black and white

It was a night of vibrant and melodic jazz, as Stay Tuned/Restez-à-lécoute showcased two vocalists in two sets at the Lebanese Palace on Tuesday, November 20.

The Ottawa jazz ensemble attracted an almost-full house, as it played an upbeat mix of standards and a few originals. The group has been often heard hosting JazzWorks jam sessions and performing at benefits for causes like equitable land development in Africa or support for Eritrean and Syrian refugee families, but its dedication and skill was completely professional.

Their spokesperson, pianist Karl Nerenberg, has frequently said that the group's mission is to bring the love of jazz to everyone – and you could see that in how their music connected with the audience, who regularly applauded and even occasionally got up to dance. Nerenberg added to the outreach through his friendly introductions, comfortably talking about the composers and telling anecdotes about the songs and their historical background – and perhaps reflecting his own background as a journalist and documentary filmmaker.

Michèle Castonguay was the vocalist for the first set, of which I heard most, but not all, because of a time conflict with another event. She sang with a smile and added bright scatted sections to standards like “You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To” and “Taking a Chance on Love”. On ballads like “'Round Midnight” and “Georgia”, she put her heart into the lyrics, giving them their full emotional due. She easily navigated the different time signatures in the Freddie Hubbard hard bop number “Up Jumped Spring” and gave it a warm, conversational vibe that was a hit with the audience.

Her melodic partner in many of those numbers was trumpeter Ron Ferguson, whose expressive flugelhorn performance really added to the impact of songs like “Georgia” and “Taking a Chance on Love”. Double bassist Charles Shadeed, drummer Dan Quinlan, and Nerenberg provided a strong swinging rhythm section, with piano and bass stepping out on “You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To”.

The first set ended with an imaginative medley, two songs in the same key and with almost the same name: Jerome Kern's “Yesterdays” and Paul McCartney's “Yesterday”. The Beatles number was given a syncopated treatment, and the Kern tune a Latin beat, and both fitted nicely together.

For the second set, local jazz/R&B vocalist Ferline Regis took the stage, and electric bassist Stevenson Pierre Louis replaced Shadeed. Regis, who occasionally guests with Stay Tuned, has real star power, and her heartfelt husky vocals command attention. She opened with the Brazilian rhythms of “Blue Bossa”, a 60s bop tune made famous by Lou Donaldson, giving the lyrics a dramatic reading, and continued with a full-bodied and flowing version of “Fly Me to the Moon”, ending on a long held note.

For many of the jazz standards in this set, she sang the lyrics in their original French (Regis is from Haiti and French is her native tongue). She also added vivid scatted sections in duet with Ferguson on flugelhorn. In introducing “C'est Si Bon”, she suggested to the listeners they think of everything that's good to get into that song's mood – and then took her own advice to give the tune a smooth, assured, and altogether joyful rendition.

“(You make me feel like) A Natural Woman” was a striking tribute to Aretha Franklin, with Regis' rich vocals ringing out, deeply vibrating, and almost preaching in places. Castonguay sang backup on the song's chorus, adding a calling-and-response vibe – and the result was a powerful testimonial that evoked intense applause from the audience. Regis followed that with similarly emotion-rich and hopeful versions of “Amazing Grace” and “Hymn to Freedom”, to a similar response.

Regis also included one of her own tunes, “Tends La Main”, a smooth and romantic number sung sincerely and warmly.

For the last three numbers Castonguay joined Regis on stage. They easily alternated versions and sang together on dancing versions of two well-known standards, and then went all-out on the soul classic “Stand by Me”. Ferguson's roughened trumpet lines nicely underlined their intense immersion in the song's optimistic message. As the music faded at the end, the audience strongly applauded.

It was a pity that many of the listeners left before the show ended at 10 p.m. – perhaps because this was a weekday – because they missed a fine close and some exceptional singing.

The show was held at the Lebanese Palace, a relatively new addition to Ottawa's jazz scene. There have been very few jazz-presenting venues east of downtown, so it was a real boost to the scene when vocalist and promoter Jacquie Dixon started organizing shows at this restaurant last March. She began with monthly events and then in June moved to every Wednesday. She has even added some additional Tuesday shows, such as this one.

The restaurant is located on Industrial Avenue at St. Laurent Boulevard, and is easily accessible by transit, bike, and car. The shows are hosted in the formal dining side of the restaurant (it also has a fast-food section), a large square room which includes a formal stage, impressive sound system, and proper stage lights. The sound was good throughout the room. The lights, on the other hand, had been left on a program that was constantly changing colours and flashing, complete with intermittent laser sparkles. This was not friendly to the performers, who couldn’t see their music during the intermittent darkness – and it quickly became annoying in general. Dixon assured us this was not typical of performances there; however, no one from the venue corrected it all evening. There was also a brief sound glitch at the start of the second set where Nerenberg had to assertively request that the recorded music that was playing during the break was silenced.

Dixon is continuing to schedule local and occasional visiting musicians at the restaurant. It’s a good choice for east Ottawa listeners who like to hear approachable jazz in a location closer to them.

Set List

Set 1

  1. 'Round Midnight (Thelonious Monk)
  2. Georgia on My Mind (Hoagy Carmichael)
  3. You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To (Cole Porter)
  4. Taking a Chance on Love (Vernon Duke, John La Touche and Ted Fetter)
  5. Up Jumped Spring (Freddie Hubbard)
  6. Medley: Yesterdays (Jerome Kern, Otto Harbach) + Yesterday (Paul McCartney)

Set 2

  1. Blue Bossa (Kenny Dorham)
  2. Fly Me to the Moon (Bart Howard)
  3. Que reste-t-il de nos amours? [I Wish You Love] (Charles Trenet)
  4. Les Feuilles mortes [Autumn Leaves] (Joseph Kosma, Jacques Prévert)
  5. Lullaby of Broadway (Harry Warren, Al Dubin)
  6. C'est Si Bon (Henri Betti, André Hornez)
  7. Quizás, quizás, quizás (Osvaldo Farrés)
  8. (You make me feel like) A Natural Woman (Carole King and Gerry Goffin)
  9. Amazing Grace (John Newton)
  10. Hymn to Freedom (Oscar Peterson)
  11. Lonesome Stranger
  12. Tends La Main (Ferline Regis)
  13. Summertime (George Gershwin, DuBose Heyward)
  14. All of Me (Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons)
  15. Stand By Me (Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller)