Shirantha Beddage ©Brett Delmage, 2019
NACLB bassist Mason Jeffrey-Off enjoys a solo by Shirantha Beddage ©Brett Delmage, 2019

The Nepean All-City Lab Band, and
The Nepean All-City Jazz Band
featuring special guest Dr. Shirantha Beddage
Nepean High School, Ottawa
Tuesday, April 30, 2019 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of the Nepean All-City Lab Band set
View photos by Brett Delmage of the Nepean All-City Jazz Band set

Spring is the best time to hear student big bands, when they've had nine months to play together and become familiar with their repertoire. It's also when they bring in guest artists, spurring them to further achievements.

On International Jazz Day, the Nepean All-City Lab Band (NACLB) and Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB) invited JUNO-nominated baritone saxophonist Shirantha Beddage to perform with them. The result was two sparkling and challenging sets of big band jazz, with Beddage's performance adding an extra fillip to the music.

Beddage had come up from Toronto the day before to work with the two bands, and he and the students looked comfortable and happy on-stage together.

Nepean All-City Lab Band

First up was the NACLB, co-directed by Nepean High School music teachers Jean-François Fauteux and Stephen Szabo. The Lab Band performed a set of modern big band numbers, beginning with the flowing “Apollo's Reel”. It was a multi-layered piece whose different colours – Laura Seaborn's wordless vocals (standing in for flute), Sarah Ramsay's alto sax, and Kian Wong's trumpet – smoothly evolved and overlaid each other. The students continued in this Wheeleresque and thoughtful mode with Szabo's “Pine Hill”, with Seaborn again contributing wordless vocals and Hope Ballinger a wistful trumpet solo.

Seaborn was again featured – this time singing the lyrics – in an upbeat and swinging version of “Route 66”, and in “Here's To Life”, a hopeful but subdued ballad with a flowing and emotional tenor sax from Catherine Gendron.

Beddage strolled on-stage after the first two numbers, and performed his big band arrangement of Thelonious Monk's “Bright Mississippi” with the full band. It was a sunny version (almost calypso at the start), with his deep baritone lines emphasizing Monk's divertingly angular rhythms against the tight full band. He explained afterwards that it was an arrangement of an arrangement: his orchestration of Danilo Perez's version of the tune on Perez's notable album Panamonk.

Right after came the intense groove of his tune “Pork Chop”, in a small-group arrangement with just the band's rhythm section. That New Orleans-inspired song is a show-stopper on Beddage's most recent album, and this version not only featured his commanding baritone lines but also had him and drummer Mike Furlong trading 4's with the pianist, and Mason Jeffrey-Off adding a funky solo on double bass, for a resounding and memorable performance.

Beddage also performed on the final two pieces in the NACLB's set: the reverberant “Point no Point”, where his baritone's expressive power contributed to the deep vibe and hypnotic intensity of the piece; and “Vortex”, where he brought strong baritone to the fast-paced and many-voiced ensemble piece.

Shirantha Beddage ©Brett Delmage, 2019
NACJB baritone saxophonist Wesley Reissner plays as tenor saxophonist Patrick Vafaie listens ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Nepean All-City Jazz Band

The second set featured the Nepean All-City Jazz Band, directed by Neil Yorke-Slader. They opened with “Lemon Juice”, which began with gospel piano from Vincent Ribberink and developed into a 9-minute full big band piece, including a powerful drum solo from Sam Alexander.

Beddage joined the band for the second tune, “Magic Box”, which featured his modulated baritone melodies over the full band, and a fast arching alto sax solo from NhatChinh Le. Thad Jones' “Three in One” saw Beddage in fluid conversation with the band's baritone saxophonist, Wesley Reissner, in a gently rolling piece.

Laura Seaborn sings with both bands; Yorke-Slader told the audience that it had been an amazing experience for everyone in NACJB to have a singer in the band, and paid credit to the “whole different element” that a vocalist adds. In this set, she was featured in two standards.

She gave “I've Got the World on a String” a more dramatic vocal treatment, starting and stopping rather than letting the lyrics simply flow out, accompanied by multiple instrumental solos including melodic and rough-textured baritone from Beddage. On “Summertime”, she sang the lyrics reminiscently and then full-out over a brassy and blues-tinged arrangement, with trumpeter Matt Roberts, Ribberink, and Beddage supplying striking variations on the melody.

Beddage revived a song from his first album to perform with just the NACJB's rhythm section. He told the audience that it was an homage to alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and the “really crazy, kind of outer-space rhythmic and harmonic stuff in his compositions and his grooves”. Konitz based many tunes on the chord changes of standards in the Great American Songbook, and would include his name (“-lee”) in their titles. Beddage followed his example in this tune, “Nightly News”, inspired by “You and the Night and the Music”. It was a sleek, fast piece with propulsive bass and drums from Craig Hurren and Sam Alexander, under raw-edged baritone lines and a scintillating piano solo from Ribberink, and featuring an echoing and thumping drum solo.

Last summer, former long-time NACJB trumpeter Julian Zanetti died. Zanetti's family created a Memorial Recognition award in his honour, to recognize and promote the personal qualities which Zanetti stood for, including compassion and being in tune with others. This was the first year it was awarded, and it was announced at the concert that the recipient was Wesley Reissner.

Yorke-Slader also recently wrote a piece dedicated to Zanetti's memory, and debuted it at this concert. The title, “Copper Bell Memories”, was inspired by the copper bell on Zanetti's trumpet. It was a sincere and elegiac ensemble piece, with a flowing and floating solo from tenor saxophonist Melissa Brown underlaid by deep trombone lines.

The NACJB closed their previous show in December with “Hey, That's My Bike!” by Vancouver jazz musician Brad Turner. It was a fine closer at that show, and even better when they reprised it to end this concert. It's a strongly grooving piece which this time opened with an extended two-baritone growl from Beddage and Reissner, and then continued to build, with Beddage, Reissner, Brown, and Patrick Vafaie leading the charge on baritone and tenor, accented by trumpet and trombone lines.

The audience was receptive and strongly applauding throughout the show – and as the Turner piece ended with a final growl and a full-band fanfare, they rose for a standing ovation.

Set List

Nepean All-City Lab Band

  1. Apollo's Reel [Tom Molter]
  2. Pine Hill [Stephen Szabo]
  3. Bright Mississippi [Thelonious Monk, arranged by Shirantha Beddage]
  4. Pork Chop [Shirantha Beddage]
  5. Route 66 [Bobby Troup]
  6. Here's To Life [Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary, arranged by Mark Taylor]
  7. Shabadop [Les Hooper]
  8. Point no Point [Don Gailey]
  9. Vortex [Patty Darling]

Nepean All-City Jazz Band

  1. Lemon Juice [Dennis Mackrell]
  2. Magic Box [Bert Joris]
  3. Three in One [Thad Jones]
  4. I've Got the World On a String [Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, arranged by Steve Feifke]
  5. Nightly News [Shirantha Beddage]
  6. Copper Bell Memories [Neil Yorke-Slader]
  7. Summertime [George Gershwin, arranged by Eric Richards]
  8. Hey, That's My Bike! [Brad Turner]

Nepean All-City Lab Band musicians

  • Saxophones: Sarah Ramsay (alto), Paul Bossert (alto), Catherine Gendron (tenor), Omar Yazaw (tenor), Ana Socaci (baritone)
  • Trombones: Erynne Mcphee, Ella Iles, Mark Ositashvili, Rebecca Plante (bass trombone)
  • Trumpets: Kian Wong, Hope Ballinger, Duncan Hunter Neale, Adam Johnston, Jackson Farrell
  • Rhythm Section: George Yin and Colin Chen (piano), Mason Jeffrey-Off (bass), Mike Furlong (drums)
  • Vocals: Laura Seaborn

Nepean All-City Jazz Band musicians

  • Saxophones: NhatChinh Le (alto), Noah Carisse (alto), Melissa Brown (tenor), Patrick Vafaie (tenor), Wesley Reissner (baritone)
  • Trombones: Maltiti Braimah, Jerry Deng, Jacob Awrey, Ben Glauser (bass trombone)
  • Trumpets: Jonah Gaudet, Atcheleh Aryee, Matt Roberts, Zach Ladouceur, Evan Freayh
  • Rhythm section: Vincent Ribberink (piano), Craig Hurren (bass), Sam Alexander (drums)
  • Vocals: Laura Seaborn

Read recent stories about the Nepean All-City bands by OttawaJazzScene.ca: