Moonglow presents Jazz Méditerranée ©Brett Delmage, 2019
Moonglow's "Jazz Méditerranée" concert presented diverse tunes, all linked to locations around the Mediterranean, to an appreciative audience ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Moonglow - Jazz Méditerranée
Live! on Elgin
Thursday, May 30, 2019 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

One of the real strengths of jazz is how it incorporates influences from elsewhere. Whether it was Dave Brubeck incorporating a Turkish time signature in “Blue Rondo à la Turk” or John Coltrane introducing Indian chants in “Om”, jazz is by nature polyglot and readily absorbs ideas from many places.

Moonglow's recent Jazz Méditerranée concert was very much in that tradition – and demonstrated how well mixing genres in jazz can work. It was an evening of varied rhythms, textures, and melodies. Some were easily recognizable by jazz fans and some came interestingly from left field, in an accessible and entertaining selection.

The Ottawa jazz group took listeners on a musical cruise around the Mediterranean, beginning and ending in France, and visiting everywhere from Greece to Lebanon to Morocco to Sicily to Gibraltar. Their concert program even included a map, showing the location associated with each tune.

Some of the tunes were linked to the show theme by title (“The Sphinx”, “The Holy Land”, “Turkish Black”), some by the homeland of the composer (Anouar Brahem, Richard Galliano), some by style (“La Fiesta”, “Parfum de Gitane”). Several were mash-ups of connected tunes.

For this show, the quartet – Devon Woods on horns and flute, Hélène Knoerr on vocals and bass, Ed Stevens on guitar, and Chris Smith on drums – was expanded to include André Van Schyndel on accordion and 12-string guitar. Van Schyndel added an essential voice to the music, his accordion giving some songs a French chanson feel and deepening the melodies on others. He also upped the propulsive swing on several tunes with fast rhythm guitar.

The opening (and title) number, “Jazz Méditerranée” by Henri Salvador, was light and breezy. Knoerr sang the French lyrics over sweet, smooth accordion, fluid guitar, and gentle flute lines, creating an inviting vibe. “Soleil” by French jazz accordionist Richard Galliano opened with dramatically by Van Schyndel on accordion, and its sad and gripping melody was then taken up on guitar and flute.

Woods heard “Silenzio d'amuri” in a recording by the baroque group L’Arpeggiata, and rearranged it for jazz guitar, sax, and vocals. Knoerr sang the heart-aching lyrics in the original Sicilian, backed by Van Schyndel, and Woods on soprano sax. They created an expansive vibe which filled the room – but then ended with a more forceful, almost military feel.

Ralph Towner's “Icarus”, inspired by the Greek myth of the man who flew too high, opened thoughtfully on guitar and bowed double bass, and then had its sombre melody developed and extended on soprano sax and guitar. On the other hand, “Turkish Black” from the 60s/70s jazz fusion group The Jazz Crusaders was a swirling and propulsive mix of fast and funky accordion, guitar, tenor sax, and drums. “Beirut”, jazz trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf's tribute to his homeland of Lebanon and its sad recent history, was a powerful and beautiful combination of evocative and ringing guitar and sorrowful tenor sax.

Woods told the audience that Cedar Walton's “The Holy Land” was “the jazz musician's definition of inner peace” – and certainly its joyous combination of swinging tenor sax and warm accordion did indeed make one feel at home and at peace.

Fitting the Mediterranean location, the concert was multilingual, with Knoerr singing in French, English, Italian, Sicilian, and even Arabic. That added more verisimilitude to the music, but I was disappointed not to be able to understand all the searing French lyrics of “Croisières méditerranéennes”, despite it being sung clearly and simply by Knoerr. Nevertheless, Stevens' guitar and Woods' soprano sax also conveyed Bernard Lavilliers' indictment of the plight of refugees crossing the sea trying to reach Europe – disquieting and uncomfortable and intense.

The most consistent musical voice in this show was that of French singer and composer Henri Salvador, given an added jazz gloss. His 1962 tune “Syracuse”, which opened the second set, was a loving tribute to that city in Sicily, with gentle vocals over warm accordion, tenor sax, and acoustic guitar.

“Night Boat to Tunisia” was another unexpected mash-up, combining the driving beat of “Night Boat to Cairo” by the pop group Madness with a final segue into the iconic Dizzy Gillespie jazz standard. Similarly, Anouar Brahem's whirling and mesmeric “Parfum de Gitane” transformed into the jazz classic “Caravan”. While in both cases the tunes were compatible, I didn't feel the transformations added much to the music.

I particularly enjoyed the romantic sweep of a three-song passage: Sting's “Desert Rose” followed by McCoy Tyner's “Aisha”, and Oum's “Lik”. Knoerr sang each with deep feeling, opening with wordless vocals on “Desert Rose”. Her expressive vocals were enhanced by equally expressive clarinet and saxophone from Woods and flowing guitar lines from Stevens.

Knoerr had to sing “Lik” phonetically, because, as she told the audience, it's a love song that only works in Moroccan Arabic. That had her glued to her charts as she opened singing solo, but she maneuvered through the smoothly and without hesitation, conveying the passion in the lyrics.

Freddie Hubbard's hard bop number “Gibraltar” and Chick Corea's dancing “La Fiesta” both brought the energy level up – to be followed by the warm and relaxed “Un Tour de Manège”, the concert's final Henri Salvador tune. It reminded me of children on a merry-go-round, with bright guitar and flute, swinging accordion, and Knoerr's assured vocals all contributing to the happy mood.

The show closed with the high-speed gypsy jazz-influenced “Olé Marseille” by Chico Bouchikhi – interrupted in places by “La Marseillaise” – and with Stevens, Van Schyndel, and Woods all competing to see who could push the speed and energy of the tune up even further. When they finally abruptly let go, the audience responded with very strong and extended applause.

This concert was clearly a labour of love for Woods and for the other members of Moonglow, with considerable research and ingenuity having been put into the musical choices, and as usual, their printed program and map of the musical tour. The program provided a useful introduction to the tunes, especially for the less familiar numbers, and Woods expanded further in enthusiastic introductions. I especially appreciated how they included many tunes – jazz and otherwise – one doesn't frequently hear.

At 20 songs in two sets of 1¼ hours each, the show was a bit long, especially for a Thursday night. Some people left at intermission or partway through the second set. I felt that songs in the second set lost some of their impact because there was simply too much to absorb. I hope Moonglow presents this music again, but in a slightly trimmed-down version, or half the tour at one time.

Set 1:

  1. Jazz Méditerranée [Henri Salvador]
  2. Soleil [Richard Galliano]
  3. Silenzio d'amuri [Alfio Antico, as performed by L'Arpeggiata]
  4. Never on Sunday [Manos Hatzidakis]
  5. Icarus [Ralph Towner]
  6. Turkish Black [Wilton Felder of the Jazz Crusaders]
  7. Beirut [Ibrahim Maalouf]
  8. The Holy Land [Cedar Walton, as arranged by David (“Fathead”) Newman]
  9. Croisières méditerranéennes [Bernard Lavilliers]

Set 2:

  1. The Sphinx [Ornette Coleman]
  2. Syracuse [Henri Salvador]
  3. Night Boat to Tunisia [Madness' “Night Boat to Cairo” mashed with Dizzy Gillespie]
  4. Parfum de Gitane [Anouar Brahem]
  5. Desert Rose [Sting]
  6. Aisha [McCoy Tyner]
  7. Lik [Oum]
  8. Gibraltar [Freddie Hubbard]
  9. La Fiesta [Chick Corea]
  10. Un Tour de Manège [Henri Salvador]
  11. Marsoleo [“Olé Marseille” by Chico Bouchikhi of Chico and the Gypsies, mashed with France's national anthem]

Read related stories by OttawaJazzScene.ca: