Baritone Madness
Ottawa Jazz Festival
Friday, June 21, 2019 – 7:30 p.m.

The baritone saxophone is a remarkably versatile instrument. Capable of covering the same mid-range as a tenor, it can also create deep plangent and growling tones – and both groove and play sweetly.

Just one bari in a group is noticeable. Hearing the three baritones, plus bass and drums, in the Calgary jazz band Baritone Madness was downright impressive.

The group had released its first album in May and was on a festival tour including Ottawa, Edmonton, and Montreal. Its name is a riff on Sonny Rollins' “Tenor Madness”, and it includes baritone saxophonists Pat Belliveau, Keith O'Rourke, and Gareth Bane – plus the top-notch rhythm section of bassist Kodi Hutchinson and drummer Tyler Hornby.

They began with a tribute to the legendary bari player Pepper Adams and his unmistakable opening to Charles Mingus' version of “Moanin'”. With a serious groove and a bit of a raucous feel, it was an attention-getting start.

The three saxophonists took turns introducing songs and telling well-rehearsed stories that connected well with the audience. They played six of their own compositions from the new CD, ranging from Latin to blues to ballads to New Orleans groove.

They played together in unison and contrapuntally, using their baris to create both powerful riffs, dark rumbles and piercing high notes, and long intertwined melodic lines. I particularly enjoyed Belliveau's tribute to his father, “The C.B. Shuffle”. Its upbeat and driving rhythm had two little boys dancing to the beat outside the tent.

O'Rourke's “I-Yor” (a take-off on the Winnie the Pooh character) had a lovely insinuating melody played in conversational variations by the three saxophonists, while in Bane's “A Long Time Coming”, his commanding bari tone was matched by Hutchinson's pointillist and melodic double bass solo, and Hornby's hard-edged drumming as he traded 4's with the baritones. On the quieter side, “June” was lyrical and reflective (reminding us that baritones can play ballads, too), and O'Rourke's “Remembering the Aramo” had an inviting Latin beat.

The group closed with the Jimmy Smith hard bop number, “Ready 'N Able”, jumping up the energy even further in a super-fast rendition. It was greeted with warm and enthusiastic applause – no surprise since the audience, who almost filled every chair in the large tent, had been intently listening and strongly responding to the tunes throughout.

Clearly, the baritones had reached their mark with this crowd.

Set list

  1. Moanin' [Bobby Timmons]
  2. June
  3. Remembering the Aramo
  4. A Long Time Coming
  5. I-Yor
  6. The C.B. Shuffle
  7. Port Nola
  8. Ready 'N Able [Jimmy Smith]

Photos of this performance are not available because the Ottawa Jazz Festival denied's request for news media accreditation for founder, journalist and photojournalist Brett Delmage for the 9th consecutive year.