Montreal guitarist Mike Rud communicated with his voice as much as his guitar at GigSpace on March 24. ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Montreal guitarist Mike Rud communicated with his voice as much as his guitar at GigSpace on March 24. ©Brett Delmage, 2012

Mike Rud Trio
Saturday, March 24, 2012
GigSpace Performance Studio

Guitarist Mike Rud's Ottawa trio concert on March 24 was almost as memorable for the new projects he revealed as it was for the fine musical talents on display.

Audiences have come to expect expert instrumental stylings from Rud, and he certainly provided that with a string of less-common standards and Brazilian jazz numbers. But then he surprised the audience by unveiling a new vocal project: a series of songs whose lyrics are dedicated to Montreal, its people, and its literary heritage.

The first song he showcased was inspired by Mordecai Richler's last novel, Barney's Version, and Rud explained (with full hand gestures) some of his favourite characters and plot twists from the novel (which we won't tell you here in case you haven't read it), before playing the cabaret-style song.

In the second set, he introduced a song dedicated to Florentine Lacasse, the young dreaming waitress who is the main character in Gabrielle Roy's The Tin Flute. The song had an interesting dynamic between the melancholy story in the lyrics, the strong melody, and the vibrant rhythm of the guitar.

Rud told the audience he has written more than a dozen songs for this project, which he's currently calling "Notes on Montreal". He expects to have a CD ready sometime in 2013. But he won't be singing on it. Instead, it will feature Canadian jazz singer Sienna Dahlen, along with a four-part rhythm section. A string quartet will also play on seven or eight of the songs.

He told after the concert that most of the songs are specifically inspired by different books, for example: How to Make Love to a Negro by Dany Laferrière. But some engage more generally with Montreal themes: one is about his favourite Montreal streets, while another lists all his favourite diners.

One song is inspired by two different works: the play Saint Carmen of the Main by Michel Tremblay, which Rud learned about last year when he was in Ottawa for a Geggie concert and saw the ads for the National Arts Centre production; and Leonard Cohen's first novel, The Favourite Game. The song is about "how compelling the characters are and how they haunt  me," he said.

More immediately, Rud is just about to release a new album – his first since 2005. But this one was originally recorded in 1996, as part of Rud's master's thesis.

Called Laurier Luxury Walk, the recording will be released independently. It features a fine assortment of musicians who then lived in Montreal: drummer Karl Jannuska, bassist Dave Watts, saxophonist Kelly Jefferson, and pianist Tilden Webb. Webb is now in Vancouver, Jefferson is in Toronto, and Jannuska is in Paris, so this will not be a combination easy to reproduce.

For the Ottawa concert, Rud joined up with GigSpace Artistic Director and drummer Marilee Townsend (for the first time) and with bassist Mark Alcorn (for the first time in several years). They melded extremely well, with Alcorn and Rud exchanging solos and trading off the melody. Townsend provided a strong and intuitive base for the music, quickly adjusting to and complementing the different dynamics of each piece.

The GigSpace show opened with the sweetly swinging "Out of Nowhere" by Johnny Green. It featured many less-common jazz standards: for example "The Shadow of Your Smile", which was  inspired by George Benson's version on his Spirituals to Swing album, and the bopping “Lester Leaps In” by Lester Young. Rud sang on some of the standards as well: for example, "The Sunny Side of the Street", a tune he said he "never gets tired of". On "All the Things You Are", he sang Red Mitchell's version of the lyrics ("your greatest work of art is you"), and reminisced about seeing Mitchell only two months before he died.

On the last piece, Rud scatted in coordination with his guitar, and then later let the guitar echo the scat line, in swinging, loose, and very approachable version of "All of Me".

Earlier in the day, Rud had conducted a guitar workshop at GigSpace. It was an anniversary of a sort: five years ago in April, Alcorn Music Studios (which contains GigSpace) ran its very first Inside the Music lecture, concert and workshop Series – and it featured Mike Rud.

    – Alayne McGregor

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All photos ©Brett Delmage 2012. Click on the thumbnails for a larger version.