Saturday, September 9, 2017 – 6:45 p.m.
A three-year-old will give you an honest response. If they're dancing or listening intently to your music – they like it!
Gypsy Muse's music was a big hit with the younger crowd (and the older, too) when they played a free concert at the East Feast festival early Saturday evening. The duo's brand of gypsy jazz immediately inspired children – from barely toddling to pre-teens – and their parents to start dancing to the music, bouncing happily to its bright rhythms. And around the impromptu dancefloor stood even more people listening.
The duo consists of two local guitarists, Justin Duhaime and Nabil Yaghi. They play gypsy jazz/jazz manouche, inspired by Django Reinhardt and his Quintette du Hot Club de France; Yaghi's guitar, with a small, oval soundhole, is the same design as those used by Reinhardt
Duhaime said the two had been playing together for about a year, and their close, confident rapport confirmed that. Gypsy jazz – particularly when you're frequently shifting the lead as this duo does – is usually fast-paced and not forgiving of mistakes or losing one's place. The music from their guitars fit together into a clean and consistent whole, graciously melodic and infectiously rhythmic.
Their acoustic performance was engaging, with the music's intricate patterns and rapid rhythms dancing out into the street. Most of their pieces were gypsy jazz classics, often written by Reinhardt himself. However, they also gave several jazz standards a jazz manouche gloss and ornamentation – for example, “On Green Dolphin Street”, “Caravan”, and Chick Corea's “Armando's Rhumba”. Near the end, they played a few quieter pieces made famous by Reinhardt, including a gentle version of his ballad, “Nuages”, and “Où es tu, mon amour?”, which Yaghi had transcribed from a recording.
Gerri Trimble, Rob Martin, Charley Gordon
Saturday, September 9, 2017 – 4 p.m.
Jazz vocalist Gerri Trimble didn't have to go far for her latest gig – it was on her own porch!
Trimble, along with guitarist Rob Martin and trumpeter Charley Gordon, provided a jazz angle on the free Porchfest festival in Hintonburg on Saturday afternoon. The festival, now in its third year, showcases local musicians on volunteered porches and businesses; it promotes the idea that “local artists have a great silent talent”.
The trio attracted more than 30 music fans for their hour-long performance, including ward councillor Jeff Leiper (a sponsor of the festival), and several parents with small children. Even after the trio started playing, listeners continued to arrive by bike and on foot.
Some sat in the chairs that Trimble provided; others perched on the sidewalk on both sides of Armstrong Street. The residential street was still open to cars, but most motorists slowed down enough not to drown out the music, or waited until the end of a song to pass. (The event evoked images of the very first Ottawa Jazz Festivals on the summer stage outside the NAC. Motor vehicles on Freiman Lane would have to drive between the audience and the stage.)
Howard Johnson Tribute
with Keith Hartshorn-Walton, Michel Delage, Petr Cancura, Dave Schroeder
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, August 26, 2017 – 8 to 11:40 p.m.
Howard Johnson has been called the King of the Jazz Tuba. In a 50+-year career, the American jazz musician has played with everyone from Charles Mingus to Gil Evans to Hank Mobley to John Scofield to Tomasz Stanko. He was the original conductor of the Saturday Night Live Band in the late 70’s, and accompanied James Taylor in a performance of “Jelly Man Kelly” on Sesame Street in 1983. He also played on The Band's live film, The Last Waltz, and arranged two of the songs they played. Besides the tuba, he plays baritone sax, clarinet and other reed instruments, and penny whistle.
And he's still going strong. I heard him last year at the Guelph Jazz Festival, playing in a tribute with Jane Bunnett to pianist Don Pullen. Just this year, he released his most recent album with his six-tuba group, Gravity.
So this was not your typical tribute show, which are generally for musicians who are, if not dead, at least not playing regularly. Johnson is still in the scene, composing and playing.
The Avant-Garde Bar, Ottawa
Saturday, August 19, 2017 – 8 to 11:30 p.m.
Partway through Snaggle's first set on Saturday, I looked around the Avant-Garde Bar and noticed something out of the ordinary in the crowd: no phones and no talking. Every face was turned toward the stage and everyone was listening intently.
And that's what this Toronto-based jazz fusion band deserved. It was an attention-grabbing show, mixing high-quality musicianship with complex compositions, and enhancing it all with friendly communication with the audience.
Snaggle is led by keyboard player Nick Maclean, who grew up in Ottawa, and was a frequent face on this city's jazz scene before he moved to Toronto. The band reflects his own diverse fusion of interests: jazz, of course, but also other beats and different electronic effects. In this, he's joined by trumpeter Brownman Ali, who produced the group's latest album, and performed with them on Saturday. Ali could play straight and beautiful trumpet lines, but also several times ran his instrument through an effects generator for a punctuated, electric-guitar-like sound.
The result: music which could be raw and seriously groove out, but which could also be nuanced and lovely.
directed by Étienne Comar
ByTowne Cinema (August 4-10, 2017)
To modern ears, gypsy jazz (aka jazz manouche) sounds as fresh as when guitarist and composer Django Reinhardt first invented it. Rooted in the exotic music he learned growing up in gypsy caravans, and then reinvented through the American jazz of Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, his music was, by the late 1930s, hugely popular in France and England.
And no wonder! The combination of Reinhardt on guitar and Stéphane Grappelli on violin was intense and compelling, and Reinhardt's compositions like “Minor Swing” became immediate and memorable classics. Whether live or on recordings, the music of their Quintette du Hot Club de France grabbed their audiences with its all-encompassing swing and drive. You can see and hear that energy at the beginning of this film, with an extended recreation of a Paris concert by the quintet.
That's a real strength of this film: it never loses sight of the fact that music was the essence of Django Reinhardt and the core of his life. At one point, he's asked, “Do you know music?”, and replies, “No, but music knows me!”
To Django, music and his family and friends were what mattered – certainly not outside politics. As far as he was concerned, World War II was a gjado war – not a concern of himself or his fellow Roma (gypsies). Perhaps he was unwilling to recognize the evil, perhaps he was naïve, or perhaps he felt he had more important things to think about.
David Braid n' Strings
with David Braid, Mark Fewer, Annalee Patipatanakoon, Jethro Marks, and Roman Borys
La Nouvelle Scène
Saturday, July 29, 2017 – 10 p.m.
Toronto jazz pianist David Braid is well worth hearing on his own, but the all-star string quartet he performed with on July 29 at Chamberfest added immeasurably to the impact of his compositions – which, as he explained to the audience, was what he was aiming for.
He said that he had originally written one of these pieces for solo piano – but the piece included many long notes, which a piano can't fully sustain. “So I was smarter and I arranged it for instruments that can do things like sustaining notes. Apparently I have sustaining note jealousy, as Mark Fewer pointed out.”
Over the last dozen years, Braid has slowly transformed his own performances from primarily mainstream jazz to longer, more complex works for more diverse groups: jazz orchestra and nonet, symphony orchestra, and brass quintet. In particular, he's collaborated with chamber music groups; since 2011, he has been regularly performing in Europe, China, and North America with string quartets.
At this concert, the musicians played Braid's compositions: some new pieces and some older pieces in new arrangements. His latest album, Flow , is an exploration of these pieces with the Epoque String Quartet from Prague; it was nominated this year for a Juno Award in the Instrumental (aka 'this doesn't fit anywhere else') category. He included three pieces from that album here.
La Nouvelle Scène
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 – 10 p.m.
There are times when classical music can feel too constrained, a bit too perfectly enunciated within very strict and unyielding borders. That's not an problem with jazz pianist John Stetch, who quickly kicked away the boundaries in his show at the 2017 Chamberfest.
Stetch primarily played pieces from his 2014 Juno-nominated album, Off With the Cuffs, which consists of his jazz reimaginings of pieces by classical composers including Bach, Mozart, and Chopin, and from his earlier album Ukrainianism, whose pieces are inspired by folk melodies from his Ukrainian-Canadian heritage. It was a similar set-list to his show in Ottawa last September, but with a few added jazz standards and some changes in the classical repertoire.
He opened the hour-long show with probably his least-populist piece, especially for a chamber music audience. “Rye, Not Wheat!” is based on an Ukrainian wedding song, or rather permutations of that melody. But by the time Stetch finished with it, what it actually sounded like was a scatter-shot presentation of miniature musical ideas, all interesting but none actually coalescing. Here, there, back again, over somewhere else: the moods, the styles, the sounds, the speed kept changing before finally dissolving into individual notes and fading out. It was technically interesting but also frustrating.
He followed that with a much more interesting piece: his exploration of Mozart's Sonata No. 333 in B flat major, played in a bright pointillist style (almost ragtime in feel), and including delicate brushing of the strings inside the piano. He played it fast, with minimal sustain and emphasizing rhythm over melody – and then abruptly changed to playing what sounded like a fragile lullaby. It appeared as though he was removing the outer structure of the piece and exposing its beating heart – it certainly made the performance less predictable!
Joel Quarrington and the Two Bass Hit
with Joel Quarrington, Dave Young, Bernie Senensky, and James Parker
National Gallery of Canada
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 – 1 p.m.
Double bassists stick together, even if one plays in a symphony orchestra and the other in a jazz quartet. Joel Quarrington has known Dave Young since Quarrington was 17, and that easy familiarity infused their performances in their 'Two Bass Hit' concert at Chamberfest Wednesday afternoon.
The show attracted packed audience to the National Gallery auditorium – many of whom were clearly Quarrington fans. When CBC radio producer Robert Harris introduced the show, he said Quarrington “used to be” the principal bassist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Voices all around the auditorium immediately corrected him: “he still is!”
Wes Montgomery Tribute
with Mike Rud, Michel Delage, Alex Bilodeau, and Peter Hum
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, June 10, 2017 – 8 p.m.
Fluid guitar, bright piano, propulsive bass and drums, and overall high energy: that's what the audience enjoyed Saturday in a tribute to guitarist and composer Wes Montgomery at Brookstreet.
Montgomery has been a long-time jazz hero to Montreal guitarist Mike Rud [Read the OttawaJazzScene.ca interview with Rud about this show], and he communicated that enthusiasm for Montgomery's repertoire to both his bandmates and those listening. The quartet played a good selection of well-known pieces by Montgomery, plus standards in the same style.
From the first few notes of the first set, there was a distinctive style evident in the music: fast but not flashy, accomplished and almost inevitable in the way one note followed the next. The songs felt polished to a fine sheen, logically consistent and carefully put together for maximum impact.
Overall, it had a strong early 60s vibe – in Montgomery's heyday – in the mode of the playing and the material: sophisticated and well-finished. And did I mention fast? Most of the pieces were really fast.
Tribute to Horace Silver
with Michel Delage, Steve Boudreau, Alex Bilodeau, Ed Lister, and Richard Page
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, May 27, 2017 – 8 p.m.
Even for fans of pianist and composer Horace Silver, the music performed at Michel Delage's May tribute show was substantially different.
Yes, it certainly was Silver's music, and just as enjoyable as I expected – but it went beyond the standard pieces one always hears. Instead, the quintet treated the listeners in the Options Jazz Lounge to a collection of hard bop tunes and soulful ballads which demonstrated the depth of Silver's writing. Four of them were taken from his less-known 1973 album, In Pursuit of the 27th Man.
For this show, drummer Michel Delage assembled a quintet of Ottawa musicians: his frequent musical partner Alex Bilodeau on double bass, Steve Boudreau taking Silver's place on piano and transcribing much of the material, and the strong front line of Ed Lister on trumpet and Richard Page on baritone sax. Page showed the versatility of his baritone in this show, often playing smoothly up in the tenor range to reflect the original instrumentation on the albums (In Pursuit of the 27th Man, for example, featured Michael Brecker on tenor).
Lister and Page have often performed together. In fact their “Hard Bop Association” group often played Silver's tunes. You could hear that easy familiarity in their lovingly-blended tones throughout the evening. They frequently played together – in unison, alternating lines, or playing contrasting lines – in energetic, inventive, and evocative forms.