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Ottawa Jazz Festival
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, June 27, 2019 – 8 p.m.
“ITACA” stands for Italy and Canada, the countries of origin for these four fine improvisers. Ottawa jazzfest listeners had an advance opportunity to hear their avant-garde jazz quartet Thursday, as they played only their second show together.
The Canadians are clarinetist François Houle and drummer Nick Fraser. The Italians are alto saxophonist Nicola Fazzini and bassist Alessandro Fedrigo. They met two years ago when the Italians toured Canada and played with Houle in Vancouver and Fraser in Toronto. “I guess they liked us,” Houle told the audience, “so they said, why don't we put a band together? I was thrilled at the idea.”
The quartet is a collective, with each musician contributing pieces. They had rehearsed for a couple days in Toronto this week, and played their first show at the Toronto Jazz Festival the day before. The result: intricate combinations of instruments and intense and extended improvisations, which were happily received by the audience in the Fourth Stage.
Appleface CD Release Concert
First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa
Tuesday, June 11, 2019 – 8 p.m.
There was an expectant audience in the Unitarian Church as Ottawa jazz musicians Mark Ferguson and Mike Tremblay unveiled Appleface, their first jazz album together in a decade. And their quartet, with the renowned rhythm section of Dave Young on bass and Terry Clarke on drums, did not disappoint.
The show had a down-to-earth and friendly vibe, with congenial introductions and the occasional shared joke. The audience contained many musicians who had played with Ferguson and Tremblay, and listeners who had heard the two over the years. When Ferguson asked the audience if anyone had been at their launch event for his and Tremblay's Home CD at the same church 10 years almost to the day before, hands were raised around the hall.
But it was also all music, with the musicians clearly playing with heart and determination.
Pete Woods and Normand Glaude
Tribute to Brian Browne
The Record Centre Tent, Ottawa Jazz Festival
Sunday, June 23, 2019 – 5:30 p.m.
Pete Woods had a smile on his face as he recounted how he recorded his final album with the late jazz pianist Brian Browne. It was in The Record Centre store in Hintonburg in December, 2016, in the evening after the store closed, with Browne playing on the small piano by the store's window. It was all analog; Robert Chapman recorded the session live off the floor on a reel to reel tape machine.
On Sunday, The Record Centre released the album – The Light of Common Day – on vinyl, and marked the occasion with an hour-long concert by Woods and bassist Normand Glaude. Both were long-time friends of Browne. Woods and Browne released three albums together (Testimony, Honest Company, and The Light of Common Day).
“I'm here missing Brian now, but I wanted to remember the fun of it and the intimacy of that project. It was a labour of love,” Woods told the audience.
The vinyl release concert was held at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, in the CD/merchandise tent being run there by The Record Centre. Immediately before the concert, The Record Centre played the album for listeners, allowing them to hear Browne's meticulous and affectionate piano interpretations.
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 play sweetly and groove.
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.
Moonglow - Jazz Méditerranée
Live! on Elgin
Thursday, May 30, 2019 – 7:30 p.m.
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.
Alex Moxon and Ed Lister
Jazz in June at MacKay United Church
Thursday, June 13, 2019 – 12 noon
Guitarist Alex Moxon and trumpeter Ed Lister displayed the subtler aspects of their music in a noon-hour concert last Thursday. Playing jazz standards and a few originals, the duo filled MacKay United Church with nuanced and intimate music.
This is the fourth year that the New Edinburgh-area church has presented its weekly “Jazz in June” noon-hour series. The sanctuary was comfortably full of attentive listeners: quiet babes in arms and toddlers with their parents, teenagers, and 20-somethings up to seniors.
The duo used the church's clear, slightly reverberant acoustics to their advantage, allowing lots of space in the music and letting notes ring out. Lister played unamplified, and Moxon had only his electric guitar amp.
“Cop a Feel” was Moxon's contrafact based on the 70s pop tune “Feel Like Making Love”, made famous by Roberta Flack. With an initial wave to the original melody, Lister and Moxon used it as the jumping-off point for exploration: trumpet lines that were first reflective and melancholy, then more acerbic, and extended rhythmic guitar variations – but all of which fit together well and within the tune's envelope.
Tevet Sela Quartet
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Saturday, June 1, 2019 – 8 p.m
Swirling melodies, bright rhythms, and influences from multiple traditions: all those contributed to a spirited and well-received concert by Montreal saxophonist Tevet Sela and his quartet Saturday in Ottawa.
Playing in the intimate Record Runner listening room, the quartet – Sela on alto sax, John Roney on keyboards, Olivier Babaz on electric bass, and Martin Auguste on drums – performed Sela's own compositions, some recent, some from previous albums. All four are well-known in Montreal's jazz scene; Roney and Sela released a duo album together in 2017, while both Auguste and Roney played on Sela's 2014 quartet album, Lying Sun.
The quartet opened with “Sha'atnez”, from Sela's 2019 album Mizmor. The Hebrew title means “a mixture of things that don't go together, such as oil and water”, but the tune in fact showed off the band's cohesiveness. Over a lightly rumbling and thumping groove, it twisted and twirled with assertive sax lines and fast, repeated piano motifs – but regardless of the tune's frequent variations and strong momentum, the group stayed together and never lost sight of its essential feel.
It was greeted with enthusiastic applause, as was the entire show.
Linsey Wellman's New Deal
Jamari Espresso House
Sunday, May 19, 2019 – 2 p.m.
The sun came out, the temperatures inched up to almost warm, and music spilled out into the street through open doorways as Linsey Wellman and Keith Hartshorn-Walton brought evocative Balkan-style jazz melodies and rhythms to the Jamari Espresso House on Sunday.
The snug Hintonburg café has been offering Sunday afternoon shows – mostly jazz with occasional folk or classical performers – since last November, but this afternoon was the most-springlike yet, encouraging them to open the place up. It was the second time that Wellman and Hartshorn-Walton had played there; they usually play this repertoire as the New Deal Trio with drummer Mike Essoudry, but there was simply no room for a drumset in the café's confined space.
The two perched in a cushioned alcove at one end of the shop, and played to a small but attentive audience with coffees in hand. Hartshorn-Walton was on tuba and Wellman on baritone sax and clarinet, instruments often used in Balkan music and whose wide range, rhythmic capabilities, and clear sound added punch to the music.
McGill Jazz Orchestra I
Bronson Centre Theatre, Ottawa
Monday, May 13, 2019 – 8 p.m.
On Monday evening, the McGill Jazz Orchestra I, directed by JUNO-winning composer Christine Jensen, performed a packed and vibrant hour-long concert for students at the MusicFest Nationals in Ottawa. It was a show I was glad to have heard.
While ostensibly a student band, the orchestra includes many musicians who have played professionally here in Ottawa, and its standard of playing was extremely high. Montreal's jazz scene and McGill University's jazz program are strongly entwined, with many well-known jazz musicians teaching there and many of its graduates enlivening the scene.
The show opened and closed with two mid-60s tunes by Thad Jones, whose innovative compositions brought a new framework and new sounds to big band writing. The Orchestra presented a “Thad Jones Lineage” tribute concert in April, and “The Waltz You Swang for Me” was an engaging opening number. It featured Ottawa's Claire Devlin on flying soprano sax soloing over the exuberant full band.
The Ottawa Jazz Orchestra – Symphony in Riffs
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, May 4, 2019 – 8:30 p.m.
Listening to the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra (OJO) tribute on Saturday to American bandleader and composer Benny Carter, you could hear why Carter had an eight-decade career in jazz. His music was warm, approachable, and repaid close listening.
Since 2006, the OJO has performed the music of many jazz legends from the 20th century, including Ellington, Mingus, and Miles Davis. Its concerts introduce listeners to jazz history, and give them a chance to hear large-scale works that aren't often performed live.
This was the first time that they had paid tribute to Carter, and OJO artistic director Adrian Cho decided to have Carter's music played by two different ensembles. The first set featured a saxophone quintet (effectively the sax section of a big band with two altos, two tenors, and a baritone) plus pianist, guitarist, bassist, and drummer. In the second set, these musicians were joined by one additional saxophonist, four trombonists, and four trumpeters to form an 18-piece big band – which just barely fit on the stage, even with extra sections added.
The additional musicians gave an extra richness – but not extra loudness – to the sound. Throughout, the music filled the intimate Fourth Stage but did not overwhelm it. As Cho noted, this gave listeners a chance to see a big band up “right up close”, as they did in the swing era.