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Sasha Berliner
Ottawa Jazz Festival
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, June 29, 2019 – 6 p.m.

On the stage sat a piano, a large vibraphone, a double bass – and a bereft-looking drumset, with no cymbals. American vibraphonist Sasha Berliner explained why as soon as she stepped on-stage: the quartet's drummer had been detained at Immigration and they weren't sure where he was at that point.

Unfortunately, he didn't make it to the concert, which was a pity, because I think drums and cymbals would have added a needed crispness and texture and propulsion to Berliner's music. What the jazzfest audience heard at this concert was lovely and unusual, but sometimes repetitive and occasionally almost soporific.

Berliner received the LetterOne “Rising Stars” Jazz Award (North American Edition) in 2018, which allowed her to undertake the festival tour that this show was part of. She has attended the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, and is about to enter her last year studying at the The New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in NYC. The 21-year-old has studied with Stefon Harris and Chris Dingman, as well as pianist Vijay Iyer. A drummer since age 8, she’s played vibraphone since 13, and released her first album at 16.

She's also a poet and essayist who has written on sexism in the jazz industry. She supports the We Have Voice organization, “vowing to create a non-tolerance and accountability policy for discrimination or harassment based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and violence and abuse, in the performing arts.”

Nubya Garcia
Ottawa Jazz Festival
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, June 29, 2019 – 4 p.m.

British saxophonist Nubya Garcia has a strong stage presence and an even stronger sound on tenor sax. In the UK, she's building quite the name for herself: she was named the Jazz FM Breakthrough Act of the Year Award and the Sky Arts Breakthrough Act of the Year Award in 2018, and the Jazz FM UK Jazz Act of the Year Award in 2019.

She brought her quartet with Taber Gable on piano and keys, Daniel Casimir on double bass, and Sam Jones on drums, to the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival. Their hour-long show showed off not only Garcia's kinetic playing, but also the breadth of her creativity and the close communication within her band.

Despite the concert being scheduled for late afternoon, the room was full and the audience expectant and attentive. Garcia began with “Fly Free”, from her latest album Nubya's 5ive, which opened with her relaxed tenor sax lines over a fine texture provided by piano, bass, and drums. She then explored the diverse facets of her theme: from thoughtful and unhurried, to an intense delving into the theme, back to delicate tracery with complementary solos from Gable and Casimir, and then building up again, but all the time retaining a consistent feel.

“Source” had a similarly wide dynamic and conceptual range, with Garcia initially playing tenderly and on the softer side – in contrast to Jones' hard and demanding drum style. She and the band then abruptly changed to playing dramatically and full-out, before suddenly quieting to near-silence, with Gable's chiming keyboard notes sounding as though they were rising from still water. An electronic gloss was then added to the music, with Garcia creating long, eloquent sax lines over those rhythms, before the piece ended with a repeated riff from the entire band.

Jazz Youth Summit members listen carefully to Annie Lu's solo ©Brett Delmage, 2019
Jazz Youth Summit members listen carefully to Annie Lu's solo (l-r) Nicholas Adema, Annie Lu, Eamon Shiel, Jacob Do ©Brett Delmage, 2019

TD Jazz Youth Summit and Stingray Rising Stars
Ottawa Jazz Festival
OLG Stage, Confederation Park
Monday, July 1, 2019 – 2 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

They might be forgiven for looking a bit tired. For the past 10 days, the nine student musicians in the TD Jazz Youth Summit had been studying, taking part in masterclasses, and rehearsing for 4½ hours a day, as well as practicing, playing in the late-night jazz jams, and listening intently at concerts. They had played the opening show on the festival's main stage the previous evening, and now were back for a Canada Day show on the second stage.

Chosen by application and audition, they were some of the most promising young jazz players from across the country, including trombonist Nick Adema from Ottawa. They came from British Columbia to Ontario. All were university students: three were studying at the University of Manitoba, with others from the more usual University of Toronto, McGill University, and Humber.

In keeping with the festival's aim this year of celebrating women in jazz, three of the nine were female – the drummer, trumpeter, and baritone saxophonist – and clearly held their own against the male players.

Dominique Fils-Aimé
Ottawa Jazz Festival
OLG Stage, Confederation Park
Sunday, June 30, 2019 – 7:30 p.m.

With a striking vocal and physical presence, Dominique Fils-Aimé wowed a packed tent on the final evening of the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Her hour-long concert flowed from song to song, hardly taking a break as she and her quintet created a soulful and emotional river of music – ending in a standing ovation. She opened powerfully with her anthemic originals “Where There Is Smoke / There Is Probably Fire”, which showcased the purity of her vocals in a very atmospheric double piece.

The Montreal vocalist has been named the 2019-20 Révélations jazz artist by Radio-Canada, the first vocalist to gain this signal honour for francophone musicians. And you could hear why in a concert which drew from both her albums, Nameless [2018] and Stay Tuned! [2019].

Fils-Aimé has cited Nina Simone as one of her influences, and performed several standards made famous by her, including a fierce and transcendent “Feeling Good”, in which her voice nearly cracked with emotion. Her version of “Strange Fruit” opened almost matter-of-factly, underlined by a simple keyboard motif; she gradually added in emotion but kept the mood restrained, letting the horrific story told by the lyrics speak for itself. In between those two songs, she sang an original, “Birds”, about the uncertainty of leaving to start a new life. She delivered it simply over Nathan Vanheuverzwijn's flowing keyboards, with scatting and wordless vocals filling in spaces between the words.

Andrew Littleford and Matt Walden play each others trumpets  ©Brett Delmage, 2019
Andrew Littleford and Matt Walden play each other's trumpets  ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Dirty Catfish Brass Band
Ottawa Jazz Festival
OLG Stage, Confederation Park
Monday, July 1, 2019 – 6 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

On Canada Day, Ottawans are in the mood for a party – and that's what they got from the Dirty Catfish Brass Band.

The New Orleans-style brass band, which hails from Winnipeg, played a hard-driving and crowd-pleasing set to close the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival. They attracted strong applause from a full house, with as many as 10 swing dancers spinning in front of the stage.

Inspired by groups like the Meters, Dr. John, and The Neville Brothers, the band has a seven-horn front line plus a rhythm section of piano and drums, which gave a strong push to their own originals and covers of pop tunes. They played rollicking music: pianist Aaron Chodirker's dramatic glissandos and keyboard pounding was matched by deep grumbling baritone by Graham Dion, and by thumping sousaphone and drums. Tenor saxophonist Kyle Wedlake and the two trumpeters (at one point the trumpeters even played each others' instruments simultaneously!) provided interlaced lines and full-out fanfares.

©Brett Delmage, 2019
Justin Duhaime enjoys singing by one of his guests, Edra Silva Cavada ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Justin Duhaime's Gypsy Muse
Ottawa Jazz Festival
Sunday, June 30, 2019 – 12 noon
OLG Stage, Confederation Park

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Justin Duhaime pulled out all the stops for his Gypsy Muse concert at the Ottawa Jazz Festival – to the delight of his audience. Combining favourite tunes by Django Reinhardt with jazz standards, it was a fast-paced and vibrant show which demonstrated the enduring appeal of gypsy jazz.

Three talented guests – violinist William Lamoureux, clarinetist David Renaud, and vocalist Edra Silva Cavada – joined Duhaime's trio, with him and Nabil Yaghi on guitar and Normand Glaude on double bass. Duhaime had featured each guest separately at different concerts, but never before all three together. They each singly played several songs with the trio, before joining together for a grand finale.

The concert opened with “Viper's Dream”, a tune which Reinhardt recorded in 1937 with violinist Stéphane Grappelli and his Quintette du Hot Club de France. It was a fast and inviting number, with Lamoureux spinning out warm violin lines – very French in style – over swinging guitar and bass, followed by a pointillist guitar melody from Duhaime and an emphatic walking-pace bass solo from Glaude. Both Duhaime and Yaghi were playing gypsy jazz-style guitars with small sound holes, whose crisp and metallic tone rang throughout the tent.

Cyrille Aimée Trio: A Sondheim Adventure
Ottawa Jazz Festival
National Arts Centre, Studio
Thursday, June 27, 2019 – 7 p.m.

I heard the first half of Cyrille Aimée's concert at the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival. Performing with Canadian pianist Adrean Farrugia and American bassist Philip Kuehn, the French jazz vocalist paid tribute to musical theatre composer Stephen Sondheim.

Sondheim's Broadway tunes were given a strongly jazz interpretation from the entire trio, and Aimée did full justice to his lyrics with beautifully clear diction and careful understanding. Opening with the joyful love song “Losing My Mind”, she scatted as much as sang, her bright syllables echoing Farrugia's sequences of sparkling piano notes.

She told the audience she was only introduced to Sondheim's music a few years ago, and found it to be “une beaucoup de belle musique!” This year she released a collection of his songs, Move On: A Sondheim Adventure, music taken from many of his musicals with an emphasis on love songs. She told the audience stories about many of the songs, vividly describing the plots of the shows they were taken from, with a touch of humour.

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.

©Brett Delmage, 2019
The jazz community came out in force for the CD launch of Appleface, following two sold-out, pre-release shows at GigSpace last September before it was recorded. ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Ferguson/Tremblay/ Young/Clarke
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 ©Brett Delmage, 2019
(l-r) Pete Woods and Normand Glaude reminisce over one of Brian Browne's humorous comments ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Pete Woods and Normand Glaude
Tribute to Brian Browne
The Record Centre Tent, Ottawa Jazz Festival
Sunday, June 23, 2019 – 5:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage

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.