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Canada's National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, November 15, 2018 - 8:30 p.m.
Love, anguish, and triumph are celebrated in jazz vocalist/pianist Elizabeth Shepherd's latest album, a personal tribute to many visions of Montreal. She gave the album its premiere in Ottawa on Thursday at Canada’s National Arts Centre.
It was the first stop on her launch tour for MONtreal (a play on the French for “my Montreal”), that will shortly take her and her four bandmates across Western Canada, as well as to Toronto and of course Montreal – and next year over to Europe.
The album, though, is very specifically tied to Montreal, which Shepherd considers her home town. At the NAC show, she performed all 11 tracks on the album, plus two tunes on earlier albums, to a welcoming and interested reception from the audience.
As she told the crowd, each track on the album is associated with a specific location in the city, and based on an interview with someone living there, telling the story of their Montreal. Some, like her mother, she knew well; others were complete strangers picked at random. Over a five-year period, she interviewed 40-50 people, then culled the interviews down to 11 and wrote and recorded the songs.
The Grey Jazz Big Band: A Concert to Remember
Centrepointe Studio Theatre
Friday, November 9, 2018 – 2 p.m.
The Grey Jazz Big Band has members who were living during World War II – a claim few other bands can make, and one which made them a perfect choice for a “Concert to Remember” on the Remembrance Day weekend.
It was the second consecutive year that the band had performed on this weekend at the Centrepointe Studio Theatre, with a programme which remembered popular and big band swing tunes from across the 20th century. The matinée show sold out the 220-seat theatre in 2017 and came very near to that this year, with only a few seats empty.
There were 17 instrumentalists on stage, plus band director Brian Boggs as conductor, and vocalists Mary Frances Simpson and Bill Luxton. Each wore a poppy in his or her lapel, and several also wore military or RCMP service pins or military service ribbons. The men also wore red neckties, several Canada-flag-themed.
It was an engaging and energetic show, played by musicians who clearly loved and were familiar with the music – so much so that they put too many tunes in the set list and had to drop a few on the fly! They opened with George Gershwin's martial-themed “Strike Up the Band” and rolled right into twirling rhythms of Glenn Miller's WWII-era tune “Tuxedo Junction”, with Luxton explaining that this title referred to a jazz and blues club in the Birmingham, Alabama area.
Keith Hartshorn-Walton, Richard Page, Craig Kennedy
The Barrhaven Neighbourhood Jazz Series at Anabia Cupcakery Cafe
Friday, November 9, 2018 – 8:30 p.m.
One evening a month, musicians living in Ottawa's southern suburb bring jazz to their own neighbourhood.
Tuba player Keith Hartshorn-Walton only lives a few minutes away from the Anabia Cupcakery Café, a cozy café and bar in a Barrhaven mall, and for the last five months has brought in different combinations of jazz musicians, mostly from this area, to play on a Friday night. There's no cover charge, but the musicians did draw attention to their donation basket several times during the show.
OttawaJazzScene.ca was there for the November show. Outside there was driving rain, wet snow, and soaking-cold slush, but inside it was bright and cheery, with retro-style paintings of women in 1940s styles on the walls. Tables and armchairs were set up around an open area reserved for the performance. Every table was taken in the café, with lots of coffee cups steaming on them, and most of the customers were listening to the music.
National Arts Centre Theatre
Friday, November 2, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.
Holly Cole takes her music from many sources: the Great American Songbook, Tom Waits, pop songs. But in her voice and with the backing of her skilled band, they all turn into golden jazz.
At her National Arts Centre concert Friday, Cole received two standing ovations – and moments of complete silence and attention as well – as she presented tunes from across her career. The show was both an introduction to her latest CD, Holly, from 2018, and a selection of favourites reaching back to her first full-length album, Girl Talk, in 1990.
It's been 2½ years since Cole last performed in Ottawa, and 6 years since she was at the NAC, and her audience was as enthusiastic as ever. The 897-seat NAC Theatre was about 80% full, and from the very first song, the audience responded with very strong applause and cheers – to which Cole made the effort to respond in both French and English.
Backing Cole were Toronto jazz musicians she's played with for years: pianist Aaron Davis, saxophonist John Johnson, bassist George Koller, and drummer Davide DiRenzo. If Cole was the star, they were the muscle behind and the contrasting voices in her music – and she let them shine as well.
The Ottawa Swing Dance Society celebrated its 19th anniversary in style Friday evening with dancing, birthday cake and snacks, and most importantly – live jazz.
They brought in one of their favourite Ottawa jazz bands – Peter Liu and the Pollcats – to perform three sets of vintage swing music, and the band invited a special guest singer, JUNO-Award-winning vocalist Kellylee Evans. The Pollcats have previously invited Evans to sing with them at swing dances, and Evans had Liu guest with her at her swing-themed concert at the NAC a year ago.
OttawaJazzScene.ca was there for the band's second set, in which Evans and Liu each led the Pollcats in a lively selection of jazz standards.
Evans' flexible, vibrant voice easily navigated the lyrics to tunes that included “Pennies from Heaven”, and “I Like Pie (I Like You Best of All)”. On “Love Me or Leave Me” (from her JUNO-winning album, Nina), she was scatting joyfully and singing with her whole body; on “It's Only a Paper Moon”, she was bouncing up and down to the beat.
Afro-Cuban Meets Jazz featuring Miguel de Armas and OKAN
NAC Fourth Stage
Saturday, October 13, 2018 – 8:30 p.m.
I have rarely felt that much energy and joie de vivre pouring out of a group as in the collaboration between Miguel de Armas and OKAN this month.
For two successive evenings, they took over the NAC Fourth Stage and turned it into a Cuban fiesta, combining their own compositions, jazz standards, and Afro-Cuban songs into a joyous rush of music.
On the first (Saturday) evening, every seat was taken in the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage – and there were fans perched in the window ledges. Each song was greeted with strong applause, and by the last song most of the audience was up dancing, and stayed on their feet to give the group a standing ovation and to demand an encore.
There was a strong simpatico and easy communication among all five musicians on-stage – not surprising given their similar roots in Cuba and their performances together here. This was the third time that de Armas and OKAN had performed together (the first was last New Year's Eve in Ottawa).
Tenth Ward Shakedown
The Art House Café
Friday, October 26, 2018 – 8 p.m.
The Tenth Ward is a wedge-shaped section of central New Orleans. In jazz terms, it's best known as the home of Charles “Buddy” Bolden, a charismatic and powerful cornetist who, at the turn of the 20th century, became the father of New Orleans jazz.
New Orleans has been called “the birthplace of jazz” – in its most approachable way. Its jazz has a swinging, stomping, syncopated beat that makes people want to dance. From Bolden through Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton to modern masters like Trombone Shorty and Kermit Ruffins, the city's jazz is noted for its feel-good energy, freedom of expression through improvisation, spontaneity, and fun.
And that's the vibe a crowded room heard at The Art House Café on Friday evening.
The Ottawa jazz group Tenth Ward Shakedown – Tariq Amery on saxophone, Sean Duhaime on electric guitar, and Keith Hartshorn-Walton on double bass – has been presenting this material at the Café in monthly shows since last April. In August, they added a drummer to the line-up, contributing even more energy to the mix; for this evening, it was Andrew Ferderber.
In two sets, they played a mix of music by New Orleans musicians – Sidney Bechet, the Meters, and the archetypal Big Easy trad tune, “When the Saints Come Marching In” – plus jazz standards given a New Orleans kick.
Their energy never flagged over more than two hours of music. Amery in particular is a dynamo in concert, swirling his soprano sax around and about and constantly moving with the music. The others mostly stood still, but their fingers didn't – Duhaime produced fast flurries of notes on his guitar and high harmonics, Hartshorn-Walton deep, velvety bass lines, and Ferderber strongly propulsive drumming that drove all the tunes. Their wide range of dynamics in “Tenor Madness” was typical: from swinging, to in the groove, to super-fast, to stately and deep, to thumping drums, to swinging again.
Tuba players have learned to value every jazz recording that features their instrument in a leading role – and one of the first was the 1959 collaboration between famed trumpeter Clark Terry and tuba player Don Butterfield, called Top and Bottom Brass.
Ottawa's jazz tuba player, Keith Hartshorn-Walton, teamed up with Montreal trumpeter Bill Mahar to recreate that album last Saturday at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios – and maybe increase the tuba a bit in the mix, too!
The show was warmly received by the near-capacity audience, with Hartshorn-Walton's rounded tuba lines nicely melding and contrasting with Mahar on trumpet and flugelhorn.
Besides Hartshorn-Walton's arrangements of all the pieces from Top and Bottom Brass, they performed two of Mahar's arrangements from the 1957 Miles Davis/Gil Evans Birth of the Cool album which also prominently feature tuba together with trumpet or flugelhorn. Also included were three modern numbers by Ottawa and Montreal jazz composers, where the tuba smoothly slid into the saxophone or trombone parts. Filling in the music were Peter Hum on piano, Dave Schroeder on double bass, and Michel Delage on drums.
2018 Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Merrickville United Arts Centre
Sunday, October 14, 2018 – 7 p.m.
It was such a relief to see Kellylee Evans dancing again.
Evans has always been such a physical performer, singing not only with her full, clear, powerful voice, but with her whole body. For the past five years, the Ottawa vocalist has been completely or partially sidelined by the aftereffects of being struck by lightning while washing dishes, followed by a concussion two years later. But judging from her performance at the 2018 Merrickville's Jazz Fest, she is fully back on her feet.
Or, more specifically, two-inch stilettos, in which she swayed to the music, danced, and even jumped in the air repeatedly in her high-energy show which closed the festival. Backed by a crackerjack group of Toronto musicians (Michael Shand on keyboards and guitar, Mark Godfrey on bass, and Ian Wright on drums), Evans delivered a carefully-organized and finely-tuned performance that was rapturously received by the capacity audience in the Merrickville United Arts Centre.
She opened with “My Name Is” from her I Remember When album, followed it with the title track from that album, and continued in her first set with some of her best-known songs from three previous albums.
The Landen Vieira Quartet
2018 Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Holy Trinity Anglican Church
Sunday, October 14, 2018 – 3 p.m.
Toronto saxophonist Landen Vieira is only 26 years old but a strong promoter of the jazz tradition, judging from his afternoon concert at the 2018 Merrickville's Jazz Fest.
He celebrates the tradition in his own jazz compositions, and those were what he primarily presented in his afternoon concert with a high-powered jazz quartet. It was an accomplished show, with consistently interesting performances from Vieira on tenor sax, Dave Restivo on keyboards, Morgan Childs on drums, and Malcolm Connor on double bass.
Almost all the set list came from Vieira's latest album, Dream. The tunes drew primarily on bebop and modal jazz, and, listening to them, you could imagine yourself back in the 1950s or 60s. Vieira's song, “Do It” was reminiscent of Freddie Hubbard, with a deep and growling bass riff opener and a swinging tenor melody, while “Double Vision” was a double-time bebop number with with pointing and questioning tenor lines.
The quartet opened with the Coltranesque “Light Piece”, an attention-drawing opener showing off their tight ensemble playing. The commanding sax line was easily matched by the fast and exact piano solo, the constructive bass solo, and the propulsive and cymbal-heavy drumming.
But the ensemble could also go more deeply and intently in the ballads, for example, the wistful and contemplative “Dove”. The quartet particularly let themselves dig in on the two standards, “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” and “Body and Soul”. Vieira told the audience that “Softly” was one of his favourite tunes, and you could hear that in the devotion and warmth with which he played the melody before taking it out with fast, vibrating lines.
The show was full of fine musical moments from the individual musicians. Listening to Restivo's reflective piano solo on “Do It” was like sinking into a pool of sound. He opened “Body and Soul” with a lovely quiet piano solo with a hint of underlying sadness, the melody just barely perceptible.