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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 groove and play sweetly.
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.
The Nepean All-City Lab Band, and
The Nepean All-City Jazz Band
featuring special guest Dr. Shirantha Beddage
Nepean High School, Ottawa
Tuesday, April 30, 2019 – 7:30 p.m.
Spring is the best time to hear student big bands, when they've had nine months to play together and become familiar with their repertoire. It's also when they bring in guest artists, spurring them to further achievements.
On International Jazz Day, the Nepean All-City Lab Band (NACLB) and Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB) invited JUNO-nominated baritone saxophonist Shirantha Beddage to perform with them. The result was two sparkling and challenging sets of big band jazz, with Beddage's performance adding an extra fillip to the music.
Beddage had come up from Toronto the day before to work with the two bands, and he and the students looked comfortable and happy on-stage together.
First up was the NACLB, co-directed by Nepean High School music teachers Jean-François Fauteux and Stephen Szabo. The Lab Band performed a set of modern big band numbers, beginning with the flowing “Apollo's Reel”. It was a multi-layered piece whose different colours – Laura Seaborn's wordless vocals (standing in for flute), Sarah Ramsay's alto sax, and Kian Wong's trumpet – smoothly evolved and overlaid each other. The students continued in this Wheeleresque and thoughtful mode with Szabo's “Pine Hill”, with Seaborn again contributing wordless vocals and Hope Ballinger a wistful trumpet solo.
Seaborn was again featured – this time singing the lyrics – in an upbeat and swinging version of “Route 66”, and in “Here's To Life”, a hopeful but subdued ballad with a flowing and emotional tenor sax from Catherine Gendron.
Joe McPhee, Nicolas Caloia, Jesse Stewart
Saturday, April 27, 2019 – 9 p.m.
Listening to a free-improv concert is different from listening to a mainstream jazz show. There are no tunes to recognize, no natural song structure to follow. The music develops and evolves as the musicians will it from moment to moment, and can change direction without warning. You have to keep more of it in your head to see where it's going.
It's more intense, more immersive, more challenging – for both the listeners and musicians – and rewarding in a different way.
On Saturday, Joe McPhee from Poughkeepsie, NY, Nicolas Caloia from Montreal, and Jesse Stewart from Ottawa performed two back-to-back shows at GigSpace – both completely improvised. The music ranged from the barest whispers to full-out ensemble playing, and managed in the second show to both delight and startle me.
McPhee, who will turn 80 this year, has had a long and illustrious career in jazz, particularly as a free improviser, performing with top-ranked avant-garde musicians in Europe and North America like Hamid Drake, Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, or The Thing. And he's as active as ever, with numerous releases and re-releases just in the last year. On stage, he was vigorous, moving with the flexibility and dynamism of a much younger man.
Caloia is a linchpin of Montreal's avant-garde scene, who was last in Ottawa in 2018 with his Mercury collaboration with Lori Freedman. Stewart is an endlessly inventive percussionist and composer who frequently masters or invents new instruments, and has played with everyone from Ernst Reijseger to William Parker to Kevin Breit. He and McPhee both performed with and were influenced by musical innovator Pauline Oliveros.
On Saturday, all three created a musical conversation, with give-and-take and profound listening. They had first played together at the 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival (a well-received show), and then immediately gone into Phil Bova's studio in Ottawa to record an album. That album, Permutations, was released in 2018. Saturday's shows were their first return to Ottawa.
Salle Jean-Despréz, Maison du citoyen / Gatineau City Hall
Friday, March 15, 2019 – 8 p.m.
Omar Sosa takes music from Afro-Cuban, Latin, and African traditions, and immerses his audiences in its warmth, beauty, and vitality.
At his recent concert in Gatineau, the Cuban-born pianist teamed up with kora player and vocalist Seckou Keita from Senegal and percussionist Gustavo Ovalles from Venezuela for a show which transcended cultural and language barriers and evoked no fewer than four standing ovations.
Sosa switched between grand piano and keyboards, and sometimes played with one hand on each. He also had an electronic keypad and several mixing stands, and occasionally used effects, including looping.
Keita performed behind his kora, a harp-lute whose 44 strings were attached to two tall heads rising from the instrument's resonating chamber. It produced a more defined, almost metallic sound than a European harp, but at the same time, its shimmering tones could fill the room to its edges. He also had a mixer/effects box beside his instrument.
Ovalles played large and small hand drums and shakers and a small drum set, but the most interesting piece in his repertoire was a miniature fountain. A thin smooth stream of water poured from its bamboo arm into a large plastic tub and was pumped back up to fall again in a soothing continuous gurgle, which he used to great effect in several of the pieces.