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Lorraine Desmarais Trio ©Brett Delmage, 2019
The Lorraine Desmarais Trio received two standing ovations in its sold-out tribute to Bill Evans at La Nouvelle Scène. ©Brett Delmage, 2019

The Lorraine Desmarais Trio
Bill Evans: Time Remembered (documentary film)
La Nouvelle Scène
Friday, January 25, 2019 – 6 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Before rapt listeners, Lorraine Desmarais deftly explored the legacy of Bill Evans on January 25.

The Montreal pianist, together with her long-time trio of bassist Frédéric Alarie and drummer Camile Belisle, gave an emotionally-charged performance at La Nouvelle Scène. It was her first concert in Ottawa in almost a decade, and received with distinct delight by the sold-out audience.

Evans released more than 70 albums in his 25-year career, and was known as a supremely intuitive interpreter and composer who added new concepts of harmonic language to jazz piano. He composed more than 60 tunes, many of which have become standards. His renditions of many Great American Songbook and modern pop tunes are considered classics.

Desmarais is a renowned Quebec jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader, who can easily hold her own with international stars. She was fully at ease with Evans' music – and clearly enjoying herself in the concert.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Saxophonist Mike Tremblay improvised over the playing of a 12-musician strings ensemble at the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra concert January 19, as he reinterpreted the Focus suite first performed by Stan Getz. ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Strings in Focus
Ottawa Jazz Orchestra
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, January 19, 2019

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The harp sitting in the middle of the stage confirmed it. This was not going to be your typical Ottawa Jazz Orchestra concert – or sound.

Instead, it was a celebration of strings in jazz, on a comparatively large scale. On a stage lengthened by eight feet and jutting an extra four feet into the audience sat six violinists, three viola players, two cellists, one bassist, one harpist, a pianist, a bassist, and a drummer, all directed by conductor Angus Armstrong.

In the first set, they accompanied vocalist Diane Nalini in classic arrangements of songs made famous by Ella Fitzgerald. In the second set, tenor saxophonist Mike Tremblay improvised in response to their performance of Eddie Sauter's compositions for Focus, an acclaimed Stan Getz album. 

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Megan Jerome's sunny smile encompassed everyone in the Fourth Stage at her Together Ensemble concert December 18. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Megan Jerome and the Together Ensemble
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Monday, December 17, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

It was a very personal – but also very sociable – concert at the NAC Fourth Stage as Ottawa vocalist Megan Jerome celebrated the one-year anniversary of her most recent album.

Jerome's sunny smile encompassed everyone in the room, as she praised her band, celebrated a friend's 50th birthday, told how she collaborated with choreographer Tedd Robinson, promoted everything from Pilates exercises to a friend's campaign to fund a community kitchen to teach kids in Vanier to cook, and explained how she used pictures as seeds for her songs.

Throughout, she sang her original music and lyrics, her appealing voice combining with the rich instrumentation of the musicians behind her in a stream of images, emotions, melody, harmony – and quite a few love songs.

Jerome, sitting behind her vintage Wurlitzer piano, was supported by her Together Ensemble: Don Cummings on Hammond organ (provided by the NAC so he didn't have to cart in his own), Fred Guignion on electric guitar, and husband Mike Essoudry on drums. Her latest CD, Ooh Aah! had had its release at the Fourth Stage a year before, almost to the day. She performed many of the songs from that CD, along with others across her career.

Playing Changes by Nate Chinen
Playing Changes by Nate Chinen

Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century
by Nate Chinen
Pantheon Books, 2018, US $27.95, CDN$36.95
ISBN 978-1101-870-341

This week, I finished reading Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century by American jazz and pop critic Nate Chinen. There aren't many books written about jazz each year, so I'd been wanting to read it since it was released last summer. I found it a fascinating – if incomplete – guide to what's on in jazz today.

What worked: it's right up to date, and covers a wide range of musicians and styles from avant-garde, to jazz crossovers with R&B and hip-hop, to Afro-Cuban, to mainstream. The musicians profiled in the book are clearly influential and interesting, and continuing to push themselves. Many will be familiar to Ottawa listeners, whether from performances at the Ottawa Jazz Festival or mentions in other jazz publications or on jazz radio.

The chapter-long profiles of musicians such as Esperanza Spalding, Brad Mehldau, Vijay Iyer, Mary Halvorson, Miguel Zenon, and Dave Douglas were what I found most interesting. Chinen has done a good job of providing a sympathetic and music-focused profile of each of these artists, condensing their history and their ideas from different interviews and reviews, and giving an informed context for their music.

I also really enjoyed the learning more about Jason Moran's combinations of music and visual art, Chinen's excursions through Beijing's increasingly self-propelled jazz scene, or how Donny McCaslin linked up with David Bowie. The “Changing Sames” chapter about the links between hip-hop and jazz – and in particular, the continuing influence of the late producer J Dilla on both – helped me understand more about that scene and how much it added to the recent music of, for example, Roy Hargrove (and how much we lost with Hargrove's recent death).

©Brett Delmage, 2018
The saxophone line of Melissa Brown, Wesley Reissner, and Patrick Vafaie (l-r, front) were featured in the Brad Turner composition “Hey, That's My Bike!”, which closed the Nepean All-City Jazz Band fall concert.
©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Ottawa Junior Jazz Band
The Nepean All-City Jazz Band
Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School, Ottawa
Tuesday, December 18, 2018 - 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band performance, and the Nepean All-City Jazz Band performance

If you'd ever wondered which is louder, a big band or a fire alarm, the question was conclusively answered last month at a joint concert by the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band (OJJB) and the Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB).

The punctuated snarl of the fire alarm won.

Just after 9 p.m., the NACJB was in full flight playing Tom Kubis' “Grimey Yet Slimey Blues” in the auditorium of Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School in Barrhaven. The alarm went off loudly and with a bright flashing light, the music abruptly stopped, and the entire audience dutifully trooped out of the school. Three firefighters arrived within a few minutes and quickly confirmed there was no fire. Then everyone returned after a 10-minute break – to hear the band resume right where they had broken off, fully immersed again in the energy of the piece.

Each year, the two student bands present a joint concert in December. It's a shaking-in show, the first chance for new band members to perform before a live audience and play the music they had been learning and rehearsing for the past three months. OJJB Director Mandar Gumaste said it was the first time it had ever been interrupted by a fire alarm.

The concert opened with a seven-song set by the OJJB, performing a mix of big band standards and more modern pieces. It was an energetic performance, tight and clear, of innovative and generally upbeat arrangements. The band's performance of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's “Such Sweet Thunder”, with its many strong individual solo sections, garnered particularly strong applause. Gumaste noted that half of the band was new this year, but you wouldn't have known that from their smooth performances in numbers such as “Spain” and “Hot House”.

As OJJB's members were leaving the stage at the end of their set, the trombone section stayed behind and played “Jingle Bells” – an extra fillip of Christmas cheer that was nicely done.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
l-r: Patrick Sénécal, Linsey Wellman, Philippe Charbonneau, and David Broscoe in full melodic flight in Bernard Stepien's combinations of Christmas carols and free jazz compositions by Albert Ayler  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Improvising Musicians of Ottawa and Outwards (IMOO) #187: A Very Ayler Christmas 2018
General Assembly
Sunday, December 16, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

It's become a tradition. Every December for the last dozen years, saxophonist Bernard Stepien has given a new spin to familiar Christmas tunes by combining them with compositions by 1960s American avant-garde – and very spiritual – jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler.

Stepien has overcome ice storms, illness, and frequent changes in his orchestra's line-up to present this project each year – and even released a CD of it in 2011. He's continued to find new correspondences between carols and Ayler's music, fitting them together in surprisingly musical ways.

And with the aid of skilled and adventurous Ottawa-area improvising musicians, the combination works. Ayler's music, with its gospel and military overtones, comes from much the same musical sources as many of our carols and other Christmas-themed music; in each combined Ayler/carol piece, the two tunes complement and provide a new viewpoint on each other.

This year, Stepien recruited musicians who have been playing this music from the beginning: saxophonists Linsey Wellman and David Broscoe and bassist Philippe Charbonneau. To that group he added François Gravel on keyboards and electronics, David Jackson on electric guitar and electronics, and Patrick Sénécal on drums.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Much of the music was played by all five saxophonists and the solo sections were relatively short – and they had no trumpet or trombone sections to share the load.  l-r: Mike Tremblay, David Renaud, Sandy Gordon, Brian Asselin, Steffan Bello  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Bird in the Reeds
The Ottawa Jazz Orchestra
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, December 15, 2018 – 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

It's been more than 75 years since saxophonist Charlie Parker started shaking up jazz. He took the genre away from swing and danceable music and instead explored advanced harmonies, complex syncopation, altered chords, and chord substitutions.

His music was not easy to play – with fast tempos and difficult eighth-note runs – but it was far more interesting and gave more opportunities to build upon. As Parker said himself, “It's trying to play clean and looking for the pretty notes. The beat in a bop band is with the music, against it, behind it. It pushes it. It helps it. Help is the big thing. It has no continuity of beat, no steady chug-chug. Jazz has, and that's why bop is more flexible.”

The Ottawa Jazz Orchestra paid tribute to Charlie Parker and his compositions in the second show of their 2018-19 season. But it was Parker with a twist – not the versions you might hear in a jam session. Instead, the OJO ensemble primarily played the challenging arrangements of Parker's music written by Los Angeles composer Med Flory for his Supersax group.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Listeners take in the improvised performance by (l-r) Joane Hétu,  Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Pierre-Yves Martel, and Émilie Mouchous (not visible)  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

HMMH (Hétu / Martel / Mouchous / Hübsch)
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa and Outwards (IMOO)
General Assembly
Sunday, December 9, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

When you're operating on the bleeding edge of music, the old rules don't precisely apply.

New instruments, new methods of playing them, new combinations – all those characterized HMMH's concert at IMOO on Sunday. It was not a show that one could judge based on its fidelity to a musical text – it was, after all, completely improvised – nor was there a specific style or genre that it adhered to.

It was as much visual as aural – what exactly is making that sound? And it was almost as much of a process of exploration for the audience as it was for the musicians, as one listened to and absorbed the music that was being born in the moment.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
The duo constantly engaged listeners throughout their performance, despite other noisy NAC activities behind the audience  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

François Jalbert and Jérôme Beaulieu
NAC Presents
Canada's National Arts Centre, Peter Herrndorf Place
Thursday, November 22, 2018 – 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

It was a simple set-up: a bare stage with one grand piano and one acoustic guitar – and two long-time friends whose playing complemented and enhanced each other.

Guitarist François Jalbert and pianist Jérôme Beaulieu are well-known in Montreal's jazz and indie scenes. They've been playing together for years in different bands, and more recently as a duo. In 2017, they released an all-acoustic album together, This is a Real Place, and they performed primarily from that CD in this show.

The concert was thoughtful and intimate, with music that drew you in and repaid careful listening. The music ranged from folk to bluegrass to jazz ballads to jazz manouche, all given a strongly collaborative interpretation. From their opening number, “Clark's Reel”, a comfortable and upbeat number drawing on traditional sources but with a hint of dissonance to keep it lively, the audience was with the duo – swaying to the music, listening intently, and emphatically applauding, with even a few cheers.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Jeremy Ledbetter, Marc Decho, and Sarah Thawer played "with passion and energy" and engaged with their audience at Record Runner ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Jeremy Ledbetter Trio
Live @ Record Runner
Saturday, December 8, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

From their first number onwards, the Jeremy Ledbetter Trio captured the attention and the appreciation of their audience at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios.

The material they performed was almost all from Ledbetter's recent trio CD, but this wasn't the trio that Ledbetter had on that album. Instead, the Toronto jazz pianist played with Ottawa bassist Marc Decho and Toronto drummer Sarah Thawer.

Although they had had two rehearsals in Toronto a few weeks before, this was the three musicians' first public performance together. “We hope you enjoy it, as we get to know each other here,” Ledbetter told the audience. “But of course, it's very important that you be a part of this, too. I'm going to talk to you a lot, because it's important to me that you feel that you're a part of this, too. That's one of the most important things about any music, is that it be played with passion and energy and that it feel as interesting and engaging to listen to as it is to play.”

The result was a vigorous and energetic performance, with laughter and smiles on-stage and off. They opened with “Amanecer”, the opening track on the CD, and that piece set the style for the evening: interactive, and full-bodied. Its opening, at first solo keyboards and then with light cymbals and bass, felt reverent and hopeful, reminding me somewhat of Pat Metheny. It grew steadily more intense and propulsive, and then quietened for a rounded and attuned bass solo, and then sprang back up in celebratory mood before ending in a strong drum flourish. Around me in the audience, I heard “Wow!” and strong applause.