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Samuel Blais Quartet ©Brett Delmage, 2018
The Samuel Blais Quartet attracted a full house of enthusiastic listeners to Record Runner ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Samuel Blais Quartet
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios, Ottawa
Friday, September 28, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The Samuel Blais Quartet introduced their new CD before a room full of enthusiastic listeners at Record Runner in Ottawa on Friday, in a consistently dynamic and striking performance.

The Montreal-based quartet had been on the road in Quebec and Ontario for the last week, performing and fine-tuning the tunes from the CD, Equilibrium. It is music with strong contrasts and energy, displaying the talents of all the musicians in the quartet: Blais on alto and baritone saxophone, Jérôme Beaulieu on keyboards, Olivier Babaz on double bass, and Alain Bourgeois on drums.

For this show, Blais decided to shake up the order of the set list from what they'd played the previous week, and from their order of the tunes on the CD. The music flowed well in this order as well, balancing more vehement numbers with quieter ones.

John Dapaah and Roxanne Goodman ©Brett Delmage, 2018
John Dapaah and Roxanne Goodman's musical rapport shone through at their duo concert at Ottawa Pianos September 22 ©Brett Delmage, 2018

John Kofi Dapaah and Roxanne Goodman
Studio Sessions with John Kofi Dapaah
Ottawa Pianos
Saturday, September 22, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Pianist John Kofi Dapaah and vocalist Roxanne Goodman have much in common. They first met and played together a decade ago when both were students in Carleton University's music program. Each regularly crosses musical genre boundaries: Dapaah performs both classical music and jazz professionally, while Goodman sings soul/R&B, gospel, and jazz, and directs the 130-member Big Soul Project choir.

In performance, their musical rapport shines through.

On Saturday evening, Dapaah opened his new concert series, Studio Series, with a duo show with Goodman. They performed standards, pop and R&B tunes, hymns, and even a musical setting of a famous final letter – but with a jazz sensibility and swing.

Unlike many parts of the city that day, south Bank Street did have power, and listeners flocked to hear the duo. The 45-seat listening room in the Ottawa Pianos store was effectively full, with several local jazz/R&B vocalists in attendance. At the start, Dapaah invited the audience to “dance, clap, whatever makes you feel good!”, and while they stayed in their seats they certainly did applaud enthusiastically throughout.

The duo opened with the classic Peggy Lee number, “I Love Being Here With You”, giving it a punchy and assured treatment. Goodman sang the lyrics with her body as well as her voice, swaying to the music, snapping her fingers, and expressively gesturing with her hands. Dapaah's vigorous piano swept along with her, adding animated solo interludes. Both changed tempo at times during the song to underline the lyrics.

Natsuki Tamura in the dark ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Natsuki Tamura played his trumpet in the dark to save power on the first day of IMOO Fest 2018 ©Brett Delmage, 2018

IMOO Fest 2018, Day 1:
Natsuki Tamura solo
Adam Saikaley and Elizabeth Millar
The Craig Pedersen Quartet
General Assembly
Friday, September 21, 2018 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of these performances

When we arrived at General Assembly Friday evening, there was light spilling out of the door, but not because there was any electricity in the area. The owners had rigged a fluorescent light powered by a car battery and placed it in the corner of the hall, and that was the only illumination.

It was the first evening of IMOO Fest 2018, a long-awaited festival of improvised music and jazz. A few hours before, everything looked great: the festival's Japanese artists-in-residence had arrived the previous day and run their first rehearsal, and then held a masterclass that afternoon. Other out-of-town musicians were on their way.

Then the storms hit. At 6 p.m., an unprecedented EF/2 tornado skipped across west-central Ottawa, and destroyed one of the two major local Hydro transmission stations. The electricity abruptly disappeared for about half the city. Musician Adam Saikaley saw part of that storm on his way in to IMOO Fest – a funnel cloud near Woodroffe and Medhurst – but luckily was able to dodge any debris.

Mark Miller/Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz Legend
In his biography of Claude Ranger, Mark Miller not only outlines a mystery, but also gives a compelling story of three decades in Canadian jazz. (photo by Mark Miller)

Claude Ranger, Canadian Jazz Legend
by Mark Miller
Tellwell Talent, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-77302-559-9
reviewed by Alayne McGregor

Does a story need an ending?

I've heard it argued, by authors as prominent as Philip Pullman, that a basic tenet of stories is that they must resolve. And yet in real life, not all stories have a final resolution, and sometimes they are all the more memorable because of that.

As, for example, the story of Canadian jazz drummer Claude Ranger, which jazz journalist Mark Miller recounts in his most recent book. It's a highly readable account which has many resonances with today's jazz scene.

Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz Legend has no concluding episode because Ranger simply disappeared in 2000, after more than three decades as a notable performer, composer, and influential teacher in Canada. But, as Miller explains in this biography, it makes Ranger's story and his legend all the more compelling – and reflective of Canada's jazz scene, which "went largely undocumented" during most of the time Ranger was performing.

Miller himself has arguably been the major figure in documenting that scene, as a journalist and jazz critic with Toronto's Globe and Mail for 27 years, and the author of many books and articles about Canadian jazz and jazz musicians. For this book, he interviewed dozens of musicians who had performed with and learned from Ranger during his career, as well as drawing from earlier interviews, reviews, and articles by himself and others.

Each chapter is extensively documented with footnotes, and Miller has included a full discography of the albums Ranger played on between 1967 and 1994. That included recordings by prominent Canadian and American musicians: Dave Liebman, Michel Donato, Jane Bunnett, Doug Riley, Moe Koffman, P.J. Perry, Sonny Greenwich, and Don Thompson, among many others.

Miller became acquainted with Ranger when Ranger lived in Toronto. He interviewed him, heard him play, and photographed him (and includes several of these photographs in the book). But, while Miller includes his own impressions occasionally, this story is primarily told through the words of all the other people who performed with, learned from, or were friends with Ranger. It's an account revealed from many angles, giving it more depth and believability.

Brownman Ali with the Nicholas Maclean Quartet ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Brownman Ali's "The Madness of Nero” was a show-stopper in the Nick Maclean Quartet's Ottawa show ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Nick Maclean Quartet
Avant-Garde Bar, Ottawa
Saturday, August 18, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Herbie Hancock has always had an earthy and rhythmic bottom to his jazz. Not for him the highly refined and quiet piano trio; he performs jazz that speaks to both the body and mind, and combines the talents of his entire band. And this ethos was also plainly audible in the Nick Maclean Quartet's mid-August show in Ottawa, as they played from their debut album, a tribute to Hancock.

The quartet's front line – Maclean on electric piano and Brownman Ali on trumpet – is the same as Maclean's other jazz project, the electric groove group Snaggle. But this group had a different sound: still energetic and driving, but crisper and cleaner and essentially acoustic. Maclean contributed expressive piano lines and dense harmony; Ali's trumpet lines were sometimes floating and serene, sometimes brash and exclamatory; Nick Arseneau's rounded and rich double bass solos could be light and airy, or deeply resonant; Mike Rajna kept the group's momentum up with slashing drum lines, and enhanced ballads like “Feral Serenity” with barely-there cymbal and snare taps.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Justin Gray on bass veena and Ed Hanley on tabla were important and unique parts of Synthesis' sound  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Justin Gray's Synthesis
Ottawa Chamberfest, Chamberfringe Series
La Nouvelle Scène
Wednesday, August 8, 2018 – 10 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Justin Gray's Synthesis created a rich and exciting mix of East and West at Chamberfest on Wednesday, combining instruments and approaches from several traditions.

In a late-night Chamberfringe show, the Toronto jazz ensemble performed tunes from their debut album, New Horizons. All originals by Gray, they featured Hindustani melodies and rhythms within a jazz framework and with classical influences. The result: energetic and engaging music that brought together the strengths of all these genres, and which worked exceptionally well in the serene acoustics of La Nouvelle Scène.

On stage were ensemble members Drew Jurecka on violin, Ted Quinlan on electric guitar and effects, Ed Hanley on tabla, and Derek Gray on drums and Tibetan singing bowls, with guest Rebekah Wolkstein on violin and Hardanger fiddle. Almost all these instruments have been used in Indian classical music, most in jazz, and some in chamber music.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Violinist Roby Lakatos and percussionist Jeno Istvan Lisztes frequently performed close and nuanced duets in their Chamberfest concert Friday evening ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Roby Lakatos Quintet
Ottawa Chamberfest (Chamberfringe)
École secondaire publique De La Salle
Friday, July 27, 2018 – 10:50 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Roby Lakatos is a Romani virtuoso violinist from Hungary, a 7th-generation direct descendant of legendary Hungarian gypsy violinist Janos Bihari (1764-1827). At Chamberfest on Friday evening, he displayed the energy and passion of that heritage in a flamboyant and audience-pleasing concert.

If there was a market in sixty-fourth notes, Lakatos and his quintet would have cornered it at this concert. Right from his first number – from La Passion [2013], a live album recorded at the Sydney Opera House – his violin playing was fast and virtuosic, attention-grabbing and electrifying, a fine thread of sound physically spinning across the stage.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Amado Dedéu Garcia's (l) solo percussion piece showcasing Afro-Cuban rhythms was a highlight of Rafael Zaldivar's (centre) tribute to the Buena Vista Social Club, presented Saturday as part of the 2018 Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Rafael Zaldivar's Tribute to the Buena Vista Social Club
2018 Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire
The British Hotel, Gatineau (secteur Aylmer)
Saturday, July 28, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Afro-Cuban pianist Rafael Zaldivar brought the joyous and vibrant music of pre-revolutionary Cuba to Gatineau Saturday night – and had his audience up cheering, dancing, and giving his group a standing ovation.

It was music that Zaldivar had grown up with in Cuba, and heard in performances by masters of the Cuban musical tradition. Starting in 1996, North Americans were reintroduced to this music through the Buena Vista Social Club, and most of the pieces Zaldivar's quintet played were from that group's repertoire.

If many of the tunes were familiar – the group opened with “El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor)”, one of the best-known Cuban songs of all time – it nevertheless sounded fresh and exciting. Sitting at the restaurant's grand piano, Zaldivar joked and laughed with the audience as he announced the songs, and the majority of that audience were listening and responsive. One corner of the room turned into an impromptu dance floor with dancers swaying and twirling to the music.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
A little rain after the first song didn't stop the Roddy Ellias Trio, sound engineer Patrice Servant, and listeners who stayed from enjoying a full concert including a welcomed encore ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Roddy Ellias Trio
2018 Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire 
Parc de l'Imaginaire, Gatineau (secteur Aylmer)
Thursday, July 26, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Rain and calm: that marked both the music and the weather for the Roddy Ellias Trio's performance in Parc de l'Imaginaire on Thursday.

The weather had been calm and summery all day, enough so that the Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire decided to stay outdoors for its second 2018 concert. Then, about 10 minutes before showtime, a cold front blew in with high winds. Just as the trio finished their first number, the rain started falling.

After a brief wait, the musicians resumed the concert. The rain died down quickly, completely ending within half an hour – and those listeners who stayed were rewarded with a beautiful and meditative performance in a peaceful setting.

And one that reflected the rain, whether its fluid nature or its staccato bursts.

Ron Di Lauro Sextet - Kind of Blue Tribute
2018 Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire
The British Hotel, Gatineau
Wednesday, July 25, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

It was with “Blue in Green” that the Ron Di Lauro Sextet really caught fire on Wednesday night in Aylmer.

The sextet's concert was a tribute to Miles Davis' iconic album, Kind of Blue, and it had already quieted a noisy room and evoked strong applause after every number. But the mid-set “Blue in Green” took the music to another level, with slow singing trumpet lines over reflective piano, bringing out the bleakness and loneliness behind the beauty in this song's melody. The music only got more powerful after that, in a strong ensemble performance which could both swing out mightily and explore quiet minor-key changes with deep care and intensity.

The pieces they performed were all recorded by Miles Davis in 1958 or 1959. The sextet opened with two jazz standards from the 1958 Miles album, and closed with another from Milestones [1958], with the entirety of the 1959 Kind of Blue album played, in order, in the middle.

The sextet featured a renowned and highly experienced group of Montreal jazz musicians: Di Lauro on trumpet, Jean-Pierre Zanella on alto sax, André Leroux on tenor sax, Geoff Lapp on piano, Michel Donato on double bass, and Dave Laing on drums. Di Lauro told the audience they'd played this music more than 80 times across Quebec (including in 2012 in Gatineau). While Leroux and Laing performed at this year's Ottawa Jazz Festival, and have appeared there before, and Donato has been featured several times at Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire, the others have not been often heard here.