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If you had just plopped yourself down in front of the main stage at 6:30 p.m. for every night of the 2018 Ottawa Jazz Festival, you would have heard some excellent modern jazz performances – all by Canadians.
I made a point of “buying Canadian” at this year's festival and, although I couldn't hear all of these performances due to conflicts, I was more than satisfied with the quality and originality of what I did hear.
The festival's 2018 Canadian contingent ranged from swing to Afro-Cuban to vocal harmony to modern jazz. Most were from Montreal and Toronto, with a few expats from NYC. Overall, their performances would satisfy any jazz purists while also being highly accessible to jazz neophytes. It was music that spoke jazz and spoke from the heart.
What I heard:
Eagles / Schroeder / Essoudry
Ontario Stage, 2018 Ottawa Jazz Festival
Tuesday, June 26, 2018 – 5 p.m.
Normand Glaude Quartet: Toots’ Suite
Ontario Stage, 2018 Ottawa Jazz Festival
Wednesday, June 27, 2018 – 12 noon
Each year, Ottawa-Gatineau jazz groups showcase their latest projects in free shows at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. It's an opportunity for listeners to investigate groups or shows that sold out in smaller venues, or which they might want to hear in local bars and halls in the future.
This year, the festival gave local groups greater visibility – adding late afternoon and evening shows to supplement the regular noon-hour shows, and locating them in a large tent on the Elgin Street side of Confederation Park, better placed to catch the attention of passers-by. [See the full list of local shows at the 2018 festival]
It's a change that came out of necessity – other local stage locations had been canceled in the last few years, and city sewer construction forced a complete shake-up of the festival's outdoor stages this year.
But the result was more listeners and a higher profile for the groups. Every time we went by the 7:30 p.m. shows, every seat was taken and listeners were spilling out of the tent. The noon and 5 p.m. shows we heard were almost full, with more listeners than in previous years.
2018 Jazz Youth Summit
Ottawa Jazz Festival, Main Stage
Sunday, July 1 – 2 to 3 p.m.
Each year, the Ottawa Jazz Festival brings in an all-star group of young Canadian jazz musicians to play in its Jazz Youth Summit. Under the direction of trumpeter and university educator Jim Lewis, they rehearse together, take masterclasses, perform in the evening jam sessions, and immerse themselves in jazz during the festival. Then they play two public concerts on the festival's main stage on the final days of the festival.
This year's crop of nine musicians came from across Canada: from Antigonish, Nova Scotia to Montreal to Owen Sound to Winnipeg to Edmonton to Prince George, BC. Trumpeter Evan Dalling was the Ottawa representative.
On the festival's last full day, June 30, the youth summit ensemble opened for jazz superstar Herbie Hancock – and Hancock sat by the side of the stage listening to them. OttawaJazzScene.ca heard a bit of that concert, and all of their well-received second show on Canada Day.
For their July 1 concert, all of the pieces were composed or arranged by the summit members themselves. Some had been performed in their June 30 show and some were added for this show. Each musician introduced his or her own piece, which they had arranged for the ensemble: the arrangements included less-common instruments like sousaphone and flute as well as standard horn and rhythm sections.
The Bank Street Bonbons
Ottawa Jazz Festival, Ontario Stage
Sunday, July 1 - 3 to 4 p.m.
The Bank Street Bonbons could be called a brass band. But that would be the same as calling gazpacho tomato soup. There's a lot more than just brass in their music.
The eight-piece Ottawa jazz group – seven horns plus leader Mike Essoudry on drums – has come a considerable way since their debut at Irene's Pub in May, 2016. Over the last two years, Essoudry has written a much larger book of tunes specifically for this group, replacing the repurposed Mash Potato Mashers tunes and covers which they started out with. The result: music that's fun to dance to, and but has lots of depth for listeners.
At their Canada Day show at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, the Bonbons played a full set of Essoudry's originals, some from the group's debut CD, and some destined for their next album.
An enthusiastic mid-afternoon crowd filled the Ontario Stage tent in Confederation Park to hear the Bonbons. There wasn't much dancing, however, because it was an excruciatingly hot and humid day. The electric fan at the side didn't cool down the stage much: all the musicians were frequently mopping their faces with towels and gulping water, but that didn't slow down their playing.
On the upbeat side were pieces like “Funk Muffin”, which matched Keith Hartshorn-Walton's deep emphatic melody on sousaphone with a rolling drumbeat, and call-and-response lines between the trombones and the trumpets and saxophones. After a twisting alto sax solo from Zakari Frantz and Ed Lister's raw-edged trumpet solo, the entire band joined in to create a festive groove that easily inspired strong and extended applause.
Don Ross – Louder than Usual
Ottawa Jazz Festival, Jazz Warriors Series
First Baptist Church
Sunday, June 24, 2018 – 7 p.m.
Ottawa Jazz Festival
Sunday, June 24, 2018 – 5 p.m.
I've usually heard master fingerstyle guitarist Don Ross playing solo. The man can play three lines at once; he can fill a hall with vibrant melodies and rhythms. For him, a band isn't a requirement.
But hearing him play with two jazz musicians on Sunday was a fascinating experience, and added even more dynamism to his music.
Ross has been increasingly working with other musicians over the past few years, and this year formed a jazz quartet with three Torontonians. He had played before with pianist Andrew Craig and bassist Jordan O'Connor, but percussionist Marito Marques was new to him. His aim was to form several quartets in different parts of the world and experiment with “louder than usual” music.
This quartet recently recorded a six-song EP “live off the floor” in Toronto. Ross mixed it in Germany last week and released it June 20.
Samuel Blaser Trio
Ottawa Jazz Festival, Discovery Series
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Monday, June 25, 2018 – 9 p.m.
The Samuel Blaser Trio played an hour of uncompromisingly avant-garde jazz in their Ottawa Jazz Festival show Monday evening. It was powerful and ingenious, but too often fragmented and unclear.
The Swiss-born Blaser, who now lives in Berlin, Germany, combined his expressive trombone playing with the astringent guitar work of Danish guitarist Marc Ducret and the intuitive and varied textures of Danish/American drummer Peter Bruun. Ducret has frequently played in Blaser's quartet, recording together in 2011 and 2012, while Bruun has played in Ducret's quartet.
This trio recently released a live album together, Taktlos Zurich 2017, and had just finished the 13-show American leg of their CD release tour. This was their first show in Canada, before heading off to the Toronto and Vancouver Jazz Festivals.
Their opening piece felt like an extended stutter. Short lines on trombone and guitar alternated in abstract patterns. They went off in all directions, not coalescing or continuing individually for long: popping trombone notes, fast guitar strums, muted trombone melodies, hard-edged guitar harmonics. Bruun responded with light touches on drums and cymbals, and then added a solo which built up from bright chiming to hard echoing sticks playing. But there didn't seem to be any central idea to the piece.
The Hoffman-Lemish Quartet
Black Squirrel Books
Sunday, June 10, 2018 – 9 p.m.
Jazz has a remarkable ability to encompass and absorb music and rhythms from around the world. It started with the blues, spirituals, and ragtime, but over the years it's melded with music from Brazil, from Cuba, and from the Roma. Chamber jazz brought in classical influences; jazz fusion blended in rock music styles; and Broadway shows became a major source of jazz standards.
And one great source has been music from the Middle East and the Jewish diaspora. Dave Brubeck's “Blue Rondo à la Turk” is an obvious example; so are the Benny Goodman big band numbers “And the Angels Sing” and “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön”.
On Sunday evening, Ottawa heard an appealing and well-presented reeinterpretation of this music, as the Hoffman-Lemish Quartet performed at Black Squirrel Books as part of the release tour for their first CD, Pardes.
The Epoch Quintet
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Saturday, May 12, 2018 – 8 p.m.
Drummer and composer Mike Essoudry has been a consistently-innovative and interesting jazz voice in Ottawa for many years. His own music is diverse – avant-garde improvisation in duo projects and with the Rakestar Arkestra; the groove-oriented drums-organ duo Bumpin' Binary; his popular brass bands including his former Mash Potato Mashers and his current Bank Street Bonbons; and intricate through-composed modern jazz in his own ensembles, like his current Epoch Quintet.
Essoudry thinks large when it comes to groups. His ensembles have previously been sextets, septets, and octets; this quintet is the smallest he's brought together to play modern jazz.
They're all musicians he's played with before. Guitarist Alex Moxon and alto saxophonist Zakari Frantz are well-known on the local jazz scene; pianist Roland Racz moved to Ottawa a few years ago from Hungary, where he had won many jazz and classical awards, and has been steadily increasing his profile here. Phil Charbonneau, on double bass, has a strong jazz and improv background, but lately has been playing more with indie groups like the Hilotrons.
Patterns of Change Quartet
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Friday, May 18, 2018 – 8 p.m.
The Patterns of Change Quartet has a classic jazz line-up – saxophone, piano, bass, drums – and musical tastes which run from 60s modal jazz to a more modern groove. But what I noticed most about these four Ottawa-area musicians’ performance was their high energy, their wide dynamic range, and how carefully they interlaced their sound.
The group is co-led by saxophonist Vince Rimbach and bassist Marc Decho, with pianist Clayton Connell and drummer Valeriy Nehovora. The four first started playing together last fall in Decho's larger Warp'tet group, but only debuted as this quartet last month.
Performing before an enthusiastic audience at Record Runner on Friday, the quartet combined originals by Rimbach and Decho with jazz and pop classics from the 1960s and 70s. They strode forth assertively in their first number: “Resolution” from John Coltrane's classic album “A Love Supreme”. The combination of Rimbach's powerful, rolling tenor sax lines over thundering grooves on keyboards, bass, and drums enveloped the audience in the music, while a later joyous keyboard solo by Connell and sultry bass-lines from Decho provided a notable contrast.
Mike Rud, Don Cummings, and Michel Delage
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, March 31, 2018 – 8 p.m.
There's a strong tradition in modern jazz of combining guitar with organ, and Don Cummings and Mike Rud drew upon that soulful style last weekend at the Brookstreet Hotel. In their show on Saturday, Cummings' Hammond organ created swelling chords and a powerful vibe over which Rud added intense, flying guitar lines, with drummer Michel Delage propelling the music on drums.
The show was part of Delage's monthly tribute series in Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge, but it didn't have a specific theme. Instead, the musicians made a point of learning new-to-them repertoire for organ and guitar, generally from the hard bop and soul jazz era of the 1960s. They included pieces by organists Jack McDuff and Jimmy Smith, guitarists Kenny Burrell and George Benson, and jazz icons John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk, and Lee Morgan. I particularly enjoyed the trio's sincere and beautiful rendition of Ellington's “Come Sunday”.