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©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.

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©Brett Delmage, 2018
Wayne Eagles, Dave Schroeder, and Mike Essoudry attracted an intent and interested crowd at the Ottawa Jazz Festival's Ontario Stage for their 5 p.m. show of jazz fusion classics and originals. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

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.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Pianist Jenny Xu introduced her original composition, as did other members of the group throughout the performance ©Brett Delmage, 2018

2018 Jazz Youth Summit
Ottawa Jazz Festival, Main Stage
Sunday, July 1 – 2 to 3 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

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.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Keith Hartshorn-Walton on sousaphone and Mike Essoudry on drums provided the backbone for the Bank Street Bonbons in their Canada Day show at the Ottawa Jazz Festival ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Bank Street Bonbons
Ottawa Jazz Festival, Ontario Stage
Sunday, July 1 - 3 to 4 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

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.

Udi Raz
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.