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Updated February 22, 2018

Ottawa - São Paulo Return!
Doors Open for Music at Southminster
Southminster United Church
Wednesday, January 31, 2018 – 12 noon

Evandro Gracelli has traded the warmth and sun of São Paulo, Brazil, for the chills and slush of a February in Ottawa – for a month of playing with his many musical friends here, including two more concerts.

The guitarist and vocalist is in Ottawa until the beginning of March, strengthening old ties and building new ones. When he lived here in 2010-11, he energized the local Latin jazz scene, and added considerable flair to many local groups. He has two more shows coming up.

One of his strongest links was with vocalist Rachel Beausoleil, with whom he formed the group Sol da Capital. Beausoleil fell in love with what we call Brazilian jazz and they call “Música Popular Brasileira” (MPB), and ended up travelling to Brazil three times to learn more about it – performing there with Gracelli and other Brazilian musicians, and learning Portuguese. She recently successfully defended her PhD thesis on MPB.

They scheduled two Sol da Capital shows for Gracelli's return – one a few weeks ago at Southminster United Church which I attended, and one coming up this Wednesday. Besides Beausoleil and Gracelli, the group also includes three musicians well-known for playing Brazilian and Panamerican jazz: Jasmin Lalande on saxophones and flute, Sílvio Módolo on electric bass, and Angel Araos on drums and percussion.

Fred Hersch/Good Things Happen Slowly
Fred Hersch's autobiography, Good Things Happen Slowly, is a fascinating personal account of his personal and musical development.

Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz
by Fred Hersch
Crown Archetype, 2017
ISBN: 978-11019-0434-3
reviewed by Alayne McGregor

Fred Hersch, who performed here earlier this month, is a perennially-popular artist among Ottawa jazz fans. His recent autobiography is a fascinating look at an innovative and creative composer and performer.

In this book, pianist Fred Hersch turns his life into a composition with shape, and drive, and flow, driven by absorbing and not completely expected developments. There's slow passages, and some tragic ones – and periods of great triumph and joy.

There's also times when he's clearly improvising, trying and discarding musical and career options, but always continuing to explore his own voice as a composer and a musician.

Hersch is a pianist and composer, primarily in jazz, who is known both for his interpretations of jazz standards and for his own work. He primarily plays solo or with his trio, but he's also produced larger-scale works – for example, based on the poems of Walt Whitman. These days, he's one of the most acclaimed performers in jazz, but for many years he felt as though he didn't fit anywhere.

It's a fascinating personal account, particularly of times past in the 1970s to the 1990s – both in jazz and in the gay community. Hersch talks openly and confessionally about his family, his fellow musicians, his mentors, his friends and lovers, and his work and his art – but also places them in context, so one can understand the barriers he faced and the opportunities he had.

The book opens with a young man in Cincinnati who knows he's a talented musician and knows he's gay – but doesn't yet know how to create a life for himself which will use his talents fully and make him happy. It takes Hersch through his education, his early years on the road and in New York City, his initial recordings, and finally to the acclaimed musician he is today – all the way through talking about what he learned on the way.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Le Projet Brassens, (l-r) Pierre Monfils, Ed Stevens, Chris Smith, Hélène Knoerr, and Devon Woods, created an exciting mélange of the tunes of French icon Georges Brassens and jazz in their show January 28 at BDT.  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Le monde de George Brassens / The World of Georges Brassens
Le Projet Brassens / The Brassens Project
Les Brasseurs du Temps, Gatineau
Sunday, January 28, 2018 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

In France, Georges Brassens' lyrics are studied in school. In 1967, he was awarded the Grand Prix de Poésie de l'Academie Française, France's highest poetry award. And for almost three decades from the 1950s until his death in 1981, he was a hugely popular chansonnier in that country.

He's also a strong inspiration for jazz musicians, including the local group Le Projet Brassens. They demonstrated how well Brassens could combine with jazz in their well-received tribute on Sunday evening.

Brassens' songs are both romantic and frequently satirical. His targets include religion, the ossified class structure, social conformity, and moral hypocrisy with a wicked gleam in his (metaphorical) eye. His debut album was entitled “Georges Brassens chante les chansons poétiques (et souvent gaillardes) de ... Georges Brassens” [“Georges Brassens sings the poetic (and often rather risqué) songs of Georges Brassens”].

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Guitarist Sam Kirmayer and his quartet (with bassist Mike De Masi, drummer Dave Laing, and pianist Sean Fyfe) connected strongly with the audience in the intimate Record Runner Rehearsal Studios on January 25, combining Kirmayer's originals with classic but not overplayed jazz standards. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Sam Kirmayer Quartet
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Thursday, January 25, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Combining fine ensemble playing with interesting compositions and congenial introductions, Sam Kirmayer and his quartet strongly connected with their Ottawa audience Thursday.

The young Montreal guitarist is definitely attuned to the jazz tradition, but uses that tradition as a springboard for his own musical voice. The show combined original tunes from his 2017 debut CD with newer ones from his upcoming second release, as well as classic but not overplayed standards.

The result: a collection of approachable tunes which flowed easily from one to the other, in a friendly and inviting show which consistently evoked warm applause in the intimate room. It was the first show of mini-tour this weekend that also took the quartet to Quebec City and Montreal.

Kirmayer has said that one of his strongest influences is jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. His tune “Synecdoche”, for example, is based on Montgomery's classic “Four on Six”, which, in turn, was based on George Gershwin's “Summertime”. It's definitely its own tune – Kirmayer noted that he changed the key to the more-difficult E flat minor and added more chords and changed the rhythm– but you could hear a certain heritage in the music.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Doressa Dorcilhomme sang in the The Bytowne Big Band's inaugural concert  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Bytowne Big Band Presents The Best of Snarky Puppy
Live! on Elgin
Saturday, January 22, 2018 – 9 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Every time I've seen Snarky Puppy at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, it's been a standing-room only affair, with listeners packed shoulder to shoulder, all moving to the beat – great for energy, but not so good for hearing or seeing musical nuances.

And there is a great deal of nuance in the famed American jazz fusion orchestra's compositions. I was impressed how well the Bytowne Big Band expressed those more subtle intonations and expressions – while also keeping the energy level high – in its tribute concert Saturday evening.

With 14 local instrumentalists, plus vocalist Doressa Dorcilhomme, the Bytowne Big Band filled Live! on Elgin's stage to capacity. Nevertheless, their sound didn't overwhelm the compact, second-floor club. It was powerfully driven by two strong percussionists – Andrew Ferderber on drums, and Valeriy Nehovora on congas, bar chimes, and other percussion – but it reserved lots of space for individual solos and quieter passages.

Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas with The John Dapaah Trio,
with Michael Curtis Hanna and Roxanne Goodman
Doors Open for Music at Southminster
Southminster United Church
Wednesday, December 20, 2017 – 12 noon

We all joke about Christmas music and how there's too much of it at this time of year – but that's partly because it's important to us. At home, at school, at church, on the radio, with our friends, we all grew up with these songs and carols, and that tradition evokes strong emotions in us.

Ottawa pianist John Dapaah stayed true to the tradition in his pre-Christmas concert at Southminster – but gave it extra zest with his interpretations. Performing with his long-time jazz trio of J.P. Lapensée on electric bass and Jamie Holmes on drums, he enlivened the show with two local singers with strong jazz and gospel roots: Roxanne Goodman and Michael Curtis Hanna.

Performing before a nearly-full church, the musicians were dressed up for the occasion: the men in suits, Dapaah wearing a bright red bow tie, and Goodman in a glamorous black dress and a glittering necklace. They spent equal care on the music.

The trio opened with an instrumental version of the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas theme, “Christmas time is here”, with Dapaah's inviting piano outlining the melody. Goodman and Hanna entered partway through, their voices joining in warmly and expressively.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
Miguel de Armas, Marc Decho, Petr Cancura, Lucas Haneman, Michel Medrano, and Amado Dedéu Garcia received a standing ovation for their NAC Presents show December 6. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

The Miguel de Armas Trio, with special guests Amado Dedéu Garcia, Petr Cancura, and Lucas Haneman
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Wednesday, December 6, 2017 – 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

It's been more than five years now since Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas moved to Ottawa. In that time he's changed Ottawa and Ottawa has changed him.

He has substantially increased the prominence of Afro-Cuban jazz here, with his own group, his regular special concerts, and his Fiesta Cubana dance band – and attracted a considerable steady fan base.

De Armas has used the opportunity to write – creating many new compositions – and worked to steadily improve his conversational English. He's made a point of stretching himself by collaborating with a wide variety of local jazz musicians. He hasn't stuck to his comfort zone in Latin jazz, but instead has played with many different vocalists, guitarists, saxophonists, bassists, drummers, and even a violinist in his Friday night shows in Kanata, and at other venues.

He's also collaborated with high-profile Latin jazz musicians in Toronto and Montreal, including Jane Bunnett, Hilario Durán, Julio Hong, and Amado Dedéu Garcia.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
Director and bassist Adrian Cho brought Duke Pearson's music to Ottawa Jazz Orchestra's first concert of the 2017-18 season. The Orchestra's next show is La Chanson Française on December 9 at the NAC Fourth Stage. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Ottawa Jazz Orchestra: The Duke of Groove
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, November 2, 2017 – 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

In its 12-year history, the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra under the leadership of Adrian Cho has done a great deal to educate Ottawa audiences about the history of jazz, playing many large-scale and lesser-known works that otherwise wouldn't be often heard.

The orchestra opened its 2017-18 season with a tribute to a pianist, composer, and arranger who had a large influence on the sound of the Blue Note jazz record label during the 1960s, adding a grooving touch to many albums. Duke Pearson also played with the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet and regularly with Donald Byrd, and released 17 albums under his own name.

I must admit I had not heard of him before this show was announced – and was glad that Cho made the introduction. For this concert, Cho primarily selected pieces by Pearson from his mid-60s albums The Right Touch, Sweet Honey Bee, and Honeybuns.

In two one-hour sets, nine musicians from the orchestra's floating repertory played the music with verve (although in places with quite rapt attention to their charts). On horns were many long-time and highly experienced OJO musicians: saxophonists Sandy Gordon, Mike Tremblay, René Lavoie, and Dave Renaud, trumpeter Rick Rangno, and trombonist Mark Ferguson; many of them doubled on several instruments, and in particular on flute in several songs. Cho played bass and Mark Rehder drums, and Peter Hum took Duke Pearson's place on piano.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
Returning CYJO members Gabe Paul (tenor sax) and Eric Littlewood (trumpet) were joined by Ray Sun (trombone), one of three women in twelve new members joining the band this year ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra
Fall 2017 Concert
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University
Sunday, December 3, 2017 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO) opened its 9th season on Sunday with a wide-ranging concert which showed the variety of music that can be played by a big band.

Blues, ballads, Latin, and straight-out swing were all featured in CYJO's eight-song single set. The orchestra is directed by trumpeter Nick Dyson, who has a deep love of and knowledge of big band music. He picked arrangements from famous bands led by Woody Herman, Doc Severinsen, and Stan Kenton, but also by more modern arrangers including Tommy Kubis and Michel Camilo. Canadians were included, too, with a Maynard Ferguson number, and with a Latin tune which Mark Ferguson had arranged for Ottawa's Latin big band, Los Gringos.

It was mostly upbeat music and the orchestra played it with zest. Dyson primarily featured returning orchestra members in the solos: trumpeter Eric Littlewood creating evocative melodies in “Georgia On My Mind”, Gabe Paul in a sinuous sax solo in “I Ain't Got Nobody”, Chris Wiley creating bluesy trombone lines in “One More Once”, Garrett Warner on guitar and Zachary Sedlar on alto sax in “Things Ain't What They Used To Be”, and Anthony Kubelka with a fast, percussive piano solo in “Sunny Ray”.

This is a building year for CYJO, which consists of university and advanced high-school-age students in the Ottawa area. Twelve of CYJO's 17 members are new this year, including three female musicians (Jennie Seaborn on drums, Melissa Brown on tenor sax, and Ray Sun on trombone). Dyson said he was very pleased to have more women participating in the band.

The next CYJO concert will be a “competition” between the style of two famous jazz band-leaders: Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Dyson told the audience that the Cotton Club in New York City used to hold competitions between big bands with them playing alternating sets and ending the evening with a jam. For CYJO's February 18 concert at Kailash Mital Theatre, he plans to have one set of Ellington arrangements, and one of Count Basie arrangements, and maybe even have the orchestra play one song twice – once Ellington style, once Count Basie style – so that both the students and the audience can hear the difference.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
Emie R Roussel (keyboards) and Nicolas Bédard (bass) created a a dense, immersive melody together in the trio's tune “De Tadousac à Auckland”. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

The Emie R Roussel Trio
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

In under two years, pianist Emie R Roussel, bassist Nicolas Bédard, and drummer Dominic Cloutier have played shows in eleven countries across four continents: Europe, Japan, Australia, and the U.S. and Canada.

In their NAC Presents show Thursday, the Montreal jazz trio displayed the results of those recent world-wide travels: not just the tunes on their new CD, but also a flowing and strong communication, and tight and inventive playing. And they had many travellers' tales, about “all the new cultures and all the new food that we discovered. ... We love music but we also love food. We love to cook and we love to discover new tastes, new restaurants.”

Switching easily between English and French, Roussel rhapsodized about five unbelievably great pasta dinners in a row in Northern Italy, and told tales about barbecuing steaks in Australia, as she explained the background to the pieces they were playing. And you could hear that sensual appreciation transferred to their music as well – while there was clearly careful thought behind the compositions, the trio presented them with joy and verve.