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©Brett Delmage, 2018
Drummer Peter Bruun and guitarist Marc Ducret in conversation in the Samuel Blaser Trio ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Samuel Blaser Trio
Ottawa Jazz Festival, Discovery Series
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Monday, June 25, 2018 – 9 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

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.

Derek Gray ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Derek Gray's nuanced and precise drumming accented the Hoffman-Lemish Quartet's music ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Hoffman-Lemish Quartet
Black Squirrel Books
Sunday, June 10, 2018 – 9 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

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.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Roland Racz, Zakari Frantz, and Phil Charbonneau intently watch an unseen solo by leader Mike Essoudry ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Epoch Quintet
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Saturday, May 12, 2018 – 8 p.m.

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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.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Marc Decho, Vince Rimbach, and Valeriy Nehovora (l-r) in close communication Friday at Record Runner. Not shown: Clayton Connell. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Patterns of Change Quartet
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Friday, May 18, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

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.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Mike Rud ©Brett Delmage, 2018

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”.

Jason Robinson and Eric Hofbauer ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Jason Robinson and Eric Hofbauer played music from a suite composed by Ken Aldcroft, which they plan to record at the end of this tour ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Two Hours Early, Ten Minutes Late / Mars People
A celebration of the music of Ken Aldcroft
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais (IMOO)
Black Squirrel Books, Ottawa
Saturday, March 3, 2018 – 9 p.m.

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The late guitarist and composer Ken Aldcroft was a linchpin in Canada's improvised jazz scene, as a performer, composer, bandleader, and organizer. And as five of his friends and fellow musicians showed on Saturday, he hasn't been forgotten, as a person and as a musical influence.

Their Ottawa concert was an exciting blend of the avant-garde with more traditional jazz and gospel. It showcased musicians using the full capabilities of their instruments to produce absorbing sounds and soundscapes. Throughout, they performed music written by or inspired by Aldcroft.

It was the second stop on an eight-concert tour of Ontario and Quebec, which began on Friday in Montreal and continues until next Saturday in Toronto. On the bill were two groups: Two Hours Early, Ten Minutes Late (Americans Jason Robinson on tenor sax and Eric Hofbauer on guitar), and Mars People (Canadians Joe Sorbara on drums, Daniel Kruger on guitar, and Emily Denison on trumpet).

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Dánae Olano ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Dánae Olano Trio
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Cuban pianist Dánae Olano loves the rich musical heritage of her native land, and is on a quest to introduce audiences to its many composers and styles, from the 19th century onwards.

There are many Cuban composers that even Cubans don't know about, she told an Ottawa audience Wednesday night. She wants to take that music, “which is rich, and make some arrangements and put it in a way that everybody will get the modern flavour, with jazz and with the rhythms that are right now in the Cuban scene.”

It's a project she's been working on for the last year, and she gave it its Ottawa debut in a vibrant and well-received concert at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios. Accompanying her were two Ottawa musicians who have a great deal of experience with Afro-Cuban jazz: Marc Decho on six-string electric bass and Frank Martinez on drums. Decho has played in Miguel de Armas' Latin Jazz Quartet for many years. Martinez, like Olano, is from Havana, Cuba, and both had much the same musical education – including attending the same elementary school and the same university, Cuba's Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), at the same time.

Olano is best known here as a founding member of Maqueque, a group created and led by Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett in order to celebrate the talent of Cuba's female jazz musicians. Since it was formed in 2013, that group has toured extensively across the U.S., Canada, and Australia. It won a JUNO in 2015 and was nominated for a Grammy in 2017. While Maqueque is going strong – it has another U.S. tour in March – its members are trying out their own projects as well.

That includes Olano. The 25-year-old has performed her Cuban piano concert with Toronto musicians twice: last May and this month. However, the Ottawa show came out of a chance meeting she had with Decho, when he was performing in Toronto last fall with de Armas. Olano thanked Decho at this show: “He's responsible for this happening. He said, let's do something together in Ottawa, and here I am!”

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”].