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Sunday, April 23, 2017 – 3 p.m.
Cuppa Joe is a quartet of four Ottawa vocalists, who combine their voices in jazz arrangements of standards, classic and modern.
That's it. No piano. No guitar. No bass or drums. Just soprano, alto, tenor, and bass vocals, plus very occasional hand percussion. And yet their voices filled the Pressed café completely on Sunday afternoon, in two sets that were consistently warmly received and earned quiet attention.
Cuppa Joe follows in the tradition of groups which include The Manhattan Transfer and New York Voices: vocal ensembles who use close harmony and clever arrangements to sing jazz a cappella. For their show on Sunday, the quartet did use microphones and amplification to balance the voices and to ensure clarity right to the back of the café, which worked very well.
The group – Valérie Bouillant (soprano), Deanna Rozon (alto), John Wilson (tenor), and Peter Feldman (baritone) – sung what was clearly a carefully-prepared program of 22 songs, 11 in each set. They divided their show into two themed sets: one vintage, one modern. They even changed their appearance for the second set, doffing jackets and the men changing ties.
David Renaud and Brian Browne
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Friday, April 14, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.
Clarinetist David Renaud and pianist Brian Browne have an easy rapport, born of shared musical tastes and a joint willingness to experiment and have fun with their music.
The duo communicated that rapport with their audience on Friday, in a happy and varied show at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios. They played songs from the two albums they've recorded together: 2016's First Love, and the just-released Encore.
Jazz standards, gospel numbers, and blues all appeared in the set list, played with nuance and a great deal of verve – and the occasional unexpected musical tease by Browne. These were all well-known pieces – in fact, Browne played completely from memory, without any sheet music – but the duo didn't take them for granted. They immersed themselves in each song's melody and rhythms, and then used them as stepping-off places for exploration.
The two Ottawa musicians have known each other for years. “He's good for me. He makes me listen,” Renaud told the audience.
JUNOfest 2017 Jazz Night #2: Adam Saikaley Trio, Quinsin Nachoff Trio and Septet, Brandi Disterheft Quartet, Dave Young Quintet
Live! on Elgin
Saturday, April 1, 2017 - 9 p.m.
The second evening of JUNOfest jazz concerts emphasized instrumental music, with ensembles playing both swinging mainstream jazz and more experimental orchestral jazz music.
In three 45-minute sets, Quinsin Nachoff, Brandi Disterheft, and Dave Young presented music which they had recorded on their JUNO-nominated albums (or, as Nachoff said with a smile, “our JUNO-losing albums”).
If anything, Live! on Elgin was even more packed than Friday night, with appreciative applause from the audience throughout. Listeners were focused on the music, and any conversations were quiet and respectful of the performances and other listeners. Jazz fans of all ages were present, enjoying the music.
Ottawa pianist Adam Saikaley opened the evening, playing his original music with his trio: bassist Alex Bilodeau and drummer Michel Delage. Unfortunately, I was still reporting on the JUNO Awards dinner (which ran substantially late) at the same time as his set.
JUNOfest 2017 Jazz Night #1: Heather Bambrick and David Braid, Shirantha Beddage Quartet, Amanda Tosoff Quintet, Barbra Lica Quintet
Live! on Elgin
Friday, March 31, 2017 - 9 p.m.
With the JUNOs in Ottawa, many nominated jazz musicians were here for the ceremonies. And some were also here to perform, in JUNOfest concerts across the city.
For jazz fans, the action was primarily at Live! on Elgin downtown, where four ensembles played Friday night in 45-minute sets. It's a compact club which was packed with enthusiastic listeners and stayed that way all evening.
The Friday show was all-Toronto – not surprising since this year's nominees were mostly from Toronto and NYC.
The Keith Hartshorn-Walton Quartet
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios
Friday, February 24, 2017 - 7:30 p.m.
I admit it: I'm prejudiced in favour of the tuba. I've always found that instrument's deep sound to be rich and beautiful and wonderfully resonant in a room. I've enjoyed the very occasional times I've heard American tuba masters like Howard Johnson.
But opportunities to hear the tuba in a jazz context in Ottawa have been rare – until Keith Hartshorn-Walton moved here in 2015. As he's gradually increased his performances with a variety of local jazz groups, we've had more chances to hear the tuba in unexpected places. This concert, though, was his first show as leader.
By the end of the show, you could see why Hartshorn-Walton is such an advocate for the tuba and its abilities, as he deployed it in roles ranging from lead horn to bass background, and did full justice to a wide variety of classic jazz pieces.
For this show, he teamed up with three well-known Ottawa jazz musicians: John Geggie on double bass, Michel Delage on drums, and Peter Hum on keyboards. Hum also contributed two of his own recent original pieces to the set list.
For the remainder, Hartshorn-Walton picked jazz standards and classics – a few well-known, but most less commonly heard. Some Latin, some swing, some show tunes, some blues, but primarily enjoyable music that connected with the audience, and gave all the musicians room to play and innovate.
The Simon Denizart Trio
National Arts Centre, Back Stage
Saturday, March 4, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.
At their NAC première, the Simon Denizart Trio easily won over their audience with original music produced with liveliness and zest. From their first song onwards, the Montreal jazz trio's pieces evoked strong applause, and culminated in a standing ovation.
Their music was a celebration – and an expansion – of the classic jazz piano trio form, with each piece taking an initial musical idea and stretching it, while retaining accessible melodies and rhythms. The trio released their second album, Beautiful People, last November, and, at this concert, performed all the tracks from that album, plus two songs from their first CD, Between Two Worlds.
The audience's warm reception wasn't because of familiarity – these pieces hadn't previously been performed in Ottawa. And while the trio is well-known in Quebec and has toured twice across Europe, Ottawa is the only city in Canada outside Quebec they've ever played in.
Denizart is the composer in the group, but all three musicians – Denizart on piano, Jeanne Corpataux on double bass, and Simon Bellemare on drums – contributed substantially to the sound. It was a highly interactive 90-minute show, with the music flowing easily among the musicians.
The Rachel Beausoleil Quartet: “Happy Birthday, Tom!”
Doors Open For Music at Southminster
Southminster United Church, Ottawa
Wednesday, January 23, 2017 – 12 noon to 1 p.m.
To many North Americans, the composer Antonio Carlos Jobim is synonymous with Brazilian jazz. With his Grammy-winning albums in the 60s and his elegant melodies and subtle bossa rhythms, he created such a recognizable sound that it defined a genre.
In Brazil, he's an icon. In fact, one of the mascots for the Rio Olympics was named “Tom” (the Brazilian nickname for Jobim) after a public vote.
While everyone's heard “The Girl from Ipanema” and “Corcovado” (Quiet Nights), Jobim also wrote many other memorable songs which are not as well known. And, sung in the original Portuguese, his melodies sound even more fluidly beautiful.
It was, therefore, a real treat to have Ottawa vocalist Rachel Beausoleil sing an entire programme of Jobim in Portuguese, for a concert at Southminster United Church in their Wednesday noon series. She was accompanied by guitarist Garry Elliott, bassist Mark Alcorn, and drummer Marilee Townsend-Alcorn.
Beausoleil is currently writing her doctoral thesis on “Música Popular Brasileira” (MPB), a major genre of Brazilian music which includes Jobim's compositions. She's made three extended trips to Brazil in order to take classes from master vocalists, attend conferences, and perform with musicians there – and gained considerable fluency in Portuguese and knowledge of Jobim's music.
Chris Maskell and Gentiane MG Duo
Live @ Record Runner
Record Runner Rehearsal Studios, Ottawa
Friday, January 27, 2017 - 7:30 p.m.
The minimalist configuration of tenor sax and keyboards is not your usual jazz group. Most musicians would add a rhythm section of bass and drums and possibly another horn. But Chris Maskell and Gentiane MG (Michaud-Gagnon) showed that the two instruments could speak very well together in an intimate show in Ottawa.
Saxophonist Maskell and pianist Gentiane MG met through McGill University, where both are currently studying in the demanding Masters in Jazz Performance program. They've played several shows together in Montreal, and demonstrated an easy camaraderie in this show, which was Gentiane MG's Ottawa debut.
This was also only the second show in the Live @ Record Runner series. The Record Runner Rehearsal Studios are somewhat hidden away in the west-end Colonnade Road business park, which was bleak and dark that January evening and could have used street numbers more visible from the road. However, there is regular OC Transpo service to the park, with bus stops right at the building. Once inside, the studios were notably warm and welcoming, and even offered refreshments at the intermission.
The concert was held in a cozy and comfortable 37-seat “Great Room”. Record Runner owner Paul Adjeleian has made a point of designing good acoustics and sound separation into the studios. Gentiane MG’s keyboard sounded clear and warm using the room's built-in speakers. The room was full, including some of Maskell's friends and family from Ottawa.
The set list was primarily standards, but performed with intense attention. The duo began with “Gemma”, a ballad by Maskell which he's performed in other Ottawa shows. It contrasted rough-edged saxophone with quiet piano in an expressively romantic piece.
I liked how Gentiane MG opened “Solar”, with careful, spacious piano lines reminding me of a nursery rhyme – and then gradually modulating into a more resonant and emotional rendition. Maskell's saxophone entered quietly, and they embarked on a thoughtful conversation, finding variations in the piece's theme.
Jazz Grooves for the February Blues
The Caroline Cook Trio
Les Brasseurs du Temps, Gatineau
Saturday, February 4, 2017 – 8 p.m.
On the set list for this concert, each song had a rhythm marked against it: bossa, medium swing, jazz waltz, groove, jazz shuffle, gypsy jazz, and more. But they all had this in common: an approachable vibe which warmed the audience on a blustery winter evening.
This was the first time that Ottawa vocalist Caroline Cook had played professionally with Toronto guitarist Kevin Barrett, whom she met when he was on the faculty of the JazzWorks Jazz Camp. As she told the audience, “I said to Kevin we're going to play together one day – and we did!”
Together with Ottawa double bassist Normand Glaude, they had originally planned to do a house concert in Manotick. When that series was cancelled, Cook moved the show to BDT, where she had previously held several successful shows.
It was very much the jazz trio show it was billed as, rather than vocalist with accompanists. In fact, Cook wasn't even on-stage for the first song of each set. Instead, she left the opening numbers to Barrett and Glaude – and particularly Glaude's harmonica and the evocative melodies he can coax from it.
with Rakestar Arkestra, Tone Cluster Choir, and Christine Duncan
Church of the Ascension, Ottawa
Sunday, January 22, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.
It was an evening of joyful, exuberant singing, dancing, and instrumental performance – with some stretching of the musical edges and even some preaching, as Ottawa's Rakestar Arkestra along with the Tone Cluster choir and vocalist and conductor Christine Duncan – 30 musicians in total – paid tribute to the music of its inspiration, American jazz icon Sun Ra.
The Church of the Ascension was packed, with last-minute arrivals having problems finding seats. Listeners were treated to two sets of a fast-moving, multi-layered music that was rooted in the jazz tradition and then rocketed into the ionosphere.
View photos of Sung Ra's concert on January 22, 2017 by Brett Delmage
View photos of Sung Ra's dress rehearsal on January 21, 2017 by Brett Delmage
The concert was the vision of Ottawa percussionist and composer Rory Magill, a founding member of Rakestar, who had also previously written choral pieces for Tone Cluster. Magill contributed two pieces to the show – in particular, the opening piece, “Ready”, in which the the choir introduced the audience to Sun Ra in beautiful, close-knit harmonies.
Baritone saxophonist John Sobol intoned a welcome to open the show, followed by the choir, directed by Kurt Ala-Kantti, brightly singing “Ready”. The music was presented in a steady journey through space throughout two sets and kept the audience riveted to the stage. The compositions were primarily by Sun Ra, rearranged by Rakestar for this show, but also included originals by Magill and David Broscoe.
Christine Duncan led the choir in extraordinary sound-making: sometimes melodic, sometimes rhythmic, sometimes recreating the animal noises from a Middle Eastern market. She also sang as a soloist with Rakestar, creating some astounding vocal pyrotechnics. In “Today is the Shadow”, she delivered a full-on revivalist sermon , raising everyone's spirits for the end of the show.
Don Cummings' Hammond organ reverberated through the church, sometimes caressing, sometimes deeply ominous. Tone Cluster's pianist, Vincent Mar, added piano and organ embellishments on many pieces, particularly “Ready”, which beautifully accompanied the choir. Mike Essoudry on drums energized the music, as well as playing sinuous clarinet. Scott Warren not only provided unusual percussion and drums; he also contributed other-worldly recorded sound clips, and acoustic augmentations. Magill's bright xylophone playing added a magical feel throughout. The four saxophonists (Broscoe, Sobol, Rob Frayne, and Linsey Wellman) fired up the music both in unison, and with extended, impassioned solos.