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There was a big smile on Jumpin' Jimmy Leroux's face on January 12. Leroux coordinates the music on Thursday nights at the Brass Monkey, a brightly-lit basement pool hall and performance space on Greenbank Road in Ottawa's suburban west end.

Diane Ross and Jim Mattson were clearly musically at ease together as the second act of the evening ©2017 Brett Delmage
Diane Ross and Jim Mattson were clearly musically at ease together as the second act of the evening ©2017 Brett Delmage
View photos by Brett Delmage

That evening was an experiment, the hall's first jazz night instead of the local rock bands Leroux usually programs for his new talent showcase. And to his delight, it attracted about 35 interested listeners to hear three Ottawa-area jazz groups, filling almost all the seats available. They enthusiastically applauded the music, and even Leroux's between-set jokes.

“It's a cold Canadian night,” Leroux told the audience, “and the easiest thing is to stay home on your couch. But here you came out to support music. Thanks!”

Up first on stage was Easy Living, a quartet providing smooth and easy-going versions of jazz standards including “But Not For Me” and “Summertime”. Vocalist Fiona George provided a flowing and clear version of “My Little Boat”, with guitarist Jim Mattson, bassist Len Leclair, and drummer Dan Quinlan warming the place with bright samba rhythms.

Miguel de Armas Septet – New Year's Eve
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, December 31, 2016

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

If you were looking for a hopeful, happy way to kick 2016 out the door and look forward to 2017, you couldn't have done better than listening to the upbeat music from Miguel de Armas and his bandmates on New Year's Eve at Brookstreet.

The Miguel de Armas Septet got listeners up and dancing to celebrate the start of 2017 ©Brett Delmage, 2016
The Miguel de Armas Septet got listeners up and dancing to celebrate the start of 2017 ©Brett Delmage, 2016

The Cuban-Canadian pianist is ferociously energetic, and he surrounded himself with equally dynamic Latin musicians for this show. Most were from his Sabor de Cuba band, but he also brought in bassist Roberto Riveron – a fellow Cuban who has lived in Toronto since 2007 and has performed with Cuban bands Cubanismo and Klimax, and with Toronto jazz musicians Luis Mario Ochoa, Eddie Bullen, Jane Bunnett, and Hilario Durán.

By the time the music started at 8:25 p.m. – a few minutes early – there was a full house, with all the tables in the main part of the lounge filled. de Armas opened with a lively and flowing standard, supported by Riveron on six-string electric bass and Arien Villegas on congas. Drummer Frank Martinez joined in on the second song, and they remained a quartet for the first hour-long set.

Saorsa (Patrick Smith, Dan Pitt, Harrison Vetro)
Keagan Eskritt and Roddy Ellias
Pressed
Wednesday, December 21, 2016 – 9 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of the Eskritt/Ellias performance
View photos by Brett Delmage of the Saorsa performance

Two up-and-coming Ottawa musicians demonstrated another growth spurt in their music in a eye-opening, two-part performance at Pressed in December.

Keagan Eskritt and Roddy Ellias' performance attracted an intent audience ©Brett Delmage, 2016
Keagan Eskritt and Roddy Ellias' performance attracted an intent audience ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Saxophonist Patrick Smith and drummer Keagan Eskritt grew up here in Ottawa, played in local student bands, participated in the jazzfest's Jazz-Ed program taught by master guitarist Roddy Ellias, and won scholarships and awards. For the past few years, both have been studying jazz performance at the University of Toronto – but over the holidays they came back, and performed for a home-city crowd.

The show opened with a 45-minute duo performance by Eskritt and Ellias, followed by an hour-long set by Saorsa, an improvising jazz fusion group which Smith has formed with two fellow U of T students, guitarist Dan Pitt and drummer Harrison Vetro.

Ellias is one of Eskritt's mentors and they've played together several times before. They opened the show with a lyrical set of guitar and drums, very much in the jazz tradition but with strong original voices of their own.

Rémy Bélanger de Beauport
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais
(IMOO) #151
House of Common, Ottawa
Sunday, December 18, 2016 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The cello is, in essence, a wooden resonating box with a neck and strings played by a bow or fingers. The tradition is to use it to produce beautiful, elevating sounds that unroll like ribbons and sigh like lovers.

Rémy Bélanger de Beauport played one bow against another in his solo cello set at IMOO Sunday ©Brett Delmage, 2016
Rémy Bélanger de Beauport played one bow against another in his solo cello set at IMOO Sunday ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Judging by his Ottawa concert on Sunday, Rémy Bélanger de Beauport does not follow this tradition.

The Quebec City cellist astonished and delighted his listeners at the last IMOO concert of 2016 with a short but very intense set of free improv. In the course of 15 minutes, he actively undercut everything they might expect from cello music, even in an improvised jazz context.

Melody was absent. The very first notes he played were jagged and raw, produced by very fast bowing, with some of his strings muted by a metal clip. de Beauport let his dissonant sounds echo around the room, soft and loud, sounding like buzzing bees and then attenuating down to barely audible vibrations.

His bow lightly rubbed the cello strings, and then pressed in again, creating at first atonal cries and then sounds like a foghorn and then high dissonant harmonics. He added occasional plucked notes to the bowing – and then increased the speed again before finally letting the last notes ring out into the space.

The audience asked for a second piece, and de Beauport obliged with harsh machine-like screeches, created by pressing a metal tuning fork within the strings. Then he threaded one bow through the strings and used a second bow to bow the first, creating a hard, crackling sound. As he sped up this two-bow performance, it almost sounded like not-quite-distinct conversation. He pressed his fingers along the strings as he continued bowing to continuously change the pitch, and then finally let the sounds fade out.

Renée Landry Wishes You A Swinging Christmas
Live! on Elgin
Saturday, December 17, 2016 – 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Back in 1960, Ella Fitzgerald released an album called Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas. It quickly became a classic, because of Fitzgerald's joyful and clear vocal interpretations and Frank de Vol's well-chosen and swinging orchestral jazz arrangements. It was an album which celebrated the season and the well-known holiday songs – without being arch or ironic. Instead, it let you enjoy the songs for the well-crafted gems that they are.

Renée Landry gave expressive interpretations of the songs from Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas album at her Swinging Christmas show, backed by a fine sextet ©Brett Delmage, 2016
Renée Landry gave expressive interpretations of the songs from Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas album at her Swinging Christmas show, backed by a fine sextet ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Ottawa vocalist Renée Landry reinvoked the magic of that compilation on Saturday, with her second annual “Swinging Christmas” concert. Backed by a sextet of Ottawa musicians who understand classic jazz well, she sang the songs from the Ella album plus three of her own – keeping the joy and avoided the cutesy.

It's a project which she said she and the musicians had been working on since October, with arrangements by saxophonist Richard Page and Landry. The 90-minute show was by no means a copy of the album – for one thing, there weren't any strings in these arrangements – but Page retained De Vol's strong jazz vitality. And the songs were presented in almost the identical order as on Ella's album, with one of the CD's bonus tracks added and one song moved to the encore.

45north
The Record Centre
Sunday, December 11, 2016 – 4 to 5 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Every note was Canadian when 45north played the Record Centre Sunday afternoon.

A young listener (appropriately wearing a 'Canada' toque) danced to 45north's all-Canadian jazz at their show Sunday at the Record Centre  ©Brett Delmage, 2016
A young listener (appropriately wearing a 'Canada' toque) danced to 45north's all-Canadian jazz at their show Sunday at the Record Centre ©Brett Delmage, 2016

The Ottawa jazz sextet specializes in music by fellow Canucks – both straight jazz and jazz fusion interpretations of pop and rock songs. So Joni Mitchell's “Both Sides Now” was followed by Mike Murley's “Stanstill”, and David Braid's “Cowboy Bebop” by the Powder Blues Band's “Doin' It Right”.

The combination – lively and upbeat, with horns – was a good antidote to the looming dark and frigid weather outside. The band played to customers who came and went and a varied group of listeners who stayed and clapped enthusiastically – adding to the beat during some songs as well as afterwards. Near the end of the show, a youngster in a blue snowsuit (and a 'Canada' toque) peered through the outer door from the sidewalk in fascination for almost 10 minutes, but couldn't be coaxed inside to hear the band directly.

Ranee Lee
Harold Shenkman Hall, Shenkman Arts Centre
Friday, December 2, 2016 – 8 p.m.

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Ranee Lee doesn't just sing: her voice is a flexible instrument that can softly caress a lyric – or jump, growl, and bop the night away..

'I enjoy every second of what I do' - Ranee Lee  ©Brett Delmage, 2016
'I enjoy every second of what I do' - Ranee Lee ©Brett Delmage, 2016

At 8 p.m. on Friday, she sashayed onto the stage at the Shenkman Arts Centre, and, from then until 10:45 p.m., the energy never flagged. In two sets totaling 2¼ hours, the Montreal jazz vocalist performed jazz standards to pop ballads to lesser-known gems in a show which flowed easily and kept the audience entranced.

Lee's career has lasted more than 50 years – and the experience showed in how she gave each song an arrangement and the attention which allowed it to shine. She could project lyrics with blistering precision and speed, as she did in her opening number, or slowly bring out their beauty in a thoughtful “Lullaby of the Leaves”.

She used her expressive voice and her hands to underline the meaning of the lyrics – but also to incorporate her vocals as part of the overall sound. In that, she was well supported by her band of experienced Montreal jazz musicians: her husband, guitarist Richard Ring, plus drummer Dave Laing, double bassist Dave Watts, and pianist Taurey Butler. There was a comfortable, swinging vibe on stage, and an easy, quick communication among the musicians.

The concert was advertised as showcasing Lee's latest CD, What's Going On [2014]. I thought the pieces from that CD were among the highlights of the show, particularly when she was joined by the members of the Birds on a Wire string quartet, who contributed rich and lovely melodies to the mix.

Cellist Jane Chan was featured on “White Gardenia”, a plaintive ballad which Lee's long-time musical associate Roger Peace especially contributed to the album, along with Butler. Chan added full, melancholy cello lines and a solo, which underlined the lyrics' story of lost love, as did Ring's evocative guitar solo. Lee sang the elegy with care and deep emotion, letting her voice ring through the hall.

The Crooked Jazz Trio
The Record Centre
Sunday, November 20, 2016 – 4 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Outside was the first snowstorm of the season: wet, cold, slippery. Inside the Record Centre, the Crooked Jazz Trio performed music that ranged from toasty to sizzling.

Crooked Jazz Trio: Dave Schroeder (bass), Jeff Asselin (drums), Steve Boudreau (keys) ©2016 Brett Delmage
Crooked Jazz Trio: Dave Schroeder (bass), Jeff Asselin (drums), Steve Boudreau (keys) ©2016 Brett Delmage
The trio is Dave Schroeder on electric bass and guitar, Steve Boudreau on keyboards, and Jeff Asselin on drums – three Ottawa jazz musicians who each spent a great deal of time away from this city, studying and touring, and who are now back and playing jazz together.

But not straight-ahead jazz. Schroeder said that their name comes from their flexible approach to the music: “We're what could be called '"jazz'" but we are in no way bound to adhere to any stylistic limitations. And I play electric bass (though I do intend to play upright with the trio as well), and that is not a 'straight' or traditional approach to jazz. And we're all shifty and 'crooked' in that sense. So we're happy to corrupt any style of music!”

They opened Sunday's show with Boudreau's “Schraday”, a tip of the hat to Schroeder. It was a warm, inviting number, with a Dr. John vibe and an easy New Orleans-style groove, with Boudreau vamping on keyboards and Schroeder playing harmonica. They built up the pace in the next number, Boudreau's “Running Gun”, a more exploratory number with a strong forward momentum.

Schroeder and Boudreau are both former members of the local jazz band The Beeched Wailers, and they included “Harvest Stroll”, a piece Boudreau had written for that group – but given a quite different interpretation. This version opened slowly and slinkily, and created a integral groove with the bass line underlying the strong organ riffs. Asselin played brushes on his snares and cymbals, but still created emphatic rhythms underneath.

Schroeder said one reason he liked playing with this trio was that many of his tunes suited the line-up. “I don't generate as much music as Steve does, but I have tunes that will suit the trio. Playing with the Beeched Wailers, a lot of my music wasn't that effective with the quintet, but I really like to write for a trio. So it's nice to get those tunes off the ground.”

Miguel de Armas and Friends, with Claudia Salguero, Sylvio Módolo, and Juan-Luis Vasquez
The Ironstone Grill, The Marshes Golf Club
Friday, November 18, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Two well-known local Latin jazz musicians – pianist Miguel de Armas and vocalist Claudia Salguero – performed together for the first time Friday, to an enthusiastic crowd.

Miguel de Armas and Claudia Salguero created dramatic music that got the audience clapping in their first show together ©2016 Brett Delmage
Miguel de Armas and Claudia Salguero created dramatic music that got the audience clapping in their first show together ©2016 Brett Delmage

In two one-hour sets, they played songs from Brazil, Mexico, and Cuba – and some of their favourite American jazz standards as well. Together with Sylvio Módolo on bass and Juan-Luis Vasquez on percussion, they created a warm, lively vibe which kept almost the entire audience intent and smiling – and singing and clapping along at times as well.

De Armas plays many clubs around Ottawa, as well as concerts here and in other cities with his Latin Jazz Quartet. Since January, he has hosted a regular Friday night series at the The Marshes in Kanata, inviting different Ottawa musicians to perform with him – a wide cross-section of some of the best-known names in Ottawa jazz scene.

Salguero, on the other hand, is best known for the large-scale, sold-out shows she's mounted annually at the National Arts Centre, which feature her singing boleros and other Latin American love songs, backed by a band of local Latin musicians in arrangements created by Módolo.

Friday's show opened with the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic, “The Waters of March”, and moved smoothly through a series of songs in Spanish and English, mostly romantic ballads. But there were upbeat numbers, too: “Autumn Leaves” turned into an extended jam, with Salguero's voice swaying over the tight rhythms from piano, bass, and congas, while “Rayito de Luna” was a bright, sunny cha-cha-cha.

Tribute to Cole Porter with Michel Delage, Allison Au, Todd Pentney, and Alex Bilodeau
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, October 29, 2016 – 8 p.m.

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Songwriter Cole Porter famously said (quoting one of his teachers) that “Words and music must be so inseparably wedded to each other that they are like one.” And yet jazz instrumentalists ranging from Miles Davis to Artie Shaw to Max Roach have had hits with Cole Porter's tunes because, even without Porter's witty lyrics, the melodies are memorable and full of joie de vivre.

Todd Pentney, Allison Au, Alex Bilodeau and Michel Delage paid tribute to Cole Porter at the Options Jazz Lounge ©Brett Delmage, 2016
Todd Pentney, Allison Au, Alex Bilodeau and Michel Delage paid tribute to Cole Porter at the Options Jazz Lounge ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Michel Delage's quartet showed off that joy and fun in a dynamic second night of a two-night stand at Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge this weekend. Delage on drums and Alex Bilodeau on double bass teamed up with two Torontonians – Juno-winning composer Allison Au on alto sax and her frequent collaborator, Todd Pentney, on piano – to celebrate Porter's music as part of Delage's monthly series of jazz tributes.

Over three sets, they performed songs written between 1929 and 1954, almost all for Broadway shows. The first two sets were fast-paced, including well-known pieces like “You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To” and “Get Out of Town”, while the third slowed down to concentrate on ballads like “Easy to Love”.

There's a lot to explore in a Cole Porter song. Porter was a notable innovator in song form: for example, the alternating major and minor key changes in “What Is This Thing Called Love?”, or the 108-measure length of “Begin the Beguine”. Au, in particular, used the songs as a jumping-off point for exploration, while staying true to their melodies and themes. In “I Concentrate on You”, she created tender, warm, extended lines of melody, while “Just One of Those Things” was taken at a break-neck pace with circling riffs.