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Tribute to Horace Silver
with Michel Delage, Steve Boudreau, Alex Bilodeau, Ed Lister, and Richard Page
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, May 27, 2017 – 8 p.m.

Even for fans of pianist and composer Horace Silver, the music performed at Michel Delage's May tribute show was substantially different.

The latest jazz tribute from Michel Delage (r) featured lesser-known, but high-quality music by hard bop piano master Horace Silver. Also playing: pianist Steve Boudreau and bassist Alex Bilodeau, along with (not shown) saxophonist Richard Page and trumpeter Ed Lister ©Brett Delmage, 2017
The latest jazz tribute from Michel Delage (r) featured lesser-known, but high-quality music by hard bop piano master Horace Silver. Also playing: pianist Steve Boudreau and bassist Alex Bilodeau, along with (not shown) saxophonist Richard Page and trumpeter Ed Lister ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Yes, it certainly was Silver's music, and just as enjoyable as I expected – but it went beyond the standard pieces one always hears. Instead, the quintet treated the listeners in the Options Jazz Lounge to a collection of hard bop tunes and soulful ballads which demonstrated the depth of Silver's writing. Four of them were taken from his less-known 1973 album, In Pursuit of the 27th Man.

For this show, drummer Michel Delage assembled a quintet of Ottawa musicians: his frequent musical partner Alex Bilodeau on double bass, Steve Boudreau taking Silver's place on piano and transcribing much of the material, and the strong front line of Ed Lister on trumpet and Richard Page on baritone sax. Page showed the versatility of his baritone in this show, often playing smoothly up in the tenor range to reflect the original instrumentation on the albums (In Pursuit of the 27th Man, for example, featured Michael Brecker on tenor).

Lister and Page have often performed together. In fact their “Hard Bop Association” group often played Silver's tunes. You could hear that easy familiarity in their lovingly-blended tones throughout the evening. They frequently played together – in unison, alternating lines, or playing contrasting lines – in energetic, inventive, and evocative forms.

D.D. Jackson
Ottawa Kiwanis Music Festival 2017 Highlights Concert
Algonquin Commons Theatre, Ottawa
Thursday, May 18, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.

Coming back to Ottawa gave D.D. Jackson the inspiration for a name for one of his new compositions.

The Ottawa-raised, now New Jersey-resident, pianist has recently returned to jazz, and has been on a furious composition kick lately. He's planned to record his new jazz pieces this summer for a new CD.

He told the audience at the Kiwanis Music Festival Highlights Concert Thursday evening that he had been trying to find a title for one piece, and realized that “in coming here, I had the perfect title from what I was trying to express, and didn't realize it – and that is 'Homecoming'.”

Jackson is back in his home town this week for two concerts. He was the special guest at the annual student highlights concert on Thursday, and will play a duo show at GigSpace on Friday.

To warm up, Jackson opened with Thelonious Monk's “I Mean You” – surrounding the angular melody with complex flurries of notes, almost obscuring the piece's highly-recognizable off-kilter rhythm. The original peeked through, but this was definitely a more dramatic and less-standard rendition. Jackson played it with his entire body, tapping his foot in time, almost attacking the keyboard in places, and at one point bending down to the keys to listen.

He then presented three new compositions: “These are brand-new – I've never played them for anybody.” He started with “Homecoming”, a beautiful ballad expressing both the joy and mixed feeling of returning. Its contemplative melody was accented by gleaming strings of pointillist notes flying above.

Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) #158: Our first house concert
with David Broscoe, David Jackson, Rory Magill, Linsey Wellman
Sunday, May 7, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

A new concert location gave inspiration for new sounds from four of Ottawa's mainstay improvising musicians at the most recent IMOO concert.

David Jackson did not bring his guitar, but he brought and performed samples of it  ©Brett Delmage, 2017
David Jackson did not bring his guitar, but he brought and performed samples of it ©Brett Delmage, 2017

With IMOO temporarily between regular locations – the House of Common space has been re-purposed and the General Assembly is not yet finished renovations – the Ottawa avant-garde jazz concert series needed a place for its bi-weekly concerts.

IMOO regular listener Bradley Evans stepped up, offering his suburban house in North Kanata for their next show. Evans' basement rec room turned out to be a fine location, very quiet and with lots of resonance, which the musicians took full advantage of. Evans brought down chairs from around the house and set up a simple concert space in the room, with hockey action figures cheering on from the high windowsills.

Rory Magill carried the different pieces of his xylophone around the bends in the stairs, and reassembled it. David Broscoe brought down his alto and baritone saxophones in their cases – plus a bag of interesting assorted musical accompaniments which included tuning forks, mallets, a metal tart pan, assorted pop cans, a Nigerian cowbell, a Chinese gong, and ceramic pieces from knob and tube electrical wiring, which he spread out on a cloth in front of him.

Modern Jazz Happening
with MAH2 (Musicians are Humans Too) and the Adema-Smith Quartet
Pressed
Wednesday, May 10, 2017 - 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Ottawa listeners turned out in force Wednesday, to welcome back two young musicians who have just finished their jazz studies at the University of Toronto, and to send off another who will start there next fall. It was the latest in a developing tradition of talented young musicians performing at Pressed in May after returning from music studies elsewhere.

Saxophonist Patrick Smith and trombonist Nicholas Adema consistently played delicious harmonies ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Saxophonist Patrick Smith and trombonist Nicholas Adema consistently played delicious harmonies ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Pressed was packed with listeners for a double bill: the Adema-Smith Quartet, and MAH2 (Musicians are Humans Too). All the seats were taken, and a few people were standing at the side of the room.MAH2 consists of drummer Keagan Eskritt from Ottawa plus two other U of T jazz students: trumpeter Kaelin Murphy from Owen Sound, and Caleb Klager from Calgary (and previously from Ottawa). The Adema-Smith Quartet is led by saxophonist Patrick Smith and trombonist Nicholas Adema, plus two “mainstays of the Ottawa scene” (as Smith described them): drummer Michel Delage and bassist J.P. Lapensée. Eskritt and Smith have just finished their final year of their bachelor's degree at U of T, while Adema begins his first year studying jazz there next fall.

Both sets showcased many originals by band members. MAH2 played primarily freely improvised pieces, each with a specified starting inspiration, such as the music of rapper J Dilla, or the devastation of the current local floods, or thoughts of summer. They also included compositions by Eskritt and Klager.

The GigSpace Jazz MicroFest opened Friday to full houses and enthusiastic applause throughout.

Karen Oxorn sang a breezy and upbeat set of standards inspired by recent jazz cruises, accompanied by Tim Bedner on guitar and Mark Alcorn on bass. ©2017 Brett Delmage
Karen Oxorn sang a breezy and upbeat set of standards inspired by recent jazz cruises, accompanied by Tim Bedner on guitar and Mark Alcorn on bass. ©2017 Brett Delmage
The festival, whose aim is to celebrate jazz in Ottawa, featured two vocal groups and two instrumental groups for its first evening – and not one of them sounded anything like the others.

Vocalist Karen Oxorn opened the festival with a breezy and fun set of standards all related to two jazz cruises she recently sailed on. She recounted the not-so-mournful tale of a lover on one ship who was not meant to be, and added a new original and well-crafted verse to “Nice 'n' Easy” talking about that experience. Accompanied by Tim Bedner on guitar and Mark Alcorn on bass, she sang several new-to-her sea-linked songs, as well as “Let's Get Lost”, a song she heard Cyrille Aimee sing during one of the jazz cruise concerts.

Oxorn also paid tribute to her perennial favourite singer, Ella Fitzgerald, with two songs, including a heartfelt and lovely “How Deep is the Ocean?”. I particularly liked the Stephen Sondheim number, “Live Alone And Like It”, a tune in which her smooth clear vocals nicely delivered the clever lyrics. She closed with the sweet Caribbean vibe of the Henri Salvador tune "Dans mon île" – another sea-related song – and told the audience that the song is said to have been an influence on Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim in developing the bossa nova.

Cuppa Joe
Pressed Café
Sunday, April 23, 2017 – 3 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Cuppa Joe is a quartet of four Ottawa vocalists, who combine their voices in jazz arrangements of standards, classic and modern.

Peter Feldman (r) filled in for instruments throughout Cuppa Joe's afternoon show at Pressed ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Peter Feldman (r) filled in for instruments throughout Cuppa Joe's afternoon show at Pressed ©Brett Delmage, 2017

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.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

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.

David Renaud (r) enjoys one of Brian Browne's solos at their show at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios April 14. ©Brett Delmage, 2017
David Renaud (r) enjoys one of Brian Browne's solos at their show at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios April 14. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

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.

View photos by Brett Delmage of these performances

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.

Amanda Tosoff Quintet  ©2017 Brett Delmage
Amanda Tosoff Quintet ©2017 Brett Delmage

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.

View photos by Brett Delmage of these performances

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.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

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.

Keith Hartshorn-Walton (tuba) listens to Michel Delage (drums) in their Live @ Record Runner show ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Keith Hartshorn-Walton (tuba) listens to Michel Delage (drums) in their Live @ Record Runner show ©Brett Delmage, 2017

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.