A Musical Farewell with Oliver Jones

May 20, 2016 12:32 pm
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Photos by Andre Gagne and supplied by the National Arts Centre.

Oscar Peterson watches the sun set from the corner, his piano by his side. A swinging melody plays from above as a couple hurriedly approaches. “I hear he plays just like him,” the woman says, jutting her thumb towards the statue of the famed Canadian jazz pianist before disappearing around the corner of Elgin and Albert, hurrying towards the National Arts Center for the final Ottawa performance by one of Peterson’s most accomplished protégés. If he were still with us, one could easily picture Peterson, his familiar smile wide and proud, there in the front row for this night of melancholy goodbyes.

“It’s been 70 years struggling with this baby here,” the protégé, 81-year-old Oliver Jones, says addressing the audience while lightly tapping the edge of his piano. “I feel happy but I still feel sad. This is probably the last time I’ll play here.”

The audience lets out a collective sigh towards the man on stage who received a standing ovation filled with thanks and warmth before his fingers even touched the keys. As though realizing he needed to lighten the mood, Jones added: “I look forward to a career in golf.”

Oliver Theophilus Jones was born on September 11, 1934 in Montreal’s Little Burgundy. He started playing piano at a young age. In a neighbourhood filled with musicians as well as athletes, however, the young Jones’s mind turned often to baseball as opposed to his piano studies. He recalls disliking practicing and a little sister that would keep him in line, running off to squeal to their father if Jones strayed from his daily two hour lessons. Things changed, however, when a five year old Oliver first heard Peterson play.

“I saw Oscar play at our church, Union United on Atwater Avenue, and it was quite a moving experience for me,” Jones recalls in an interview with Ottawa Life.  “I had never seen anyone play at Oscar’s level and I was truly fascinated.  When my family moved to Fulford St. we ended up living just around the corner from the Peterson family.  Oscar was 15 and he had a regular radio show. To us kids he was a celebrity already! We saw him every day in the neighbourhood and we were very impressed!”

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Oliver Jones with teacher Daisy Peterson.

Though he’d already discovered Boogie-woogie jazz and had dabbled in that style, Jones wanted to play like Oscar. Who better to turn to for tutelage, if not Peterson himself, than his sister Daisy. Daisy Peterson was an established teacher in the city but, to his youthful disdain, she would instruct Jones on a strict diet of classical music. Though Jones saw the value of her teaching, he continued those pieces in vein with other melodies in mind.

“It didn’t interest me as much as the latest crazes:  Boogie-woogie and swing,” he says, recalling how he’d often hear Peterson practicing from another room.  “Of course, the thing that inspired me about Oscar was his complete command of the piano at a young age and he was truly very disciplined as far as music was concerned. Extremely serious about anything pertaining to music, he didn’t fool around.”

Through Daisy’s teachings, he continued to shape his style often fooling his sister to thinking he was practicing his classical scales only to turn to jazz when she was out of earshot. He developed a sort of novelty act around the city, dancing while also playing the piano, sometimes from underneath the instrument or while hiding the keys with a sheet.  He’d even do the splits! A constant performer, Jones formed a band with some neighbourhood friends when he was about 11 and the group played dances in the area as well as some church functions. It wasn’t long before they started making a name for themselves, especially the young pianist who was already being compared to Peterson. Oscar’s career had already taken flight and, inspired by him, Jones was set to follow. By the time he turned 16, Jones was writing his own music, using scenes from the neighbourhood to inspire compositions like “Lights of Burgundy” and “Fulford Street Romp”.

oliver-jones2__largeJones began touring in 1953, though his career really took off in the 1980’s with the release of his first album, Live at Biddles. By the middle of the decade he was performing at major festivals across the country and overseas. His tour of Nigeria would become the subject of a 1990 National Film Board documentary. Shortly after its release, Jones would be named an Officer of the Order of Canada. His recordings have received 9 Juno nominations with two wins. In 2005 he was given Canada’s highest honour in the performing arts, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. However, perhaps it’s the accolade he received in 1990 that touches the pianist the most. Second only to Peterson himself, Jones was given the Oscar Peterson Award recognizing his contributions to jazz music in Canada.

With the praise of his pears and mentor, and many years on the stage behind him, the year 2000 seemed like a nice end point for the then 65-year-old. However, somebody told him it just wasn’t time for goodbye yet. That man was the very same one the young Jones used to listen to from behind closed doors, the one whose style he so wished to emulate.

“I had spent so many years on the road, my wife and I didn’t get a chance to travel together during those years and many of our friends were retiring so, I thought, it’s time. It lasted 4 ½ years. I was prompted to come back out of retirement by Oscar. I was in Toronto at his place and we got to talking about how I was too young,” says Jones relaying how shortly thereafter the two would share the stage at the 25th Anniversary of the Montréal Jazz Festival. “I thought, maybe I’ll just keep it simple, 10 or 15 concerts a year. I ended up doing 85 shows that year.  I’ve always had a problem saying no!”

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Oliver Jones performs at the National Arts Centre on his farewell tour.

This “problem” continued in his Ottawa farewell performance on May 19. Before the second set, Jones instructed the audience to place requests in a basket (“No hip hop”), as though the musician, knowing he would not return, wished to satisfy as many of those gathered as possible before the final note was played.

Alongside drummer Jim Doxas and bassist Éric Lagacé, the trio blazed through a swinging set that included favourites such as “Cheek to Cheek” and “Body and Soul”, a soul touching rendition of “Georgia On My Mind” and a medley of Gershwin tunes.

Picking out a request for the standard “Misty,” Jones joked, “You know, every night for 45 years I think, if I get by one night without playing “Misty” I’ll give everyone a hundred dollar bill. Well,” continued Jones disregarding the request, “somebody messed it up for you.”

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Concert goers were urged to sign a guest book for Jones.

There was a sense that the band was all in, that the finality of what they were working towards fuelled the performance. From engaging in a playful duel with the bass, to ensuring a young girl in the crowd was played a lullaby, Jones moved from showcasing his masterful speed to his graceful elegance with the tender ballads. Of course, there were stops in between to pay tribute to Peterson.

“Without Oscar Peterson and his family, I probably would not have become a pianist,” he said before dedicating one of Peterson’s seminal recordings, “Hymn to Freedom”, to Oscar’s daughter Celine who was in attendance that night.

Returning to play one more song alone in the spotlight, before leaving the NAC stage for the last time, Jones urged the audience to embrace up-and-coming Canadian musicians, passionately relaying how important it is for us not to let talent go to waste.

“So many of them are finding it hard to find work in their field and it can be very discouraging,” Jones said. “In the past I have gone to schools to speak to these young men and women about my life and hopefully to inspire them to follow their dreams and continue to create – just as Oscar inspired and encouraged me.”

Oliver-JonesThough the musician admits he is looking forward to his retirement, he will miss traveling across country, from Cape Breton to Victoria, seeing fans and friends along the way.

“I hope that over the years, after having the opportunity to play with so many wonderful musicians, that they will remember me as always being pleasant and enjoyable to work with,” Jones says.  “I think probably some of the most important and inspiring moments that I’ve had is playing with and watching the performances of so many amazing musicians. There are so many wonderful memories.”

With a final wave, Jones made his exit. Some of the audience, misty eyed, stood in place as though not wanting to acknowledge that this was, indeed, goodbye. Oscar said his farewell many years ago but, like Oliver Jones, the music will remain long after the farewells have been said and the tears have dried.

As the crowd exited that night, some walked by Peterson’s statue, ever the watcher from his spot on the corner, his piano playing somewhere above them in the Ottawa night. Perhaps the drop or two on Oscar’s sculpted face are the remains of an earlier shower of rain. Perhaps.

The Duality of Claudia Salguero

May 19, 2016 6:54 am
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All photos by Andre Gagne. 

The moment you walk into Claudia Salguero’s home you know you are in the residence of an artist. Flooded by colour, various pieces of artwork adorn the walls, most of it her own. Her images burst out at you from inside the frame, drawing you into her keen eye for detail within the urban landscape. Though they look like painted works, no acrylics or oils were needed for many on display. They began as photographs and became the unique works through digital manipulation, just one of her many talents.

Pulling yourself away, following the soft music playing throughout the kitchen, you see a digital picture frame of various images in rotation, vacation shots, mostly, images Salguero wants to remember but admits she might never see if they end up pinned down inside an album. Collected art pieces surround you, making you wonder where they all came from. All this before you even walk into her basement studio where various instruments await rehearsals for Salguero’s upcoming show at the National Arts Centre.  You see, not only is she a digital artist, but she also sings the romantic songs of her homeland, Colombia.

Art above and art below, two different mediums: one of colour and brush strokes and the other in the smooth, sensual vocals of Latin America. This is the duality of Claudia Salguero. To her, however, the two are not very far apart.

“They happen in different moments and spaces,” explains Salguero. “If you listen to the kind of music I like to perform and the kind of colours and textures I like to work with I think you see the same person behind them.”

Related: Claudia Salguero–100 per cent Artist in Everything she Does

Though she’s made Ottawa her home since 2001, Salguero hasn’t forgotten her Colombian roots. She often thinks of the warmth, the people and the celebrations that centred on music. There, she grew up dancing, and fresh tropical fruits were everywhere. Leaving Bogotá presented some challenges, such as strengthening her English and learning to adapt to the colder Canadian climate.

“I have to say, I felt welcome as an immigrant since the very first day. I have gown as a human being because of that and I have made amazing friends from many different countries.”

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Salguero’s musical career in Columbia got off to a bumpy start. She loved singing, but was exceptionally shy to the point of being unable to share her voice in public. When she was 11, a friend signed her up for a soloist completion in school. A reluctant Salguero accepted. The results were disastrous.

“It was not good. I was so shy and sang so soft that nobody could hear me. They started clapping to help me finish my song and I left,” she remembers.  Though such a traumatic event could have smothered any possible desire to pursue music publicly again, Salguero returned the next year and, this time, she won.

After arriving in Ottawa, she sought out Latin American musicians and started making music while continuing her photography and art career. In 2006 she discovered Corel Painter Digital Art Studio and was quickly hooked on the possibilities of enhancing her art and photographs with the software. She is currently one of three Painter Masters in Canada and, as she likes to say, the only one who is fluent Spanish. Going from teaching the techniques of digital art to painting large murals around town to singing Boleros such as “Si Dios me quita la vida”, her mother’s favourite, were not difficult transitions. She moves between her various careers as fluidly as the digital brushes that sweep across her computer screen.

In 2011 she was offered a chance to develop a new Latin jazz show at the NAC. It promptly sold out, and it has each year since. Salguero’s May 28 NAC Studio show is set to be an international affair. Her band mates include by Sylvio Modolo (piano) from Brazil, Izzy Martinez (guitar) from Mexico, Ken Seeley (bass) from the United States, Alvaro de Minaya (drums) JL Vasqueze on percussion from Chile, Canadian Jasmin Lalande on sax, trumpet by Great Britain’s Ed Lister, Togo’s Matthieu Mikando on Trombone, and flutes by Luis Abanto of Peru.

Tickets can be purchased at the NAC box office or online but best be quick, if the previous years are any indication, the show is sure to sell out.

Salguero took a break between rehearsals to sit down with Ottawa Life and discuss the new show, CANTARES, her view on how Latin American music is locally received, as well as her work as both a musician and artist.

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CANTARES poster art by Claudia Salguero

Ottawa Life: Your artwork is pretty unique, combining photos and digital painting. How did you discover a love for this process?

Claudia Salguero: Singing is something I can’t stop doing. Having talented musicians by my side and the support and view form my loved ones has been key in this aspect of my life. ​On the other hand, my hands and curiosity are my main tools and I think as a visual artist.​ I studied Graphic design in Colombia but I wanted to study art and soon after I became a professional photographer and multi-image producer. When computers showed up in the graphic world I got right into it and all that combined led me to become a digital artist. This discipline allowed me to combine my passion for photography and for painting at the same time. But the truth is that ​​being a full time artist hasn’t been easy. You have to work ​as creator ​and also promoter. You end up having two full time jobs and you don’t know if you’ll have a cheque ​at the end of the month or not.​ Not easy, but fun and always exciting.

Claudia (13 of 15)wCan you take me through your process in creating an art piece in contrast to your process in approaching a song?

Creating an art piece, a painting, a photograph or an ice sculpture is a solo action. It’s an individual process where you are asking and answering questions to yourself, and where the final product is your individual expression. Putting a song together with a ten-piece band is the opposite. The interaction, synchronization and communication between a band makes things more complex. The questions are asked and answered by many minds/hands playing many instruments at the same time. That is why it is so special to listen to and watch live music.

Can you tell me about putting together the new show CANTARES?

​Putting together CANTARES has been fun every year. ​This year I will be singing music from nine different countries for which we have included​ new instrumentation. Among the 23 instruments we have the cavaquinho, accordion, Peruvian flutes, udu, and xylophone. As a band we are so lucky to have been working together for so long. We are family now, a family that has as much fun on stage as during rehearsals.

These yearly shows have been exceptionally well received with sell-outs each year. Do you feel there is a large audience in Ottawa for Latin American music?

​Yes there is! The majority of my audience is non-Latin and I think that is because of the warmth and variety of Latin American music. The music is renowned by its rich mix of poetic content, exuberant harmonies, decadent vocal interpretation and instrumentation​and people want to listen to it. In my concert​s ​you would listen to music from many different countries​ including ​classic North American tune​s ​interpreted ​in Latin style. Also –and I think this has been key throughout the last six years– I always explain in English what the songs are about and I talk about the rhythms and instruments being used on stage. ​As you see, beside​s​ ​being fun and romantic, my concerts are also a learning experience.

This show will focus primarily on love songs. How did you choose the pieces for the show?

​You know, love is everywhere and is expressed in all kind of rhythms. ​There will be some Boleros and you will also listen to tropical rhythms, to melancholic songs with rich instrumentation and to songs that will make you feel dancing like a Beatles song we will interpret in a Latin rhythm. Lots of surprises for sure! The songs on every one of my concerts are songs that represent something to me, that take back in time and space or that I feel and I know my international audience will like or recognize.

Some of the proceeds are going to Casa Taller Las Moyas. Can you tell me about that organization and why it is important to you?

I believe in arts in general as a tool for better societies and I work in Ottawa as a Community Art Facilitator with institutions like Operation Come Home, OCISO and Ottawa Housing Corporation. I have seen with my own eyes during my workshops how participants develop self-esteem, a sense of belonging and love for life in general. Casa Taller las Moyas in Bogotá, Colombia is a small institution struggling to teach kids and youth crafts and skills that will help them get away from the streets and develop ideas for small businesses. They operate in a very low income area of the city where any help is welcome. My voice is a gift I didn’t ask for. I like the idea of paying it forward.

You believe art and music is a tool for a better society. Can you elaborate?

​Art in general is something we all need to be exposed to throughout our entire lives as individuals. ​Art is a self-expression tool that releases anxiety and tension, helps you solve your inner problems and shows you who you are. Practicing arts helps you to become the person you want to be and to solve your problems in different ways. Community arts are as important. Working as a community art facilitator in Ottawa has shown me the benefits of creating in our community. We all need a sense of belonging and inclusion and there are many members of our community in Ottawa who feel isolated and who don’t have access to creative outlets. I strongly believe that investing in arts would generate more benefits. It is also fun and our cities would have more colour everywhere!

Jaw Slinky: A Joel of All Trades

May 17, 2016 1:09 pm
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All photos by Andre Gagne.

“This is my Jeep,” the musician in shades said reaching for the door. There was very little time for pleasantries. Even with the sunglasses you could tell he was exhausted. I shuffled my photography bag over my shoulder and slid in expecting my shoes to be buried by fast-food bags, loose change and scratched CDs but, outside of the two guitar cases in the back, this thing was spotless. This guy’s organized, I thought. I suppose, given the circumstances, he has to be.

“So, how long do you think this’ll take?” he asks, his tired eyes on the road. He spoke with a sense of urgency, a man who has 29 hours of things to do but only 24 hours in a day. It was clear a photo shoot with me wasn’t high on the agenda. With a band to rehearse, a show in a few days, a video to shoot and a new album to promote, I was surprised he didn’t take the camera out of my hand and snap the photos himself, vanishing up the road in a cloud of dust leaving me to wonder if he was ever really there.

Meet Joel Sauvé. His new album Mezzanine was produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Joel Sauvé. It also features guitars and vocals by Sauvé, drums by Sauvé, Joel Sauvé on bass guitar, flutes and harmonica, all recorded in a studio built by Joel Sauvé with videos shot by, you guessed it, Joel Sauvé. He also goes by the stage name Jaw Slinky and, yeah, he’s got things to do. He always has things to do. It’s like the man wasn’t manufactured with an off switch.

Both Sauvé and I grew up in Cornwall, Ontario. Our paths wouldn’t cross until many years later when, walking into a local bar, I heard him on stage belting out a rocked out cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that almost made me forget the original was a pop song. As a teen, when I was reaching for my Nintendo controller, Sauvé was reaching for his guitar…and his bass…and his drum sticks. Trying to master as much as he could was sort of a trend with him. In school, not satisfied with one sport, Sauvé played, and excelled, at all of them. This Jack, or Joel, of all trades would take a similar approach to music, wanting to be a guitar player but being edged towards the bass at jams by his already guitarist friends.

Joel (9 of 10)b web“I was handed the bass and was a little apprehensive about it because, well, let’s face it, the bass isn’t cool when you’re 14-15 years old.  You want the guitar.” recalls Sauvé.  “I devoted my time to learn the bass lines for what we were doing anyway and I learned to love it.  We also had a singer at the time that would jam with us but eventually he decided he couldn’t devote his time to our little get-togethers, so I stepped up and said: “I’ll sing.”  And so I started working on my vocals while playing the bass – which is pretty much like taping one hand on your head while rubbing your belly with the other.  It taught me a lot about coordination.”

After these sessions, with everyone gone, Sauvé would sit behind the drum kit and start teaching himself how to play that as well. He’d spend hours pressing stop, play and rewind on a cassette player listening to bands like Pearl Jam or The Tea Party and trying to mimic exact notes or chords. Even though he didn’t know he was doing it then, this was how he developed and trained his ear.

He played his first gig in front of a crowd at Cornwall’s Aultsville Hall and, later that same year, in a local bar where he wasn’t even old enough to buy a drink. Cornwall, like it did for a lot of us, suddenly felt really small and Sauvé moved to Montreal where he studied music at Concordia. He later found work in a music store, started to do sound in a local club and, of course, formed a band.

“Concordia taught me the theory and history of music.  However, working as a server, sound man, open-mic/jam night host and just performing in the Montreal bars taught me the beat of the city when it came to understanding the rhythm of the musical nightlife and scene.”

After his first two bands dissolved, Sauvé found himself back in Cornwall playing gigs of mostly cover tunes nearly every weekend while teaching music on the side. There, things just weren’t moving fast enough.

“I’ve always said that once you come back to Cornwall, it’s like Velcro – you get stuck,” he explains. The pull back to a bigger city –with the help of his girlfriend, Jill, who lived in one– had him packing it all up again and moving to Ottawa, a place Sauvé feels is one he can possibly settle into.

Joel (3 of 10) webIt was here that he decided to go solo and create an alternate persona. Using his initials, and inspired by his own crooked jaw, he settled on Jaw Slinky. He had a name, now he needed a studio and, when you’re Joel Sauvé, you don’t just rent time in one, you build your own. After striking a deal with Jill –she got the third bedroom and he got the basement– Stuck in a Tin Can Studios was created, functioning out of their east-end townhouse where Sauvé spent countless hours learning software and studying YouTube tutorials to piece the place together.

“Sometimes you just can’t rely on anyone else to do something for you or, for that matter, the right way,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to have my own studio so I took it upon myself to just do it.  It was quite the unique process because being by yourself, recording in a studio is, for lack of a better word, weird.  There is no one there to encourage you or to tell you to do a take again. You have to be the one to say that the take was good enough and move on.”

Being a multi-instrumentalist, Sauvé always wanted to try to record an album himself. To him, it was about reaching another level. Mezzanine became that level. From the moment the opening punch of power chords from “Led by the Light of the Devil” hit you, well, square on the jaw, you’ll find it hard to believe this wasn’t produced in a huge studio, let alone that everything you’re hearing is by the same guy. The album is a testament to Sauvé’s detail oriented, focused vision.

Joel (10 of 10)b webSome stand outs include the blues-based “Dynasty” as well as “Crossfire,” a rocked out track with some catchy rhythm guitar. Sauvé releases his grip on you a little with the gentler “Hummingbird” which evokes some late 60’s prog-rock with a wistful flute that carries you through the upbeat track, flying. Though much of the album speaks of loss and betrayal, Sauvé explains that these are elements from his past that finally found a way to break out of him, little voices that needed to be heard before fading out.

“Some themes are better left for other people’s interpretation.  I’ve been in dark places. For some reason, I have an easier time completing a song about loss and deception, than I do about good and happy things.  The songs on the record that share these themes may have happened years ago to me, but I still needed to put them down and lay them to rest since they were never previously recorded.”

Though it’d be interesting to see him try to pull it off alone, Sauvé will be backed by a band for a coming CD release party on May 20 in Barrhaven’s Greenfield’s Pub. No, he didn’t build the venue, but I wouldn’t put it past him. Watching the Jeep drive off towards rehearsals, video tweaking and whatever other one of the dozen things Sauvé had to complete before the show, I realized that a guy like Jaw Slinky is somebody who makes you feel you just have to be doing more in life, moving forward, challenging yourself. There is always a higher level to reach for.

“I think the theme of rising above and pushing through speaks for itself as in everyone can relate to a situation that they have gone through,” says Sauvé. “This album was definitely a cathartic experience for me.  I killed many birds with one stone – recording a full-length record on my own, getting those songs out of my head and building my own studio, and learning a whole bunch of things about myself along the way.”Joel (6 of 10)web

Tickets for the show can be purchased by writing info.jawslinky@gmail.com. You have one guess who’s looking after those ticket sales.

For Those About to Rock We Tribute You

May 9, 2016 10:32 pm
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All photos by Andre Gagne

Vintage band t-shirt, tight jeans, newsboy cap and adrenaline, yup I was ready to rock. It’s a Saturday night in Ottawa and the city’s own AC/DC tribute band Great Scott were a few hours away from blowing all the colours out of the Rainbow with power chords, wailing vocals and drums you’ll still feel next week.

On second thought, better take the earplugs, I thought to myself.  I mean, the actual lead singer is going deaf, right? I pause, working around a little doublethink. Though, it would be pretty cool to have Axl Rose fill in for my daily life duties in his weird throne. Naw, better safe than sorry.

In 1973, brothers Malcolm and Angus Young formed AC/DC after seeing the initials on a sewing machine. 21 years later Great Scott was formed by two drunken friends sitting in a pick-up truck ready to pay tribute to one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Well, almost ready. Guitarist Scott Mahar had his reservations.

“I never wanted to be in a tribute band. I don’t really like them, especially the clone acts. It usually doesn’t work. It’s actually kinda’ sad watching somebody pretend to be somebody else,” Mahar says before changing into his Angus Young outfit. He justifies his portrayal by extracting the root of any good band: you need to just play, play well and love it.

“I might wear the shorts and a tie and bounce around like Angus Young from time to time, but we’ve always been our own band. We don’t follow the recipe. We’ve never tried to imitate down to that excruciating detail. You get us. We play classic AC/DC. That’s why we’ve lasted so long.”

To see Mahar perform that signature Angus strut you’d think he’d spent awhile practicing for the band but you’d be wrong. Like any teenage AC/DC fan, Mahar just started imitating Young in his bedroom while listening to albums like Back in Black. By the time he joined Great Scott he already knew what to do.

Great Scott-9wHe admits to getting lost in the character sometimes. You can’t really blame the guy, thought. The kid who first heard AC/DC in the eighth grade when a friend handed him a Walkman blaring out the album Dirty Deeds has now been performing as Angus Young pretty much half his life.

He first saw the band live in 1988 at the Ottawa Civic Centre. It was the Blow Up Your Video Tour. “It was the volume and the intensity, the power and the energy, of not only the band, but the crowd that electrified me. I’ve still got the shirt from that gig. My father took me to that show. He saw the Beatles in ’64, so he completely understood my euphoria.”

Mahar strives to instil a little bit of that feeling when he pulls on the shorts, does up the tie and steps out in front of an audience. There’s always a few, of course, that must wonder if these guys really can match up to the real thing. By the time Mahar’s Angus hits the first few chords to “Thunderstruck” you’re wondering no more.  The crowd at the Rainbow on May 7 knew what those who have seen Great Scott perform before already discovered. Whether it was in Barrymore’s in the ‘90’s, some bar in Whitehorse or opening up for Steppenwolf, if you never get to see AC/DC live a Great Scott show is pretty damn close.

Related: The Black Inside the Rainbow

The max volume, high voltage, beer swilling, head banging epic near three hour set included hits like “Hells Bells”, “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “TNT” and had one fan shouting “you guys are unbelievable.” Well, it was more like a slur then a shout, she’d had a bit too much to drink, but the woman still knew her stuff. Unbelievable, Great Scott was. Close your eyes and you could very well be in a sell-out arena seeing the real deal.

Great Scott-30wSome tunes, Mahar admits, they’ve played every show for over 20 years. Songs like “Sin City”, “Riff Riff” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” have followed them to every gig. He spends so much time with these tunes, knows them back to front like he does the other band members. He calls them brothers, his best friends. He often catches himself watching frontman Albert Bouchard as Brian Johnson on stage in awe of how good the man is.

“Albert is the rightful King of Rock n’ Roll. He’s the most entertaining frontman I’ve ever seen. He engages the audience in a way that makes every show personal and unique for everybody in the room. He looks you square in the eye and sings just to you. That dude is tough as nails but has a gigantic heart.”

The band doesn’t know if anybody from AC/DC knows they exist but, as Mahar likes to tell it, they did open for Great Scott one night in Saskatoon back in ’96. The group was on a tour through Western Canada when a concert promoter got them in to see the Australian rockers during their Ballbreaker Tour. Great Scott was playing an after-party across the street.

“It was a real trip to see our posters up in the arena at an AC/DC show,” Mahar recalls. “We had to sprint out after the final cannon blew, race past the religious protesters, and get behind the wheel of the next wave of volume and crunch to hit the prairies. It was surreal.”

While the real band is going through what seems to be its final curtain calls with drummer Paul Rudd exiting the band due to criminal charges and singer Brian Johnson being replaced back in March by Axl Rose after doctors ordered him to stop touring or face complete hearing loss, Great Scott is still rocking. If the show at the Rainbow was any indication, the train is not losing any steam. It’s only gaining thunder!

“Many people come to the club expecting to get an AC/DC show, but they get a Great Scott show instead,” says Mahar explaining how the crowds keep returning because they know they are going to witness something amazing. “We’re part of a huge incredible family.”

When asked he they’ll be raiding a Gun’s and Roses tribute band any time soon Mahar had two words: “No comment.”

With my body charged, some chords still rattling my innards, I think to myself on the 2AM bus ride back home: Yeah, those earplugs were a good idea.

A Pearl of Jazz in Unexpected Places

May 6, 2016 11:31 am
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All photos by Andre Gagne

You’re pushing your shopping cart through the produce section when, while reaching for that perfectly ripe avocado, you hear the beautiful sound of a saxophone playing “Angel Eyes”. It’s Ladies’ Night at the Royal Oak and, where you might expect to hear some frantic Celtic music, your ears are met with the soulful sounds of that sax once again. The weekend comes and you decide to take a short trip out of town for a tasty meal only to now hear that sax leading a big band orchestra; three very different spots for one versatile musician.

The sax belongs to Davina Pearl, a woman who appears just as comfortable playing jazz in your local grocery store as she does in front of a 16-piece band. To hear her wail on her sax, you wouldn’t know that she really wants to play the trumpet.

“I am not  a saxophonist’s saxophone player,” says Pearl. “You can tell some people are really fascinated by the instrument, they want to get all into that. There’s lots of metal to flash around. Of course it’s cool, but I always envy the trumpet players who show up to a gig, pull out their axe and they’re ready to go.”

Her first instrument was neither sax nor trumpet. Pearl could often be found strumming her guitar on her front porch step and she reluctantly admits her early musical tastes leaned towards the glam and flash of disco. She has many fond memories roller skating around her basement with her younger sister.

“From my parents we got classical music and some very square Israeli folk songs. I remember listening as a family to lots of Tom Lehrer and musicals like Cats,” recalls Pearl. “A few years later I got all taken up with bands like the Beatles, Stones, Who, Pink Floyd, but, most of all, David Bowie. I was totally nuts about Bowie.”

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Davina Pearl and her sax on the steps of the Fairmont Château Laurier, 2014

In what became a pattern in her first steps towards her jazz career, Pearl took to playing an instrument not because it was her calling but, mostly, because it was there. A clarinet abandoned by her father found its way into her hands and she played that until, one day in high school, a surprised Pearl was given a saxophone.

“I ended up with an alto sax because that’s what my teacher handed me as my turn in line at the storage room came up. All the kids were just in a line at the door. It felt pretty arbitrary. Knowing that guy, he may have had a grand plan, but, if so, it certainly wasn’t apparent.”

An early boyfriend turned her on to jazz music. He played trumpet and the two would join the school band and spend many hours listening to records. Bowie now took a backseat to Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

“True confession, I was his very first girlfriend and his Mum was not impressed,” Pearl says of the relationship that sparked her love of jazz. “Now he’s the ambassador to Venezuela so she may have had a point.”

 

Her band teacher, Bob Cleall, would become a huge inspiration for the young Pearl often passing her new cassette tapes every week to listen to. He gave her the opportunity to play big solos and must have seen a lot of promise in her.

“They didn’t have jazz band for grade 9’s at the time. You were supposed to wait till grade 10,” explains Pearl. “The girl on second alto in grade 10 wasn’t showing up for practice, so Bob cut her and put me there instead.”

Though thankful for the teacher’s faith in her ability, Pearl remembers how intimidated she was playing with the older kids.  “It was still just the fall of the year when you’re new in high school and all, but as soon as I heard the sound of the band I forgot all about being scared. From the first few bars I think I was totally hooked. It was a very powerful feeling.”

At 16, Pearl started giving lessons. Attila Clemann, now an in-demand actor and playwright, and award-winning producer/musician Gavin Bradley were two of her students. Then, with only her high school experience, guitar/banjo player Dave Johnstone took her under his wing and together the two formed a band with bass player Gerg Horvath.

“Dave pulled me through some incredibly tough personal lessons. I was such a handful. That man has the patience of Job.”

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Davina Pearl and her trio performing at the Royal Oak.

Since then, she’s shared the stage with some of the best names in local jazz: trumpet player John Renforth, guitarists Vince Halfhide and Kevin Barrett, and pianist Art Lawless, to name a few. She’s been a featured performer at the Merrickville Jazz Festival and, when not playing, she can be seen taking in some late night jams at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival or in spots like GigSpace.

Pearl says she doesn’t have any plans to record a studio album any time soon. For her, the passion is all in the experience of playing live.

“Once you start the canning process, much of that magic is lost,” she says. “For me, it’s all about being in the moment, sharing and connecting with the people in the room.”

That connection with an audience, no matter what the size, and that magic feeling she gets when performing live has had Pearl accepting some pretty interesting gigs.

Located about 70 minutes outside of Ottawa, in an 18th century home so quaint it could serve as a backdrop to a Jane Austen novel, Alexandria’s Georgian House Restaurant and Day Spa has had a big band house orchestra for nearly 20 years. Though she didn’t put the now 16-piece group together, over time she sort of just stumbled into the responsibilities of leading it.

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The Georgian House Orchestra, November 2014

“It’s a pretty special band full of people I adore. It’s a total labour of love for me,” she says and you can see it not only on the smile on her face as she signals the changes or highlights a soloist, but also in the audience who will sometimes will leave their supper plates to cool in order to dance.

Pearl maintains a strong connection with owners Heinz Kaswurm and wife Julie who continue to support the band each month, often looking on as they perform the standards with band vocalist Kathy Eagan. “They always make us feel so welcome. If anyone can find another Heinz and Julie, I’ll eat my reeds!”

When Wellington West’s Royal Oak was looking to bring in some jazz to counterbalance some of the more Celtic sounds usually found in these types of pubs, Pearl answered the call.

“It was a bit of an experiment at first. We weren’t sure how well it would go down. It’s not exactly your first thought when you imagine live music at an Irish-style pub. But it’s been an amazing success story.”

Every second Tuesday of the month, her regular trio, which includes Ed Stevens on guitar and Paul Soble on bass, usually fills the place. Not bad for a West end Tuesday night! Pearl gets a bit more experimental in these performances as heard recently with a jazzy tribute to her early music love, the late David Bowie.

Jumping around from various gigs, duos to trios and big bands, doesn’t faze the musician. In fact, she welcomes the changes.

“Sure, it’s all different, but as you grow it starts to be more the same. You start seeing more of the forest. One of the reasons I like to play with all sorts of different people is that it forces me to grow as a musician. Plus, I just like meeting everyone!”

Her most unique gig has Pearl performing for often surprised Saturday afternoon shoppers as well as a very receptive audience of pineapples, carrots and radishes inside Wellington Street’s Herb & Spice. She laughs thinking how many believe the music is piped in over the radio before turning the corner to see a live group performing in the grocery store. Suddenly you feel as though you are in a Woody Allen film, the jazzy soundtrack following you as you shop sometimes having to reach around the sax player to get to the potato chips.

“Playing in the store can be a lot of fun, not only for the adults but also the kids. I don’t have a lot of gigs where I can play for families and the kids are just fascinated, clapping. It’s a very honest experience with them.”

Pearl returns to the Oak with the trio, this time including bassist Neil Sealy and guest vocalist Martine Courage, on May 10 from 5-8. Or, you can do a little shopping and hear her perform with Vince Halfhide at the Herb & Spice on May 14 beginning at 2. There’s also the May 28 evening show at the Georgian House but be sure to reserve in advance. Really, though, you never can tell where she’ll show up next, sax in hand, ready to play.

“It’s very stimulating and challenging to play in these venues with all these different musicians of varying styles,” says Pearl. “It forces me to be a better musician, a bigger musician. That’s really exciting.”

Music is on the Menu Every Second Sunday at Vanier’s Maison Baguettes

May 3, 2016 1:30 pm
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All photos by Andre Gagne.

Trish Bolechowsky is all about the music, and the more she can add to the Ottawa scene, the better. As the Artist Manager of RedLeaf Music, she continues to help emerging artists achieve their career goals by fostering a family-like environment and an encouraging atmosphere for creativity to blossom. In programming her Hintonburg Sounds Simple concert series, she has given those musicians an outlet to showcase their talents as well as an audience to perform to. One series, however, just wasn’t enough for her and Bolechowsky is back, in Vanier this time, with more live music to enjoy every second Sunday of the month at Maison Baguettes. Music lovers and foodies unite because you’re both in for a treat!

“The shows and series RedLeaf Music presents are designed to move around the city,” explains Bolechowsky on why she changed up neighbourhoods for these monthly shows. “I’d love to be able to walk around in any neighbourhood and find live music to enjoy in the local businesses.”

Choosing Vanier for the Second Sunday series wasn’t a very hard one to make for Bolechowsky. She just happens to live there and, when it comes to some of her favourite neighbourhood restaurants, Maison Baguettes at 381 Montreal Road was love at first sight. Or, perhaps, that’s love at first bite.

“A friend took me in soon after I moved into the neighbourhood,” she says. “I loved the warm atmosphere and the tasty food right away. The café is small and intimate so I invite musicians who are comfortable playing in a listening room environment, who are creating original music and able to play acoustically, with just an instrument and their voice.”

Stomach grumbling, I found myself wandering up the steps and inside the café a few weeks ago. The sign outside told me I could snag a soup, sandwich, beverage and a dessert all for less than ten bucks. Quite the steal these days, says I, especially when you consider how tasty the food was. The atmosphere was just as enjoyable as I was met with a smile or a nod by nearly everyone I passed on my way to get to a table near the back. Here, I discovered, you get the feeling that you are in a small town diner or a Cheers, of sorts. It’s that kind of place where everybody knows your name, as the song goes, and, even if they don’t, a welcoming smile for a stranger could be chalked up on the menu board next to the soup of the day.

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Howie Hooper performing at the Second Sunday series.

As I sat down watching the cream swirl in the blackness of my coffee cup, the deep voice of Howie Hooper began a country music serenade. He listens to Cash and Haggard and Kristofferson and looks like he should be running cattle somewhere down on a Texas ranch. Nothing is overdone and manufactured here. This is stripped down country. Pour your heart out into a glass to mix with your beer kind of country. Hooper sang songs that sounded like they were coming from a man who can actually can wear the lyrics like an old shirt, all comfortable like, where even the stains have a story or two to tell. He shared a few of those stories that afternoon.

“I love to play at smaller venues. There is a different feel to them,” said Hooper. “Personally I find it more difficult to perform in the smaller venue, and this is a good thing. You are so close to everyone, there’s no place to hide, no room for a band to lean on, and you are all alone with the audience. You really have to work hard to ensure you connect with everyone possible. Definitely a great learning experience.”

Related: Supporting Local Musicians Sounds Simple in Hintonberg Concert Series

Bolechowsky, who had come in just in time for Hooper’s second set, agrees that a smaller setting allows for a deeper connection. It’s a place, she says, where lyrics can actually be heard, something that’s pretty important to most of the singer-songwriters she programs into shows like these.

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Maison Baguettes

“This is the starting place for many musicians in their careers and, because of how enjoyable it is for both the listener and musician, it’s a setting many love to return to time and again later in their careers,” she says.

Hooper was one of those musicians. He started playing gigs at a young age but took a 25 year break to focus on raising his family. Despite the canyon sized gap between his departure and return to the local music scene, he was always collecting stories and biding his time before they would eventually become songs.

“I think the Lord gives us all a gift, and leaves it up to the individual to choose when to open it,” he says after some reflection. “Some can’t wait and rush in, others are more patient. I know I would not be writing the same song at age 18 as I would now. The sum of my experiences provides a unique filter to which all the characters I create must pass through. The more experience I have to draw upon, the richer the scenes, emotions, characters and stories become.”

Seen swaying behind the counter as I started to tuck into my desert was restaurant owner Marie Lamont. When she took over Maison Baguettes from the previous owner, her first goal was to create an atmosphere where people could feel at home while they were away from home. Bringing in live music wasn’t necessarily part of her initial plans, but when she was approached she agreed to it the moment the offer left Bolechowsky’s lips.

“I think that the entertainers are amazing. I am privileged to have them perform in our establishment,” Lamont beams. “The time flies by so quickly during those two hours. It’s just another homey feeling that we can all enjoy once a month.”

Hooper finished his set as I was pondering which soup I should grab as a take-out meal for the next day. Somehow I just felt I wanted to take more of this place home with me. The country singer, now packing up his guitar, felt the same.

“Artists need a place to be heard, to grow, to discover who they are as an artist.  In my experience, overnight success is pretty much an urban legend, it doesn’t happen,” Hooper told me. “Most of the artists I know are fully consumed by learning their craft. It is a passion worn on the outside for the world to see.  The smaller series is a place to connect and test drive material, find what works and what does not work. There is nothing that can simulate this. Ottawa needs more of these series and venues; everyone gets something out of it.”

Jillian Kerr performs on May 8 from 1 to 3 p.m. Admission is by donation.

Amanda Rheaume’s Holding Patterns

May 1, 2016 5:55 pm
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Photos by Jen Squires, supplied by NAC.

One woman, one venue, both of them in a period of transition and ready for change. For Métis singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume, it was a few steps back in order to move forward through some pain and sad realities on a rocky road to find herself again. For the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage, it is a time of rejuvenation, to close the doors on the past and re-emerge anew, ready to, once again, welcome the music. Both come together on May 5 to say goodbye and boldly face that change, one if only for a little while and the other in her songs.

“We stand chasing that obsession / just close the door”, “we’re in a holding pattern / don’t you know it’s time to land”, “no more looking back, they say, living in the yesterday / no more wasting this life”, “I will do today what I might do tomorrow / the wolf of time don’t owe me any favours” are lyrics from Rheaume’s new album, Holding Patterns. It’s a deeply personal release for a musician not afraid to hang a couple of hardships out on the line to dry or, in some instances, be thankfully carried away by a good strong wind.

“The songs on this album reflect a theme that I became aware of in the last year,” explains Rheaume, looking back on a time of turbulence that helped shape the songs on this release.  “Certain situations in my life – romantic relationship, business relationships – weren’t contributing to my life in positive ways and a lot of the songs reflect on taking control and responsibility of my own actions and non-actions and, in a way, reclaiming myself again. I liked the idea of the patterns that hold us and the patterns we hold onto. I felt it spoke to me.”

She’s no stranger to the local music scene. Born and raised in Ottawa, Rheaume says this was the perfect place to start her career, slowly honing her craft at open mics around town and places like the Blacksheep Inn, eventually performing at Bluesfest opening for Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris. She’s played across the country, toured Europe and looks back at a stint playing the Faroe Islands, the archipelago between the Norwegian Sea and North Atlantic, as one of the most incredible experiences of her life. These days, averaging 160 shows a year, she laughs, wondering how she finds the stamina.

“I actually am finding it harder to play that number of shows per year as I get a bit older. I used to perform a lot more in Ottawa than I do now which means that when I am home I am just home, not performing a ton. It can be challenging to stay healthy and grounded on tour. I attempt to exercise when there is time and also make sure that I eat healthy and get enough sleep. Luckily I’ve been able to hire a tour manager the last few tours and that has helped a lot!”

Holding Patterns is Rheaume’s fourth album. She released her first, an album of Christmas songs, in 2009, followed by more original material on Light of Another Day (2011) and Keep a Fire (2013) which was nominated for a Juno for Aboriginal Album of the Year. Her roots are very important to her. Where Keep a Fire explored her Métis heritage, the first single off Holding Patterns, “Red Dress”, finds Rheaume honouring the over 1,180 murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

“I had been wanting to write this song for a long, long time but I was never sure of the tone or the message. I didn’t know how to approach it,” says Rheaume. Inspiration would come to her through the tragic case of Cindy Gladue.

Gladue, a 36-year-old aboriginal mother of three, was found dead in an Edmonton hotel bathtub in June 2011. She had bled to death from a demeaning wound while her accused killer, married Mississauga truck driver Bradley Barton, slept nearby. In what many consider to be an extreme indignity, for the first time in the history of the Canadian justice system, a victim’s preserved body parts were brought into the court room as evidence. Barton’s acquittal would spark protests across the country and leave Rheaume appalled.

“I attended a rally for Cindy once the verdict came out that Barton was not guilty of her death. I had never been so disgusted in my whole life,” she says.  “I think that is when the idea and angle for the song started brewing from the perspective of victim blaming.”

“I see the line of all the broken hearts lining up to tell their side to the already one-sided story,” sings Rheaume on the moving track, co-written by Jim Bryson and featuring friend Chantal Kreviazuk on vocals. The video, where dancer Aria Evans moves slowly through a snowy landscape clad in red, was inspired by Jamie Black’s REDress Project where 600 red dresses were placed in public spaces around the country to draw attention to aboriginal women killed in violent crimes. All proceeds from the single are to be donated to the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Safety and Violence Prevention Program.

Related: Jim Bryson Returns Home.

Activism and awareness for the causes she is passionate about are just as much a part of Rheaume as her music. She’s performed for the Boys and Girls Club and had tracks included on Babes4Breasts compilations, but she looks back to a moment on an airfield in Kandahar that really changed her outlook on what her music can do.

“When I performed for the Canadian troops on Canada Day in 2011 I had an intense epiphany. It really became clear to me that every time I step on stage and sing or perform, it is an opportunity to make some kind of an impact. I started becoming acutely aware of my lyrics and my message. I also really feel that if we all do even just a little bit that some major change can happen in this world. I feel it is so important to be aware and to try and help as much as possible with a cause or group that you feel drawn to.”

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On the song “The Day the Mountain Fell”, like a clipping taken out of an old scrapbook, Rheaume shares a piece her family history.

“In 1958 there was a landslide in Prince Rupert British Columbia that fell onto a small community of houses,” she relays, going on to explain how this event links to her family. “The day the mountain fell there were two workers that saw the landslide. They ran towards the slide to see if they could help get anyone out. These two men followed the sound of a baby crying only to find her little arm poking out of the mud. This little girl was my cousin Selma and they called her The Miracle Child because she was the only survivor.”

Holding Patterns is a powerful release both musically and lyrically. Rheaume, you feel, isn’t holding anything back. Though the album has themes of loss and grieving, she doesn’t leave you dwelling in the negative for long. This is about hope, rising up out of your ashes and dusting yourself off to start again clean. On Holding Patterns, blank pages aren’t things to fear but places to create something new upon. Pick up the pen and just start over. Get in that car and drive. Many of the tracks are leaving way stations, the regrets remain there in the ruins of what once was, and you ride onward down the unknown highway with both a smile and tear, heading into whatever awaits you on the horizon.

When she takes the Fourth Stage on Thursday night for a sold out performance it will be for the last time in this version of the venue. Renovations to the NAC will close the stage down for a year-long makeover. It has been one of Rheaume’s favourite places to perform so it’s very fitting she was chosen to play the final show before the construction crews roll in.

“I have performed there a number of times for songwriting circles, and it is incredible when the lights go down and the curtains are drawn, the candles are flickering on the tables and you can see the faces of the audience lit up from the stage lights. The sound is the best in the city and it is the biggest treat to perform there. The Fourth Stage is a magical place.”

For those who didn’t get to snag a ticket to the show, you don’t have to wait long to hear the new album. Holding Patterns will be released on May 6.

Harea Band Hits a Grand Slam with New EP

April 27, 2016 1:55 pm
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Photos by Sean Sisk Photography.

It’s been a pretty big week for Ottawa’s Harea Band. They have a new EP coming out on April 28 and they’ve just been called up to the majors once again for their second year in a row performing at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. For frontman Alex Harea, this all must feel like a homerun for a band who nearly didn’t get to play their first gig because their bassist wasn’t old enough to get into the club.

The band has been in a state of constant evolution since forming in 2012. Alex was playing gigs in town solo while attending his first year of music studies at Carleton, when he decided he wanted to get a team together. He first called drummer Mike Giamberardino to bat. Things started to grow from there with the duo adding another guitar, synths and additional vocals to a changing line-up that they may have settled upon with this release.

One spin of the coming EP, All the Hits, shows how the band has matured in the year since their last festival performance. Along with some band tweaks, the sound also has a bit more pop compared to their first EP Hip Hip Harea. Calling your second release All the Hits might seem like a bold move, but when every tune is a solid one the music backs it up.

“For all of us it was pretty clear which songs were going to go on our next release. They were all of our favourites. Recording them was an absolute blast,” says Harea, explaining how the release was the result of one long week in the studio last October.

“We ended up just renting the studio for seven days where we could record our tracks anytime we wanted day or night. Needless to say, we basically lived there. It was a cool experience to work together like that in close quarters and also be able to experiment as much as we want. The whole experience brought us closer as a band.”

All The Hits CoverYou can hear the fun the band had in the recording process in the EP’s first single “Drop and Dance”. It’s a pumped-up tune that gets you moving. It seems of another era, dialled in on the radio while you’re cruising one summer evening in upper 1970’s Manhattan or later on that night while you work up a sweat on the dance floor at Studio 54.  It’s hard to believe this catchy track or “What You Need”, a groove that is so Motown you wonder if Harea got the Funk Brothers to play backup, were first composed on an acoustic guitar.

“I will write a song on my own with an acoustic guitar and bring it to the band’s next rehearsal,” explains Alex, describing his writing process. “Mike and I work really well together at developing the songs to bring out the potential it has. All five of us have a really fun time working out songs together. There usually isn’t too much disagreement.”

Though the band’s camaraderie is clear during their stage performances, they haven’t been immune to some well placed ribbing. Alex says that the recent addition of Cynthia Tauro has reined in some of their off stage antics and made them a stronger group.

“We get along better when there is a girl around. She has become the mother of the group.”

You can hear her on the EP’s closing track, “Our Love’s Been Cookin’” which, as another funky dance number, is sure to translate well live as Harea’s smooth vocals slow you down for a few moments mid-song and kick you back up again into wanting to move your feet.

Related: TD Ottawa Jazz Festival Announces Diverse 2016 Line-Up

The band is planning on a few tours wrapped around their summer gigs but, mainly, they feel they are ready to step up their game.

“We are actually looking to acquire some form of management because we feel we are at that point now where it’s something that would really help us out, and I want to do another release in less than two years,” says Harea. “So really the plan is to keep playing and keep growing our name and our brand.”

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The band’s EP release show takes place on April 28 in the Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University. Doors are at 7 p.m. and the party only costs $10.

“This is the moment / this is the time / this is where you run or where you choose to climb,” Alex sings on “Damage.” On a release like All the Hits, one that knocks it out of the park on the second swing, there is a sense of arrival for this young band, that this is their time.

Starmen, Rebels and Heroes Pay Tribute to David Bowie

April 24, 2016 1:12 pm
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All photos by Andre Gagne.

It was January 10, 2016 and local musician Jon Hynes was in his kitchen when he heard the news on the CBC. It couldn’t be right, could it? He stood there in shock at what he was listening to. “No one saw that coming. You always expect someone like that to live forever.”

At that moment singer Jeremy Fisher was lying in bed listening to the same broadcast. Dead? Could that man really be gone? The news would find Fisher contemplating his own mortality. “It made me think how he seemed so vital. I’m on the precipice of 40 and 69 seems way too young.”

David Robert Jones to some, David Bowie to the world, the galaxy and the stars beyond, had died two days after his 69TH birthday and the release of his final, glorious gift to us all, the album Blackstar. The gender bending rock star ch-ch-ch-changed into multiple alter egos like a fine suit -be he Ziggy or be he King of the Goblins- and was never afraid to push his music into any direction he wanted to, the critics be damned.  He was a rebel, Aladdin Sane, all face paint and glamorous costumes, pumping out hits like “Starman”, “Let’s Dance”, and “Heroes” that would influence so many. Cancer may have taken him but the legacy isn’t going anywhere.

“Any time a great musician that has influenced me passes away, it affects me, for sure,” says Hynes. “I started thinking about how I listened to Aladdin Sane obsessively when I bought that record on a whim during my university days.  It was honest and fearless rock and roll.  I loved it!”

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The enthusiastic crowd sang back every word.

Back in 2011, Hynes came up with the idea to tribute the classic albums he loved by performing them live with others. The resulting series was named I Can’t Believe It’s Not and everything from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours to Green Day’s Dookie has been played with a mandate to be as sonically and structurally accurate as possible to the original. But, thought Hynes, how do you choose one album from somebody so iconic as David Bowie. Do you do 1971’s Hunky Dory or ‘72’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars? If you pick just one then there are so many songs that would be missed. No, for this show, Hynes was going to have to break the format, bend the rules a bit, and have an all-out tribute. New rules? No problem! This was to be a Bowie show, after all,  and who better to mix things up for then a man who seemed to bathe in change.

“There was definitely too much golden material to choose from.  His catalogue is massive and his notable works are spread out all over the place,” explains Hynes. “We want this I Can’t Believe It’s Not to really hit hard and remind people that not only was Bowie a great singer with a truck load of amazing songs, but he broke boundaries while doing so.  He was a massive force.  It was impossible to select only one album to play.”

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Rolf Klausener from The Acorn was just one of the many paying tribute to David Bowie.

Hynes began making some phone calls. It wasn’t hard to put together a band for this performance. Culled from members of FET.NAT, Boyhood and the Hilotrons, the event would feature guest vocalists like the Acorn’s Rolf Klausener and cover all sides of Bowie’s storied career. Though the two night event (April 22-23) was held inside St. Alban’s Anglican Church, don’t think that it would be a solemn affair. The crowd would not morn silently. This was a celebration where dancing on the pews wasn’t discouraged, copious drinks were consumed, shout at the top of your lungs singing was a way to make new friends and face painting wasn’t just for the people on stage. Oh yes, there were costumes.

“I wanted to wear white pleated pants, so I went for the early ‘80’s Let’s Dance era,” says Fisher of his Bowie inspired wardrobe. “Somehow I got roped into singing a couple earlier tunes as well so I’ll probably be looking for a spandex bodysuit. What do you want from me, I’m a c-list Canadian musician largely known for my hairstyle?”

The flamboyant New Swears, the Ottawa soul-boogie-funked-up-punky-funboy-power-pop party band, pushed the crowd’s energy to the limits, brought them back, and took them there again. Before the show they vowed to drink 15-20 beers and blast “those mothers right out of the park”. They didn’t disappoint.

“Bowie taught us the secret art of persuading people into magical mazes of adventure,” the band told Ottawa Life before taking the stage in full body paint, wigs and blazing outfits.

“This is a Friday night in Ottawa!” shouted Hynes over a roaring crowd that was packed all the way to the back. It was a show where they knew every word, often overpowering the singers on tunes like “Rebel Rebel”, “Fame” and “Changes”.  The church relics were even bopping to the beats. Even if you weren’t a Bowie fan, you couldn’t help but be floored by the adoration these people on and off stage gave to the man.

Everybody was a sweaty mess by the end of the evening. Nobody wanted to leave. Hynes admitted to the crowd that they had not prepared an encore after the initial set so they would take requests. A nine year old kid wanted to hear “Starman” again. Alas, Hynes believed Fisher, who had sang it early, had gone back home to his newborn. To the surprise of everyone there, Fisher emerged from the crowd to play the tune again.

“He abandoned his child for that,” laughed Hynes!

“Bowie wrote some of the weirdest songs but also some of the catchiest,” says Fisher. “In many cases those two extremes intertwined perfectly and I think that might be his legacy; to demonstrate that there are no rules even in popular music.”

No word on what’s coming up next for the I Can’t Believe It’s Not series but, after a moment of silence for the passing of Prince was held Friday night, one has to wonder if Hynes will be getting a crew together soon for another big tribute. Ready your purple outfits, just in case.

Under the Influence with Philip Sayce

April 18, 2016 10:15 am
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Imagine, if you will, growing up on a musical diet cooked up by you parents’ record collection. The needle drops and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix and BB King, legends of guitar, write the script of your youthful fantasies of one day, just maybe, you would play even a slice of what they did. Your first concert is Eric Clapton. There, in front of you, kid, is the guitar God of Gods, standing alone in the spotlight with his Stratocaster. You get shivers. The lights come up and Clapton does what Clapton does best: he rocks it. As you stand amazed, as so many have in the presence of guitar greatness, you have no idea that one day you’re going to be invited to play your own Strat’ in Madison Square Garden at the festival that legend founded. You’ll play the same stage as some of those greats you used to listen to in the dark including, yes, Clapton himself.

It’s the perfect dream, isn’t it? Only, this isn’t a dream. This is Philip Sayce’s life.

“It was definitely a powerful experience,” Sayce says, looking back on that 2013 performance at the Crossroads Guitar Festival.  “The event was bigger than any individual; it was all about raising awareness and funds for Eric’s rehabilitation center in Antigua. This is truly inspiring; the fact that Eric is doing something in the world with his fame to help others. That’s what it’s all about.”

Philip Sayce - INFLUENCE Front CoverIf you follow blues rock, you know Sayce by now. Born in Wales, his parents, along with a slew of fantastic records, moved to Canada and settled in Toronto. Sayce joined his first band in his teens, emulating the style of the greats like Vaughan and Hendrix he heard on those records. Soon, he’d be playing clubs he wasn’t even allowed to buy a drink in and would become a staple of Toronto’s bar scene. He shaped his skills in places like the famed Horseshoe Tavern and many a night at Grossman’s. People started to take notice. One of them was Jeff Healey, who invited the young Sayce on stage one night to jam with him.

Not long after Sayce was playing with Uncle Kracker to huge crowds, including one in Times Square for a New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. In 2003 Melissa Etheridge was looking for a guitarist. Sayce got the call. Between there and the Crossroads, Sayce supported groups like ZZ Top and Deep Purple, played on the Oscars as well as for the president, and started releasing his own albums with Ruby Electric (2011) and Steamroller (2012). He was also gaining notoriety as one of the best guitarists around. Besting close to 3,000 others and winning the Ernie Ball Play Crossroads Competition to strap on his guitar on Clapton’s stage must have been that cherry on top of it all.

He’s back with a powerful new album, Influence. Aptly titled, the album, with tracks like Graham Nash’s “Better Days”, Ten Years After’s “I’d Love to Change the World” and the Hendrix inspired “Out of My Mind”, is a tribute to those who helped shape his career. You can hear it in every blistering chord but, mainly, what you hear is that Sayce is a guitar force to be reckoned. He signed with his first major record label , Warner Music Canada, last year.

Perhaps one night in a crowd watching him, some kid will be inspired to reach for a guitar and, maybe, move into legend. Is it you? Find out when Sayce plays the Rainbow, Ottawa’s legendary home of the blues, on April 22 and 23.

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Ottawa Life caught up with Sayce on his current tour to talk about the new album, his time with Healey and his recent signing with his first major record label.

Ottawa Life: The new album is called Influence and Jeff Healey was one of your biggest?

Sayce: Yes, Jeff’s music lit a fire in me! It burns brighter now than it ever has. His music really freaked me out! I had the opportunity to meet Jeff when I was first starting on the scene in Toronto. My good friend Corey Mihailiuk planted the seed and originally introduced us. During our first meeting I was, of course, nervous and couldn’t think of anything to say, but Jeff was kind and gracious. Getting to know him over the next few years only endeared me more to him and his music.

Can you describe that first night he invited you up on stage?

It actually wasn’t planned. We both ended up being in Kensington market in Toronto at the same time. I was with my manager and we ran into Jeff. We ended up going into a club there and, of course, as soon as Jeff walked into a club he was immediately invited up onstage, everywhere in the world. Jeff grabbed me and said “Let’s go! You grab the guitar, I’ll play bass.” I was pretty freaked out, having to play guitar for one of my favourite musicians on the planet! We ended up playing a couple of Cream songs, I think it was “Crossroads” by Robert Johnson and “Spoonful” by Willie Dixon, and it was truly amazing. We then walked outside and Jeff invited me to join his band. I was completely speechless.

You did eventually speak to say yes, right?

Of course I said yes! Jeff was a true musical genius. To be in his presence on a nightly basis when I was 19 through 23 or so, was what I call the University of Jeff Healey. It was unbelievable what he could do, there were no limitations. One of the most beautiful improvisers I’ve ever heard, he set the watermark extraordinarily high, and it sent me on a lifelong journey of always trying to get better, always trying to get deeper, and always giving my all. I honestly just tried to be a sponge in his presence and learn as much as I possibly could. It was a beautiful time that I am eternally grateful for.

After that you headed on down to Los Angeles? Seems like that move paid off.

My now wife and I got in our car and drove. I knew a couple of people there, but that was it. I started from the beginning. I went out to open jams like I was doing in Toronto, and just introduced myself to people, and did the best that I could with every opportunity. One of the contacts I knew in Los Angeles, Mike Bradford, was cool enough to return my call and said that Uncle Kracker was looking for someone that could play and sing. So I ended up playing and touring with them for about 18 months while he was enjoying tremendous popularity and success. It was a great learning experience.

With all that going on how did playing with Melissa Etheridge come about?

I went to Westwood Music in Los Angeles to try some Mojave amplifiers one morning. It looked like that scene at the beginning of Back to the Future, and I was having a lot of fun cranking up the amps. In walked producer John Shanks who came right over and introduced himself. He’s a great guitar player, and we shared a bond in old vintage guitars. He just finished producing a Melissa Etheridge record and was mixing it, and played me a couple tracks. A few weeks later Melissa’s camp called me and asked if I would be interested in going out on tour with her. It was super exciting as I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for her. I ended up working with Melissa for four years, and cherish every moment of that experience. Playing at the Oscars, the Grammys, The Democratic National Convention as Barack Obama was being elected are among the highlights, as well as her incredible tours and fans, but also, again, I did my best to be a sponge and learn as much as I possibly could from Melissa’s musical mastery.

How have you been able to showcase your own music while sharing the stage?

The three artists that I’ve mentioned, all went out of their way to make room for me on their stages. I’m so grateful that they gave me an opportunity to do what I personally do with my music. They embraced me and what I was doing, and always encouraged me to keep going further! They are true mentors, true artists.

How did you start putting Influence together?

Influence is an album that I created with producer Dave Cobb in Nashville. I was going through a tough time in the sometimes unscrupulous music business. We had made a few records together before this one, so he reached out to me and said “let’s start making some more music together.” So I took a few trips to Nashville and from those sessions came Influence. Shortly after it was recorded, I connected with Steve Waxman at Warner Music Canada. He was listening to a Spotify playlist and heard some of my music and reached out to say hi. In April 2016, the deluxe Canadian release of Influence was released on Warner.

It goes to show you never really know how you’re going to be discovered, right? However, you’ve been incredibly patient in regards to waiting for one of the big three to pick you up. What kept you going and motivated you to keep plugging away?

I love music. I love the creating from an emotional and spiritual and connected place. I’m just doing the very best that I can to keep getting better keep growing as an artist and as a person, and hopefully put something good into the world.

You seem to have a pretty varied music taste. I gather a lot of that is from listening to those records your parents’ had. What are some of the musicians you are listening to these day now that you’re creating your own collection?

I’m still listening to all the artists that turned me on when I was a little kid! Music is a lifelong commitment for me. When I hear something that I love, I add it to the library of music that turns me on. There’s lots of great music, not only what we hear in the pop mainstream, but lots of artists that are making excellent music today. I really try to look for music that grabs me at an emotional level, or resonates with me in some kind of way. Doesn’t matter if it’s Polka or Metal, I just want to feel something.

What’s on the horizon for you that you’d like to share?

I’ve had a live release in the can for quite some time now. I hope to make some of those recordings available ASAP. I’ve also been writing music and have a lot of ideas started that I would like to finish and release. Ideally, continuing to develop artistically as well. I hope to return to Europe as well. We spent a lot of time touring and releasing records there, and we are overdue for a return. I’m always on the lookout for like-minded collaborators, good people to work with that are working with artists because they love music and also want to put something good into the world.

Hervana: Unplugged in Ottawa

April 16, 2016 12:32 pm
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All photos by Andre Gagne.

In November of 1993, five months before taking his life, Kurt Cobain and his band Nirvana walked onto the Sony Music Studios stage in New York City for a concert unlike any they had performed before. The Seattle band had helped launch grunge, became the voice of a generation and, whether Cobain wanted it or not, they were well on their way to being one of rock music’s most influential bands. Their live shows were loud thrashed out performances where feedback was just another band member, crowds were surfed and instruments were utterly obliterated. On this night in New York, however, there would be none of that as the band, surrounded by candles and flowers in a scene more reminiscent of a funeral, sat down to play an unplugged set of lesser known tunes and cover songs. Those hoping to hear the familiar opening chords to “Smells like Teen Spirit” would have to blast it back at home. The band’s biggest hit wasn’t even sound checked.

21 years later, on April 15, 2016, Skirt Cobain and her band Hervana walked onto the House of Targ stage carrying plastic flowers and fake tea candles to the sounds of pinball machines and the applause of a crowd who had waited until just a few ticks after midnight for this. The all-grrrl, if you couldn’t catch that from the name, Nirvana cover band would be playing the set from Nivana’s acoustic New York show in its entirety.

“The idea to do the Unplugged in New York album came from really loving the songs but not really being able to fit acoustic songs into our regular electric set,” says Skirt (also known as Carly Beath). “We figured if we were going to do an acoustic set, we might as well take the chance to play the whole album.”

Beath surveyed those who had packed in around the stage filling in whatever area didn’t have a table or game machine. The crowd was made up of a mixture of students, gamers, and those still holding tightly to that revolutionary time in the early ‘90’s where, with torn jeans and flannel shirts, the young collectively shouted “here we are now; entertain us” and Nirvana belted out the angst of a generation. To those of us that listened, it wasn’t a movement. It wasn’t a genre. It was just living.

Carley Beath (aka Skirt Cobain) of Hervana

Carly Beath (aka Skirt Cobain) of Hervana

“You can tell by the fake flowers that we don’t have Nirvana’s budget,” Beath said with a bit of a chuckle. “These are Dollarama specials.”

“Who cares!” somebody shouted near the back. Indeed! Stage accoutrements were incidental here. They crowd was ready for the music. Hervana would happily oblige. The band doesn’t come off as a simple tribute or cover novelty act. When you hear them you feel more like they are celebrating that time and the music from a band that defined it.

They may very well be the first group that was formed primarily because of Twitter. Three years ago Beath, Erin Cousins (aka Miss Novoselic), Michelle Turingan (aka Pap Smear) and Adrian Pasen (aka Dave Grrrl) were playing in various bands around Toronto. Beath was doing a lot of solo electronic music and was itching to play guitar in a band again. How to not get lost in the sea of bands in the city battling to be heard? Inspiration comes from the strangest of places.

“Toronto needs an all-girl Nirvana cover band named Hervana,” Tweeted @groshbarr. Beath read it, loved the name and promptly started to put the group together on the social media site.

“I dug around to make sure Hervana didn’t already exist and then I started roping in various musician friends,” Beath says. Misstallica, AC/DShe and Lez Zeppelin were all taken. Hervana was thankfully free.

The pun was really the genesis of the group but Beath admits that if they didn’t love Nirvana they wouldn’t have gotten into it just for the name. The idea for their stage names was also inspired by an outside suggestion.

“We were in a bar talking about the band and a stranger overheard and turned around and pointed at us and said, “Skirt Cobain!” From there, the rest of the names were previous obvious to us,” recalls Beath.

Erin Cousins (aka Miss Novoselic) performs for the crowd at Targ.

Erin Cousins (aka Miss Novoselic) performs for the crowd at Targ.

For Cousins, learning about Nirvana was a gateway to many all-female bands that formed during the rise of grunge. The feminist hardcore punk movement was called riot grrrl and, like grunge, grew out of the Seattle/Olympia Washington area where a lot of young women started forming garage bands and zines to speak out against sexism and violence against women.

“That was no small influence on my character and my self-confidence as a girl and as a musician,” says Cousins on discovering herself through the music, touching upon how Nirvana helped kick-start that for her. “Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland and Hole, those bands might never have crossed my radar otherwise.”

Though the band has had mainly positive feedback –which could be heard by the Targ crowd that evening – Cousins says they have dealt with their fair share of negativity about their emulation of Nirvana’s songs.

“Trollers gonna’ troll. We’re not doing this for them, we’re doing it for all the awesome people who come to our shows and dance and sing along.”

That was just the crowd that came to Targ to hear Unplugged in New York. To their delight, those gathered sang back every word to tunes like “All Apologies”, “Come as You Are” and “Something in the Way”. Even when the final song on the album was played they shouted for an encore.

“You guys, there are no more,” Beath laughed as the crowded screamed on.

The show was part of House of Targ Year Two Anniversary that saw a performance by Toronto Circus punk band Mineta on April 14 and will include a Burlesque show this evening all cumulating in a free-play pinball party with cake, prizes and more Sunday night. Ottawa Life will have more coverage of the festivities as well as an interview with Targ owner and yogi, Paul Granger, early next week.

Punk and Pancakes

April 14, 2016 1:56 pm
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Greg Rekus gets some air at Flapjack’s. All photos by Andre Gagne.

Some might think it ill advised to have a punk concert in a venue that has axes on the wall, but Flapjack’s isn’t your usual venue and this wasn’t your usual punk show. Ottawa has a few unique place to catch some live music – bakeries, record shops, arcades straight out of the ‘80’s and grocery stores all spring to mind – but Flapjack’s, where you can snag a beer with a stack of pancakes close to the midnight hour while watching some acoustic punk rock, may be one of the more interesting. Not to mention, pretty freakin’ tasty. Oy!

The popular Preston Street pancake shack is coming up on its one-year anniversary. Good tunes to go along with your maple drenched stack of goodness was always going to be part of the menu, says owner Corey Sauve.

“I always had a passion for events. Bringing people together for a fun time is the best. With Flapjack’s I wanted to create a space that would enable to host any type of event,” Sauve says, wanting the venue to not only cater to the hungry but to various forms of entertainment be it concerts, comedy shows or LGBT trivia nights. His vision was that the venue would become “a universal space that accommodates gatherings of all sorts. Because that, to me, is what Canada represents and it was always important that Flapjack’s reflected that within the community.”

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Serving up some pancakes with Flapjack’s business parther Max Anisman.

Local musician Jonathan Becker (The North Fields, Dead Weights) put together the show wanting to showcase a slice of the genre that merges more of a folk style with the punk attitude. One doesn’t necessarily envision Peter, Paul and Mary jamming with the Sex Pistols, but in Flapjack’s on April 13, it all strangely came together nicely in one rebel-rousing, near guitar-string-breaking, fist-pumping, stage-jumping, washboard-playing show.

“Folk punk has become its own dynamic subgenre,” says Becker. “I think it really encapsulates the desire to shout it all out and have a compact way of just picking up and playing or driving around the country to sing along with all of your friends.”

One of those friends is Winnipeg punker Greg Rekus, currently on the road promoting his new album, Punkoustic. Rekus started finding grunge a little stale in the mid ‘90’s and discovered Green Day when seeking out some music that was a little more upbeat. He got hooked on punk after picking up 1996’s compilation album Survival of the Fattest which featured groups like NOFX, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and Frenzal Rhomb.

Rekus, performing solo that night, carts around his own mini-stage, a half dozen tambourines and a lot of duct tape. He calls it the Stomp Box and, once the tambourines are taped down, it gives him a noisy band sound without actually having a band. In the spirit of punk, it also gives him a reason to jump around and really tear up the place.

“I wanted to do something kinda’ rowdy punk acoustic, something where I get off stage sweaty,” says Rekus, who worked up a couple of buckets of sweat on the Stomp Box that night with a few high jumps nearly causing the singer to crash through the ceiling above.  Even Black Flag can’t lay claim to putting a hole in the roof of a pancake shack.

“The loud guitar and crazy fast drumming isn’t there, but I think I make up for it,” Rekus says.

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Quin Gibson (The Steamers) belts out a solo set!

With fresh flapjacks frying on the kitchen griddle, Ottawa’s Two Jar Grind took to the stage carting along an accordion and a washboard. But Bluegrass Monday’s at Pressed this was not, as the trio, fronted by James Brown, power drove through tunes about drinking yourself to death. The band only started jamming in 2014 and has a lot of East Coast sound to them. Brown admits they strive to bring some of that kitchen-party vibe to each show.

“You don’t need a half-stack and a full drum kit to scream your heart out about things that are important to you,” says Brown. “Folk punk is a bit obscure, and definitely not as prominent as more guitar-heavy, plugged in types of punk music. However, at the end of the day, it turns out you can have just as much fun with a washboard and an accordion as you can with a proper rock band setup. I think what we do is try to embody the sincerity and honesty of punk music into our more stripped-down style.”

Also on the bill was Quin Gibson of local power-folk band the Steamers. Other members of the group were in the crowd singing along to Gibson’s solo tunes with the band’s bass player, Sarah Fitzpatrick, joining Gibson near the end of his set for a Steamers song. He’s got a solo EP coming out this summer.

Sauve admits the show was probably mellower than most punk concerts, including a recent show at Flapjack’s where dishes started to be tossed around the crowd. “Always fun to put twists on shows like this one,” he says, perhaps breathing a sigh of relief that no dishes were harmed in the making of the acoustic punk show.

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Ottawa Life asked the performers and show organizers what some of the legends of punk might put on their pancakes:

Dead Kennedys:
“Whereas most would agree that fresh fruit baked into pancakes is a divine treat, I would expect their pancakes to contain many a rotting vegetable.”
– James Brown (Two Jar Grind)

Ramones:
“Whiskey.”
– Quin Gibson

The Clash:
“I could picture them sharing a bunch of things, pancakes with bacon crumble and maple syrup, bacon sausage poutine, and a couple of Flapjack’s burgers!”
– Corey Sauve (Owner of Flapjack’s)

Sex Pistols:
“I think they would have their manager or record label tell them how to dress up their pancakes.”
– Johnathan Becker (Organizer)

Misfits:
“I think everything from the Danzig shopping list would go on there.”
– Greg Rekus

Around the World in 10 Tracks with the Sultans of String

April 11, 2016 11:22 am
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Toronto’s Sultans of String have given you a way to travel the world without a single plane ticket, passport or need to change currency. Their recent release, Subcontinental Drift, is a global affair where you’ll tour France, Ireland, Cuba and India with various stops in between on one high-energy, uplifting trip through song. With all the points on the map you’ll touch, perhaps the album should have been named Multi-continental Hop, because your ears will be doing a lot of globe-trekking. The Sultans seem right at home being far from home, finding eclectic ways with each album to musically stamp their passports with an ever widening array of sound.

 The band, led by Ottawa native Chris McKhool on six-stringed violin, formed eight years ago and quickly started racking up accolades for their unique blend of styles that often create an interesting culture collide. Be it with a blend of Arabic and South Asian grooves or a musical fusion of Celtic jigs and reels alongside the rhythm of a flamenco guitar, you don’t quite know where the band is going to take you next.

The group, made up of McKhool, Kevin Laliberté on flamenco guitar, Drew Birston on bass and Chendy Leon on percussion, are joined on the new album by world renowned sitar master Anwar Khurshid. It’s an East meets West affair of ragas, reels and rumbas with a lot of rhythm.

“There is something magical about joining the world music rhythms we play, but with pop sensibilities and forms and lengths, and blending that with the music of the East,” says McKhool of the albums 10 tracks, four of which feature Khurshid.

Fused into the songs on Subcontinental Drift are uplifting messages of hope and freedom. It may just have you boarding the next flight to somewhere, anywhere, simply wanting to find yourself alive in the world. You may also want to clear away some furniture before your departure because these sultans will make you dance out the door.

However, if you don’t see yourself catching that flight this weekend you can take the trip with the band a little closer to home when they bring the world to you for a show at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage on April 14.

Contest! Interested in taking the Sultans’ sound home with you and seeing it in person? Comment on this article with one reason for why you’d like to see this group play, and your name will enter a draw for a Sultans of String box set and two tickets for the upcoming NAC show! We will draw the names on the morning of April 13th, you can find full contest rules here

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Ottawa Life chatted with McKhool about his Ottawa roots, the worldly sounds of the band and their collaboration with Khurshid.

Ottawa Life: You grew up in a Lebanese-Egyptian household. How did that shape your music to come?

McKhool: Growing up, I listened to a few Arabic music albums from my family’s record collection. My mom was also a piano teacher and we had a steady stream of neighbourhood children coming to the house for lessons. So I was exposed to music all of the time. About 10-15 years ago I wanted to explore more of my roots and went to an Arabic music retreat in Massachusetts and started learning more about how to play some of the Arabic motifs. I continued to dive more into this music and integrate it into the sound of our band.

Can you tell me about your time in Ottawa and your time as a musician here?

I was raised in Ottawa and it was an amazing city to grow up in. Being a musician, I spent a lot of time at Rasputin’s Café listening to fantastic folk singer-songwriters who performed there like Rebecca Campbell, Lynn Miles, Alex Sinclair, and Ian Tamblyn. It was a great spot where you could get up there as part of their Open Stage as well. Just down the next block was the Ottawa Folklore Centre which was a fabulous place to check out musical instruments and take lessons. I took vocal lessons when I was in high school from Lynn Miles. There was so much going on in the city then and even more so now. It’s quite the hub with a lot of great venues, bands and players.

How did the collaboration with Anwar Khurshid come about for this album?

We met at an event that featured different bands representing different parts of Toronto. Kevin and I were there playing music representing eastern European parts of the city and Anwar was there representing Little India. I heard him play and fell in love with the sound right away. We got together soon after to play and discovered there was a very special musical connection. When Anwar arrived here in Canada 20 years ago from Pakistan, he started exploring different kinds of things that he could do with the sitar and meeting us was great because we both love playing world music. For Anwar it was an interesting process, connecting with our pop music sensibilities–which we have just by virtue of being born in North America and being used to songs being three and a half minutes long. Typically a song that he would play would maybe last half an hour on the sitar and he’s still just warming up. It was a good and fun learning curve for him.

I keep telling people that listening to Subcontinental Drift is like taking a musical trip around the world. I liken it to, say, watching a film like Baraka in regards to how much culture is on there. How do you go about melding so many different styles into your music?

Everyone comes to the band with such a rich background. A lot of the success actually comes from trial and error. When we’re writing songs, often about different subjects and themes, or about the places we’ve been, we’ll try and frame a song and see which style suits the song the best. Drew Birston, our bass player, comes from both the pop world and Kevin Laliberte, our guitarist, spent 5 years travelling around the globe performing with Jesse Cook, perfecting his Rumba Flamenca rhythm. Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon, our percussionist originally from Cuba, brings a whole slew of world instruments to the group. I spent a few years performing with a jazz band called Club Django, as well as being influenced by east coast Celtic fiddling and Arabic music from my ancestral homeland of Lebanon. Of course Anwar brings the sounds of India and Pakistan to the mix. When we’re writing songs, we throw all our influences into a musical blender and hit purée.

In a way we are trying to emulate a model for world peace because we have many musical worlds coming together. Sometimes they understand each other and sometimes they don’t. That’s part of the artistic process, too, and yet there’s enough common ground to create something new and something exciting that hopefully hasn’t been said before. That’s kind of the Canadian ideal of multiculturalism, the sense of the mosaic. You look up at a stained glass window of a church and you see all those beautiful colours and they all come together to make one beautiful image. That’s what we’re trying to do on a daily basis in our lives and with our music.

Do you feel you are all constantly on the look out for new styles to bring to your sound?

Definitely! One of the best things about this band is its openness to learning from others, and every time we record or perform with a special guest, it brings a lot to the music we’re creating. Right now we have a few new musical projects on the go, including working with a group of Turkish Roma violin players for an upcoming record. We’re also working on a Christmas record featuring many special guest vocalists who are adding their sound to what we do. This is a bit of a departure for us because most of the time we play instrumental music so it brings a whole other side of our music to the fore.

The cover of Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” is fantastic with a unique spin. How did you go about choosing it and what was the process in the studio to make such an iconic song your own?

We chose that song because we were really moved by the fact that both Anwar and the band love that song so much. Anwar had already been singing that in Pakistan. It struck me that here’s a song that’s over a half century old and it stands the test of time, distance and culture. It has a universal resonance and speaks very much to the band’s and Anwar’s truth on a personal level, especially in light of world politics today. In the studio, we very purposefully recorded it very differently from the original in a way that incorporated a blending of cultures and genres. I don’t see much point in rendering a song similar to the original so we took the opportunity to put a really fun banghra spin on the track.

Can you tell me a bit about the story behind the track “Journey to Freedom”?

Because this is global music and music that comes to Canada from around the world, there is a theme of travel in the songs on this album. Both Chendy and Anwar are immigrants to Canada and very grateful to have found a home here. Anwar’s brother had come to Canada before Anwar did and when he returned to Pakistan to visit, Anwar so appreciated the man his brother had become through living in an open society. In Pakistan, there are certain religious factions that would not want to have any music playing at all. In the village where Anwar lived, he was not allowed to play his sitar in public. The sitar was not only an instrument he loved but he felt like it was his actual voice. It’s kind of an interesting thing, like what if you find out the one thing that you know to be true is something that you’re being denied? It’s not dissimilar from Chendy’s story, drawn to Canada as a place where he can be free, to speak his voice and to live his truth and not worry about being thrown in jail for having an opinion contrary to the government. With both these band members, we’ve created a space where they can be themselves musically, personally, and living in as diverse a city as Toronto allows them the freedom to be who they are. When you hear Anwar play the sitar, you realize that’s really who he is. To deny the expression – political, musical – of a human being is really to quash their soul.

The Prize Fighter and the Hero

April 8, 2016 9:51 am
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All photos by the Burtch Family.

The Prize Fighter gets out of bed and reaches for his guitar. He feels like singing. He always feels like singing and those who know him best feel it was something he was always born to do. He is Logan Burtch and on a usual day this seven-year-old would be getting ready for school, but today he will come face to face with his hero, a man Logan’s family feel deeply indebted to. After all, this man helped give the young prize fighter the very thing he loves so much: his voice.

Logan’s been a fighter since he was in diapers. He has struggled with asthma and multiple food allergies as well as a weakened immune system for which he needs various medications for. He was quickly diagnosed with a form of autism when he began failing early developmental tests and his parents noticed his speech wasn’t progressing. Music, however, gave him an outlet through which to express himself.

“Logan from a baby onward was just musical. Anytime music was playing he always was clapping or tapping right on beat,” explains Logan’s mother Cait, adding that he had a special bond through music with his grandparents.  “That’s where his musical genes come from. They would often be found playing the piano and guitar together.”

His speech delay continued to be a difficult barrier for those trying to communicate with him. It would take eight months before Logan spoke a single word to a speech therapist. He shut down outside of his comfort zone, and getting him to vocalize wasn’t any easier at home. This all changed when the hero came into his life. Logan seemed to deviate more to one particular singer, also a favourite of his parents, usually picking up a toy guitar and strumming along to songs that tore up the charts in the 1990s. Back then, the hero was the biggest name in country music, Garth Brooks, and his songs would come to have a surprisingly joyous effect on young Logan’s life.

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Logan offers a fair trade to Garth Brooks.

The day things changed started out as just a regular one in the Burtch household. Nothing out of the ordinary. Logan, now three, was playing his guitar to a Brooks DVD his father Kevin had put on. Logan must have seen it about a million times before, but on this day something different clicked inside him and whatever it was, it just had to come out.

“Out of nowhere Logan began to sing,” Cait recalls, still astonished by this moment. “He sang word for word! We grabbed a phone and started recording him with tears streaming down our faces. We called his team the next day and showed them the video. They all were amazed. Logan sang before he could speak!”

The family, along with Logan’s team and speech therapist, began to use Brooks’ music to build and incorporate a language for Logan through the musician’s songs. Even though he had now also been diagnosed with selective mutism, a complex anxiety disorder that affects children’s ability to speak in social settings, Logan was soon mastering the songs and singing them out in public as well as in his pre-kindergarten classes where he had not spoken before.

“If Garth was playing he felt free to speak through song,” Cait says, recalling how Brooks became a hero to the family. She laughs thinking back to Logan emulating Brooks so much that they started calling him Mini-Garth. He even went to the extreme of smashing his guitar one day as Garth would often do in concert.

Related: Garth Brooks Back For Record Breaking Shows.

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An ecstatic Logan Burtch.

Logan can be seen as the epitome of Brooks’ hit “Standing Outside the Fire”, a song about rising above personal adversity and challenges to find a place where “life is not tried” but “merely survived” by blazing your own paths no matter how unconventional. As he became more and more comfortable singing Brooks’ songs, the language barrier rapidly began to deteriorate and he eventually successfully completed his therapy.

If only she could thank the man who had such a profound influence on her son, Cait thought, knowing that meeting Brooks was probably just a futile dream. Thankfully, we live in a world where dreams can come true with a little help from a local radio station.

“Garth’s people came to us and offered up a couple meet and greet opportunities,” says Big Ginger of Country 101.1. He explains how, when Brooks was rolling into town for a series of record-breaking sold out concerts, the station set up a contest wrapped around the new single “PrizeFighter” by Brooks’ wife Trisha Yearwood.

“We figured it would be a good opportunity for our listeners to nominate a prize fighter in their lives. We had people nominating family in the armed forces overseas, heartbreaking stories dealing with cancer and other illnesses, and stories of people that have been through more than you and I would go through in a lifetime.”

Logan’s story was one of those submitted. The selection process was not easy, says Big Ginger: “How are you supposed to put a value on one person’s story and then judge it against another?”

Considering the date, April 1, it’s easy to see how Cait may have been a bit sceptical when the call came in to inform her that Logan had won. The shock set in as she realized that this was no prank. Not only was her son going to meet his idol, but the family also had also won floor seats to Brooks’ show the next night. Her face wet with tears, she quickly ran the block or so to Logan’s school, promptly brought him home and sat him down to relay the news.

“Great! Awesome! Fabulous!” Logan screamed, unable to contain his excitement.

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Garth and Logan “began chatting like buddies would,” says mother Cait.

That day Logan woke up and dressed in his Garth best: a blue shirt, a cowboy hat and, of course, his guitar. The family were brought into the Canadian Tire Centre and backstage to a special waiting room. The anticipation was nearly too much for Cait. Though it must have been only minutes, the wait seemed like an eternity. But then the door opened and in walked the man the family felt they owed so much to. Logan’s eyes welled up with tears. Cait’s weren’t far behind.

“Garth then jumped on the couch and sat with Logan. They began chatting like buddies would,” Cait recalls, adding that Brooks asked her son about school and his love of music, showing a general interest in him and his life. “He was just amazing with Logan.”

At one point during the meeting Brooks was shown a photo of the boy holding a sign he had made which read: “Garth my new hat for your old one.” Brooks stepped out for a moment and when he returned he had one of his signature cowboy hats for Logan. The child quickly passed his hat over to Brooks who mugged for a few photos with it on before trying to hand it back. Logan refused. To him, it wasn’t a fair trade. Brooks smiled as he thanked the child for the gift.

“Logan was over the moon,” Cait beams.

The thrills didn’t end there. Brooks came out for the concert to a rousing ovation dressed in a similar blue shirt to Logan’s and each time he was near the family the singer gestured towards them. Yearwood even blew Logan a few kisses during her set. Members of the band came down to meet him and gave the boy a guitar pick and some drum sticks. Garth had one more surprise up his blue sleeve. During the encore he acknowledged Logan from the stage calling him “the man” and saying how he’d been watching him sing all night.

“I even dressed like you did,” Brooks said as the camera zoomed in on Logan who suddenly found himself on a huge screen in front of 17,000 fans who cheered wildly for him. Logan took his hat off and waved to Brooks who dedicated the next two songs to him. They were both Logan’s favourites and instrumental in giving him his voice. Once he was afraid to use it. Now he was singing along with 17,000 strong.

You’d think that this would be the part that sticks out for him when it comes to memories of the show, but when you ask the prize fighter he doesn’t hesitate in telling you his favourite part. It’s just one word.

“Garth,” he says, ever acknowledging his hero.

Prok and Roll!

April 6, 2016 11:50 am
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All photos by Andre Gagne.

It’s been an interesting journey from The Police to Prokofiev for Stewart Copeland. The energetic drummer’s career includes six Grammys for the famed proto-punk band he helped found with Sting, a slew of eclectic film, TV and video game soundtracks fused with his distinctive reggae-influenced sound and, more recently, Rolling Stone ranked him the 10th greatest drummer of all time.

His current project finds him collaborating with Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker for Off the Score, a group that rests frenetically on the border of classical music and rock. To Parker, it’s just Prok and Roll, blending the more classical pieces of composers likes Sergei Prokofiev with the powerhouse drumming of Copeland’s earlier career and a lot of unexpected stops in between.  Whatever you do, just don’t call it chamber music.

The duo, along with band-mates Marlon Martinez on double bass, Judd Miller on the curiously named electronic valve instrument and Yoon Kwon on violin, were in town last night for a performance at Dominion-Chalmers United Church hosted by the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. It was a set list that included everything from Stanley Clarke to Stravinsky, extended compositions that merged French impressionism, big band jazz and electronic dance music, and, of course, cacophonies of beautiful noise supplied by Copeland. The audience realized from the first thundering crash of the drums that this wasn’t your average classical performance, and if they needed more proof, the ushers were handing out earplugs.

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Stewart Copeland explodes on the drums.

“Stewart and I met briefly at the La Jolla Summerfest a few years ago,” explains Parker.  “What really got the ball rolling was Stewart looking for a small group in which to experiment — he specifically wanted a classical pianist who was willing to do unconventional things.”

Parker explains how he found himself inside of Copeland’s legendary recording studio Sacred Grove and stood surrounded by a staggering selection of instruments. Sitting down at the piano, he suggested they play a movement by Prokofiev, and Copeland could simply just jam to it. The sound quickly found itself.

“Amongst all that fancy classical music are riffs with primal energy that even drummers understand,” says Copeland. “We also looked for material that still retains its character even after our abuse upon it.”

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Tear up, mash and abuse they did until, afterwards, what was familiar is now slightly marred but still recognizable and you only want more of it. You can hear it as Off the Score performed “Rite of Spring”. Copeland’s hands were a blur as they exploded on his drum kit like a demolition crew leveling a condemned building, Parker blazed through various tempo shifts and Kwon, who had just thrown her sheet music across the stage, played like lighting holding a violin.

“Every piece has a different approach to being “off the score,” says Parker on how the group approaches a composition to change it up in a unique, sometimes jarring way.

“We have the music of Ravel and Bach whose only transgression is the instrumentation. We have works of Stewart’s where my most terrifying measures are not the ones filled with 32nd notes, but the measures that say ‘free improv.’ Can you imagine what it’s like for me to play the finale of the Prokofiev 7th Piano Sonata and have the world’s greatest rock drummer jamming to it? It’s unbelievable and different every night. Rite of Spring pays tribute to Stravinsky but quickly spirals into power chords and mayhem!”

The music wasn’t the only thing that produced a little pandemonium. Come show’s end when Copeland’s sticks were tossed to the crowd, in a scene usually found at a rock show, two fans attempted to jump over a church pew, feet flailing in an attempt to catch them.

“Every show has had a few die-hard Police fans,” Parker says, explaining the thrill is equal for him on stage. “What they get is a chance to hear the awesome drumming of Stewart Copeland in a much more intimate setting. It’s exhilarating to watch him play, listen to his fills, and bask in his energy.”

For Copeland, he’s fine with trading in some old Police hits for even older Prokofiev hits.

Presenting a simple rock song to players of classical calibre did inspire a more ambitious approach to the arrangement,” he says.  “These guys can play anything so let’s see how far out this can go.”

Betty Ann Bryanton Serves Up a Little Sweet and Smooth Jazz with Your Monday Night Coffee

April 4, 2016 2:12 pm
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All photos by Andre Gagne.

West end Monday nights have never been smoother (or sweeter) than when Betty Ann Bryanton serves up a little jazz with your “Black Coffee” and cookies at the Nestle Toll House Café.  The Prince Edward Islander, now Ottawa resident, doubles as an IT Architect when not singing velvety renditions of the standards. Although the IT job may be her current daily gig, she’s been singing nearly all her life.

“I grew up in a small town of about 1,500 people,” says Bryanton of her PEI Youth. “My family was involved in pretty well all aspects of church life, so at age seven, when you’re old enough to read, I joined the Junior Choir. At that point, I had more fun making paper airplanes out of my music than singing it, but eventually I settled down and started singing solos in church.”

Following her other career in business took her away from the East Coast snow storms and tobogganing off rooftops to land her in Ottawa back in 1997. It only took her about six months before the songs inside her needed to break out.

“It was May and I was at the Great Glebe Garage Sale when I heard voices singing beautiful music. I followed the sound and found the Ottawa Choral Society, whom I soon joined. That was my start here,” she says, also paying thanks to Donna Klimoska, who gave her classical voice lessons. It didn’t take her long to start getting established as a new, fresh voice on the local scene.“I performed in musical arts clubs, recitals, and music festivals. I also got involved in the local musical theatre community, singing in shows with Orpheus, Savoy, and the Tara Players.”

With the music of Debussy, Fauré and Brahms to feast upon, Bryanton set her sights on Jazz until relatively late. Perhaps it was fate that a fellow singer in the OCS took a maternity leave and freed up a spot for a vocalist in a local jazz quartet. Bryanton, though admitting she knew nothing about jazz, was up for the challenge.

“When I went to the first rehearsal with the band, I realized I knew many of the jazz standards already,” she says, also recalling the arduous task of having to transition her classical vocals into the jazz style. “Pretty well all the classical songs I sang were in a foreign language – French, Italian, German, Czech even – so it was appealing to me to be able to sing songs that people could understand and relate to from their past in some way. I was thrilled with singing with a live band, hearing these wonderful melodies come to life, and the idea of being able to tell your own story with each song.”

Betty Ann-2wJazz even has a way of finding itself inside her usual everyday work. One might wonder how designing IT systems and jazz combine. but for Bryanton the connection isn’t that much of a reach.

“I read and write a lot of large documents, and attend a lot of meetings, but mainly from a support / expertise role. It requires collaborating with a lot of different people and learning new things – not unlike jazz!”

The support of her husband as she balances both careers, she says, makes all the difference. He often takes care of household duties, meals and usual daily stresses, allowing her more time for rehearsing her music and her gigs around town. Her most memorable performances have been singing the national anthem with Councillor David Chernushenko and the Mayor to open the City of Ottawa’s May meeting, crooning along  with Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas Latin quartet and belting it out with big bands like Davina Pearl’s Georgian House Orchestra where, to Bryanton, the sound of all that instrumentation really makes the music come alive.

Catch her tonight at the Nestle Toll House (111 Richmond Road) from 7-9 p.m. where her guest will be last year’s Mike Tremblay Award recipient Jacob Clarke on guitar.

“Jazz used to be in coffee shops years ago and now it is coming back — which is great for musicians because it’s a lovely, intimate, quiet space to perform to a listening audience,” says Byranton, who has come to enjoy dedicating the standard “Black Coffee” to the shop.

You can enjoy one yourself, and even if you don’t add a little sugar to your java, songs like “Willow Weep For Me”, “Dindi” and “Georgia on my Mind”, as sung by Byranton, are sure to sweeten your night nevertheless.

Souljazz Shakedown!

March 26, 2016 1:20 pm
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All photos by Andre Gagne

The crowd outside Babylon Nightclub was ready for a shakedown. The clock struck ten and they began to hunt. They rushed through security, eyes scanning every inch of the club. Some flicked on phone flashlights and started scanning the ceiling. Others pushed by them to peek behind speakers, under tables and behind the bar. The soundtrack for the search was sweet soul spun by a DJ perhaps wondering how long it would take before the stage would be pounced upon by the hunters. They spared him, instead turning towards the furniture to lift cushions, move chairs, and open drawers when suddenly somebody let out a cry of: “We got one!”

Under usual circumstances this would be cause for alarm, an opportunity for you to discover just why they are called “bouncers” and a rapid rediscovery of the sidewalk outside of the nightclub. However, this wasn’t a regular night in Babylon. This was an Easter Weekend Shakedown, a playful idea drummed (and sax’ed) up by one of Ottawa’s premiere party bands, The Souljazz Orchestra.

“We wanted to add something else, something Easter-themed, and we thought why not an egg hunt?” laughs Pierre Chrétien, the group’s bandleader and vintage keyboard player, before taking the stage to a very enthusiastic crowd.

Fans, after scouring the club for eggs, could trade them in for vinyl releases or CDs and with such incentive the hunt was over quickly. With every egg discovered the crowd was ready to move and groove to a band that’s live shows have become legendary.

The March 24 Easter weekend kick-off show was a welcome return for the band. Before earth quakin’, soul shakin’ shows in the US and UK, the Juno nominations and critical acclaim the band was unleashing their funky blend of Soul, Afro, Latin, Jazz and Caribbean style onto hot crowds at Babylon every Thursday night.

“As they started to grow in popularity outside of Ottawa and tour more, the weekly event became unfeasible,” says club owner Adam Kronick. “We have always stayed in touch aiming to host usually two to three shows a year for the local fans. They are such a terrific band with so much talent. We always welcome the opportunity to have them play the club.”

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The mood for the evening was set by DJ Magnificent who spun some classic up-temp soul 45s to a crowd that filled the floor early in anticipation of the thunder about to strike the stage. Magnificent, also known as Alex Edwards, is grooving towards year seven with his Double Barrel vinyl only funk, reggae and soul shows. Edwards spun at Mugshots before the place closed down in controversial style last year but you can now boogie with him to the beats Friday nights at the Mercury Lounge.

‘The great thing about DJ Magnificent is that his style meshes in so well with ours,” says Chrétien of their first collaboration with Edwards that night. “We don’t touch exactly on the same styles but it’s complimentary. It’s all about the groove.”

Related:  Westfest Spreads Some Homemade Jam

The band previewed a few new tracks mixed in with some old favourites that had the boisterous crowd singing and fist pumping as they danced. It’s not a Souljazz show until you’re dripping sweat and your feet are on fire. Winter wear did not stay coated to skin long. With the energy the band provided you have to wonder if the venue was harnessing that to channel into the lights. You feel this music in you wrapping around your muscles as it grips hold pit bull strong and defies you to stay still. The horns are infectious, the vocals inject you with sweet soul sickness and the only cure is to dance it all out. If you find yourself still moving when you’re in bed after the show, don’t worry. Those are just aftershocks.

The band heads on over to Africa in May, their first time playing there, but they’ll be back to headline Westfest in June. You can keep the party going at Babylon while you wait with shows by DJ A-Track (March 29) and Detroit post-punk band Protomartyr (May 4) as well as  he club’s usual Sabbath Sundays and a monthly  Electric Pow Wow with A Tribe Called Red.

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