Jazz at the Crossroads

All photos courtesy of Andre Gagne

“Here we are at the Crossroads,” begins Petr Cancura, glancing back at the band. His hand is raised, poised and ready. The band awaits the first sign post on this evening’s journey.

Picture yourself nursing your third drink in a lounge on a Canadian winter night. The wind rattles the windows as much as the ice rattles in the glasses. On stage comes the wail of the sax as the band really cooks into a crescendo before slowing down the mood. When, suddenly, a woman with a guitar walks towards the stage, whispers something that could be “let’s jam” and then, from behind your glass, you witness two styles collide. Is this Jazz? Is this Folk? Is it some strange fusion of the two coming together tonight to work out their differences? Here, at the crossroads where the notes of folk and jazz have now come to mingle, it really doesn’t matter.

Clapton sang of it seeking his salvation. Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul there to the Devil himself in exchange for his success as King of the Delta Blues. Tonight, at the NAC Fourth Stage, Cancura wasn’t seeking either of those things. Opening the TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, his crossroads is a melding of all the smooth sax, drum solos and guitar grooves you associate with ‘round midnight jazz and the breezy vocals, soulful guitar playing and touching lyrics you associate with the bests folk/roots singer/song writers.

The jazz was supplied by Cancura on sax, Roddy Ellias on guitar, John Geggie on double bass and Greg Ritchie on drums. The folk provided by one of Canada’s leading ladies of the genre, Juno Award winning Lynn Miles.

“I love her voice. I love her music,” Cancura says introducing Miles to the stage after the first number with the band. He is no stranger to bringing various music styles together centered around jazz. Cancura, a Juno nominee himself for his 2013 album “Down Home”, is also the Programming Director of the Ottawa International Jazz Festival.

The jovial camaraderie on stage between the band and Miles was nothing short of infectious as Miles began by perhaps referencing her days as a teacher at the Ottawa Folklore Centre humorously stating how she’d been giving the band lessons on how to use their instruments.

“The goal is to let Petr have his way with my songs,” said Miles. “Well, he chose songs I haven’t done in, oh, 62 years.” An exaggeration, of course, but some of her older numbers were indeed dusted off for this set that breathed new life into these tunes.

Despite admitting to battling a cold, Miles voice was its usual song bird gorgeous never missing a beat with the “crazy jazzers” sharing the stage even mixing in some Fitzgerald style scat which was promised to fans on Facebook. Her guitar, she said, was also under the weather. “Never lick your guitar when you have a cold.” Excellent advice, Lynn.

That crossroads mix was never more apparent on the Miles staple “More” turning the usual slow, melancholy song into a boppy jazz number you could get up and dance to if there was room in the joint. Unfortunately, at the sold out Fourth Stage this evening, there was not. Come the end of the night, with no prepared encore, the crowd was certainly left wanting more themselves.

You can return to the Crossroads on April 7th when Cancura invites Jeremy Fisher on the NAC Fourth Stage. Here’s hoping this project continues with other musical styles given the jazzy treatment.

The Winter Jazz Festival runs between February 4th and 7th with shows by the Mike Murley Trio, Carol Welsman, Mouse on Keys, The Montreal Guitare Trio and more!