‘Ottawa’ Live at Friday’s JunoFest: Here’s the Latest from Venues all Over Ottawa
Unless you live under a soundproof rock, you know that the 2017 Juno Awards are being held in Ottawa this weekend.
While the main event is on Sunday night, there are a slew of other events.
The Juno Express rolled into town Friday carrying a trainload of Canada’s best musicians.
For most casual fans, the best part is JunoFest – the chance to hang out at some of Ottawa’s superb venues while listening to the best Canadian musicians do what they do best.
If you’re stuck at home because of the very un-spring-like weather, follow along and let us be your eyes and, more, importantly, your ears.
Heather Bambrick brings Newfoundland charm to her jazz singing
For Friday night’s JUNOFest jazz showcase, Live on Elgin was packed to capacity when Toronto vocalist Heather Bambrick and pianist David Braid took to the stage to deliver their upbeat set.
Bambrick won the crowd of 70 or so over quickly, relying on humour and folksy references to her Newfoundland roots as much as fluent and faithful interpretations of vintage songs.
For the most part, Braid was the quintessential accompanist, perfectly atuned to Bambrick’s emotional intensity. Their rapport was all the more striking given that the two Juno nominees were more or less winging it – they are nominated in separate Juno categories this year and their JUNOFest set was essentially a one-off, although they went to University of Toronto together years ago and have played together in the past.
As Bambrick said early on, her set with Braid was “going to be as much a rides for us as it is for you.The night got off to a jaunty start with the old jazz standard Get Happy, and then slowed for a sumptuous version of I Only Have Eyes For You.
The ballad You’ll Never Know followed, which Bambrick sang simply but deeply. Braid graced the song with a poised, lovely solo rich with meaningful chords.
Bambrick sat one out when Braid played a rollicking piece from his Juno-nominated disc Flow, which revealed his individual, compelling musical voice.
But the set belonged to Bambrick, with crowd-pleasing performances such as her version of A Sleepin’ Bee, which showed off her whistling talents, and her original I Don’t Mind A Bit, a loopy love song that drew laughs line after line.
The set ended earnestly with an enchanting song from the Rock, the folk song Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s. Bambrick sang with grace and urgency and finished the piece on her own, allowing her Newfoundland accent to kick in. Quietly, a few in the room sang along.
— Peter Hum
Shirantha Beddage’s low blows win over the crowd
In the jazz world, baritone saxophonists are much outnumbered by their horn-playing brethren, and bands led by baritone saxophonists are even more rare.
But Toronto baritone saxophonist Shirantha Beddage made you think there ought to be more quartets like his, as he played with all the eloquence, sophistication and feeling of the more common, higher-pitched saxes.
Beddage, was supported by fellow Torontonians Amanda Tosoff on piano, bassist Jon Maharaj and drummer Morgan Childs, a trio that would immediately play a set as the core of Tosoff’s own Juno-nominated group.
Beddage kicked off his set earthily with New Orleans-inspired piece Pork Chop, which laid a minor-key blues on top of the signature Second Line groove from the birthplace of jazz.
Then came the saxist’s soulful waltzing ballad The Long Goodbye, which he said was written during a visit to County Clare in Ireland. After fine solos by Maharaj and Tosoff, Beddage testified mightily, making the most of his folk- and gospel-tinged composition.
The finely featured modern jazz piece Centrifugal Force conveyed spinning quality of its title, and the song peaked with Beddage soloed over the dense, tense background generated by Tosoff and Maharaj, who had switched to electric bass. The set’s closer, Gravity flowed out of the previous tune’s contemporary feeling, even if Beddage introduced it as a tribute to J.S. Bach.
With those four distinct and substantial tunes, Beddage did a lot more than bolster the reputation of his underdog instrument.
— Peter Hum
There are scarcely words to describe the beauty of Amanda Tosoff’s Words Project
Somewhere, William Wordsworth must have been smiling.
Shortly after 11 pm on Friday, the quintet of pianist Amanda Tosoff played her dreamy, floating composition Daffodils, which set Wordworth’s famous poem to music. Vocalist Felicity Williams drew listeners to her with the soft vulnerability of her delivery.
It was a special performance of a special original song, and highlight in the set from Tosoff’s group, which also included bassist Jon Maharaj, drummer Morgan Childs and guitarist Alex Goodman.
Tosoff’s album Words is nominated in the JUNO’s vocal jazz album category — even if it pulls noticeably from folk, pop, chamber music and more, making a strong case for jazz as more of an omnivorous music that values improvising than a style.
Tosoff and Williams began the set on an austere note, playing To A Stranger, spun from the Walt Whitman poem, as a duet that drew listeners in.
The pieces that followed, Daffodils, Cool Embrace, Here In Heaven and Living In The Past, were more expansive and energetic, especially when guitarist Goodman was in the spotlight, spinning warm, glowing lines from his instrument.
Before her last piece, Tosoff reflected on the common thread that tied together the poems that inspired her to make music.
“Most of them are about death,” she said, half-kiddingly. “Well, appreciating life, actually, and loneliness and time passing.”
Her last piece, appropriately, was Finis, inspired by the Marjorie Pickthall poem that, according to Tosoff, is about “life ending, but the poet is calling for more life.” Tosoff dedicated it to a cousin who had recently passed away. “Give me a few more hours to pass,” Williams persuasively sang as the song’s harmonies ascended.
It was sad but uplifting, energizing closer to a finely wrought set that intimately but powerfully raged against the dying of the light.
— Peter Hum
Outlaws and Gunslingers
St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts
The music at the Outlaws and Gunslingers showcase on Friday started strong, and kept getting better.
The JunoFest shindig is organized every year by the Toronto-based indie label, Six Shooter Records. This year, it took place in the lofty space St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, a former church.
It was a star-studded bill, with about 15 minutes allotted to each of about a dozen artists. To save time on the changeover, Ottawa roots-rockers Silver Creek served as the house band. They’ve been rehearsing for weeks to learn the songs.
One of the hottest tickets of JunoFest, the place was packed, although there was some back and forth as folks checked out the shows at other venues in the Byward Market area.
During my time in a St. Brigid’s pew, highlights included a rousing set by Ottawa Valley gal Kelly Prescott, happy to be back on home turf after almost a year living in Ottawa, a killer performance by dynamo Crystal Shawanda, whose impressive voice filled the space and earned her a partial standing ovation. and a slow, sad turn by the heavenly William Prince, who almost managed to quell the chatter at the back of the venue.
Other featured performers were the rootsy Torontonians NQ Arbuckle, who brought Kelly Prescott and Strumbellas’ Dave Ritter up for guest spots, and a too-brief glimpse of Lisa LeBlanc’s striking voice and banjo shenanigans.
Still to come were Jim Cuddy, Whitehorse, Tanya Tagaq and Joey Landreth, and more of Silver Creek.
— Lynn Saxberg
Barbra Lica brings JUNOFest jazz showcase to a crowd-pleasing close
Friday’s JUNOFest jazz showcase ended with a poppy, wry and effusive set from Toronto singer Barbra Lica.
During a set split between stylized covers and witty, well-crafted originals, Lica and her band offered the night’s most accessible and forthrightly entertaining set.
Lica was a focused, expressive singer with an appealing flutter to her voice and a deceptive amount of power backing her usually smooth and nuanced delivery.
Her material was tightly plotted and measured and it kept her and her witty personality squarely in the foreground.
Among her covers there was a backbeat-y, groovy version of Cole Porter’s So In Love and a light, Latin-tinged rendition of the Cardigan’s Lovefool. More conventionally, Lica sang A.C. Jobim’s How Insensitive true to its original mood and groove, and Visentin took his most expansive piano solo of the set.
Lica’s own song Coffee Shop was droll and bubbly. Her piece, Who Knows, which was set up with a funny, Facebook-related anecdote, became a more touching story about about seeing an ex with someone new.
For her country-gospel waltz Top Flight, Lica bumped Visentin off the piano bench and sang one of the night’s most moving songs while she played.
For the set’s penultimate tune, singer Matt Dusk joined Lica on stage. After some gags about their competition in the Juno Awards’ best vocal jazz album category, Dusk and Lica sang the old, lightly kitschy tune Je t’aime.
The singing in French could have been better, which it was when Lica and her band huddled on stage to perform the Edith Piaf classic La Vie en Rose.