CBC’s All in a Day served yesterday as a springboard for the exciting announcement of the 2016 Ottawa Jazz Festival lineup. A long list of international and Canadian musicians will come down on the capital like a hammer this summer, and this year’s Jazz Fest won’t overlap with Ottawa Explosion Weekend and only a little with the Fringe Festival. That means listeners with the most eclectic taste (and bottomless budget) won’t miss a single thing.
The selection of talent is, as usual, much broader than just jazz. Folk, pop, Americana and even some noise will be heard throughout Confederation Park and beyond from June 22 to July 3.
Right off the bat there are some names that will turn boomers into zoomers as they go for early bird passes (available until March 31). Sarah McLachlan and Buffy Sainte-Marie, as well as Brian Wilson on a 50th anniversary tour of The Beach Boys’s studio album Pet Sounds.
Jazz fusion wouldn’t be what it is today without Chick Corea. He’ll also be popping in with his veteran trio members Christian McBride and Brian Blade. Mr. Blade was at the Winter Jazz Fest, so he must have really missed Ottawa.
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue are always a good time, not to mention The Boxcar Boys and Ben Caplan. Seeing Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire play together will be a special treat, especially since Neufeld recently released a new solo album late February and both here and Stetson are long-time collaborators.
Kamasi Washington. His name deserves its own sentence. This saxophonist band leader is best known for his work on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly but also for his collaboration with incredible bassist Thundercat and his three-hour 2015 LP The Epic.
Michael Franti and Spearhead, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, The Boxcar Boys, Miguel de Armas Quartet, Ben Caplan, Dan Brubeck Quartet, jeez… And there’s Banda de los Muertos, a Mexican brass band from Brooklyn. Need we say more?
Logistically, as I headed into my Thursday I knew this was a marathon and not a sprint. Thursday and Friday, back-to-back shows topped with everything else life was throwing my way turned in to what I can only describe as a whirlwind couple of days. This is whirlwind, part one.
My musical journey with We Are the City began a couple of years ago when another artist I was listening to went on tour with them as their openers. Since then, I have done my best to keep up with their music and when I saw they were passing through Ottawa, I made sure I would be there. Based out of Vancouver, We Are the City brings high energy with an electronic rock fusion set. Having just released their new album Above Club in November, this show was a must-see.
A similar story for HIGHS, I don’t remember exactly what or who put me on to their music in the first place, but I enjoyed their album and decided that, after missing them once, the next time they were in town I’d find a way to make it out to see them. It came as a happy surprise when they were added to the line-up for a show that I had already placed so much anticipation around.
I had not heard Rebelle before, but arrived promptly as they were starting their set. They were more on the pop/rock side of the rock-electronic fusion theme the evening had going and fit very well with the visiting lineup. During the set, House of TARG filled with an eager crowd awaiting the next two sets and happy to take them in. Siblings David and Rylee Taggart and their band have really been making a name for themselves, and previously known as The Strain. After seeing their set, have officially entered my artists to watch category as they make their way further into the scene.
HIGHS at House of TARG (Photo by Elizabeth Durford)
When HIGHS took the stage, it was clear that the majority of the crowd was well aware of their music. Those who were clear fans pressed to the front of the crowd, but the nice thing about TARG is the ability to have a good view of the show from pretty much any vantage point in the place. Personally, I’m a side stage kind of gal. HIGHS bring a unique light sound with their mixing vocals and tempos. They matched their music’s energy with movement and mixing up instruments, the addition of a second drum in the front added an extra element to the set.
We Are the City set themselves up for a similar high dynamic stage. Big lights, similar to those you’d find in an office or school ceiling, crowded the small stage. They flooded bright changing colors onto the musicians and into the crowd. This group made it clear the talents within each individual as they changed up who took lead on different songs. Despite the crazy fusion between pop/rock/electronics their music is very easy to keep up with and sing along if you so desire.
Each group brought all their energy to the stage, and judging by the crowd, their energy paid off. As night one drew to a close, I left feeling satisfied with finally seeing two groups I had kept my eye on for a long while, and equally as happy to add another group to that list.
Amped to say the least, anticipation for whirlwind, part two, began to grow.
We Are The City at House of TARG. (Photo by Elizabeth Durnford)
*NOTE* – This contest is now closed. Congrats to winner Aaron C. for winning two tickets to this show Feb. 25.
Vancouver-based progressive/experimental band We Are The City are on tour and are making a pit stop here in Ottawa on Feb. 25 at House of Targ. Their two-month road trip included multiple dates across Europe, finishing things off in March here in Canada.
They released their third, and most recent album Above Club in November 2015, which is breaking new ground and a clear progression in the band’s overall sound and aesthetic. Produced in the back of a bike shop in Van City, WATC take disparate musical elements that range from pulsating, raw percussion, reverb-laden guitar spatterings, and synth layerings that make for an incredibly impressive mixture of pop, experimental, and art rock sensibilities. Above Club is a fun, yet complex composition with rich textures and elements that go deep. Fans of Tame Impala and Vampire Weekend will feel right at home, but WATC’s music has mass appeal. And what better band to pair with than HIGHS? HIGHS has exploded into the Canadian indie music consciousness since forming in 2012, bringing with them their brand of afrobeat rhythm mixed with irresistibly catchy guitar hooks.
So basically, don’t miss these band when they roll through town. We’re giving away two tickets, here’s how to enter to win:
Q: We Are The City placed first in heated competition in 2009 meant to assist emerging artists from British Columbia and Alberta through education, development, and promotion, which helped garner them international recognition. What was the name of this competition?
Contest closes on Saturday, February 19 at noon. Winner will be announced at the top of this post and on twitter (we will contact via the method you entered).
We Are the City HIGHS Rebelle
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Doors: 9:00 pm / Show: 9:30 pm
House of TARG
$10.00 @ Vertigo Records or online here.
Saturday marked a highly anticipated night at the esteemed Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, QC, as Ottawa’s favourite indie rock band Amos The Transparent released their third LP This Cold Escape. The intimate, cozy vibe of Blacksheep was the perfect fit for Amos’s release party, as the crowd reflected what we love most in the band – some calm and unwound, others lively and full of spark. The room was alive and ready for what was to come.
HIGHS at Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, QC.
Opening things off were a great band from Toronto called HIGHS. I interviewed lead singer Doug Haynes last year upon the release of their (then) new s/t EP, which I have since really come to love. Although only containing five songs, the EP really paints a picture of how good this band is. I know that’s not much to go on, but I liked how there wasn’t much production interference on the record. By that I mean when listening to it, one feels as though they are sitting right beside the band and hearing exactly what they sound like in “real” life. When David Byrne said, “The better a singer’s voice, the harder it is to believe what they’re saying,” I believe he meant that much can get lost between the moment a note is played in the studio to the moment the album is pressed. With HIGHS, nothing is lost – and their live performance on Saturday night proved just that.
First of all, something has to be said about this band’s chemistry and ability to play/sing off each other. Karrie Douglas not only plays keys with precision, her voice is an equally important addition to HIGHS’s music. She and Doug craft their lyrical melodies and phrasing such that they both layer perfectly and weave in and out like a comfy quilt. In no place is this more evident than in their song “Nomads.”
HIGHS lit up the room with their flaring and intricate guitar riffs shared by Doug and Joel, which seem to guide the spirit and feel of most of their songs. Their music has a Graceland-esque quality to it, which may be a result of the afrobeat influences and infinitely catchy rhythm and melody. They also played a surprising cover of Talking Heads’s “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” The song started off with Joel on synth playing an indecipherable intro that flowed into a unique version of the song that the band really made their own. Not everyone can cover Talking Heads, not well at least. But the crowd joining in on the words with smiles on their faces meant that it was a hit. Hell, I’m surprised the bar didn’t erupt into an all-out dance party during that one. Don’t forget to catch HIGHS on November 7 as they stop at Mavericks here in Ottawa on their tour supporting Twin Forks (featuring Chris Carrabba, ex-Dashboard Confessional).
Amos the Transparent got on stage not long after, and the room seemed to take on a distinct energy. The Blacksheep Inn is one of those little corners of Canada that will bring out the best in musicians. Its dim, candlelit lit interior and pristine sound creates an atmosphere unparalleled anywhere in the region – visually and aurally.
You know those bands that have certain songs that you wish would just be a little different? Perhaps the band tried too hard to achieve something and got lost along the way. Or maybe they made a bad chord change or phrased the lyrics in a way that made you cringe. I have never heard a song by Amos that is like this. Each song is crafted with strong hands and constructed in a way that keeps people hooked, like a good book. There is a simplicity to the music that is refreshing – not too over the top or pretentious in any way. But there’s also a depth to it that allows listeners to be immersed, particularly a concept album such as this. Since becoming a band in 2007, Amos The Transparent has learned how to draw listeners into their grasp better and better with each album.
This was exemplified a couple of years back when I saw Amos for the first time at Zaphod’s. I knew that Amos had garnered a following and received generous airplay across national radio, however it wasn’t until I got there and saw the sold out crowd interacting with the band on stage that I realized how special they are. This is Ottawa’s band. There was a love that existed between the crowd and the band that night in 2012, and that same love was present this past weekend.
Their performance, much like their new album This ColdEscape, exuded emotion and demanded listeners’s attention. At the end of the title track we hear screams anda voice fading out, as if going further into the void until out of view. And then there’s hard-hitting, powerful lyrics:
I lay my love down, as she whispers to me – You’re just as much a part of life to me, as death and his certainty.
Seeing the band play the album front-to-back added to my interpretation of it, as the atmosphere and ambiance fit with its presentation beautifully. Opening with what has grown to be one of my favourite tracks, “Out The Window,” Amos dove right into their new material and reinforced to all of us why that love still exists.
The band had projectors set up on either side of the stage, showing random videos from the past that worked well with the old-time feel of Blacksheep. There were also radio broadcasts included in the recording between songs, which feature local Ottawa radio personalities Jen Traplin and Andrew Elliott from Live 88.5 FM.
Amos The Transparent performing their new album This Cold Escape at Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, QC.
The album has a range of songs, none of which sound too similar. The folk-roots feel of “That’s The Life For Me” or the twangy “Bury My Bones” was contrasted with the darkness felt in songs such as “Death & His Certainty” or aggression of “Out To Sea.” The closest Amos comes to the playful catchiness of past hits “Says the Spark” or “Sure as the Weather” is the title track, which had us all wanting to sing along.
Lead singer Jonathan Chandler’s distinct voice was right on, and in perfect harmony with Olenka Reshitnyk’s backing vocals throughout the set. Lead guitarist Dan Hay showed the degree to which he has mastered his instrument and technique, particularly when taking on elaborate solos and playing difficult fills with ease. I also recall watching drummer Christopher Wilson playing so fast that he almost blew a vein in his forehead, without missing a beat.
It should also be mentioned that another adored local musician, Kalle Mattson, was featured on the song “City of Ghosts.” This came as a surprise to me when listening to the record, and it’s so good to see musicians who have played lots of shows together team up and collaborate in the studio. Both Kalle and Amos are having career years in 2014, as both of their recent releases are their strongest, most impactful works (at least in my estimation). The album was also produced by Chandler himself – it’s always so impressive to me that an entire album can be made with the help of a direct-to-fan album funding campaign (PledgeMusic) and then also take care of aspects such as production on top of actually writing and recording the music. Oh, how the industry has changed!
Amos ended things off with not one, but two encores. The crowd burst into smiles and song as the band played favourites “Lemons,” “Sure As The Weather,” and “Says The Spark” from previous records. In fact, as I was by the door watching, I could see a local guy in his mid-twenties doing a very interesting interpretive dance to the songs just outside the bar. I’m not sure the band could see him, but anyone who was there to witness this impromptu routine surely had their night made after that.
Check out their first single and title track off This Cold Escapehere.
The 18th annual Ottawa Fringe Festival, widely known as the nation’s capital’s largest theatre event of the year, will debut on Thursday June 19th with almost 400 performances during its ten-day run. But first the kick-off begins on June 18th at the Downtown Rideau Stage near the Arts Court. Should you walk into the area, you’ll feel the pull of the Fringe Courtyard in Waller Park, which will be open as early as 4pm tomorrow for the christening of the peripheral party.
(Let it be known that this autumn the Arts Court will be undergoing a major reno involving a new building to be erected where Waller Park now lies. Consider yourself warned that this might be the last time you can drink St-Ambroise legally on this turf…)
Every year the Fringe Festival has offered free concerts for all patrons, volunteers & rubberneckers who find their way past Waller Park in the evenings. Tomorrow, local acts Stillnative & 2React will open the festivities with their respective raw beat rock & hip hop jazz dub for all present. They are the starting gun bullets for this year’s sick line-up of free shows that include ’30s gypsy jazz Django Libre, juke jazz Adam Saikaley 5tet, a night of folk pop with Halifax-née, Windsor-based Crissi Cochrane & Ottawa’s Three Little Birds, indie pop from HIGHS & dance synth-pop from Silkken Laumann. On top of this every Thursday, Friday & Saturday night there will be Fringe Late Night,a midnight late night show hosted by comedian Deborah Ring and accompanied by the Jeff Kingsbury Trio (spoiler: this is approximately Pony Girl minus the vocalists).
Check out the full free programming schedule here!
What’s better than free live music in Downtown Ottawa? When it’s right smack in the middle of dozens of theatre groups & performers who are chomping at the bit to execute their drama & comedy for us. If only we had time to see them all… We raise our glasses to all present anyway, and to the end of Spring, and to the hot mess that is Ottawa Festival Season. Now let’s live on the edge a little bit — happy fringing to all and to all a good Fringe!
As a general rule, when a friend of mine offers up a new band they’re into I’ll give them a listen. It’s a tough life, you know. So much music out there, so little time. When this friend’s music taste is tried and true, AND they seem to be obsessing over the band, well… then there isn’t much choice but to listen, is there?
So it went with HIGHS, a relatively new Toronto band (formed in late 2012) that has been breaking out in the city’s scene with a purpose. (*NOTE: This band is not to be confused with ‘Estrogen Highs‘, a Connecticut band that I’ve never heard of but stumbled upon shortly after entering a search query for ‘HIGHS’. Points awarded for band name creativity, though.)