I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—one of the most rewarding parts of this job is discovering new artists making music in town. That is certainly the case with the young and aspiring singer-songwriter named Christine Jakel, who I crossed paths with at Bar Robo last year when she played with her other project, Grace Note. Her talents are immediately impactful, and draw listeners in like a tractor beam through the headphones or on stage. As someone with a degree in classical voice from the University of Ottawa and lifelong piano training at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Christine’s kind and modest demeanour struck me as endearing given the sheer level of skill and experience contained within her. Thus, I took a mental note and made sure to keep an eye on her music-related ventures.
Fast forward a year or so, and Jakel announces that she’s releasing a solo EP called Satellite Moons, once again at Bar Robo, on September 30. It came as no surprise, and it seemed to only be a matter of time before she explored her solo songwriting in a formal studio setting. While I’ve only heard a couple songs off of the upcoming EP, my initial impression is that she has a musical “sense” about her that is well beyond her years. The songs weave between genres and influences, as certain polarizing elements of jazz and folk are somehow drawn together and melded with one another in her songs.
Her vocal prowess is put on full display, as Jakel seamlessly reaches the highs and lows of her octave—and everything in between—with laser-sharp precision. The rest of Satellite Moons is sure to contain more treats for us to hear. In the years to come, Ottawa should prepare itself for Jakel’s inclusion into a group of local women such as Kathleen Edwards, Catriona Sturton, and Lynne Hanson, just to name a few, who have consistently shown that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Ottawa valley and beyond.
I caught up with Jakel this week in advance of the Satellite Moons EP Release, which takes place at Bar Robo on Saturday, September 30th at 8 pm. She will be joined by Mike Giamberardino (drums), Szymon Szańczuk (bass), Dean Watson (electric guitar), and Charlotte Esme Frank (harmonies) on stage, along with opening acts Grace Marr and David daCosta. Tickets are $13, and include a download code for the album. Find more information here.
Interview with Christine Jakel
Can you talk a bit about how has music been a part of your life growing up?
Both my parents took it upon themselves to expose me to music growing up. My dad has been obsessed with jazz ever since I can remember and used to play jazz guitar in his spare time. There are some artists whose CD’s are deeply ingrained into my system from having listened to them so often: George Benson, Chet Baker, Diana Krall, Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, to name a few. I’ve probably heard Autumn leaves thousands of times because my dad used to practice it relentlessly. He was also the one who introduced me to Joni Mitchell, now my main source of inspiration for songwriting. Her song Big Yellow Taxi was the reason I started playing guitar. Wondering Where the Lions are by Bruce Cockburn was the next song I learned. He was another artist that I heard a lot of growing up because of my dad. My mom was the one who made sure I was taking classical piano lessons starting at a young age and shortly after we moved to Ottawa, she enrolled me in an arts high school (De La Salle) where I chose the voice program and subsequently became actively involved in its various vocal ensembles, while being trained as both chorist and a soloist.
You explore many sounds and themes in your music. What is most important aspect you focus on when composing a song?
For me songwriting always begins with lyrics and melody. The song craft and the overall message of the song are as important to me as the music itself. This is also what I listen for in other artists’ music. I find that I am most drawn to songs that are cleverly thought out but also genuine and direct. This is what I aim for when composing my songs. Overall atmosphere, chords and instrumental riffs come are there to enhance those elements.
What was the Shot in the Dark experience like for you? Can you describe it for those who may not know?
It felt great to be a part of something that I knew was contributing to the local music scene in a positive way. Not only did I get one of my own songs recorded and filmed for the first time, but I had the chance to hear and meet so many talented local artists that I never would have discovered otherwise. In a way it acted as a spring board for me as a newly emerging musician because it led to more opportunities for shows and collaborations.
The performance itself was unlike anything I have ever done before and I don’t think it’s one I’ll be forgetting anytime soon. When I came on, Dean made the call to remove all amplification and to bring the audience close in around me, so there was zero background noise and I could feel everyone watching and listening to me intently. It was terrifying in the best way (I don’t think I’ve ever felt so exposed), and I couldn’t be happier with the result! (video available below)
What reaction or emotion do you hope to evoke from those listening to the new EP, Satellite Moons, for the first time?
I hope that anyone listening finds something they can relate to in my songs and feel moved or inspired by even if it’s just in a small way. I also hope to send an empowering message to other women out there who may feel intimidated or out of place taking up space or making themselves heard in the music scene. From what I’ve seen, the industry could really use more female representation. Knowing this reality is partly what fuels my work. Furthermore, I would love for people to perceive the depth in my songs and to hear beyond something that’s “cute” or “pretty.” Those are two words that I’ve been called my whole life, that bother me when they are used in a belittling way (whether intentionally or not), and that I’d like to break free from at least in the context of my music. This is why I’ve made sure to include some angry songs on the record.
Do you have a memorable concert experience that you can recount that perhaps influenced your music?
This past March I had the opportunity of seeing The Staves play live at the Bronson Centre. I was floored by how polished their performance was and by the wide range of soundscapes they managed to create using their voices and various instrumental skills. What I particularly like about them is that they stray from the traditional lead-singer vs. band setup. Each member plays an equal part in the singing and the balance between their voices shifts from one song from the next in fascinating ways. Their sound is very much contingent upon them gelling as a team. For me, the experience of hearing them opened doors to new realms of possibility when arranging music, which made me want to go home and write songs immediately.
Is there one venue or city that is on your bucket list to play? Why?
I am open to the possibilities of where my music might take me. Playing music is what makes me happy. Whether it’s in a noisy bar or the NAC or at an intimate gathering, I am grateful for any opportunity to share my work, the more unexpected the better! Short term, however, I do currently have my sights set on Megaphono. I have so many good memories from attending the festival as an audience member and it seems like something I’d like to experience and be a part of, hopefully as a performer this year.
What’s the next step for you musically?
In the next year I am hoping to gain regular instruction at guitar and to lock in a few more hours of practice per week than I usually do. Everything I know so far, I taught myself, besides the odd trick I picked up from my dad and my uncle, and there is so much I have yet to learn about the instrument. This would give me a whole lot more to work with when writing songs, which I intend to continue doing as much as possible. My goal is to have enough songs written by next summer to be able to start on an album. I already have a few on the go.
Seldom is it that a room fills up with people buzzing for a one-band bill, but Fet.Nat seems exceptional in a few ways. By virtue of their sole occupation of the bill this evening, I thought (and hoped) they’d play for at least an hour, but the group clocked out around the 45 minute mark, and I wasn’t even mad. I couldn’t be. When a band moves your feet and wrinkles your brain the way they do, side effects may include euphoria, awe and mild confusion.
Maintaining elements of free-jazz and a punk-spirited beat-poetry, there is a confidence in their disregard for the conventional. Fet.Nat are blazing a trail that not only challenges listeners, but defies anyone who tries to label them. Whenever I talk about this band, I’m never sure how to describe them except that they are maybe the most interesting band in town.
There’s a certain absurdity to their sound, and the challenge of “getting it” is often taken seriously, but it simultaneously taunts and teases us. In the crowd, there was a divide between those dancing and those fixed in place, staring in awe and slight confusion at what was unfolding in front of them. So those aforementioned side effects are now in full effect.
Experiencing this band almost requires one to suspend that inherent human compulsion to categorize and understand everything, because this band cannot be put in a box.
The way the music defies genre labels and conventional structure is further exemplified by the way that most vocal hooks were programmed into a small sampler that the guitarist and saxophonist shared. Shows are a dime a dozen where the singer gets right in the crowd’s faces to get everyone singing along, and while there was some encouragement from the band in this regard, I enjoyed the subversion of that dynamic, thwarting that expectation, even for anyone familiar with their music.
No matter if someone was dancing or standing still, the crowd erupted with hoots and cheers after every song. It was over before we knew it, and we were left with a titillating feeling of adventurousness, and hungry for more. Sorry, Fet.Nat, but there is something beautiful about you, and even though you asked so nicely, I won’t stop saying it.
Last August, Sean Done (DJ Judge Upstroke), and Darren Drouin of local ska band The Sentries approached House of TARG about starting the Voice of the People monthly ska series. It was an old idea that the two friends had been kicking around for a while, and it was simple enough: on Thursday nights, friends with great ska collections would spin records, and local and touring ska bands would perform. Neither The Sentries nor the bar could have expected the massive crowd that showed up for their first test run. It went so well that the venue quickly moved to have the night run instead on the last Friday or Saturday of each month.
Now, for many people, a monthly live ska series sounds as unique and spontaneous as a pinball bar, but truth be told, I’ve never seen a group of people work harder to stay afloat than the guys in Ottawa’s ska scene. Though the genre seems to constantly dip in and out of relevancy, it was only May 2008 that hundreds of ska fans piled into the New Bayou (the 1077 Bank St. space that would later become House of TARG) for a full weekend Ska Fest, and the city itself has boasted dozens of great ska bands since. To me, this is a positive – the fans of the genre are so committed that they are willing to form their own bands, book their owns festivals and put ska back onto the radar just about every 3 years.
Fortunately for us, the members of The Sentries have been hard at working continuing this legacy, using the Voice of the People series to bring ska fans together. In fact, when asked about the series, Drouin was all about the scene: “we are always looking for new artists and really want to give good ska, rocksteady, reggae bands and DJs a chance to play here in Ottawa.” That commitment to other groups is what made last night so special – the Sentries work so hard for the scene that it was great to attend an event about them. Locals Freshly Cut did a great job warming up the crowd with their reggae dub (and an amazing cover of “Fisherman” by the Congos!), but ultimately the night was about The Sentries, and they took charge.
Freshly Cut at House of TARG (Photo by Katie Oberlin)
First off, I had listened to their EP multiple times this week to get ready, but I have to say that their show was way faster and harder than the recording, which went over very well with the audience. When asked which branch of ska The Sentries identified with, Drouin mentioned they were more concerned with writing ska, reggae, and rocksteady songs that inspire dancing. No problem there – by the middle of the first song, the dance floor was officially occupied.
The night started off with an instrumental tune with alto sax player Julian Selody and trombonist Nick DiSaverio at the helm. Being relatively new to the group, Selody’s jazz-soaked solos paired very well with DiSaverio’s barky no-nonsense approach. The following song, they were joined on stage by singer Xander Galbreith, who was a force to be reckoned with, showing off his great vocal range with a classic cover of “How Many Times” from Marley’s ska days. Later in the set, he tested the waters with a new original called “Gone;” a breezy summer tune that contrasted nicely with the rest.
The Sentries at House of Targ (Photo by Katie Oberlin)
But for me, the rhythm section were the unsung heroes of the night. On bass, Drouin seamlessly switched between traditional ska walks and thumping reggae lines without missing a step, while drummer Matt Racha more known for his powerhouse guitar performances in The Valveenus, seemed completely at home on the drum kit. He looked like he was in his happy place as he attacked each rhythm with precision and a big grin. And though they each occasionally let loose to rip a great solo, guitarist Victor Doige and keyboardist Paul LeBlanc spent most of the night happily keeping rhythm and cuing the band.
All in all, this is a group that gets more professional with each performance, and it was great to see them be king of the castle for once. I highly recommend that you check out the next Voice of the People night, and more importantly, support the local ska artists that are keeping the traditional alive here in Ottawa. Have a listen to the below.
Garett Barr is a long time veteran of the Ottawa music scene. He has played in soul, ska, folk and punk bands in the area for over a decade, and shares his love for music daily as a teacher and collaborator.
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?
It’s uncertain that we’ll see anything so glacial as last year’s February, but Ottawa will prepare nonetheless! Canadian curators continue to conspire to warm the most frozen part of the year with animation, music and activities around the capital. While the week is completely stacked with intimate indie shows and huge outdoor concerts, there will be another low-key bass line humming in the back: the TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Fest!
A full festival pass costs less than $80, and most shows are $22. The full listing is available here, and below are a few fine things jazz fest have cooked up this winter that we like.
The jazz festival’s programming manager Petr Cancura will open the fest on Thursday Feb. 7 with his second instalment of a trilogy. Although not part of the three-day festival proper, Cancura and Ottawa singer-songwriter Lynn Miles will team up for a “Crossroads” performance that will infuse her music with a jazz sensibility. The multi-instrumental organizer did much of the same with Ian Tamblyn last year and will again with Jeremy Fisher this spring.
Besides that, he and his team have managed to put together a world class team of jazz musicians to take over the NAC Fourth Stage for the whole weekend.
The Fraser Hollins Quartet
Friday is the day of the Sax. Mike Murley, many times over National Jazz Award’s Saxophonist of the Year recipient, will play with his trio at 7 p.m. If you don’t have enough sax in your life then you can cozy up to Fraser Hollins as he leads a quartet comprising world-renowned drummer Brian Blade (also from the 613), epic pianist John Cowherd, and 2013 Juno-winning saxophonist Joel Miller at 9 p.m.
It’s pretty much a long weekend of a jazz club opening at the NAC Fourth Stage. Friday will also feature a free performance by Ottawa’s The Chocolate Hot Pockets. Jazzy soul, funky groove, instrumental melted over R&B and hip-hop. Dope.
David Virelles & Román Díaz on Sunday: Afro-cuban jazz pianist and composer meets a moody rumba percussionist in a bar. Have you heard this one? If you go, don’t bring a coat—it’ll be very warm in there.
Mouse on the Keys
On Saturday, Mouse on the Keys is best described as an art project: two pianists and a drummer frame their musical dexterity with stunning visuals. The instrumental trio from Japan are a Showbox pick!
The virtuosos of Montréal Guitare Trio will close out the three-day blitz of warming jazz with technical and intricate guitar playing. If anyone is wondering why they won a “best concert of the year” Opus Award in 2011, then they didn’t play the video of their cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” linked above!
This past Friday, the Algonquin Commons Theatre boasted a sold out show headlined by Toronto’s jazz-hip hop trio BADBADNOTGOOD. Earlier in the week tickets were already sold out as news spread about the headliner’s return to Ottawa after a raucous performance at the Centretown United Church in November. With the hype still lingering from that performance a few months before, Ottawa’s die-hard fans came out of the woodwork to attend the show.
Even before the doors opened, ticket holders were already lining up to get into the well-lit and spacious venue, where only the floor seating was open. This created an atmosphere that was intimate, but also allowed the crowd audience to enjoy the professional quality lighting and sound of the theater.
The night’s lineup consisted of an eclectic pairing with Busty and the Bass, a self-professed “electro-soul/hip hop collective”, which started off the evening with upbeat rhythms, a wicked horn section and powerful vocals. Their songs ranged from Daft Punk-esque slow jams, to disco-infused pop hooks punctuated by rap. The band opened with “Models”, an infectious song off of their latest album GLAM, which concluded with a disco-soul feel that immediately set the mood for the rest of their performance. “Right Kind” followed shortly after and effectively combined an auto-tuned chorus with an overall hip-hop feel, allowing one of the keyboardists to show off his rap flow.
The band’s stage presence and overall energy was infectious and soon the crowd was bopping along to their catchy songs. Throughout their set they maintained the same atmosphere with coordinated stage presence. It was clear that the band members were enjoying themselves as they engaged in call-and-response riffs and some members switched back and forth between instrumentation and vocals. Finally, their set wrapped up with an impressive sax solo, à la Kenny G.
After a quick intermission, and with the floor filled to standing room only, BADBADNOTGOOD came on stage to excited cheering and clapping by fans. Along with its usual three members, the band was accompanied by saxophonist Leland Whitty, who is often featured on their recordings. Right off the bat, all four of them broke into a hectic jam that quickly reminded the crowd of their impressive musical skill and instrumentation as they demonstrated their dynamic range. The then drummer said a brief few words to the crowd, mentioning that the bassist – Chester Hansen – is an Ottawan himself, before breaking into an awesome rendition of their song “Velvet”.
The song concluded with an intense keyboard solo, which was very well received by the crowd. Next, it was Leland’s turn to shine as the trio started into “Confessions”, a song that was prominently featured on BADBADNOTGOOD’s third full length, aptly titled III. At this point, the audience was really able to appreciate the level of talent and musicianship on stage as they seamlessly transitioned from one part into the next. The following few songs were combined into medleys chock-full of improvisation and dynamic changes. It was clear that the band was enjoying themselves as this part of the set turned into much more of a jam session that a run through of their hits.
To bring the set back to down to earth the band transitioned into the much more relaxed “Differently Still”, another track from their third album. This track centered on the keyboardist who seemed to be in his own world as he head-banged with his eyes closed while playing. The chords swelled as the rest of the band joined in for the middle of the song, only to let the dreamy keys close of the track. Finally, the drummer lead the band into a fast-paced version of the “CS60”.
This crowd-pleaser was an instant and familiar hit with the crowd and soon everyone was dancing and clapping along. With prompts from the drummer the attendees screamed to fuel the band with energy to finish the song. In classic BADBADNOTGOOD fashion, they ended in an insanely fast crescendo, highlighted by well-timed frantic lighting and use of smoke machines. As the audience filed out you could hear the shared excitement from the show as fans made a beeline for the merch table.
Malak is set to release her debut EP Circus Saturday night January 16 at LIVE! on Elgin.
Malak may not be a household name to most readers, but she has one of the most powerful and beautiful voices in town. She is quickly establishing herself as a versatile musician in the Ottawa scene, having already performed in various high profile events. Her sound crosses and melds genres, from jazz to classical to pop and more. For a taste of it you can stream the EP at the end of the article and you can get more information on the show here.
We sat down with Malak for a quick interview ahead of the EP release show to talk about her story and her music.
You are not originally from Ottawa, do you mind elaborating a little bit on the journey that brought you to the nation’s capital?
I lived in Cairo, Egypt until I was 16, and began voice lessons at age 7. For 9 years I studied with some of the country’s most renowned classical, jazz and pop vocal trainers. I won multiple national and international awards in the Middle East as well as Europe (Italy, Germany, Greece). I moved to Ottawa in 2011 in order to further my music education in Carleton University’s music program, as well as my career. Canada is bursting at the seams with opportunities, especially for artists. I am fortunate to be living somewhere where art can be freely expressed in all its forms and where the community truly supports its local artists and takes pride in them.
How has this background shaped your art?
Having lived in a country that experienced a lot of turmoil, especially in the revolution which began in 2011, I always took an interest in people; how they react to situations and deal with issues in their lives, and how everyone has a unique way of expressing their love towards one another. This interest in people’s individual stories inspires most of my songs. I love taking someone’s story and writing and composing as if from their perspective. It’s like writing a little autobiography for someone else.
You have named your debut EP “Circus,” and this is clearly a theme in your art. What is it about circuses that inspire you?
When I think of a circus, I don’t imagine the happy circus that one would take their family to. The circus that I refer to in my song and art in general is a colourful but dangerous place. It is a metaphor for the dark place that exists in all our minds. Everyone has their demons, and my imagined circus is the place that houses all of them, camouflaged in bright clown costumes and performing hypnotic acrobatics to be attractive. Circus is about someone who fights these inner demons but loses, and gives in to their temptations.
Can you speak to the process of making Circus? How long has it been in the works, where was it recorded, who have you collaborated with?
The beginning of the process was very experimental, deciding which of my songs should go on the album and testing out different methods for expressing each one. I was very fortunate to have Dean Watson producing this album. With every new song he and I would sit for hours orchestrating it and finding a unique sound that would effectively express it. And the result was a colourful collection of quality composed and recorded songs. I am grateful to have worked with someone with his level of skill and I am looking forward to recording my next full length album with Dean at the Gallery Recording Studio, which is already in progress.
It was also a delight and an honour to have many of Ottawa’s local talent included in the EP. “Sam Wants a Bang” was arranged by Ed Lister, who also played keys with Michel Delage on drums and JP Lapensee on bass. Raphael Weinroth-Browne of The Visit composed and performed cello for Circus – for which Mike Giamberardino of Tribe Royal recorded drums – and Mannequin. Talented pianist and songwriter, Dan Robidoux is present in all five songs on the EP. He will be appearing at the EP Release on Saturday, January 16th, as well as Justine Walker who recorded drums for Greed and will be playing drums for the show. The violin in Owe You is played by Robin Evans.
What should people expect when they attend a Malak show?
A powerful and entertaining performance. I enjoy expressing a wide array of personas during in my shows. Because my songs are about people’s stories, I enjoy telling them as if they are coming from the people themselves, which allows for a playful variety of tone and mood all through the show. I perform for my audience and from the heart, and you can guarantee there is never a dull moment in a Malak show.
What makes Saturday night’s show extra special?
If you attend this Saturday’s EP Release at Live! On Elgin, you will be contributing to charity. All merch sale profits from the show will be going to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in collaboration with Inner Wheel Club of Ottawa, so not only will you get lots of awesome music, but you’ll also be supporting a good cause. On that note I would like to briefly mention the importance of supporting your local artist. When you go to any arts event including shows, galleries, plays, etc. not only is it an enriching experience, but you are also keeping art in your community alive. Without the audience to share the art with, artists would not exist.
Tomorrow at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, an act of epic proportions will take to the Confederation Park stage at 8:30 p.m. Last year I was urged to see Snarky Puppy by half of the members of the band Pony Girl. Not only was I threatened with violence if I missed them but I was verbally abused when I couldn’t make it! This year, those same musicians as well as my mother, an ex-girlfriend, and several people I’d never met before are prodding me to go.
So I won’t make this mistake again. And neither should you: don’t miss this funky jazz-fusion big band brass-bomb of an orchestra from NYC who will surely steal the final Saturday of the Jazz Fest. They’ve been playing for over 10 years now, a collective of accomplished artists that ranges from eight to 40 performers. They’ve travelled the world over many times and continue to wow crowds with every stop they make.
I was incredibly lucky to be able to chat with several professional musicians coming to Ottawa for the festival in the last month. Michael League, the compelling bandleader and producer of Snarky Puppy, took a day off his hectic music season to speak with a slew of journalists who all wanted the scoop. I’m grateful to have been able to chat with him a bit and even more so to be able to see him tomorrow night, rain or shine.
Where does the name Snarky Puppy the name come from?
Oh, that’s the most uninteresting story, not print worthy at all. My brother was going to name a band that and he didn’t. So I did.
To say Snarky Puppy tours a lot is an understatement. Do you really tour about 200 shows a year?
Well, I think it was about two years ago that we played 184 but last year we played about 150. And it’s always the same core group of musicians. Seven to 10 out of the same group cover all North American & European tours.
Do you still crash en masse on people’s living room floors on tour?
Ha! We did that often but it doesn’t happen anymore. After a decade you start to just want your own hotel room. I mean, staying with friends is the best way to experience a place. Staying at people’s houses you eat local food and you find places that you would otherwise miss.
Snarky Puppy won the award for Best Live Song at last year’s Grammy Awards, and you’ve been acclaimed many times. What accomplishment of your career has been your proudest?
For me the big accomplishment is that we’ve stayed together as a band family for almost 12 years. That’s really cool for me, that we’re all still friends.
Snarky Puppy’s bandleader Michael League second from the right.
Your album Sylva was recorded alongside the Metropole Orkest as a truly collaborative album that isn’t just Snarky Puppy. What can you tell us about it?
I composed it for them and us, specifically for a giant ensemble. And then we flew to the Netherlands to record it. They were the only orchestra in the world that did what we wanted them to do. It was kind of a no-brainer. It was very natural, very easy to work with Jules Buckley, who’s now a great friend of mine.
Bernard Wright was your mentor. How did that come to be? Do you have any other mentors or influencers that have truly inspired the way you play music?
We were on a church gig together. I joined the band to pay rent and he was the keyboard player. We became very good friends. Like he is for many musicians in Dallas, he was kind of godfather to me, and he shared his knowledge with me. Really an incredible man.
Yeah, I’m constantly influenced by different musicans, but Bernard is the only one that really played that role, like an uncle, a guy that I consistently stayed with and was gleaning knowledge off of.
You are big on empowering youth to take music for their own with programs & workshops. But are you a mentor to individual artists the way Mr. Wright was to you?
I don’t think so, because I’m never in any one place for long. I’ll give lessons to young musicians though.
At last year’s Jazz Fest you dropped in to the late-night jam sessions? Will you be dropping in again? I know some of the young musicians who will attend are hoping to meet you.
Several of us did! We love jam sessions. It depends how on the guys are feeling.
It’s important to really separate the music that somebody makes from the person they are. You should never get your hopes up for a person. Of course, it’s fun to put yourself in the situation where you’ll have interaction with someone that you’ll treasure… but if musicans did everything they can to fulfill the desires of those who support them, they would pass out and die.
You release your scores online for musicians to buy & try out. What do you get out of sharing your tunes the way you?
You know, I always encourage people to transcribe the music themselves, rather than just buying the sheet music. But if you want to check your transcription or are crunched for time, then it’s already there formatted. It’s cool for someone who loves to pull out scores of his favourite musc.
Do you ever see someone on a lineup and get excited to play with them?
Yeah of course, there are too many to name! You make friends when you travel as much as we do. And we are always happy to see our friends on the road.
In December—stay with me—a Montreal label called Poulet Neige hosted their annual La Liste de Noël that allowed subscribers to pick between 80 or so albums they could download for free on Christmas Day. One such album, the only European release on the list, struck me: Pal Magnet EPby Alarmist. They are an Irish post-rock and jazzy experimental band that play sustained harmonies and a consistent drumming that I think of as overjoyed. Their music often spurred me through late-night writing assignments and kept me both concentrating and hyperventilating. They sound like much more than just four musicians but they are indeed a quartet that hasn’t changed a member from the beginning.
Just as legends of music encourage some to attend Jazz Fest, their name on the lineup was enough for me. Guitarist & keyboard player Barry O’Halpin of the quartet took the time to answer some of my questions last week. This year they’ll drop their debut LP. Some of the members have never been to Canada, as Alarmist this will be the band’s first Canadian tour: four shows in less than a week.
We’ve been playing around for a few years in various configurations of bands. Our self-titled EP came out in 2011, and Pal Magnet EP, came out in 2013. That last EP is kind of the first time that people outside of Europe heard of us. We’ve changed a lot since then.
“Morning, Kepler” is our latest single and we just finished the recording process for our debut album last month. Now we’re mixing & getting ready for the tour. Hoping to get it out for the fall, before a tour through UK & Europe.
It’s been almost five years since your first EP. Are you excited for your debut LP?
We haven’t finalized the date but we’re hoping for autumn. It’s our first full-length which is kind of exciting. I don’t feel like the EPs are warm ups to it, but as you can see we’ve been around for a while now. Only in the last year and a half have people outside of Ireland heard about us. You finally get the songs out into the world and people halfway across the world hear them… It’s kind of strange. It’s not really what you would expect.
Is one of you more of a leader than the others? Can you explain your roles?
We’re quite a democratic band, really. A song would start with someone’s idea, and we’d compose it, then someone else’s idea comes in, and we’d compose that. Then you bring in a kind of arrangement, an electronic mock-up of a song, and we start learning all the parts. We all make changes and argue about what should happen. One person’s sketch becomes the band’s composition. Every song ends up being something that wouldn’t have happened if left to one person.
I play guitar & keys, Elis Czerniak plays guitar & keys, Neil Crowley plays about 50/50 drums & keys, and Osgar Dukes plays drums. There is a lot of juggling of parts and we get quite a big sound out of four people. If there’s a lot of jumping between instruments on stage it’s not a flashy technical thing—we’re going for an expansive sound.
You’ve been described as “genre-stomping”, colourful, and just fucking wicked. How do you describe yourselves?
The easiest way to describe yourself is to find the most flattering description and point at that, ha-ha!
Well, I suppose our defining characteristic is a mix in genres. We don’t want to get pigeonholed into one genre or sound. We like to play a lot of post-rock with jazz influences. We all have varied backgrounds. I’ve done a little jazz guitar but I wouldn’t call myself a jazz musician per se. Neil has been to jazz school, specifically for jazz drumming. He’s the most grounded in Jazz. Elis has a classical piano background. We all bring different ideas to the table.
We seem to have got a lot of jazz bookings here and there. Also the math rock scene has picked up on us. As much as I don’t like being called math rock—because we’re not all about technical guitar playing—it’s a really big scene worldwide. We basically have to sum it up as experimental rock that mixes jazz, post-rock & electronica influences.
Your Pal Magnet EP was part of a free download program called La Liste de Noel by Montreal label Poulet Neige. It was the only European music in a long list of Canadian musicians. How did that come to be?
They approached us, which was nice. We were happy to get involved. It has a real reach. We got a call out of the blue, I’m not really sure how they found us originally. But now we have people aware of us in the Québec & Ontario regions.
Will you have a chance to experience some of the Festival you are playing? Who would you love to see?
We had a look at the lineup, a couple bands in particular we’d love to see but we’ll sadly miss are Kneebody, a contemporary jazz group, and Jaga Jazzist from Norway, we are big fans. It’ll be interesting to see the local acts as well. We haven’t had much contact with the bands we’re playing with. Good to see what they do in their scene.
About the Beer: Lug•Tread is the first Ottawa region craft beer I tried. It was at the beginning of my beer obsession and I was instantly enamoured with everything Beau’s made. I still am, of course. How could you not be? I see this beer as going back to basics. When it comes to basics musically, I hear and feel bass. It all started when a friend of mine called me up and said that he’d snuck around and found his Christmas gift… A bass! This was Grade 8 or so. To this day, he is on of my musical heroes. I fell in love with the bass after hearing him figure out Red Hot Chili Peppers songs, to jazz, and to funk. Cheers to Beau’s and my friend Denis “Turtle” Arsenault, I thank you for the influences!
Also, the last Lug•Tread I had was at Bass Line Station–perfect timing? It’s a great spot to hear local bands, which I discovered when I first moved to Ottawa. Lots of great memories there too!
The commercial description goes as follows:
Available year-round, LUG•TREAD LAGERED ALE is our award-winning, flagship beer. In developing it, we charged Matt (Matthew O’Hara, our brewmaster) with hand-crafting a beer with a unique style and history, that could be made naturally with certified organic malts & hops and that would be incredibly tasty and very drinkable. We brew this tasty golden ale and then lager it to create a beer like nothing else in Ontario.
“Mellowship Slinky in B Major” is funky gold. “Higher Ground” is a Stevie Wonder song that is better covered by RHCP. Don’t get me wrong, Steve is good… but Flea takes it to another level. Have a listen to “Around the World” too.
James Jamerson had funk running through his veins.
The entire music is ripped from Bernard Wright’s “Haboglabotribin.” The world renowned bass player/multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller does the honours of funking it up. Also give “Tha Shiznit” a listen.