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Talented young Winnipeggers' CDs on launch pad

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In a sense, it's like watching your kids grow up.

A pair of young jazz musicians -- pianist Will Bonness and singer/pianist Amber Epp -- are releasing debut CDs Nov. 23 at the West End Cultural Centre, and while I can't take any credit for their musical maturity, I can be pleased by it.

A lot of local jazz fans have watched the two musicians, both in their early 20s and part of a group of young players who have become active over the past half-dozen years, as they have become better and stronger musicians.

Epp's disc, Trio Bembe, is a showcase for her musical love, Latin jazz. On Bonness's album, Subtle Fire, he leads a trio in a mix of driving and introspective instrumental tunes.

Epp is familiar to jazz fans from the Monday Night Hang jam session, Jazz Winnipeg Festival, Jazz under the Rooftop and other club gigs, more recently with Trio Bembe.

Bonness first came to my attention when, at 17, he missed a Jazz Winnipeg Festival performance with the high school all-star band because he was going out on the road with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's big band. He, too, has played widely around town, including the piano spot with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, and with U.S.-based musicians violinist Regina Carter and trumpeter Avishai Cohen.

My first encounter with Epp was listening to a teen take the stage at the Hang session, clearly nervous but determined to succeed as a singer.

Now, she composes her own music and lyrics as well as singing the songs of Cuba and Latin America. Epp is studying Spanish to sing the songs she loves and plans to add Portuguese to her linguistic palette. She will study in Cuba for three months this winter.

Bonness is comfortable in many musical situations, but excels in complex jazz originals and interesting reworkings of standards.

Bonness's nine-track disc finds him driving on one tune, introspective on the next, clearly playing with a vision whatever the tempo. The title Subtle Fire says its all, and the title track is the best on the disc, which has six Bonness compositions and three covers, including a tasty Gingerbread Boy.

He is backed by bassist Steve Kirby, a mentor, and drummer Terreon Gully (who has returned to the U.S. and who will be replaced at the CD launch by Curtis Nowosad).

The 14 tracks on Epp's CD are a mix of Spanish and English lyrics, with the backing of Trio Bembe mates Rodrigo Muñoz (Papa Mambo himself) on guitar, vocals and percussion, and percussionist Scott Senior. (Flutist Shannon Kristjanson, a U of M jazz student who plays with Steve Kirby's Oceanic Jazz Orchestra and Jazz on Wheels, will perform with Trio Bembe).

Both CDs are very good: Epp's more of a get-up-and-dance disc by the nature of the music; Bonness's is a sit down and listen to the brilliant playing.

You've heard both musicians on record recently -- they appear on Breakfast of Champions, released this fall by guitarist Keith Price, another member of that young group and a talented musician to watch.

The joint Epp/Bonness CD launch is Monday, Nov. 23, at WECC, 8 p.m. Tickets -- $15, or $10 for students) available at WECC, at the door or by calling 952-4834. The CDs will be on sale for $10 each.

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Montreal pianist Yves Léveillé is in town Sunday, Nov. 15, at the Park Theatre to open Jazz Winnipeg's jazz innovators series performing with a quintet and to hold a master class for local musicians.

Léveillé will perform with saxophonists Frank Lozano and Roberto Murray, trumpeter Aron Doyle, bassist Marc Lalonde and drummer Ugo di Vito at 8 p.m. The TD Canada Trust jazz lab, also at the Park, is at 4:30 p.m. and is free.

Tickets for the concert are $18 in advance/$22 at the door, available by phone at 989-4656, in person at the Jazz Winnipeg office (007-100 Arthur St.) and the Park.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2009 d5

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