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These notes are blue

Jazz series kicks off with tribute to exalted New York record label

Posted: 09/16/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0


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The Blue Note record label was known in its heyday for its stable of great jazz musicians, its string of successful recordings and its celebrated LP covers.

The label held an almost exalted place in the jazz world, and you couldn't consider yourself a fan without at least a few Blue Notes on your record shelf.

That legacy still looms large over the jazz scene, even as the label has been resurrected and offers new music by new artists.

Some of those great recording sessions will be celebrated Sept. 28 and 29 in the season-opening concerts of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series as trumpeter Brian Lynch and saxophonist Eric Alexander lead a quintet in the Best of the Blue Note.

The concerts also will be a rare pairing of pianist Xavier Davis and his brother Quincy, jazz drum professor at the University of Manitoba jazz faculty, with bassist and jazz studies director Steve Kirby rounding out the band.

Quincy says he hasn't had much chance to perform with Xavier since he began teaching here -- they played in trumpeter Tom Harrell's band together from 2001 to 2004 -- but the pianist did perform on the drummer's debut CD, Songs in the Key of Q, which he is releasing here on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Centre cultural franco-manitobain. Tickets are $20 ($10 for students).

The brothers have played in each other's bands often over the years.

"We hear music basically the same way because we grew up listening to the same stuff," Davis says.

And they'll return to their hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., in January to accompany father Duane, a jazz vocal and choral educator, in concert.

There are many great Blue Note recordings to choose from, by the likes of Miles, Monk, Trane, Art Blakey, Wayne Shorter and McCoy Tyner, but the set list from the label that triumphed hard bop won't be decided until the band's first rehearsal, drummer Davis says.

A couple of Davis's favourite Blue Note albums are John Coltrane's Blue Train and Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil. There's no argument there, and with tenor saxophonist Alexander in the front line, they'd be good choices, and Lynch is a graduate of the jazz finishing schools known as Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and the Horace Silver Quintet.

Best of the Blue Note concerts will be held Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the Berney Theatre at the Rady Jewish Community Centre. Tickets are $38 at radyjcc.com/ticketcentral or 204-477-7534.


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Toronto drummer Nick Fraser first met New York saxophonist Tony Malaby in 1996 at a jazz workshop in Idaho, but it wasn't until 2012 in Toronto that he got his wish to record with him.

That collaboration is documented on the recently released Fraser CD, Towns and Villages, and will be presented live Sept. 25 at the West End Cultural Centre and Sept. 26 at Brandon's The Music Studio as part of a 10-city Canadian tour that starts this week.

"We also played together at the Banff Centre in 1999," Fraser says of Malaby. "He brings an intensity and openness to his music that is virtually unmatched in anyone I've worked with. He's really a very powerful musician.

"Since I first played with him, he's always been on my mind as a potential collaborator. I would write a melody and could imagine how Tony would play it, but I didn't make it happen until last year," Fraser adds.

The Nick Fraser Quartet includes Rob Clutton on bass and Andrew Downing on cello.

Cello is an infrequently used instrument in jazz, but that's no big deal for Fraser.

"Well, I tend to think of people before I think of their instruments, that is, it was more important to me to have Andrew and Rob than to have them play a specific instrument. My original idea was to have them both play bass, but once Andrew suggested the cello and I heard it, I realized it was perfect. For one thing, it allows Andrew to function both as a melodic/soloistic voice and as a member of the rhythm section.

"Also, if we had two basses, we'd need to rent two vans," he adds with the email equivalent of a laugh.

Most of the tracks on the album are credited to Fraser as composer, but the drummer adds: "In general, the interplay between the musicians is improvised. All the guys in the band are exceptional improvisers. My pieces give them fairly bare skeleton that they flesh out as they see fit. The great thing about working with musicians of this calibre is hearing the wonderful and varied things that they each bring to the music each night."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 16, 2013 D5

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