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Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Kathleen Edwards steps into new musical territory with collaborator Petr Cancura

By Leah Geller on October 31, 2016

Kathleen Edwards knows what it’s like to take a big leap into the unknown. In 2014, she decided to take a break from her musical career and open a coffee shop — an unlikely choice for a musician whose career was skyrocketing at the time.

It was a calculated risk, mind you. Edwards worked as a barista when she was younger and knew what that was like. And she located the coffee shop in Stittsville, just outside of her hometown of Ottawa, where she had lots of friends and family to support her. Today, Quitters Coffee is a huge hit, and draws crowds from all walks of life.

Crossing into jazz

So it’s not surprising Edwards agreed when Petr Cancura asked her to collaborate with his jazz quartet for the NAC Crossroads series, which takes Canadian singer-songwriters in new directions. It would mean stepping into unfamiliar musical territory, allowing for reinterpretation of her songs and some real uncertainty about what would result in the collaboration.

“Kathleen’s really excited to take a different look at her music, to go at her songs from a jazz perspective and sing them in a different way,” says Cancura. “She loves that her songs won’t sound the same as she’s done them before.”

Saxophonist and arranger, Petr Cancura. Photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre.

Saxophonist and arranger, Petr Cancura. Photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre.

Familiar faces

It helps, of course, that Edwards and Cancura are old friends and musical colleagues. Cancura did the horn arrangements for Edwards’s first album Failer, which she recorded at just 24 years old and which landed her an appearance on David Letterman.

According to Cancura, “We really hit it off right away. I love the stories she tells and the way she delivers them. There is a depth to her. I kind of think she has the full package as a singer/songwriter — a beautiful voice, great melodies and the ability to perform in a way that connects with people.”

It also helps that they will be supported by some of the top jazz musicians in the country, including go-to bassist John Geggie, and guitarist Roddy Elias, a Canadian jazz legend living in Ottawa.

The co-creative process

Cancura doesn’t plan to simply cover Edwards’s songs using the jazz idiom. Instead, he wants to strip down each song to its essence and then re-build it using the talents of his musicians, to end up with something totally different, while staying true to the original song.

Edwards is very involved in the process. “We’re co-creating with a kind of back and forth,” explains Cancura. “I bring her the general concept or approach to a song, and she provides me with her feedback. Then I let the band fiddle with things a bit and they bring something to the table as well.”

Expect the unexpected

The setlist will, of course, include jazz interpretations of familiar Edwards songs. But there will also be a few surprises, including covers of songs by fellow Canadian singer/songwriters and possibly some jazz standards. How will it all roll out?

“Jazz is about improvisation and the unknown. Until that moment happens, you don’t know,” answers Cancura. “Expect the unexpected.”

Kathleen Edwards with Petr Cancura’s Crossroads takes place Thursday November 24, at 7:30pm in the NAC Theatre (53 Elgin St). The show has sold out, however the NAC will release holds shortly before the performance and you may luck out on the day. Visit www.nac-cna.ca for ticket information.

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