Folkies joined jazz aficionados at the NAC‘s 4th stage last Thursday to experience a rare cross-genre collaboration featuring beloved Ottawa singer-songwriter Lynn Miles performing with a band of top jazz players lead by Petr Cancura.
The concert was the second show in Petr Cancura’s Crossroads series presented as part of theWinter Jazz Fest and NAC Presents. The band, oozing deep musicality and local talent featured Cancura on saxophones, guitarist Roddy Elias, bassist John Geggie and drummer Greg Ritchie, who came in from Montreal.
There’s something about Miles’ music that has a way of catching you off guard and making you a believer. Maybe it’s the aching tenderness in her voice and maybe it’s the power of her lyrics to move and affirm and inspire all at once. Whatever it is, her courage to stare tough experiences hard in the eye so to harvest truth from them makes Miles one of the bravest voices you will hear. It’s perhaps no surprise then that when Cancura asked Miles if was interested in the project, she agreed. It could be intimidating to offer up your songs for reworking but Miles’ tunes proved solid enough to stand up even in the most experimental arrangements.
Cancura selected tunes from across Lynn’s catalogue from “I Loved A Cowboy” off her 1996 album Slightly Hauntedthrough to “Deep September Blue” off her latest releaseWinter. If there was any sense of unsurety about whether this meeting of musics would work, Miles was quick to diffuse it. She rolled through the show with a wit as quick as Roddy’s fingers, at times teasing her band mates about how they’re coming along after a hard week’s of lessons.
The show began with the band introducing themselves the best way they could: trading solos and flexing their improvisational muscle in an extended jam. Then Miles came on and started into enchanting us on the bittersweet ballad “Million Brilliant.”
The downtempo “More” was a highlight of the evening. Lynn’s vocals soared even higher on the “more”s in the chorus riding on Petr’s sweet backup harmonies. Meanwhile Roddy hung back with some honeyed lap steel style lines and banjo-like rolls in his solo in a nod to Lynn’s rootsy sound. Greg Ritchie shifted seamlessly between rhythmic feels getting busier for the solos to make jazz cats feel more at home.
There was also space for Miles to play a couple of tunes solo, one of which was “What If You Were A Refugee?”, a song of solidarity she wrote to raise funds for Syrian resettlement programs. Cancura and the band also took the chance to show what they’re made of on one of Cancura’s compositions, the gospel-ly “There Is A Chance.” Cancura dug deep on his solo, letting loose a wave of emotion. Roddy played his guitar like a B3 organ, all less-is-more lead lines and muscular comping before setting his fingers flying across the neck in his own nicely shaped solo.
The most inventive arrangement of the night had to be the world beat interpretation of “This is the Night,” one of my favorite Lynn Miles’ songs. Cancura and company whipped up a joyful frenzy with Ritchie on shakers, while Roddy and Petr spun hypnotic, circular melodies reminiscent of Soukous, a Congolese dance music. At one point Greg Ritchie had one arm holding down a shaker groove while the other broke out it down with some Latin jazz drum fills.
The jaunty “All The Birds” was an easy fit for jazz treatment. Bassist John Geggie started the tune off with a surprisingly lyrical solo, all slinky slides and juicy double stops and Miles went to town vocalizing bird sounds in a call and response with Cancura’s sax and Roddy’s guitar. “Let the Sun Have Its Day” was another surprisingly jazz-ready tune played at an incredibly dreamy swing tempo with space for Miles to scat. Even with such a relaxed feel the band impressed.
All this praise isn’t too say the show was spotless. It seems that the players settled into a nice groove listening and responding to each other more as the show went on. Earlier in the set, the arrangement of “I Loved A Cowboy” was just too busy. “At The Party Too Long” got off to a rocky start when Roddy and Lynn couldn’t seem to find each other’s groove over an intro with too many out-there chords. Luckily, they got through the rough patch and then really got going with a lively New Orleans lean-in swing.
The show closed with another surprise, a new song Miles wrote especially for the project titled “Moody.” With a refrain that stretches the word moody for all its worth over vocal jumps and a big breath the song came to stand for the spirit of the whole night- Miles rolling with the jazzcats and doing as they do but always with a wink.
If this sounds like something you’d dig there is one more show in the Crossroads series coming upApril 7. This time ‘round Cancura and band will be taking Jeremy Fisher and his tunes on a trip to Jazzland.