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Petr Cancura. Photo courtesy of the NAC.

NAC’s Crossroads brings collaborators together across genres

By Chrissy Steinbock on June 21, 2016



After a swinging first year, Petr Cancura’s Crossroads series returns to the NAC in the new season with a fresh slate of songwriters lined up for a journey into jazz. The three shows recently announced feature Kathleen Edwards, Lynne Hanson and Justin Rutledge, all fine storytellers with a rootsy bent. A fourth Ottawa singer-songwriter will be announced in October.

Co-presented by NAC Presents and the Ottawa Jazz Festival, Crossroads is a concert series of one-time-only collaborations curated by Simone Deneau and Petr Cancura, musician and programming manager at the Ottawa Jazz festival. The premise for the project is that Cancura chooses a few favourite songwriters and then re-arranges their songs in a jazz context, backed up by a crack band of jazz cats.

Justin Rutledge

Justin Rutledge, photo by Christopher Young

The result is an experience where you hear different sides to songs you thought you knew and watch the melding of musical worlds. It’s not just sounds that meet up at the Crossroads but styles, scenes and fans. The project is a natural fit for Cancura who’s played saxophone in jazz groups, with folk songwriters, and The Mighty Popo. He’s also a bluegrass fan who plays some mandolin and banjo as well.

“What I love about jazz is the improvising, that energy and the virtuosity because those musicians in the jazz scene tend to be very virtuosic and they can kind of do anything. But what I miss in that world is that raw storytelling vibe that only singer-songwriters do.”

And don’t even pretend you’re not excited to hear Kathleen Edwards will be taking a break from her break to play the series. On November 24 the Ottawa songwriter who can bust your heart with songs like “Six O’Clock News” and “Asking for Flowers” will be returning to the stage to join Cancura, a longtime friend who arranged the horns on her first record. On the series Kathleen Edwards says, “This music collaboration is a dream scenario for me because I’ll be able to sing on a totally clean slate, reinvent my songs, fit into a group of world-class musicians, and start something completely fresh artistically.

Lynne Hanson, photo courtesy of the NAC.

Lynne Hanson, photo courtesy of the NAC.

Re-invention is what the series is about. Cancura and the incredible house band he’s assembled have the chops to see a song as a starting point and use it for parts, keeping some and replacing others in the re-assembly. Expect ear-opening takes on familiar tunes, shiny jazz chords, and lots of instrumental interplay. Whether it’s an entirely new rhythmic feel, new chords to an old melody or a little bit of everything, Cancura always bring a respect for the original and leaves lots of room for the in-the-moment energy of improvisation. “If you’re into jazz you’re going to hear this really great jazz band commit themselves to this other genre without compromising their own musicality which is also really powerful,” he says.

Crossroads heads into its second year with the original house band featuring respected jazz musicians, Roddy Elias (guitar), drummer Greg Ritchie, John Geggie on bass and, of course, Cancura himself on saxophone. There are a few changes though. The series has grown to four shows spread out over the year and the net’s been cast a little wider with the inclusion of Toronto’s Justin Rutledge. Still, most of the Crossroads talent is Ottawa-based. The mood may be a little different too as the shows move out of the intimate Fourth Stage into the Theatre and the Studio (the NAC’s bigger rooms). The upside is more people will get a chance to hear these pretty special one-time collaborations.

I got in touch with Cancura to learn more about the Crossroads’ second season. Here is an excerpt form our conversation.

Apt613: How do you go about choosing the songwriters you’re featuring in the next season?

Petr Cancura: I like the fact when it’s somebody who’s local or as local as possible, because then with the amount of effort I put into it it’s really good to meet up with these artists a bunch of times. The way I went about it was to really think of musicians that I like – I like the way they write or I like either their story of their type of melody, something that grabs me that I think is authentic.

As long as it feels strong and authentic than I feel I can totally work with it. We did go through singers and I was like, “You know what, this might not really work”. I won’t name things. It’s like I can’t really feel what I would do at this point, then we would move onto the next and be like, “Yes! that’s great I can totally hear things already.” You can hear it right away when you’re like, this is going to work.

I’m curious how did you got Kathleen Edwards to do the show.

I’m really excited that she agreed as well (laughs) I think it’s two fold first of all cause we do have a history and I was able to work with her before. I did a lot of the horns on her first record and that goes back almost twenty years at this point and we haven’t actually done that much since then. I did a bunch of shows around that time before she moved away and then she moved back and then I moved away and all that stuff. I think that’s one thing that we do have that history and I was really upfront with her also about what I though this could be, how I would like to do it and I sent her a bunch of the records I’m doing and I think she knows and hopefully likes what I do. I think there’s that trust too.

Kathleen Edwards, photo by Todd V. Wolfson.

Kathleen Edwards, photo by Todd V. Wolfson.

If there was somebody who was somehow still on the fence, why would you say this is a must see?

First of all, because you’re never going to see this again. These are once in a lifetime opportunities, they really are. If you like any of those musicians or if you like jazz and you like that band or your like that songwriter, it’s going to be a really unique, authentic experience. It’s just because of the nature of the show. It’s just going to happen once. Everybody’s a really high level musician in this project and they know this is a one-ff show which means they just go for it so the energy of the show is also really strong because it’s like not like oh, it’s the first gig of a ten day tour its like this is it. So every show has had this kind of edge which has been great.

The series doesn’t start until the fall, but with the buzz building, you may want to make your plans while you can.

Tickets for the concerts in the Crossroads series go on sale today.  A three-concert “Crossroads Series” package is available from $99.