Last night I found myself back in Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Studio, one of my absolute favourite rooms for a concert. The sight lines are perfect no matter where you sit, the sound is impeccable, and it’s small and quiet enough for the band to genuinely interact with the audience. The environment was perfect for the one-of-a-kind performance that was about to take place. As part of Petr Cancura’s Crossroads concert series, Cancura’s group of jazz musicians was ready to take on the music of Ottawa’s own Jim Bryson. With a pairing of musicians from completely different realms, I had no idea how the collaboration would turn out. By the end of the second set, I was blown away by how naturally this band fit together.
Petr Cancura and the Crossroads band got the crowd warmed up a bit with an original jazz number. This gave us an opportunity to see these musicians stretch out a bit in familiar territory before taking a plunge into Jim Bryson’s indie folk-rock world. After an impressive round of improvisation, Jim Bryson joined his new band on stage, introducing himself with the witty, charming, rambling stage banter, a staple feature of his shows. Grabbing an acoustic guitar from the array of instruments behind him, Jim got ready to deliver the first taste jazzified Bryson tunes.
He started off with a new tune, which I found to be quite an interesting choice. It allowed the audience to get a feel for the style of this collaboration without being able to compare it to a familiar song. I was immediately struck by the powerful warmth of the acoustic guitar as it filled the room. The rest of the band kicked right into the tune as if they had been playing it for years. The music had the backbone of Bryson’s songwriting and the centrepiece of Bryson’s melody, accented by the tonality and constant motion of the jazz musicians behind him.
As the evening progressed, we were treated to a number of songs, some of which stayed a little closer to their original versions, and some that dove into almost completely unfamiliar territory. The adaptations were not always perfect. The occasional missed chord change or slightly sloppy ending crept into the performance, but this did not detract from what these musicians were accomplishing in front of us. For the most part, the music was performed masterfully with a casual looseness. It felt like we were watching an informal jam session in which these musicians were really getting to know each other.
The second set opened oppositely to the first, with Jim Bryson performing a solo tune. After asking for requests from the audience and pondering for a few moments, Jim settled on “Breathe”, delivering a breathtaking rendition of the song. Without the backing of his usual band or the Crossroads musicians, Bryson used his voice in a far more commanding way than his usual subdued style. I was honestly surprised by the amount of power and control that he generated using only his voice and acoustic guitar.
As Jim stated partway through the show, the result of the collaboration was more like loosely defined contemporary music than true jazz, which allowed the audience to marvel in the elements of different genres that would come to the forefront at different moments. The melding of various musical worlds led to a set that was truly unique, without a single dull moment. I hope these musicians choose to collaborate again, since it would seem like a shame for this beautiful incarnation to only exist for one brief evening.