Jazz drummer Curtis Nowosad has established himself as one the most popular musicians in the Winnipeg jazz scene, seemingly gigging all the time with a crop of young, rising players, and many of the local veterans, as well as the University of Manitoba’s Jazz Studies professors.
My evening at The Park Theatre Café, a refurbished movie theatre that has become one of the hottest venues for live music of all genres, began with my arrival about 15 minutes before the doors were opened. I had a feeling the show would sell out and I wanted to sit in a particular location. As I handed over my $10 ticket, I also paid the special pre-sale price of $10 for the CD, Nowosad’s first, entitled The Skeptic & The Cynic.
As the venue began to fill up, I noticed a few fans spontaneously clapping as Nowosad strolled from the stage to the floor. I recognized several people from other jazz shows. The audience was comprised of teenagers and people who may have been in their 70s and above. This just confirms for me that jazz is still growing its fan base.
When the band finally took to the stage, they were warmly greeted by the audience. I recognized everyone, save for the alto saxophonist, Craig Bailey, who recently joined the U of M faculty as a jazz educator. In fact, five of the seven performers are U of M jazz educators, including Bonness, trumpeter Derrick Gardner, guitarist Laurent Roy and the head of the Jazz Studies program, Professor Steve Kirby on bass. Tenor saxophonist Niall Bakkestad-Legare is another popular young player on the local scene.
As soloists, I was particularly bowled over by the force and authority of Gardner’s trumpet. He earned some of the loudest ovations from the audience all evening. Roy, who was known by his Anglicized name “Larry” for a long time, was stellar on electric guitar, deftly releasing notes with the creativity and spontaneity that many guitarists aspire to but few possess. Bassist Kirby performed with enthusiasm, bringing excitement to an instrument that is sometimes performed without enough flair. Kirby’s performance was totally involved, physically moving around and giving the audience another worthwhile focal point.
Bailey’s alto sax was given the type of workout that can only be expected from someone of his pedigree, who has put in the endless hours of performance with cream-of-the-crop players, over many years. His sound is potent but also fluently soulful. Bakkestad-Legare confirmed for me that he is more than capable of sharing the stage with masterful musicians. His craft is always on the up-rise every time I see him.
Bonness showed his sense of humour by injecting a few (piano) notes here and there as Nowosad was speaking, sometimes mimicking the organ sound at hockey games. The audience enjoyed these moments and once again, they were spellbound by his performance. I’ve never been a fan of the sound of electric pianos, but I do understand how they are far easier to schlep around than acoustic ones. Having heard Bonness on a grand piano before, I felt as if I was missing out on hearing a superior piano sound.
Nowosad’s command of the drums displays his skills for subtlety and nuance, as well as strong fluidity when he gets into a groove. Given the quality of the musicians he plays with, I expect him to continue to develop his style and craft.
To add to the diversity of the sounds that evening, local hip-hop singer/poet Ismaila Alfa appeared as a special guest and impressed me with his performance. It’s not the kind of thing you would see at a traditional jazz show, but times are changing. (Witness the almost unheard of popularity for the Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio CD.)
Numerous times throughout the show, the affable Nowosad recognized his bandmates for the evening and was gracious as he thanked them as well as his other critical influences in his life, including all his teachers, the Park Theatre, and finally, his wife.
At the end of the band’s performance, it came as no surprise that the audience quickly rose to their feet and offered up a heart-felt standing ovation. This was a terrific evening, exactly what I was expecting, and an important and well derserved milestone for Curtis Nowosad.