NAC Presents: There’s no time like the present for Petr Cancura’s Generation Now sextet

Petr Cancura will lead his Generation Now project into the National Arts Centre on Tuesday.

You have to wonder how Patr Cancura fits in all the work, what with his role as the programming director at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, teaching and many gigs, but somehow he does.

The Energizer Bunny of the Ottawa jazz scene is stepping onto the NAC Fourth Stage on Tuesday with a project called Generation Now.

“The idea for this next concert was to put together a bit of a dream band of Canadian musicians,” he said in an interview.

“When I was putting it together with Heather Gibson from NAC Presents, the concept of Generation Now was from my point of view was who are the people who are making really creative solid jazz right now.”

He knows that this is a matter of opinion but it is his gig.

“This is just one version of that but it’s really a special version.”

The band on stage on Tuesday is a six-piece with three horns and a rhythm section which offers three voices that can make a sound that rivals an orchestra and can also be a quiet as needs be.

Cancura was a bit of a fanboy when he started to put together his group.

“For years I have wanted to do something with Michael Blake. He is my favourite tenor (saxophone) player in New York City. I have admired his playing for decades now.

“He is very soulful and an underrated player. It’s really great to get to play with him.” Cancura will play tenor and alto sax, while Blake will play tenor, soprano saxophone and flute, an instrument he is playing a lot lately. Cancura, though has a preference for the big sound that two tenor saxophones make together.

He’s also working with pianist Marianne Trudel who is another performer that he has wanted to work with for some time.

“I can hear chamber music in her playing. She’s written for the Montreal Symphony Ochestra and then she turns around and finishes a recording with John Hollenbeck that is really avant-garde jazz.”

Trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy from Toronto is the music director of the Massey Hall Blues Review amongst other things. He is already in a band with Hennessy called Way North along with a drummer and a bass player.

“I play really well with her and she is one of the young voices who is sounding fantastic these days.”

Rémi-Jean LeBlanc on bass and Greg Ritchie on drums are both from Montreal where they are in-demand players, Cancura says. Ritchie has played in the Crossroads series that Cancura has also run through the National Arts Centre.

The idea behind Generation Now is multi-faceted, Cancura says. “The previous two years I had three or four shows a year in Crossroads” in which he would arrange for jazz band versions of music by songwriters.

“This time, we wanted to do something different. The idea was to do something collaborative and bring together a band that might never get together again. I really wanted to put something like this together from scratch.

“I also wanted to bring to get strong players who are also string composers. Marianne, Michael and I are all bringing in songs. I really love how these folks write music and that’s definitely something that I wanted to feature.”

The beauty of a collaboration such as this is that all the players become very invested in the project, Cancura says. He remains the band leader and calls the shots when a decision has to be made.

The question is: does it carry on?

The concert will be recorded and that will be used to apply for grants and try to get more shows. A lot of effort goes into putting together a concert like this, so the hope is it can get done more than once.

They have been sending musical charts back and forth because most of the music is too new to have been recorded. And the day before they will gather and rehearse. It might get a bit messy, but “that’s totally fine” for Cancura. The art is often found in the accidents.

He also knows that these players will be involved in the music “100 per cent. If you make a mistake make it big. No fear.”

This is an opportunity to showcase some of those fantastic musicians that may not be household names, he says.

“It’s really important to do these shows.”

There is one more Generation Now concert on April 29 with two members of Tanya Tagaq’s band, Jesse Zubot and Jean Martin and Vancouver guitarist Gord Grdina.

NAC Presents Generation Now with Petr Cancura
Where: Fourth Stage
When: March 13 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and more information: nac-cna.ca

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.