Essoudry in all their glory. Image: Zofka Svec/Fulcrum
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Jazz band Essoudry delighted an intimate crowd

When I walked into Jazz Night at the Queen St. Fare, I was pleasantly surprised by the warm and inviting atmosphere. It was a fancier cocktail bar than I expected, full of young public servants on dates. The price was right: free.

As always, I arrived fashionably late. I was met with a warm jetstream of chill jazz music. The three-piece band Essoudry (drums, bass, guitar) were already in their groove onstage. Their name hails from in-demand drummer Mike Essoudry, a staple in the Ottawa jazz scene who has been in seven bands at once. When asked, all of the members excitedly told me about their other bands that would be performing in the coming weeks. They seemed enthusiastic about the future of performing with their various outfits. Guitarist Wayne Eagles expressed concern to me about the risks with COVID-19. Like all of us, he held a healthy amount of caution as he assured me that his entire band was vaccinated.

Individually, the musicians were all incredibly talented. Together, they worked like a well-oiled machine, running through funky jazz tracks with enthusiasm. The bass had a nice melodic pattern to it, with the bassist often playing high up on the neck before dropping down to strike a meaty chord. The guitar and bass followed each other well. I liked the dynamic and communication between them. Often the bass would play the lead melody and the guitar would strike discordant notes over top. It was rare when the bass was  relegated to a bluesy 4/4 walking bassline, but it was a nice occasional contrast. The guitars were so in sync they sometimes conflicted with the drums, but this was rare.

Essoudry on drums was incredible. His percussion is calculated and tight, and the fact that it was mostly improvised is all the more impressive. Stylistically he was all over the place, sometimes sounding like an orchestral timpanist and other times relying on the snare so much it sounded like a syncopated breakbeat sample. This fluidity was refreshing and interesting, and every flashy solo was met with nearly a standing ovation from the crowd.

It was a great first post-lockdown concert. It was chill, but powerful and emotional at times. Some well-placed wah-wah pedal-enhanced guitar solos helped to break up some slower songs and were a great display of talent without being too showboaty. My only gripe was that the guitarist took two hours to really show off his chops. His best solo was close to the end of their second set. “This is a great crowd for a Wednesday!,” he proclaimed onstage at one point. It was. The crowd of cocktail enjoyers were having a blast. Although not allowed to get up and dance because of the COVID-19 regulations, it didn’t feel like I was missing out – it wasn’t the vibe of the night. Indeed, it was a Wednesday.

Eagles and a kind unnamed audience member both brought up the COVID-19 venue closures, Rainbow and The Vineyard being the two main casualties. Queen St. Fare, where the show was held, is actually a reasonably new venue, and I hope it sticks around for a while.

As the night wound down, and as I gulped down the dregs of my third Diet Pepsi, I realized I felt a low-grade sense of calm and peace. The set was crafted so it tapered off naturally, closing with a pared-down cover of the modern jazz classic “Green Tea.” I walked home in the rain, content.