Jasmine Trio plays Ottawa Jazz Festival RendezVous Rideau Jazz StageMost people, when they come back from a trip to Europe, will tell their friends about it or post their pictures. Ottawa saxophonist Doug Martin was inspired by his 2007 trip to create a jazz album, which will receive its official release this Friday.

Doug Martin is one of the steadiest, long-term players in the Ottawa jazz scene. After graduating from Humber College’s music program in the early 1970s, he went on the road with rock and R&B bands. These days, he plays mostly jazz around Ottawa: in his own groups, in the Jasmine Trio, and accompanying other musicians.

But he’s not settling into a standards-only groove. He’s spent the last several years writing the material for this CD, called Odyssey. It’s his first quartet album, his first concept album, and his first album containing only his own compositions.

He’ll be premiering it Friday evening at Café Paradiso, with the same musicians who played on the album: pianists Yves Laroche and Ian Card, bassist Tom Denison,
and drummer Jeff Asselin.

He talked about it with editor Alayne McGregor on Tuesday. Following is an edited version of the conversation: How is this album different from what you’ve done before?

Doug Martin: It’s different in several respects. The main one is that I wrote all the music myself. Nothing I’ve done in the past has had that much original music on it. Plus this particular CD is kind of thematic in nature: it’s based on impressions of places I’ve been on my travels in Europe a few years back. I wrote 12 different pieces, each one about a different place or experience or event that I had in Europe.

OJS: I noticed you’d previously done an album called In the Zone.

Martin: That was done about 10 years ago, and it was a duo album, a piano-sax duo. Two or three originals on it, but it was largely standards,

OJS: You played what seems to have been some of this music at the Ottawa jazz festival in 2009. So has this been a long process?

Martin: Yes, one or two of the songs we did in 2009, and last year, in 2010, we did several more. Again, that was the first time we did them as a quartet. So, it’s been about a two-year project. The album is called Odyssey, and it’s kind of an odyssey, not just because I travelled around Europe but in the way it all came together. It feels like it was a long journey.

OJS: When you went to Europe, were you writing down musical ideas as you went?

Martin: No. I wasn’t really thinking that way at the time. I was just there to travel around and see all these places and have fun – which I did. It was probably on the plane ride back, flying back to Canada that I started thinking about these things in a musical sort of way. So when I did get back, I started writing tunes, putting down some musical ideas and impressions of these different places. Deciding what experiences I wanted to write about, I guess.

OJS: Did you look at a photo and the photo inspired memories? How do you translate from an experience to music?

Martin: I’m not sure that’s an easy question to answer, but I think some of my ideas came from looking at the photos that I had taken. Others came from just feelings that I had about a place or an event. For example, a tune called Death Train on the album is about my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have photos of that, but it was more the feeling that I had. For several days after being there – you’ve probably experienced this – you wake up in the morning and you suddenly remember that and you get this sick feeling in your stomach. I had that for several days after being there. That sort of thing makes quite an impression on you; I think the inspiration for that tune came from my remembering of that gut feeling, rather than the photos.

OJS: In La Rambla, I thought it was interesting how a Barcelona street scene translated into a bass line.

Martin: At nighttime on this street, La Rambla, there’s just tons and tons of stuff going on. I guess my overall impression was sexy. In my opinion the tune sounds sexy,
and that’s what I wanted, and that was what I was trying to represent most of all there. There’s lots of that stuff going on; you can see it all around you.

OJS: There’s a wide range of styles on this album. Was that because of the wide range of places you visited?

Martin: I tried not to stick to one style. I tried to let my mind go free and compose whatever came out, whether it was a straight-ahead jazz piece like Unicum, which is a bebop sort of thing, which is maybe the straightest jazz piece on the album. But then there’s La Rambla, which is R&B in flavour. I tried to let the experience speak to me and not to stick to a style.

OJS: Your first track, Kafka, reminds me of soundtracks from 1950s films.

Martin: What it reminds me of is Alfred Hitchcock, and that Gounod piece, the March of the Marionettes.

OJS: What musicians influenced you in the compositions?

Martin: That’s hard. I would say Charles Mingus, and Thelonious Monk, because they had very individual styles in terms of composition, and I always really enjoyed that,
and there’s a certain quirkiness to a lot of their compositions, too, which I really admired. Probably those two more than anyone else, as a composer.

OJS: Did it make it easier on this record to have musicians you’ve played with for years?

Martin: Yes, I think it did. The drummer, Jeff Asselin, I hadn’t played with very much, but I always admired his playing. But it was nice to have people that I knew and who knew me: we had a rapport already.

I can’t say enough about those guys: they really came together as a group to do this recording. They really got into the spirit of the thing, which may have also had something to do with the fact they already knew me. I guess they trusted in my artistic vision. They made lots of suggestions and had lots of ideas, and they understood the concept of the album. So they were focused in that direction, and the things they said, the comments they made, really augmented the theme that I was trying to present. I was very, very happy to have worked with those guys – and they played very well on the album, too. But this involvement in the project was really something I didn’t quite expect at that level, and when it happened I was so pleasantly surprised.

Norm Glaude recorded the album; he was the engineer. He has a great studio; small but very professional, designed by himself in concert with an acoustic engineer. But most importantly he’s really, really good at his gig. He knows his equipment and he just does stuff in seconds. He also made some very fine suggestions as well: he became another member of the band. All of us, including him, pulled together for this.

OJS: When did you actually do the recording?

Martin: It was at the end of January. We booked a Saturday and a Sunday and laid down all the tracks in those two days.

OJS: Had you played the music much together before that?

Martin: We started rehearsing [in] late November, early December. I was still in the middle of writing the final two pieces at that time.

OJS: Will the Café Paradiso gig be the first time you actually present the full collection of material in public?

Martin: Yes, it will. I’m looking forward to that.

OJS: Do you think the fact that you’ve also played rock and R&B influenced this album?

Martin: I think so. My musical influences are fairly varied. R&B and rock were a big part of my life for many years in the 60s and 70s. I think some of the licks I play come from that era because I absorbed them then.

Also being on the road with those bands: it’s a cynicizing experience in one way. It can be a hell of a lot of fun, too, and it has been. As long as you don’t become debilitated by your cynicism, I think it gives you healthy expectations. It’s not that you’re not going to shoot for as much as you possibly can, but your expectations are such that you’re not crushed by disappointment.

OJS: What are the challenges and frustrations of being a working musician in Ottawa?

Martin: {An] insufficient number of venues to play, having to fight for what you feel is your rightful due in terms of money. That’s not true always, but certainly in some gigs you have to do that.

Another one is that it’s very hard to get people, Ottawa being a small city, it’s hard to get enough people to come out on a consistent basis to see you – or to see anyone. I’ve had house gigs in the past: once a week, or twice a month I would play a gig at a given place, and at first you get lots of people to come because it’s all very novel, but after that, attendance falls off. There’s just not enough people: the same people aren’t going to come every week – I wouldn’t either – and there’s just not enough people to support the scene. Before too long, the club owner comes up and says, ‘Well, we gotta stop doing this because it’s not paying anymore.’ That has happened so many times; I don’t even want to remember.