Ottawa saxophonist Doug Martin is a hit in Havana

Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen
More from Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa saxophonist Doug Martin has twice performed at the Havana Jazz Festival in recent years, and his experiences in Cuba inspired his recently released album, Spirit of Survival. Martin’s quartet, which includes pianist Yves Laroche, bassist Norm Glaude and drummer Tom Denison, will feature music from the album when it plays Live on Elgin this Friday night.

Below, Martin delves into his Cuban connection.

Q: What’s the connection between your new CD and your performance a few years ago at the Havana Jazz Festival?

A: I went to Havana the first time as a music tourist. I had heard much about the excellent music in Cuba. I wasn’t disappointed.

My road to the Havana festival began with a fortuitous mistake on the part of the lady who owned the casa particular (similar to a B&B) in which I was staying. It seems she had double-booked my second night, so she graciously found me another casa just around the corner. Turns out the owner of this new casa was the host of a jazz radio show on Radio Taino in Havana. Fortunately, I had packed a few copies of my previous CD, Odyssey, one of which I gave him. He really liked it, so he turned his station manager on to it and she really liked it. The next thing I knew my music was being played on Cuban radio.

Later, back in Ottawa, it occurred to me that if the music turned on the radio people, it might well turn on the festival people. I sent them a CD and eventually they contacted me and invited me to perform in December 2014.  Needless to say, I am very beholden to that first casa owner and her serendipitous memory lapse.

Q: Tell me about the music on Spirit of Survival.

A: I composed all the music on this CD. I adopted the same modus operandi as I used on my previous CD. I let certain events, people, places and aspects of life guide my pen. For example, Tainos’ Lament. The Tainos were a tribe native to Cuba who were systematically and horrifically tortured and slaughtered by the Spanish. Coco À Go Go celebrates these little three-wheeled motorcycle taxis with a fibreglass shell vaguely resembling a coconut. They tear about the streets narrowly missing (and often not missing) great potholes which are a defining feature of Havana streets. It’s a wild ride. Legendario was inspired by an amazingly tasty rum-based liqueur, numerous bottles of which I managed to get through Canadian customs.

Q: Most of the disc features your quartet, but you have some guests too. Why did you decide to add more musicians?

A: Arranging a tune with more instruments can in some cases really enhance the effectiveness of the music. In the past, I felt I had to constrain myself and write for four people and that’s it. But this time, I thought “Why not?” For a few extra dollars I can add the colours I want. In every case, I think the guest musicians made significant enhancements to my music. Lucas Haneman’s guitar gave Santería a haunting mysterious quality. Rick Rangno’s trumpet lent power and punch to On The Malecón and René Fortier’s conga playing gave a couple of the tunes some serious latin feel. I am grateful for their contributions.

Q: When and where did you record? How did the process go?

A: We started rehearsing the tunes in January 2016. Then we did the recording on a weekend in mid-March. Recording, mixing and mastering were done by Norm Glaude at his Morning Anthem Studio in Cumberland. Yes, it all went down very well, I thought. A lot of it has to do with the people I’m working with. If everyone, including the engineer, is relaxed and comfortable with each other, then things tend to go smoothly. This is the second CD the bunch of us has done together, so it feels pretty good.

Q: What hopes do you have for the album?

A: I have lots of hopes. I hope it wins a Juno. But more realistically, I’m hoping it will open some doors in a couple of areas. I would like to expand my gigging potential and get more festival gigs. Also I would like to attract a publisher through whom I would very much like to license my music. I have this dream of playing all over the planet. A few well-placed licenses could go a long way toward financing such an endeavour.

Doug Martin Quartet
When: Friday, Jan. 27, 8 p.m.
Where: Live On Elgin, 220 Elgin St.
Admission: $15