Either one. That’s a fair description of what you’ll see and hear should you head to one of Calgary jazz artist Ellen Doty’s shows on her upcoming prairie tour, which kicks off Wednesday night at the Ironwood with a show that’s part of JazzYYC’s Illumin8 Series.
It will find her in the transformative phase of what has already been a pretty excellent career in the city’s local music scene. But one that, like the artist herself, is ready to blossom, bloom and move into a bigger, brighter realm.
The concerts will feature her sure and stunning approach to the more traditional jazz form — one that has earned her a substantial number of fans across the country, regular shows around the city and province — but also showcase or hint at the new direction, one that she has a difficult time describing.
“It’s a little bit of a shift,” Doty says, sitting in her local Kensington Pub. “So it’s going to be a slight rebrand for me. Not entirely, but I’d say the sound is for a bit of a younger audience than I have had. It’s just a slight shift. I think it will still appeal to my audience that I currently have.”
She pauses and continues. “It’s more of a transition period, I suppose, into what it will all fully become.”
A greater, fuller picture of that — butterfly Doty — should be revealed later this year, with the release of her latest collection of songs. The artist just wrapped up the recording of the album in Toronto, with it now being in the final stages of mixing.
“The best,” she says simply. “I’ve never been so happy with something that I’ve made before.
… I just loved the whole experience.”
It was, she admits, one that took almost two-and-a-half years, with the approach, the sound and even the band she was working with taking on “many iterations,” which included at its fullest being backed by a six piece.
That, though, apparently didn’t suit the material, and a hail mary at the end of a session with all of those players, the idea to strip it all the way back to merely her gorgeous voice accompanied by drums and piano, turned out to be the perfect format for her to shine in.
Doty gushes about that decision, working solely with in-demand drummer Davide DiRenzo, who has toured with Cassandra Wilson and Tom Cochrane and has worked as a session musician with other artists such as Serena Ryder and Feist, and pianist Mark Lalama, known for his work with Kevin Breit. Both musicians also acted as producers on the fly.
The chemistry, she says, helped contribute to what she considered a pretty magical experience.
“It was a real honour for me to be involved with all of them,” she says, also noting the engineering work of Juno-winner John Bailey.
And the result is, again, something that could still be defined as “jazzy, but there’s folk and indie and pop, soul all mixed in there,” she says, while also explaining that the sessions produced a “uniform sound” that suited the material.
“It’s very open sounding, a lot of space — it almost makes you uncomfortable how much space there is,” she says. “But it sounds so great. I love it.”
As for that material, it is all original Doty compositions, with a couple of co-writes thrown into the mix, including one with noted Canadian roots artist Justin Rutledge and another with her “Calgary buddy” Danny Vacon, who flew out to T.O. to re-record the Christmas duet they released late last year Favourite Sweater.
That latter musical pairing remains one of the oddest and most wonderful that this city’s scene has produced, something Doty also takes great pride in, taking it to a broader level and the sense of goodwill that exists in the community.
“I love that,” she says. “I love that despite genre we can all just appreciate each other’s music.”
She laughs. “I mean, we’re all very different style-wise.
And she thinks she’s found her own style now, one that will take her far beyond this burg’s borders.
Doty is heading back east at the end of March “for a bunch of label meetings,” she says, while being mum on any specifics. The results of those should dictate the timing of the release of the new record, but she expects it should be this fall.
Although, the way she talks and the phase she’s currently in, it might as well be spring, with the artist more than ready to show off what she’s become, who she truly is and the heights she and her talents can reach.
“For me, I’ve really wanted to tap into the honesty of the music and really just expressing myself in the truest form I can,” she says. “And I think that’s what we’ve done here. It’s simple, but it says a lot. And I think it’s just taken time to be comfortable with putting that out there …
“It’s easy to stick to the things that you know people will latch onto right away — play some standards and all that — but I think when you dive in this far it’s about taking risks and being willing to take chances and try different things and try new things.
“I think that’s what’s gotten me here and I think that’s what’s going to drive me to get to another level.”
Ellen Doty performs at the Ironwood on Wednesday as part of the JazzYYC Illumin8 Series. For tickets and reservations go to 403-269-5581.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on at Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at email@example.com. He likes beer. Buy him one.