Atlantic Jazz Nights
Reviewed by Deepesh Paudel

An invitation to Atlantic Jazz Nights brought some respite from the mind-numbing snow squall that buried the city over that weekend. I attended the event with my partner, Sadhana, at the Arts and Culture Centre on January 20th. The night was an arresting experience, even for me— a relative stranger to Jazz. For someone to whom jazz is limited to the images of cozy, atmospheric fireplace music, the forwardness of the performance enthralled me. The combination of improvisation, stage presence, and dexterity made the event what it was: a stellar performance.

Before it all began, the modestly filled auditorium glistened with starry lights. Shafts of violet rays adorned the stage. A piano, accordion, clarinet, trumpet, bass, and drums awaited their performers. Soon after, the murmurs of the settling attendees died down, the lights dimmed, and the quintet stepped onto the stage. In less than a minute of the performers taking their positions, groovy music enveloped the hall. It was like seeing characters unfold in a play, with actions rather than exposition.

It took me some time to adjust to the complexity of the music, which was like everything, all at once, yet it maintained its individuality. Only if I focused on an instrument would its music stand out from the mix. Never throughout the two-hour show did one instrument overpower another. Instead, the performance was cohesive, constantly shifting and making space for nuances.

The musical genius of the quintet was evident midway through Betty’s Dance, their first piece of the evening. Each performer showcased a delicate yet commanding artistic prowess as the piece segued into solos. The oscillation between solos and the ensemble transitioned seamlessly, preserving the harmony. After it ended, Florian Hoefner, the host, curator, and pianist, introduced the quintet: Tara Davidson on saxophone and clarinet; Alexander Brown on trumpet; Greg Ritchie on drums; and the other host and curator, Jim Vivian, on bass.

Next on the lineup was C.E.A, composed by Florian. It was snappier, starting with the clarinet, joined quickly by a rhythmic accordion, and kept moving along with Greg’s alternating punches on the floor tom and deft touches on the snare. A special shoutout to Greg for perfectly mixing power with subtle touches throughout the evening. Later in their fourth piece, The Process by Alex Brown, I was pleasantly amused by how the arrangement made way for a quick burst of Greg’s pulsating drum solo. The audience loved it.

Of the eight sets performed last night, I had two favourites: Jim Vivian’s Stellaluna and Tara Davidson’s Deer and the Racoon. Both pieces evoked images of life stories and allowed me to feel them viscerally through their music. Stellaluna, as Jim recounted, is a story about a journey to the dark and back to the light. Darkness is a temporary detour in life. It’s the absence of the music we have longed to hear. Jim’s composition resonates with this feel. The music is sombre in the beginning. But just as we think it falls into the dark, it springs up with candour and hope, much like tufts of dandelions in flight, oscillating between different emotions.

Deer and the Racoon, on the other hand, sounds sweet. The music flows like dewdrops cascading from one leaf to another. Tara’s saxophone and Alex’s trumpet synchronize, adding fluidity The falls and lifts in the piece made me imagine sunsets and sunrises, belongings of our everyday lives often taken for granted because of their predictability. The rest of the performance included Alex’s For Tomorrow, Tara’s Family Portrait, and Florian’s Old.

During the performance, Jim shared that jazz is about the magic that spontaneously transpires and the deep history of performers as individuals and collectives. Last night was a testament to this. Ultimately, as we all stood applauding the musical genius on stage, I wondered what I now felt about jazz. I still found it cozy and atmospheric, but more than that, I found it complex, interwoven, and unpredictable. It told me something peculiar: find comfort and joy in solitude, as you might in the company of others.

The fourth concert in the Atlantic Jazz Series, season two, will be on its provincial tour in March 2024. You can find more about it at

Deepesh Paudel (he/him) is a theatre practitioner currently living in St. John’s. Originally from Nepal, he relocated to Canada in 2022 to pursue a Ph.D. in Management at the Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. His academic focus centers on the intersections of theatre, society, and business. You can reach him at