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Formed in April 2012, Ozere began as a vehicle to try out violinist Jessica Deutsch’s original compositions.  She wanted to write fiddle and folk tunes for a string quartet, but chose to pair violin and cello with mandolin and upright bass.  Those instruments gave the band more textures and a fierce ...

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Samantha Brickler

A Freer Sound: Ozere Strides from String Quartet to Anyplace, As Globally Inspired Traditions Collide with Classical Technique

There’s the rigor and structure of the string quartet. Then there’s the freewheeling ethos of an Irish session, when it’s about participation and camaraderie, not performance. Classically trained, free-spirited Toronto-based violinist Jessica Deutsch has worked to unite both, with her roots-meets-classical group Ozere.

Ozere thrives in that peculiar space where chance encounters--a stranger on a plane’s lively turn of phrase, a sign on the side of a Toronto landmark--spark complex pieces. By turns folky and refined, the band sounds at home in Finding Anyplace (album release: October 19, 2015). Though the strings take center stage, vocalists Emily Rockarts and Deutsch, who found her voice recently, as well as sprightly mandolin (Adrian Gross), expand the sonic palette, as does the subtle edge contributed by David Travers-Smith’s imaginative production.

Marimba and hand drums merge with the band’s core sound. American spiritual gem “Wayfaring Stranger” gets an old-world twist, while pieces like “Anyplace” swirl with melodies that hint at everything from hardanger tunes to Carpathian dances and that converse with all the beauty of classical technique. Deutsch weaves original works with traditional pieces, sometimes on a single track (“This and That Set”). For all its far-flung tendencies, the music feels grounded, of a piece, and yet never too comfortable or settled.

“The identity of the band doesn’t fit neatly into something. There are songs that we can learn by ear, and then there are pieces like ‘Moment,’” notes Deutsch. “It’s a short tune but everyone needs a chart for it. Even then, I don’t want them to do exactly what I’ve written. I want to maintain a freer sound.”

The group will bring this sound to the US for the first time in October, to celebrate the new album.

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Deutsch comes by her anyplaceness honestly. She grew up playing music with rather strict, if engrossing classical discipline. Youth orchestras, lots of practice at home, parental insistence.  Yet it didn’t change her passion for music. In university, she stumbled across a Celtic music jam at a pub not far from her place in Vancouver. She was intrigued--and when she started to join in, she was hooked.

“Anyone of any background and training could go. It was completely different from my experience,” she reflects. “You could be a complete beginner, or very good. It didn’t matter. You drank beer and learned tunes.That approach to music stuck with me: Learning by ear, jamming, having a drink while you play. I had a thirst for that.”

It proved remarkably freeing. After her studies, Deutsch took to the road, travelling around Europe with a cheap violin, playing anywhere and with anyone. She absorbed tunes from fellow travellers, learned as much as she could, from Barcelona to Istanbul. “When I liked a place, I stayed there,” recalls Deutsch. “I had all these positive experiences of people showing me their music. But I never found one style that fit.”

Her road led back to Toronto, where she became a key player with city’s notorious Balkan-powered party band the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, among other musical adventures. Revelling in her newfound musical direction, Deutsch decided to put together her own group. 

“I wanted to put together a string quartet--that’s what I grew up playing--but I wanted to extend the form to include improvisation, to include anything that fit, really. At that time, I happened to be playing a lot with Adrian, the mandolin player, and this made me reconsider the instrumentation.  I started to move away from my original idea and to invent something new.”

The group began to evolve, thanks to the musicians who joined Deutsch. Guest singer for a show, Rockarts eventually became a vital part of the sound. Gross’s mandolin begged for bass. Cello rounded out the band and forefronted the chamber sound. 

“I teach people the music, but they bring their own sound to it and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Deutsch. “The people on the album contributed so much to the arrangements and style, to the vocal harmonies [to lovely effect on “The Keeper”]. I want that input; it’s very important to me.”

Input comes from all around. Some of Ozere’s inspirations are whimsical, offhand comments from fellow plane passengers (“The Sun Ain’t Down”) or Toronto landmarks (“Anyplace” is a wink to Toronto landmark store Honest Ed’s unforgettable signage, which Deutsch glimpsed as she worked on the piece in a cafe). Some are serious, like “Song for Tina,” a tribute to Tina Fontaine and the missing and murdered Indigenous women, or “The Parting,” a meditation on impermanence and mortality.

“This album celebrates Anyplace, that door that opens into a world and reveals all there is to play with and explore,” reflects Deutsch. “There really is no destination, or if there is, it’s always shifting. It’s the best place to be, and I’m thrilled. We’ve really hit our stride.”

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Release Title:
Finding Anyplace
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