On their own, the members of Side-Eye and Grace are respected performers in Ottawa’s various music scenes. Together, they defy genres.

Side-Eye and Grace was founded by Garrett Warner in 2019. The Ottawa-based guitarist used to play in various punk bands, but he says he believes his music wasn’t widely appreciated because the genre was off-putting to many people.

Inspired by the drum-free tunes of of the American jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, he pulled together Side-Eye and Grace’s three other instrumentalists to create what he calls a refreshing, gentler form of beauty.

“It’s pretty broadly acceptable music,” he says. “But within that, we still go into places that push the boundaries. I like that sort of juxtaposition.”

Erik Johnson-Scherger, the band’s violinist, says all members contribute unique musical perspectives to form a genre-defying style — what they call chamber-jazz on their website. While he comes from a classical background, guitarist Kyle Jordan often plays in traditional jazz scenes, and double bassist Chris Pond introduces pop influences with an experimental twist.

“What all of us love about Side-Eye is that we don’t try to be any genre,” says Johnson-Scherger. “A lot of our music is a little bit sad and a lot hopeful.”

The name of their band reflects this theme. Johnson-Scherger says he originally wrote a song called Side-Eye & Grace as a commission for a harpist friend in Ontario who “always gets hit on at her wedding gigs.”

“She was like, ‘Do you want to write a tune about being snarky but also having to maintain professional decorum?’ So I wrote a jig in B flat,” he says. “Garrett heard the name and went ‘This is the band name now!’”

Side-Eye and Grace is an Ottawa-based string quartet founded in 2019. (The Sale)… of His Master’s Voice, re-interpreted by the band members in their favoured improvisational style, appears on their latest album, 2022’s Illuminate. [Video © Zenith Wolfe]

Their first album, Liminal Spaces, was released in 2020. Warner says most of the songs are conventionally pretty, but it also included more avant-garde blues-informed pieces composed by Jordan.

The band likes taking risks through improvisation – they often change how they’re performing a song minutes before they walk on stage. It’s provides a level of dynamism that’s gained the respect of Pete Woods, an Ottawa resident and longtime jazz saxophone player.

Woods is also the Minister of Mackay United Church. For monthly Music and Meditation programs at the church, he makes sure to invite at least some of Side-Eye and Grace’s members.

“I’m really grateful that, in the Ottawa music scene, there’s a band of that level exploring the intersection of folk and jazz,” he says. “I think that’s quite unique – there is a history to this type of music (over) the last hundred years, and they are fine exemplars.”

Side-Eye and Grace is recording a new album on May 19 at the Isabel Bader Centre in Kingston. The band is also planning a cross-Ontario tour that they hope will also take them into Quebec.