Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 7, No. 2, 2008

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
Phil Nixon
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Mimi Fox

2008 Jazz en Rafale Festival (Montreal) - Mar. 27th - April 5th -- Tél. 514-490-9613 ext-101 (featuring David Binney) Montreal Jazz Festival 2006 EMI Classics







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artists: VOO DOO SCAT
Céline Bélair © Marcel Dubois

It takes no small courage to record a CD of standards, all of which have been recorded 100ds of times by the very best the genre has to offer: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, to name a few.

So if the entry level criterion is you better have something to say and say it well, Reminiscing, from Montreal’s Voo Doo Scat, deserves A-major consideration. The group is a quartet with its nucleus comprised of guitarist JF Giguère, the steady breath that feeds the flame of singer Céline Bélair, who, incidentally, is one of the members of Moonlight Girls that burst onto the scene during the 2005 Montreal Jazz Festival.

What gives Voo Doo Scat its edge and notoriety are the highly innovative and brave arrangements of JF Giguère, who writes to win big time, which he does on most of Reminiscing’s 11 tracks. With high-tech and amplification assuming a more prominent role, Giguère successfully introduces the standards to 21st century sound codes without betraying the music’s essence. His intros, in particular, are inventive, where no effect, including folk, is ruled out. Critical to Giguère’s refreshingly radical remakes is the outstanding playing of alto saxophonist Rémi Bolduc, whose busy bebop, often contrapuntal to the mood, takes the music where you’d least expect it to go, and once there, makes you wish he would stay. He’s one good reason to catch this exciting group live, where he’s allowed more space to fulfill Giguère’s vision.

The wild card of the group, and an attractive one at that, is Céline Bélair, whose stage charm could light up a colisseum, but whose strong, dynamically versatile and top notch voice occasionally lacks the control of the master and sometimes shows itself a bit too self-conscious, that is overly concerned with singing well instead of serving the lyric. But in all fairness, if she occasionally falls short of the band, she often memorably exceeds it. And let’s not forget that even the immortal Chet Baker sometimes dragged out notes until they almost disappeared, and Ella overused the technique of melisma to the point of parody; and both managed very nicely to survive the slings and arrows of their harshest critics.

Staying true to the founding frontier spirit of the group, Céline approaches the mike as if it were a living creature under her care, sharing with strangers what only music allows, where the almost tactile closeness of the singing and breathing constitutes an unbroken intimacy, which especially succeeds in "My Funny Valentine" and "In a Sentimental Mood," while falling a bit short in "Night and Day," whose promising beginning strays into an unconvincing shift in mood and rhythm.

Not yet 30, there’s every reason to believe that Bélair, whose strengths lie in her range and ability to shape a note, will much sooner than later get the better of the proverbial learning curve. That being said, she already joins the prestigious ranks of Canadian jazz singers such as Carol Welsman, Susie Arioli, Lee Aaron, Annie Poulain, Samina and Sophie Milman, who have made the standards their cause célèbre, but in Bélair’s case, under the inspired musicianship of JF Giguère, she takes the music where the other names have thus far feared to tread.

"My Funny Valentine" is without doubt the diamond in the jewel box of Voo Doo Scat’s debut album. The song opens with an unlikely but arresting, spacey Wurlitzer reverb, out of which arises, like the act of creation itself, the magnificent and tremulous voice of Bélair that you feel is going to snap in mid-flight, such is the high tension produced by what I believe will go down as one of the most memorable and haunting interpretations ever of this classic. With her eyes closed, hands clasped, her pristine and perfectly modulated voce has the effect of turning even the smallest club into a Cathedral a sound.

Voo Doo Scat reminds us that for enduring music to endure, it must be able to absorb new forms of expression that respond to and reflect the concerns of the present no less than the original music revealed the spirit of its time.

As you might have divined, there isn't much that isn't heterodox about Reminiscing, such that even when it falls short of what its best forces you to expect, there are always lots of interesting things going on both up front and in the background, the sum of which promises a challenging and edifying listening experience.

Without over-emphasizing the obvious, Voo Doo Scat’s first priority has to be to get their music out there, because once out, there’s no mistaking the originality and considerable talent that underwrites it.

From Reminiscing, listen to the divine "My Funny Valentine," featuring the sublime Céline Bélair.



John Coltrane
Miles Davis
Thelonius Monk
Charlie Mingus
Oscar Peterson
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Wes Montgomery
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