Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 8, No. 1, 2009

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
David Solway
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
Voo Doo Scat
Coral Egan
Martin Taylor
Jordon Officer
Melody Gardot

Montreal Guitarmania 2008 (Martin Taylor, D. Ross, J. Officer etc
2008 Jazz en Rafale Festival (Montreal) - Mar. 27th - April 5th -- Tél. 514-490-9613 ext-101 (featuring David Binney)
Montreal Jazz Festival 2006 Montreal Guitar Show 2008







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: JEAN VANASSE
Jean Vanasse

We have all learned through concert trial and error that it is impossible to be equally disposed toward all musical instruments and their generic sound; some immediately resonate, others never, even over an entire lifetime. I am unapologetically more receptive to guitar and piano than the accordion. In fact the latter requires mere seconds of exposure before I find myself longing for the promised land of an irreversible lobotomy. So when a musician, through the power of his invention or understanding of the possibilities of his instrument, turns us on to a sound that previously left us indifferent or worse (return to previous sentence), that musician is to be ranked among those select few who significantly expand our musical horizons.

Until I heard Canada's Kevin Breit, I was never a fan of the banjo. Until Richard Galliano exploded my prejudices during a concert with Bireli Lagrene, I was ‘somewhat’ negatively disposed toward the accordion despite its pivotal role in the production of tango, whose plaintive interval never fails to stir the heart.

Many years ago, dating back to their first collaboration in the 1980s, I was indifferent to the sub-zero, outer space, metallic peal of the vibraphone until Jean Vanasse, in duo with ex-Weather Report bassist Miroslav Vitous, took my preconceptions by the neck and through the force of his revelatory playing convinced me of the instrument’s unsuspected range and distinctly affecting radiance. No surprise that the Vanasse-Vitous reunion (Salle Gesù) was the most talked about, pleasant surprise concert of the 2008 Montreal Jazz Festival.

In the context of jazz, most vibraphonists are attracted to the ethereal, spacey wave effect the instrument so easily produces. As an unintended consequence, the single note is often given short shrift, in part because like the harpsichord note it can’t be shaped or vibrated, which means the musician can’t impose his will onto it. The vibraphonist may also fear that single note playing is tantamount to an admission of inferior musicianship.

As physical sonic fact, it is true that the vibraphone note, compared to other notes from other instruments, is exceptionally self-sufficient, independent from the musician; its generic sound comes across as prefabricated. But instead of fighting the fixed facts of his instrument, Vanasse embraces what is there and allows the notes in their sequence the breathing room they require in order to effectively disclose their temperament and particular relationship with acoustic space.

Unlike the high priests of the vibraphone, beginning with Lionel Hampton, then Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson and the incomparable Gary Burton, whose mostly 4-mallet sound is generated by the deliberate interpenetration of the notes and chord progressions, Vanasse makes the clarity of the note the instrument’s defining issue. If the banjo note begins to disappear the moment it’s plucked, the vibraphone note releases its sound in an unusually leisurely fashion: think of spray or vapour suffusing space or how a chime spreads in a Buddhist temple.

To discover what is essential and irreducible in the vibe note requires an understanding of its limitation and application; not all feelings and ideas are equally served. During a Vanasse concert, the listener is made aware of the vibe’s delicacy, its spiritual indices, its ability to haunt space, communicate mystery, uncertainty, hesitation, and post-modern malaise. It is easily the most insubstantial, disembodied note in the musical lexicon. The intention underlying Vanasse’s playing isn’t so much to fill space as to create it, by endowing it with stealth-like depth and dimensionality that wafts over the listener like a mist or halo. What we learn to appreciate in Vanasse is his willingness to meet the vibe sound on its own terms so as to better assimilate its idiosyncratic lack of density, the insight of which informs his artful accompaniment which is just as noteworthy as his soloing – and all this from cold metal keys that ring like bells submerged in water.

Vanasse’s extraordinary accomplishment has not been lost on Miroslav Vitous, regarded by many as one the seminal bassists in Fusion Jazz. In the unlikely but wholly convincing pairing of bass and vibes, Vanasse has found a way to reveal himself in the repose of what is bravely original and unprecedented in his playing, characterized by deceptive simplicity which is an implicit rejection of the legato-produced, tiresome wave effect that has become so synonymous with the instrument. Vanasse wants to purge the vibe sound of everything that is arbitrary, contrived and pedal boosted. The lazy ear might conclude that when all is said and sounded there’s not much there; Vitous has concluded otherwise, and together they make a remarkable case for original music that features the kind of listening that should be written into a score. Vanasse’s compositions are born out of the respect each has for the effective range of his instrument – and for each other. As such, their latest collaboration (release date late 2009, Effendi) establishes itself as the standard against which all future bass and vibraphone composition will be judged.

Jean Vanasse, who has been playing to international audiences for over 20 years, including a 4-year stint in Paris, is finally earning kudos at home, and in this critic’s opinion is a Canadian treasure whose unique contribution to the evolution of his instrument will one day be accorded the recognition already granted by his peers.





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