Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 9, No. 6, 2010

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
David Solway
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Denis Beaumont
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
Jordan Officer
Melody Gardot
Jean Vanasse
Yves Léveillé
Sylvain Provost
Louciana Souza
Patricia Barber
Jill Barber
Corrine Bailey Rae
Chet Doxas
François Bourassa
2010 Montreal Guitar Show (Sylvan Luc)
2008 Jazz en Rafale Festival (Montreal) - Mar. 27th - April 5th -- Tél. 514-490-9613 ext-101 (featuring David Binney)
Montreal Jazz Festival 2010







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: SYLVAIN LUC

©Marcel Dubois

It was my good fortune to catch guitarist Sylvain Luc twice during the year. The first time in April, when he was the star attraction at the Jazz en Rafale series, and again in July at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival.

His beguiling, otherworldly musical vocabulary precluded drawing huge crowds, but guaranteed the kind of (huge) appreciation reserved for only the very best (by the best) – similar in kind accorded to Lenny Breau before the needle took another man.

Despite Luc’s accomplishments, awards and peer recognition, he is still somewhat of a secret, albeit one that is becoming more and more difficult to keep. It’s a mark of distinction that listeners, at times baffled and disoriented by invention that goes where chord sequences and runs have rarely gone before, are the first to grant they are in the presence of a master, whose praises they must sing while not sure what exactly it is they are praising, so original are Luc’s cadence, interval and connecting devices, where the nuts and bolts and technique are integrated into a whole by the warmth his playing exudes.

A child prodigy, he began on the cello because guitar courses weren’t offered at his small town conservatory in France. By the age of fifteen he had already recorded an album and toured. He has collaborated with the likes of Biréli Lagrène, Larry Coryell, Richard Bona, John McLaughlin, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Wynton Marsalis, stars much brighter than own.

It’s too facile to say Luc is an acquired taste since most listeners order from menus they are already familiar with. Getting comfortable with the essential Luc is a challenge of a different order because he employs the language of jazz to express what is essentially a classical predisposition. Even when he plays his beloved standards (in lesser hands often overplayed and overworked), he makes you take a deep breath, so astonishing are his turns of phrase and voicing while leaving intact what is enduring in the music. When it’s least expected, he’ll inject a rabbit-quick bass ascent topped off with a chord volley that renders familiar terrain giddily strange and exotic. No matter what the material or with whom he is performing, the first effect of Luc’s playing is to leave in his musical wake the cosmic equivalents of stardust and energy.

He opened his Cinquième Salle concert with his trademark impromptus -- spontaneous compositions dedicated to the ideal of perpetual creation. If conventional structure is the fixed outcome of a composition’s set changes and modulations, Luc’s malleable, constantly shifting constructs are a product of his probing, shaping, spontaneity and persistence: think of seagrass undulating in water. As such, they are living creatures, subject to the moment, no less than their appreciation, which should not be mistaken for an evaluation since what is aleatory in the music has not yet been tested in the crucible of repeated listenings. That warning note sounded, in his fluidity and dazzling impetuosity, Luc is clearly extravagantly gifted as evidenced by his ability to effortlessly produce what his complex and ever inventive mind commands.

His method of composing foretells the distinct realm he has opened up and which is off limits to all but the world’s elite guitarists. Since we are irrevocably defined by the challenges we set out for ourselves, Luc seems smitten by the possibility of discovering equilibrium and resolution, however temporary, where they are least likely to be found. The result is what we commonly refer to as style or signature, those telling sequences of notes that allow us to discern what is unique and peculiar to the artist.

Even the most gifted and confident musician will tell you that it’s one thing to get up on stage and improvise to a set structure where the changes are known in advance, and altogether something else to get up there and spontaneously create something out of nothing.

In the solo context, Keith Jarrett was one of the first to run the gauntlet of composing on the spur of the moment. Rightfully so, his name will be forever associated with the famous Köln and Bremen/Lausanne concerts. But the pressure to create on the spot is so daunting, Jarrett has stayed away from it for nearly two decades, opting for the certainties of Bach and The American Songbook. Unlike Luc, Jarrett is not classical in spirit, meaning genuinely attracted to the intensity and daring that go hand in hand with the art of spontaneous composition that reached its apogee with Mozart, who would extemporaneously compose in his head entire concertos, operas and symphonies. When Jarrett takes to the stage, his goal is to find a groove in order to be relieved of the pressure to create. Luc’s first instinct is to spurn the groove, to reject what is monotonous (repetitive) in music, to refuse what is Jarrett’s endgame and pleasure.

Luc delights in and thrives on the act of creation, of being in the throes of discovery, of opening up new realms that open up others and then some. As such, in the hands of our most gifted creators, the universe of music comes to resemble our constantly expanding one. Like the classicists of old, Luc is attracted to the idea of spontaneous invention, where every idea prefigures what is inchoate, on the verge of emerging, resulting in a constantly varying landscape of sound and significance. To achieve this result, he will have no truck with jazz’s oversupply of fatuous fillers, aweless arpeggios and narcoleptic passing chords -- the ballast of lesser musicians run out of ideas. Which is why Luc, unlike Jarrett, doesn’t fill auditoriums. He is not an easy listen. If at one end of the scale we have Jarrett’s groove-produced dopamine high, at the other end we have the same high but reserved for ears that revel in perpetual invention.

Since Luc is effortlessly able to produce whatever he asks of himself, it remains to be heard if he will ever call into question his impromptus and ask whether they can’t be worked on and improved. Almost without exception (1756-1791), time spent on composition is time well spent, especially if the desire to be outlived by one’s music is every musician’s secret vice. Since Luc ultimately expects to knock on immortality’s door through his writing, he’ll have to get his classical side more authoritatively involved in decisions defaulted to the jazz idiom, because the latter, while it wholly serves and satisfies the demands of performance, falls short of the fastidiousness required of composition.

Suffice to say, Luc’s next decade promises to be more exacting than the transitional chords that come to him as easily as breathing.


Photo © Marcel Dubois


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Thelonius Monk
Charlie Mingus
Oscar Peterson
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Wes Montgomery
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