Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No.2, 2012

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque 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
Sylvain Luc
Neil Cowley
Marianne Trudel
Florence K
Terez Montcalm
Cyrus Chestnut
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

from Montreal




© Chantal Levesque

With intimations of spring in the air, the first jazz festival of the year is a guaranteed upper. And when the thermometer nudges above zero and the snow begins to melt, the vibe is even better.

This year, the weather Gods heard and voluptuously responded to our collective prayers, and delivered temperatures that made it difficult to sustain my atheism. For the opening evening of the 12th edition of Jazz En Rafale, the mercury soared to an unprecedented 26 degrees Celsuis (79 Farenheit), a mere 24 above normal. I was almost late for the opening: I had to doff ten pounds of winter wear before embarking on a protracted sandal search and emergency application of Sunscreen 200.

© Chantal Levesque


This year, the festival organizers bravely decided to highlight the upright or double bass, whose muted sound leaves most listeners either indifferent or frustrated, since the average ear finds it difficult to separate notes that seem to originate at the bottom of a mine shaft. Thus, the 2012 edition of Jazz En Rafale was an © Chantal Levesqueopportunity to get to know the bass better, meaning learning how to better situate its role in the context of a trio, quartet or larger.

To make peace with the bass is to recognize that its generic sound [1]cannot produce the lyricism generated by all the other instruments. Which isn’t to say that when played in the upper register -- infringing on the cello’s territory -- it can’t produce gorgeous tone and melody. The key is to acknowledge the instrument’s limitations (the note’s slow decay), and the importance of leaving sufficient space between the notes: no muffle will travel. Of the 25 or so bassists that performed during the festival, Vancouver’s Brandi Disterheft best demonstrated the understanding and feel required to bring out what is best in music’s most unwieldy instrument, and left no doubt that she is Canada’s answer to Esperanza Spalding in all the A-major categories: musicianship, composition, vocals and enchanting stage presence. During her solos, the studied and respectful posture of her band mates said it all: that she can play with anyone.© Chantal Levesque

This year the programmers, Alain Bedard and Carole Therrien, intrepidly decided to open up the jazz concept and make room for music that purists might take umbrage at: Brahms, cold fusion and blasts of metal.

The six bassists who make up L’Orchestre de Contrebasse de France, in a memorable opening concert, set the tone for the unsuspected possibilities of the bass as a lyrical instrument. Combining entertainment with brilliant musicianship, theirs was definitely a festival highlight in no small part owed to the fact that 70% of the playing was executed with the bow. The huge volume of the instrument made it an ideal percussive accompaniment which this group delivered in spades. No surprise to learn that L’Orchestre has toured the world and its six members are the instrument's premier ambassadors.

© Chantal Levesque

As mentioned above, the festival featured a classical concert with duo Joel Quarrinton and pianist Jean Mesmarais. The organizers wisely shifted the venue from the jazz-friendly l’Astral to the Chapelle-Historique du Bon-Pasteur (formerly a Church) to better accommodate Brahm’s Violin and Piano Sonata expertly transcribed for the double bass.

© Chantal Levesque

Among the many highlights of this year’s festival was the hypnotic, gripping fusion display from the Ben Allison band, who, for his latest album (Action-Refraction, 2011), brought together two guitarists (Brandon Seabrook and Steve Cardenas) with diametrically opposed styles and sounds: the latter playing haunting, single note intervals against the sometimes squeaky, squeamish, frenzied clusters delivered by Seabrook, who also broke new ground with the banjo. This was one of the most effective uses of the double guitar concept I’ve ever heard and hope to hear again soon.

© Chantal LevesqueIt would be a shame not to mention Donny McCaslin, who delivered a very satisfying set of music that was warmly greeted by one of the few near-capacity crowds.

The biggest applause was reserved for Alain Caron and his hard hitting Septentrion fusion band playing music from their latest eponymous CD. Just back from a lengthy European tour, for those of us who had lost it, they restored our faith in fusion and reminded us of how vital and exciting it can be in the hands of exceptional musicians.

Among the many notable bassists that showed us how it’s done, I single out Dave Young, who was invited to play with Remi Bolduc, the latter fittingly honoured to be in the former’s company. From the outset, Young, who has played with the likes of Oscar Peterson, was dead-on the note and beat and needed all of 30 seconds to let us know why he is world class. Kudos to Ben Allison who, in his chording, spacing and shaping of sound to suit his electric alt/metal-jazz-rock, delivered a lesson on making the bass serve the concept.

For the 7th consecutive year, Jazz En Rafale held a competition dedicated to encouraging and developing up and coming jazz musicians. I was expecting the judges, with the emphasis on technical ability, to go with the Charles Trudel Trio, who were the runners- up, and was pleasantly surprised when The Becky Noble Quartet was declared the winner. I would have been even more surprised had they picked the group Toundra for its cohesion and invention. As usual, the kids were more than alright and a reminder that the future of jazz is in good hands.

For its programming diversity, this was Jazz En Rafale’s best year yet. What it has to do is publicize the event better: there were too many evenings with too many empty seats for music that, without exception, was exceptional from beginning to end.

Put these names on your list for must see: Ben Allison and Brandi Disterheft.

[1]Personal notes on the generic sound of the bass (2007).
Since there is no getting around the structurally predetermined range and tone of the instrument and the moods with which it is most often associated, what can we say about the upright bass’s generic acoustic sound? Unlike the guitar or the piano, it takes a lot of work (and scabs to die for) to produce a bass note: sometimes two fingers are used in the pluck. Compared to the guitar and violin, bass strings are unwieldy and wound thick. The notes themselves seem to come into being with great difficulty, as if out of some deep captivity or enclosure, or gut of an ancient mammal saying no to its extinction. And when the note finally escapes, it’s with a muted burp-like thud that vibrates between a groan and drone. Were it not for its amalgamation with electronics and amplification, the bass note would remain permanently in thrall to its opacity and thickness. Which is to say, if I were a chirping bird on the wing, I would not perform the rites of spring to the sound of the bass.

Most players are attracted to the bass for its central position among other instruments and for its crucial role in balancing and buoying a structure of sound that is in constant flux. When a bass player dreams of success, it’s always in a group context: he makes support, not melody, his obsession. Since bassists have traditionally thrived in a supporting role, it’s only natural we take notice when they rebel against that expectation.

Photos © Chantal Levesque



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