Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No.4, 2012

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
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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
Tord Gustavsen
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: SARAH MK

© Chantal Levesque of Sarah MK


As a die-hard enthusiast of the Montreal International Jazz Festival (and jazz festivals in general), I’m always looking to discover and recommend fusion groups. If it weren’t for fusion (Weather Report, Chick Corea and Miles), I would have never been able to negotiate the long and winding stairway to jazz. For many, fusion is the indispensable enabler, and has never been so necessary especially for listeners raised on rap and hip-hop who find themselves unable to make sense of the more complicated forms of jazz.

Enter Montreal’s Sarah MK, both the name of the group and the versatile, charismatic singer who performed to capacity crowds on successive evenings at the Savoy during the 2012 Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Borders be blurred, borders be damned is what best defines the group’s highly original and inventive approach to music and opulent sound.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Sarah MK doesn’t play it safe; the music is neo-everything. Funk and soul, rap and hip-hop are modest beginnings that go where genre music has never gone, and then stays there because it's home. If at the outset the basic ingredients are initially easily recognizable, the music seems to deliberately reject its origins in order to end up somewhere better, only to leave better and go somewhere else. Almost without exception, from one track to the next, listeners will find themselves participating in a voyage which they didn’t sign on to but readily embrace, such is the craft, control and uncanny development that underlie most of the compositions.

In its whispers and crescendos, there is nothing accidental in what this group of highly competent musicians is putting out. A simple hip-hop theme, such as introduced in “Forces” will morph into a richly textured, hypnotically arrhythmic soundscape, the vapour trail of which the nimble Anh Phung turns into a madly inspired, jazz-inflected flute improv that hooks up with an imploding, jagged edged guitar solo such as you haven’t heard in a long while.

© Chantal Levesque of Jordan PetersComposer, guitarist Jordan Peters has listened to his early John Scofield and has developed a scale and cadence that is distinctly his own. What distinguishes Peters’s solos are their meticulous construction and directionality; he doesn’t play notes, he creates ideas which are developed and brought to breath stopping conclusion. My only complaint is that his solos are too few and far apart, especially on the group’s just released first CD, Worth It.

Since hip-hop is equally about music as attitude and is one of the ways listeners try to situate themselves in the world, in Sarah MK they are drawn to pulsating soundscapes that are decidedly off center and yet dead on, which is why the music gets better with successive listening. Many of the compositions include interludes where the music deliberately loses its shape and momentum, allowing for waves of sound, like spray or iron shavings, to shiver the skin and saturate the venue.

Jordan Peters composes, produces and arranges most of the music while the vocalese is delivered by Sarah MK, whose rich and dynamic voice refuses to falter in the upper register and bespeaks of a control center that should be the envy of any singer for whom singing is an art form.

Among the many bad pluses the music of Sarah MK offers is the contribution of percussionist Jahsun, who, unlike most drummers live, doesn’t overwhelm the group sound. I’m still applauding Milton Nasciemento’s bold 2011 Montreal Jazz Festival decision to install his drummer in a plexi-glass enclosure.

And then there is Sarah MK’s judicious and thought-provoking use of rap, inserted into the music in a supporting role. She makes the case that rap is most effective when part of something much larger than itself -- and that it loses its staying power when it's only its (monophonic) self. If we grant that what rap wants to be and deserves to be has not yet been settled, Sarah MK has entered the debate and makes us listen.

Sarah MK continues to evolve from one series of gigs to the next, which is why their very ambitious CD, Worth It, does not quite satisfy like live performance, which is often the case in jazz. That said, what is essential in their sound does not get lost in translation: the attention to detail in the studio makes its way into the live performance, which speaks to the vision and discipline of the musicians and their understanding of the sound and its effects they want to generate.

If you are looking for radical invention and adventure, Sarah MK is doing everything right, which doesn’t mean that everything will turn out right, since so much depends on luck and timing and the times.

But everything that exists has a beginning, and Worth It, born in Montreal, is walking the walk and talking the talk.

Jazz is wave. Music is a wave. Sarah MK.

Photos © Chantal Levesque




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