Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No.5, 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
Sarah MK
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: JULIE LAMONTAGNE

© Chantal Levesque of Julie Lamontagne


Since 2005, I’ve been lending an ear to the career of Montreal jazz pianist Julie Lamontagne, but until quite recently had not been able to reconcile recording and performance with the significant praise and reputation she has won. Far too often, her playing reminded me of a race driver driving the flawless race, who suddenly looses concentration and ends up in the wall – or worse. At other times, as a soloist or with her long-established trio, she seemed preoccupied with damage control or a technical challenge, too concentrated on getting through a landscape instead of revealing its contours and beauty. I also found her right hand a bit heavy. In short, there were simply too many occasions were I couldn’t find Lamontagne in her music which was reason enough to leave her time to find herself.

Fast forward to the 2012 Montreal International Jazz Festival , and the city’s celebrated Upstairs jazz club, where Lamontagne performed selections from her latest CD, Opusjazz (Justin Time), which represents a return to her classical roots. Not only has she emphatically found herself, she has entered -- if only inadvertently -- into the public domain a new way of thinking about music.

From her earliest years, Lamontagne was immersed in classical music, but after attending a concert by the great Oliver Jones she switched to jazz in her mid to late teens. However, her musical mother tongue and first love remain classical, to which she returns to after a long hiatus, but with a new angle: she wants to integrate classical music with the more open-ended structure of jazz, leaving herself room to improvise. The result is Opusjazz, a music that is at once daring and unique, and of considerable merit, notwithstanding that it will probably generate considerable discussion and controversy.

She rearranges, for example, a Chopin Ballad (“Chopinerie”) and uses the music’s melodies and emotional underpinnings as a springboard for her own expression, at which point she seamlessly and sympathetically launches into an extended improvisation, which might resemble a cadenza (the set part in a concerto that allows for ‘unstructured’ improvisation), or the kind of improv that proceeds from a fixed motif within the music. Opusjazz will satisfy those for whom improvisation and composition are equal partners deserving of equal attention.

What listeners will first discover in Lamontagne’s thoughtful and wholly convincing arrangements is the performer herself, totally secure and serene in the new territory she has staked out. They will also discover a die-hard romantic for whom the music she has chosen is the flesh and blood extension of feelings and passions she lays bare with uncanny honesty and delicacy. The technical control that she now exhibits is the logical outcome of having something to say and perforce, having to say it: control begins in the mind.

As far as I know she is more or less alone in what she’s doing, in part because so few musicians are equally at home in both the classical and jazz idioms. To even consider such a project presupposes not only belief in one’s creative faculties, but that the rewrite is strong enough to stand comparison with the original. For what takes place from one selection to the next is that Lamontagne stops playing the composer and plays herself, which leaves her open to the accusation of hubris, since she is making the case that her improvisations and arrangements deserve to be on the same page as the original. In this same vein, it should be mentioned that another notable Canadian jazz pianist, François Bourassa, also uses classical music as a point of departure for his improvisations, but his is an original music and it can only be compared to itself, which makes it a near or no risk affair.

In undertaking such a bold project there will be unintended effects. Even though Lamontagne does not repeat her improvisations or inventions from one performance to the next, the recorded version plays the exact same notes every time and will come to be regarded as pure composition. Invariably, comparisons will be made between the original and the rewrite. The project will be judged successful or not according to the listener’s stated preference, unless both are regarded as equally valid, just as on certain occasions I might prefer Louis and Ella doing “April in Paris,” and on other occasions Mel Torme’s version.

I will not predict how I’ll feel about Opusjazz in six months from now, but right now, after many listenings, I prefer Lamontagne’s version of the third Debussy “Pour le piano” (track #10 on the CD). I think it is brilliantly inventive and more than worthy of repetition, which makes me both sad and mad that she will never play it again, for reasons that bear directly on the tyrannical protocol that consigns to oblivion some of jazz's greatest moments. Most jazz musicians consider it infra dig (beneath their dignity) to repeat even a sequence of a solo (à la Diana Krall) from one performance to the next. I can only suggest that jazz has regrettably prejudiced Lamontagne against composition, a point I insist she address in our interview (next issue).

Another unintended effect is the possibility that listeners will not only embrace the Lamontagne paradigm, but will stimulate a more general demand to creatively tinker with if not rewrite the classics, which up until now have been stored and scored in stone.

And for audiences who aren’t familiar with classical music, they will listen to and evaluate Lamontagne’s compositions as complete works unto themselves, with no objective reference.

I’m discovering from one listening to the next that I’m quickly coming to accept the music on its own terms, that the melodies and emotions they flatter are no longer exclusive to either the original composer or Lamontagne. For this reason, I judge Lamontagne’s novel approach to the classics to be an undisputed success. She has shown herself capable of compelling invention without compromising what is eternal in the original.

I am already very much looking forward to her next set of -- not variations on a theme -- improvisations on a theme, which represents a fresh new way of looking at and listening to classical music.

Am I concerned that my enthusiasm for Lamontagne’s classically inspired improvisations will wane when she returns to pure jazz? The short answer is yes. I’m now persuaded that Julie Lamontagne is a romantic at heart, and the jazz idiom cannot adequately accommodate her romanticism. For sure, she is also an adventurer, which explains her attraction to jazz, the fact of which predicts she’ll be making her home in both worlds for the indeterminate future.

Photos © Chantal Levesque



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