Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No.6, 2012

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
  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
Julie Lamontagne
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: VINCENT GAGNON

Vincent Gagnon - Jazz Pianist


I first heard pianist Vincent Gagnon in 2006, when he was accompanying the wonderful Quebec City singer Annie Poulin. At the time, I described his play as “lean and Spartan.” Six years later, I’m happy to report that the control and discipline he brought to his craft then is even more in evidence today. His 2012 Montreal International Jazz Festival performance, which roughly coincided with the release of his second album, Himalaya, won him well deserved applause, a new following and a prestigious booking in the city’s premier jazz club, the Upstairs -- and his first European tour.

If you’re looking for no frills, no fillers, no-filigree, no arpeggio jazz, Vincent Gagnon is the reason and man for all seasons. He never plays notes simply because they fit. The melody lines are extended and thoughtful; he is always purposeful in his playing, which doesn’t mean he won’t suddenly go where it’s least expected and make it sound just right. He is confident enough in his creative abilities to never run ahead of his ideas, or fake it when the going gets rough. He's not afraid to expose himself working on something whose contours and character await fuller disclosure, a recurring occurrence that is consistent with the nature of improvised music that sometimes isn’t sure how to get to where it wants to go.

For the serious listener, this is where jazz gets interesting; it’s the make or break moment that separates the true musician from the lesser one, where the latter, lacking the nerve and humility to be himself in his music, defaults to a selection of notes that are structurally correct but conceptually deficient. In choosing the musical path of least resistance, the soloist forfeits the opportunity to make an emphatic statement and be counted among those for whom integrity -- and not dexterity -- is the best guarantor of significant artistic achievement.

In the liner notes to Himalaya, Montreal jazz critic and author Stanely Péan observes that Gagnon feels very comfortable with his influences, allowing their collective wisdom and experience to sharpen his inner resolve and articulate the kind of relationship he wants to have with jazz – an every note counts rapport. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that, unlike most jazz musicians, Gagnon is an early riser and likes to practice Chopin’s Études first thing in the morning.

Vincent Gagnon Jazz PianistAmong the highly recommended selections on Himalaya are “Axes Barbares” and the haunting “Je connais trop peu le monde” (I Know So Little of the World), both original compositions. “Axes” features a beautiful introduction and a solo that deserve to be repeated note for note from one performance to the next, while “Je connais” speaks to Gagnon’s talent as a composer and arranger. When the horns defiantly answer the despairing introductory theme we realize that music, more than any other art, is a transcendent medium, the notion of which Gagnon takes up in yet another memorable solo.

One of the frustrating aspects of Himalaya is we don’t hear enough of Gagnon. He’s too much an egalitarian in respect to delegation of solos and the song writing, which features several tracks that sound like jazz we’ve heard before, as well as two free-form (atonal) compositions which do not fit the mix. The uneven result forces the conclusion that Gagnon has made too many concessions to the group concept at the expense of leadership, which is why Himalaya is a somewhat ambivalent offering of riches and remainders.

Some of the more predictable music is rescued by the highly creative, minimalist percussion work of Michel Lambert. With a nod to Aldo Romano and Dan Weiss (David Binney’s oft used drummer), Lambert makes sure that every tap counts, especially those electrifying, timely rim shots that can completely alter the dynamism of a track that is too much on track. His judicious use of silence is a lesson that should be stapled into every drummer’s handbook.

If in the end, Himalaya strikes the ear as too much of an up and down affair, the shortcomings are offset by the consistently probing and pensive piano of Vincent Gagnon, who successfully bridges the gaps and persuades us that he is better than the album. Like a candle that at once sheds light while preserving the night, Gagnon, with a well chosen turn of phrase or chord modulation, is able to reveal, in an authentic voice, the essence of jazz: the adventure it promises, the risks it entails and the rewards it accords to those who stay the course of their convictions. Gagnon is still young, in equal parts talented and tenacious; and best of all his best years are ahead of him.


John Coltrane
Miles Davis
Thelonius Monk
Charlie Mingus
Oscar Peterson
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Wes Montgomery
Ornette Coleman
Louis Armstrong
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