Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 14, No.2, 2015

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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
Vincent Gagnon
Arioli & Officer
Jean Félix Mailloux
Vijay Iyer
Lionel Loueke
Tia Fuller
Cécile McLorin Salvant
Emma Frank
Shai Maestro
Christine Jensen
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




What is warm in winter is hot jazz, and for its 15th edition Jazz En Rafale provided the heat and timely “Take Five” from the cold.

Unlike last year, which featured the piano, and 2013, the bass, there was no theme or connective tissue linking this year’s six evenings of concerts – except consistently top notch jazz. However an accidental theme did emerge: the exceptional performances by some of the rhythm sections, the buoy and support that underlie every inspired solo.

Three in particular stood out. Backing up Tevet Sela and guitarist Gilad Hekselman, who lived up to high expectations, were the sublime Remi-Jean Leblanc on bass and Martin Auguste on percussion. The complicity between Leblanc and the front men was a lesson in listening and relating. If the ear didn't catch it you saw it in Leblanc’s cherubic eyes, the 'kind of blue' you find in a Raphael painting where the relationship between art and the divine are revealed in celestial in light.

Pushing Donny McCaslin to the outer limits were bassist Scott Colley and percussionist Johnathon Blake, who at one extreme coaxed machine gun like effects from his drum kit, while at the other extreme, the stealth of a cat looking for its next meal in the dark of midnight on the moors.

No less noteworthy in a supporting role was Montreal’s Jazzlab Orchestra in a rare live performance of Rufus Reid’s colossal Quiet Pride, a work in four movements inspired by the sculptures of Elizabeth Catlett.

If the earth is tilted towards the sun at a 23.5 degrees angle, Donny McCaslin, no stranger to Montreal, dedicated himself to changing the tilt, a challenge which inspired him to come up with a novel interval or scale that conveyed the heights that had to be scaled as well as the obstacles to overcome – and the tenacity required to pull it off. Against minimalist compositions, he brings an exceptionally unique and varied vocabulary. Unlike conventional fusion, which bridges rock and jazz, his music provides an opportune bridge for listeners looking to find their way from straight jazz to free-form. However far out or abstract are his excursions, there is a subdued but unmistakable lyricism in his playing, which if you catch before it mutates serves as an excellent point of entry to the kind of jazz you might normally refuse, which makes McCaslin an important player in the ever expanding jazz universe.

Among the festival highlights was pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, who in the tradition of Italian jazz and classical music (Scarlatti) brought wonderful melody making to his always exciting and extended improvisations, all of which were subsumed by impeccable technique.

In the New Talent Contest, where the winner receives a recording contract with Montreal’s most prestigious jazz label, Effendi, The Hugo Mayrand Trio took home the bacon. The pianist's (Jérôme Beaulieu) and guitarist's superb musicianship easily separated them from the competition, but the runner up group, Night Clock, was a festival highlight: they brought extraordinary creativity and invention to their set and offered a credible alternative metric in respect to the criteria (technique and mastery of instrument) used to pick competition winners.

There were a couple of potentially unsettling developments in this year’s 15th edition. Since Jazz en Rafale is regarded as Montreal’s purist jazz-only festival, Martin Levac’s homage to the rock group Genesis was a bit off the wall, despite first-rate musicianship from the pianist and bassist – no strangers to the jazz idiom.

More controversial was the highlight concert given by the festival’s official spokesman, Michel Cusson, arguably one of the most significant composers in the history of Quebec. In the late 70s and 80s, Cusson headed Quebec’s, if not Canada’s, most famous fusion band Uzeb, and he has written soundtracks for many movies, mostly notably Séraphin, for which he was awarded the Jutra (2003). He also penned the breathtaking music for Odysseo, the world’s largest travelling tent-horse show. His gifts as both a musician and composer are self-evident in his vast discography.

Inspired by his travelling experiences, old photographs and documents, for the festival’s closing concert Cusson performed -- against video streaming in the background -- a selection of rock music that he composed as if writing for film. As he describes it, he is exposed to an image or a sequence of images, a gut reaction follows which he spontaneously translates into music. Since he was giving a solo concert, to affect the full sound he desired he had to resort to the controversial technique of looping.

In electroacoustic music, a loop is a repeating section of sound material, meaning the musician can write himself a bass line, which he loops, and then adds as many instruments and effects as required, over which he performs live. During one of the heavy acid rock tracks, when Cusson’s equipment manager brought in another guitar from the wings, there was a necessary pause in his playing but the looped music continued. For some, I’m sure, it was the equivalent of a magician revealing his tricks.

From the composer’s perspective, looping is an invaluable tool. He can create an orchestra for himself without having to pay the otherwise prohibitive musicians' salaries. Loops, easily created and deleted, allow the composer to experiment with all sorts of sounds, textures and melodies. A work that might ordinarily require months to be brought to completion can be created in weeks. But for live concerts, looping is no substitute for relating to live musicians and the spontaneity we associate with especially improvised music. Since looping is a strictly mechanical production, its inclusion redefines the meaning of live performance, much like lip-synching, now an accepted vocal mode, redefined video music. Music lovers of course will argue they don’t care how the music they love is delivered: good music is good music and that should be the bottom line. Ultimately, audiences who buy the tickets will determine if looping is to become an integral part of live performance.

Aside from the above mentioned questionable developments, Jazz en Rafale must once again be congratulated for its imaginative and gutsy programming. Montrealers and winter-resistant tourists were treated to a range of jazz that reflected and regaled both diversity and inclusivity.

Rumour has it that next year’s festival will be dedicated to vocal jazz – a March time of year I hope to be singing in the rain.



Photos © Hanna Donato



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