Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 14, No.3, 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
Vincent Rehel
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: JOHN RONEY


If the key to a musician's growth and evolution depends on the constancy of dissatisfactions he is able to cultivate in both performance and composition, we shouldn't be surprised that Montreal's John Roney, by stealth, has emerged as one of Canada's finest jazz pianists. It may not be unusual for a jazz musician to be classically trained, but what sets Roney apart is that he is comfortable performing and recording in either genre. His chamber music debut, Silverbirch, was nominated for both a Juno and Félix Award in 2010. With festival season just around the corner, locals and tourists alike will have ample opportunity to reconnect with or discover a gifted musician who is “fluent in many centuries.” (Pico Iyer)

For Montreal's 2015 International Jazz Festival, Roney will be busy performing with the city's who's who in jazz. On July 5, at Monument National (8 pm), in a menage à quatre, he'll be exploring deep space with piano legend Oliver Jones, and fellow pianists Matt Herkowitz and Julie Lamontagne. On July 3rd, at Salle Gesù (10.30 pm), he'll be waxing lyrical with bassist-supreme Alain Caron (formerly of Uzeb), whose high-octane fusion Roney has rewritten for a chamber sextet. I've heard a couple of tracks and this concept has all the markings of being one of this year's most talked about concerts.

If you're looking to hear more from Roney's 'but beautiful' CD entitled Preludes (2013, Effendi), which features exquisite improvisations on preludes from the classical genre, your best bet is the Upstairs jazz club – where the pianist has never turned down a request.

Jazzing up classical music is nothing new. Bach, in particular, lends itself to jazz, but once the point has been made it is usually quickly forgotten, in part because the contrived grafting on of what is formulaic in jazz (cymbal tap + walking bass) invariably stifles the music's emotive underpinnings.

Enter John Roney, who instead of simply juxtaposing one form onto the other (think of the force-feeding techniques used in the production of fois gras) -- out of his deep appreciation and love of the genre -- stays true to the music's affective content while allowing himself the latitude to go beyond conventional interpretation of the original score by improvising and expanding upon the main themes in order to more fully disclose that which the composer has left unsaid.

Preludes, which will not appeal to purists, naturally draws comparison with Julie Lamontagne's controversial Opus Jazz, a more risky and radical undertaking. In the track “Rachmania,” for example, based on Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3, she keeps to the script until arriving at an inviting fork in the score at which point she stops playing the original and uses it as a springboard for her own creation. She applies this same modus operandi for the entire album, asking the listener to stop listening to the composer (Chopin, Ravel, Brahms, Fauré ) and to her instead. To Lamontagne's credit she manages to pull it off and offers new ways of thinking about old music and the conventions (straight-jackets) imposed on interpretation.

Roney, in deferring to what is inviolable in the music, is less ambitious. As such, if the listener should prefer the Roney take on, say, the Debussy prelude, he would still be listening to what is signature in the composer, albeit a more open-ended, contemporary and highly personalized version. Roney persuasively argues that more can be said than prescribed by the original notes, which obliges him to break free from the constraints imposed by the score, and follow his heart, which is but a heart-beat from the composer's.

Roney's extensive training and career in jazz commands our respect and attention. His ability to spontaneously feel -- without repeating -- and reinvent the moment for the moment, all the while remaining faithful to the original, is uncanny. In the Scriabin “Prelude, Opus 28, No. 2,” he provides a lesson in right hand left hand separation as his right hand wafts over and spins out melodies that recall the vertiginous improvisational feel (which was unique for its time) of Chopin's “Berceuse.” The limpidity of his playing speaks to his much improved technique. He has not only rewritten Scriabin, he makes the case that the original now risks playing second fiddle -- so convincing and inventive is Roney's take. He can't sign it, but we cannot listen to it without ignoring his contribution, which speaks to an accomplishment that goes far beyond making an older work more palatable to the modern ear.

Preludes will invariably divide listeners into two camps: button-down traditionalists will regard Roney's extravaganzas as an unjust or unnecessary criticism of the original music, while those for whom good music is its own best argument, will sing its praises and look for more of the same – a felicitous, mystical meeting of minds and unlike centuries.

John Roney, not being a lawyer but a musician, makes his ivory-shut case by playing the music he loves the way it asks to be played. I predict it will be listened to by many again and again and for a long time to come.

PS. Not to be missed. This summer at Orford, for the occasion of its 50th anniversary, John Roney will be playing the entire Koln Concert (Keith Jarrett).






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