Thursday, December 8, 2011

More than a Sideman

Photo: Jean-Pierre Dubé

Frank Lozano in conversation on his recent recorded collaborations

Jazz is particularly fond of heroes. Often larger than life, they are both objects of praise and scrutiny, both on stage and on record. Yet, for each one of those, there are legions of workmanlike players who also deserve a place in the sun. In Montreal, for instance, saxophonist Frank Lozano qualifies as a true musician's musician. Since his arrival from Toronto some 20 years ago, this multi-instrumentalist (who plays both tenor and soprano as well as bass clarinet and flute) is one of the city's most dependable jazz journeymen. Appreciated by his colleagues, he fits like a glove in a variety of situations, ranging from standard jazz practices to more exploratory forms of music making. With his name gracing five records issued over the last couple of months, one of these casting him in the more infrequent role of band leader, 2011 seems to be a banner year for him. Taking time in his busy schedule, he sat down with this writer one morning to share some valuable insights, offering an insider's perspective on each of these productions.

I-Frank Lozano Montreal QuartetDestin (Effendi FND 113)

Marc Chénard: Last year, André Leroux (a multi-reedist just as versatile a sideman as Lozano is on the Montreal scene) admitting finding it becoming a bandleader (his 2010 release "Corpus Callosum" on Effendi marking his debut in that capacity, just shy of his 47th birthday.) This fall, you have just issued "Montreal Quartet" (on Effendi Records), which, in fact, is the second one under your own name. Like Leroux, you have spent most of your career as a sideman, thus interpreting other musics than your own. This makes me wonder if leading a band is something difficult for you to do.

Frank Lozano: I guess you can use that word ('difficult'), but to me it's just a shift in function. As a sideman, you're trying to interpret someone else's musical vision as faithfully as possible, which means taking instructions, advice or cues given to you verbally by the leader. But the leader also wants me to do my thing, too, so I don't worry too much about how I play, and if I did, the leader wouldn't hire me. The difference, though, is that when you are a leader, you are not only responsible for the whole, but also you want your musicians to play as best as possible, so you want to put them in the right atmosphere, be it musically, sonically or personally, in short: to put them situation where they can play their best. More often that not, my work as a sideman helps me in my function as a leader, because I can put myself very easily in their place as sidemen. For me, it's not really: 'Wow, it's something so completely different, I'm out of my element. As you know, I already put out a record under my own name in 2007 (Colour Fields) with musicians from both Ottawa and Toronto, and that's partially why I named this new one 'Montreal Quartet' (or Mtl 4, for short). When I started this group, with François Bourassa, Adrian Vedady and Thom Gossage, people would ask me: 'Oh, is this the Toronto group?' So I said: 'No, this is the Montreal quartet' and kept saying this until I gave it the name Mtl 4. That's how I would present it when going around and getting gigs, so it kind of stuck. So I don't really feel out of my own here. As for André's own comments, I feel this as a kind of tension that is far above that of being a sideman. There's not just the added responsibility of presenting your own music, but it runs deeper than that. When you are playing someone else's compositions, you can say to yourself, at worst, maybe I didn't play that well on that tune, or it didn't turn out that well, but it's not your tune, it's someone else's baby, so that sort of comes in play here. But when it's your own thing, it is much closer to you. This is a crazy profession we have, where we bear all emotionally and say to people, 'I hope you like it'.

M.C.: In this new record, there are two very short pieces that seem to relate to Italy, at least that's what it seems by their titles, they seem like variations of each other, the second one is just a duo between you and Adrian (on bass) and the first is yourself overdubbed for two saxophones, I believe.

F.L.: Actually, it's three saxophones and the one with Adrian also has a little bit of percussion by Thom as well.

M.C.: These are not free improvised, but have a written line to them. In fact they sound like variations of each other, even if each one has a distinct title.

F.L.: You're right. These came about from a vacation to Italy with my wife. We go to a place in Umbria, a great spot in the hills known as a 'hacienda agricol turistica'. There's a big guesthouse in the middle of this olive grove and a series of small houses for rent, a really wonderful place. While hanging out there one day and listening to some music, there were swarms of birds in the trees. I just couldn't believe how melodic their songs were, so I started to transcribe these in a notebook. It is from all the snippets I could jot down as faithfully as a possible that this piece (Birds of Umbria) came about. First, I laid those sounds down on tenor with Adrian, and then added in percussion later, both Thom and a play some. From that, I proceeded to do a montage, but wasn't quite sure how to do it at first.

M.C.: What is on the record, are these just excerpts of longer pieces? Because both are under the two-minute mark.

F.L.: They were never conceived like beginning-to-end pieces, they are just assortments of bird sounds, but from the start I wanted to do this montage. It's like something I did in Colour Fields, I call these 'sonic sorbets', something of a cleanser between the other pieces, which really are a denser, if you will. When you have these shorter ones, they act like sorbets. For all-saxophone variation, I overdubbed the one solo tenor track twice over and pieced it together that way. This one probably sounds the most like what I heard, since there's no percussion in those hills. But my first concept was with percussion and bass, then I thought to myself after: 'What the heck, let's try this'. It worked well enough for me to include it on the record.

M.C.: Apart from your own material, there are two tunes from Adrian and a collage between one of your own and one of Thom's. In this latter one, the listener might have trouble knowing where you slip from one to the other.

F.L.: I'm glad to hear that. That means we achieved our goal: to make itseamless. I've been part of Thom's band since the beginning (late 1990s),and we now have a fifth recording out (see discussion of this further downin this interview), so he's influenced me a lot in the process.

M.C.: You can hear that elsewhere in the recording, too, for instance, inthe second piece (Roadhouse). It sort of struck me. 'This is Thom's space'.

F.L.: It's a kind of open work.

M.C.: One of the things with this record is that you cannot really pin it down in one specific corner, and I think it's something you set out to do.

F.L.: It is a question of doing what you do as faithfully as possible, andI happen to do a lot of very different stuff. What I've been doing overthe years happens to be converging now, so it's taking on something of itsown life, and say something of what I am about musically. It's based on tonal music stemming from the tradition, standards and what not, or from a New-York style playing, but there are elements drawn from all the different artists I work with here in Montreal, both veterans like (guitarist) Rainer Wiens, (reedist) Jean Derome (guitarist) René Lussier, (violinist) Malcolm Goldstein, as well as younger peers like (drummer) Isaiah Ceccarelli, (reedist) Philippe Lauzier and so on. So it's an amalgam of all those things. When you hear a piece on my own record, like I Said Acidity, this one is actually based on a standard (do you know which one?). It's a head I wrote, not so abstracted mind you, but still fairly well disguised, though you could find out which one when you hear the chord changes. So that's one aspect. But it goes all the way to things like the intro to Leuven Country which I basically wrote on a tone row (the title is in fact something of a bad joke on 'twelve tones').

II- Autour de Bill Evans (FND 112)

M.C.: This second recent release is quite a different proposition than your own, since it's billed as a tribute to Bill Evans. He is known of course as a pianist who excelled in the trio setting, yet we have a quartet here. Since François is so deeply influenced by him, I'm wondering if it's his idea to get this band started, and as quartet at that.

F.L.: Actually, the Bill Evans project is my idea. To make a long story short, Pierre Tanguay (drummer of this group) asked me three or four years ago to put together a trio with bassist Michel Donato for a concert at the Off festival in Rimouski, held in a church. Radio Canada was planning to record it. Now having never played with Michel, or hardly, I agreed to do it, so we played the gig, all standards by the way, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. We did more after that, but we all felt we could do more with this than that one show. I like Michel and his background, but still wanted to take it to another level. Michel loves Bill Evans, he even played with him (and Philly Joe Jones) back in 1977, so that was kind of the genesis for that. François was playing in my band at that time, and I thought he and Michel had played together before, so it could as a quartet. But to my surprise, I found out they had never played together before. I seemed like a perfect fit to me, and I was right. It clicked from the start. So we started digging into some of Evans's tunes. Take Very Early: it's kind of like Giant Steps; you've have to tackle it a few times before wrestling it down to the ground.

M.C.: That has to do with the chord sequence, the melody, however, is fairly simple.

F.L.: Not really. It's a very beautiful melody, yet it sort of floats across a complicated set of chord changes. Now another part of the story for me is that sax players do the music of other saxophonists (Parker, Coltrane, etc), but I thought to myself: why not have one do the music of a pianist for a change? That appealed to me and that's what lead me to put this project together. And it kind of took from there.

M.C.: So you're the one who determined the repertoire?

F.L.: I'm the musical director, if you wish.

M.C.: Even though you're name isn't on top, it's still like your second band.

F.L.: Yeah, in a way, but…

M.C.: Let me put this another way: could we call it a 'coop band'?

F.L.: That would be more accurate. Because we're not playing original music, I have little place to talk about how to make the music, or what I'm looking for, because we are interpreting someone else's. The leader on this gig really is Bill Evans. My job here is to bring repertoire to the table, and the guys in fact really appreciate that, because I can put myself in a way in their sideman shoes. As a sideman, you are really looking to have a strong leader, but what does that mean? He's the one who tells you: "Here's the gig. This is how much it pays. This is the time to show up. This is what to wear. This is the music we're playing, and this the time to show up for the rehearsal." Now if you show up and ask: "What do you guys want to play" and no one really knows, that's kind of freaky for a sideman, so your job as leader is to be up front on this. And since this was my idea, you have to keep that in mind, but you still have to remain question open to what your sideman have to offer as well. For instance, Michel asked me once: "Do you know Elsa?" I happened to know of it, so I checked it out. Because of that, it's in our book now, but not on the album. François did the same when he asked me if I knew Show Type Tune, and we're doing that as well. It's open in that way. One important thing I have to say on the concept of this record is that we don't just play compositions of Bill (the record is called Autour de Bill Evans, i.e. 'Around…'). It's not a tribute band in the sense of covering his tunes alone, but numbers associated to him like Nardis, Gloria's Step, and standards like Days of Wine and Roses. That opens up that range of repertoire. When we do a concert, I speak to the audience, so I do talk some about Bill's music. Actually we could really play any standard and still call it the Bill Evans band, because he played so many of them. But some are more closely associated to him than other, Days of Wine and Roses and My Romance being two good examples (the latter not being on the record).

M.C.: Now Bill didn't exactly play a very large repertoire of tunes, but chose a somewhat narrower one and spent his life digging into these deeper.

F.L.: Well yes, but the list is still pretty big.

M.C.: But as you say, there are certain tunes that were close to him and became signatures for him.

F.L.: Take Nardis. That's one that became associated to him right away.

M.C.: In the first album we talked about, it's your own music whereas you only do covers in this one. The difference to me is that one is more cast in the present whereas the other comes more out of the standard 'jazz' tradition. Seen that way, I wonder if these records fulfill a different side of you? Are they like two sides of the same coin for you, where they are interrelated within a larger whole, or are they very separate things to you, as if they were like two different coins.

F.L.: When I play, I just play, and the context dictates me what to play. I've always admired artists who always have their own sound in whatever stylistic idiom they happen to play in. Take a guy like Kenny Wheeler: no matter what he is playing: he could play totally free, right down the middle, in a big band, whatever, and it always sounds like Kenny Wheeler.

M.C.: At the risk of making an oversimplification, I've always kind of seen two types of musicians: those into whom all kinds of music disappear, and those who sort of disappear into all kinds of music.

F.L.: That's an interesting way of putting it. For some, the goal is to interpret in as faithful way as possible the style they're playing in. Those who do that well are basically pretty good stylists, who have that ability to play in one style or the other. You also have some who are primarily identified by their instrument, and then there are others who are viewed as artists, as musicians who happen to play piano, sax or whatever. I for one wasn't able to do that first thing. When I started out, I could never really play like this one or the other, I just didn't have the chops, but once I started getting them, I was at a point where I really didn't want to play in this or that way. That was not even my goal when I started out, but what was impressed on me the most was to find my own voice. If you want to hear something interesting about this, go to YouTube and just google John Scofield and Joe Henderson. It's one of those interviews done by Bert Primack during which both are exactly talking about the way schools are cranking out tons of very proficient players with no voice. The problem is that schools don't know that having your own voice was an integral part of the whole process; instead, they think it's really great to sound like Joe Henderson or Coltrane, but they are so far removed from what their realities were, so they have no clue. Schools for the most part are guilty of not impressing on the students the need of finding one's own voice. There are several reasons for that too, some purely practical, others of a more business nature, but I don't want to go too far off track here…

M.C.: In view of this, do you then feel you have your own voice?

F.L.: I really do, and I think I had it early on, and that's why I've kept playing. That said, you're always in the process of refining it, you constantly add things while questioning it, too. You may even strip it down and build it back up. To me the word 'voice' also brings about a 'need'. When you have that need to play, you can actually hear it in the music, no matter the instrument played. Your voice is independent of your technical or intellectual facility. It really has to do with your need as a person, as an artist, to express yourself. The proof of that is that if you listen to records or view DVDs of any kind of ethnic or traditional music, you may come across someone playing a very simply made instrument, like a one-stringed instrument or a hand drum. Yet, they are able to create so much intensity as to actually transcend the actual making of the music. For my sake, if you can't do it like that, it's not worth doing otherwise. When I talk to students about this need to play, I tell them if they don't feel that need, then they'd better get themselves a real job. Actually, I'd do that myself just to make some money and have a normal life, but in the present circumstances my life is about as normal as it could be.

III-Auguste QuartetHomos Pugnax (FND 115)

M.C.: This group is the one headed by Alain Bédard; he's not only the bassist here, but also the label boss. I am told it is one the oldest bands you're part of.

F.L.: We go back to the mid-1990s, pre-Effendi days in fact. Pierre Tanguay was the original drummer and Yves Léveillée had the piano chair at that time.

M.C.: This makes for an interesting case: given its history, I wonder whether you have certain expectations when you arrive in the studio to record with a group you've been part of for a long time? In fact, do you have expectations at all before any recording session, or do you approach a session as if it were an open slate before you?

F.L.: There's a bit of both for me. Now if someone just called me up out of the blue and we did a rehearsal or two beforehand, I wouldn't have as many. But when you've been playing with a group for some time, you know the guys and the feel, so you certainly have some beforehand. The difference in this record is that all material had not been road tested beforehand, or very little at least. It turned out to be very complicated, very hard to play.

M.C.: On the record, you're credited as playing saxophones, but it seems you play tenor alone, apart from the fourth track (Fleurs carnivores, a Carla Bley composition and only cover of the album) where you sort of ghost Alain's arco playing on bass clarinet. As in most of your records, you play tenor predominantly, so it must be the one you're most comfortable with.

F.L.: But I love playing the soprano, and I do feel I have a good voice on it as well. I've eliminated instruments I feel I am not as at ease with, but the bass clarinet is one I still do feel I have a voice on, as difficult as it is to play.

M.C.: You picked up bass clarinet only a decade or so ago, so you don't have the same proficiency on it that on the saxophone.

F.L.: I've been on sax for just about all my life, while bass clarinet came in much later, I've been using it for a little over ten years now. It's not the same when you are a late starter on an instrument.

M.C.: Returning to this recording, do you feel this one is much different to its predecessors, as if maybe it has brought you somewhere else? This group doesn't play that often and because of that, I wonder if you are able to perceive some kind of change or evolution in the musical concept.

F.L.: Sure I do. I'll come back to what I said before, about playing original music: on the one hand, you're trying to interpret someone else's vision yet, on the other, you still want to keep your own sound, so one need not exclude the other. Because the music here was more complicated, with more unusual and unconventional arrangements, you're imposing new challenges on the players every time you do that. On certain cuts, it might produce by virtue of certain limitations a kind of sound you might not necessarily have imagined, but that's not a bad thing at all when it comes out differently to what you expect.

M.C.: Did you have to do many takes of the pieces?

F.L: That depends on the tune. The toughest one was probable the second cut Casse-pattes. A real crazy tune with odd meters and where the one (i.e. the downbeat) is not often marked. My tune (The Loneliest Month, the album closer), we did twice, likewise for Vieux pneu (the eighth cut).

M.C.: There's a problem when too many takes are done.

F.L.: It's over. It's like a romantic session: if the phone rings more than twice, it's like: 'Let's forget this, and try some other time.'

IV- Josh RagerKanansakis (FND 116)

M.C.: Unlike the previous discs, you appear only on one tune, Billy Strayhorn's U.M.M.G. (a.k.a. Upper Manhattan Medical Group). Did you know that piece beforehand?

F.L.: I knew of it, it was sort of roaming in my head, but had to learn it. Then Josh told me we were going to play it in seven, so I needed to get that together.

M.C.: In the studio, did you have the music in front of you or you had assimilated it by then?

F.L.: For me, I try to learn pieces by heart, especially when it comes to standards, like those for the Bill Evans recording. Memorizing them is eliminating a barrier. Mind you, I would have loved to be able to do that that with Alain's music, but it's pretty hard and complicated. On my record, I think I read two things, maybe three, both of Adrian's pieces and Roadhouse. There's one thing I'd like to add about my Montreal quartet, and which makes me very happy and that is we recorded it the right way. Nowadays, you make a demo to get a grant to record then use it to get some gigs, and when you go out and perform and get it to where you want, that's when you say: 'Yeah, now is when I'd really want to record this!' In this case, I first put the band together, then played gigs with it for a year and a half, then went in to get it recorded. So what you hear on this album is then end of a process, where the tunes have evolved, and I'm very happy about that. On a personal basis, I can say I could have played better here or there, but to me it sounds fresh and alive.

M.C.: Coming back to Josh's record for a moment, how did this cameo appearance happen: he just called you up and said 'I want you to play on this tune?'

F.L.: His album is basically a trio record, with two exceptions the one tune with me and another one with guitarist Carlos Jimenez. I was on his previous album, a sextet (Time and Time Again), so I was already familiar with his music, and we've played off and on over the years.

M.C.: To do it that way, did he give you a specific arrangement or written out in that time signature?

F.L.: We talked it over on the phone first. In fact he sang it to me.

M.C.: As it is in four-four time, that means certain values were stretched out.

F.L.: When you play in seven, you basically count it out as four plus three. (Gives an example by singing out All the Things you Are while beating it out with his hand.)

M.C.: Was it done in a single take?

F.L.: We did it in three. The first was scrapped, but the other two were good, so he made the final pick.

M.C.: Did you work on it before going into the studio? Or maybe you just agreed on what to do by talking about and doing it there in the studio?

F.L.: Actually we did on a session together, but with different musicians. I asked to do it, just to check it out a bit beforehand, so that's what did, briefly and on a single occasion.

V- Thom Gossage Other VoicesIn Other Words (Songlines 1591-2)

M.C.: Like Alain's group, you have a long history with this band as well; you're even a charter member. Your first performances go back to 1998, two years before the first record. Here we are 11 years down the road, and five records later. Having listened to it on more than one occasion, you (as a band, I mean) seem to have taken the concept a couple of steps further. The way the music is assembled is by no means obvious, so no and true and tried formulas here, so this makes me wonder whether the long group history was an asset for all of you to shape the music on this disc. Or did it necessitate some time and effort to get a handle on it, or understanding what Thom's vision or approach is?

F.L.: Well, let me think about this.

M.C.: Let me put it this way: there are sessions where things sort of fall into place by themselves while others are more of a struggle to get there, so I'm wondering how this one was for you?

F.L.: Thom's music is always challenging. There are people whose music may be challenging, but not in the way you would like it to challenge you. But Thom is so right on the money: he's listening to every little thing everyone does while having a sense for where the music is going. Over the last five years, he's taken his musical vision, or the way of expressing it in sound, and changed it in relation to how his sidemen play. In fact he's made it fit to us to a certain degree. But he doesn't do this in an easy way. It's not like writing this for me because that's what I do, but it's rather 'I hear this in Frank, so that's what I'll write.'

M.C.: As if he wants to pull something out of you.

F.L.: Yeah. He's challenging us in a kind of altruistic way. But as I said, it's not easy, because there's something deep to it. So it's hard to do, but when you get through it, it will have transformed you somewhat. I can say this without a doubt. There are other musicians without whom I would not be same had I not played with them, and another one I can think of is Rainer Wiens. Thom is on that list as well, and that's why I hired him in my band.

M.C.: You could hear him in that space you're trying to define for yourself as a leader.

F.L.: Absolutely. He's an artist and a musician first, who happens to play the drums, and very well at that. He plays 'jazz-jazz', too, but has chosen to go down the less well trodden path. As for the album, he told us he had new stuff for it, and we hadn't played for a while, the previous thing was our 2010 concert with Drew Gress (subbing for regular bassist Miles Perkin). So we started rehearsing it first, and it was pretty tough. We worked on it in three, maybe four sessions, but the recording went down in a single day. That was a killer; by the end of it we were just wiped out.

M.C.: I can imagine, because of the demands of the music, especially from a conceptual point of view.

F.L.: For all of the apparent openness of the music on the record, this album is more about limitations and oppositions. There are sections, for instance, that might appear completely open, when we're actually working on a very specific idea of group architecture. The voices may be independent, but it's what one is trying to do in relationship to another in his solo. Now once you are inside the bubble, the limitations are so interesting, yet they are very expansive at the same time. It's kind of paradoxical but these limitations give depth to the music and make it sound more wide open at the same time; that's what is so amazing about it. There are cases when you can do anything you want musically, but it can suffer from a lack of focus, or have some intention to it. Once there is focus, then it becomes really intense.

M.C.: When I hear a recording like this, it's clear to me that only a band that has been together for some time is able to make music like this. You just cannot have a pick up band do this.

F.L.: That answers the question you asked, about how hard it was to work on it, or whether you just come in and rely on what you know. What we do is rely on all of the common experiences we have lived together over time.

Interview taken in Montreal on October 24, 2011 by Marc Chénard.


Friday, December 2, 2011

L'Off Festival de Jazz de Montréal

7 au 15 octobre, 2011

(Scroll down for English reviews)

Soirée d'ouverture (jeu. 7)
Trio Derome-Guilbeault-Tanguay (en première partie)

Jean Derome, égal à lui-même, prend le jazz au sérieux. L'appréciation de sa démarche artistique déjantée et intellectuelle exige effort et ouverture d'esprit. Le saxophoniste, qui se produisait en trio avec le contrebassiste Normand Guilbeault et le batteur Pierre Tanguay, a poussé à fond les limites des mélomanes en nous présentant des pièces issues de son album Danse à l'Anvers . Il les a entraînés avec audace à travers maints styles et époques, de Louis Armstrong au free jazz le plus débridé, des standards aux techniques les moins conventionnelles. Le musicien, toujours dans les règles de l'art, parle dans son instrument, sort les sons les plus stridents de son alto, explore l'atonalité. Il prend malgré tout le temps, avec humour et générosité, de guider en parole son public, lui offrant des aperçus judicieux de l'histoire et de la littérature jazz. On ne peut non plus passer sous silence sa maîtrise technique et de sa virtuosité enviable, particulièrement rafraîchissante au saxophone baryton, duquel il tire un son chaleureux. Somme toute, une excellente prestation. On regrette seulement un peu de ne pas l'avoir entendu à la flûte, son premier instrument !

SoCalled / Nozen : The Beauty and the Beat (en seconde partie)

Le saxophoniste Damian Nisenson et que la coqueluche montréalaise SoCalled (voix, claviers, accordéon et échantillonneur) ont foulé les planches du Lion d'Or avec un bonheur palpable et une musique à la croisée du jazz, du hip-hop et du klezmer, afin de célébrer le Yom Kippur faisant, selon Nisenson, « ce qu'ils font de mieux : de la musique », et ce, au grand plaisir d'une foule essentiellement jeune et particulièrement enthousiaste. Les artistes, accompagnés de Bernard Falaise à la guitare électrique, Jean-Félix Mailloux à la contrebasse et, une fois de plus, Pierre Tanguay à la batterie ont fait preuve d'une bonne humeur et un charisme si fou qu'on ne peut leur pardonne d'avoir trop usé de tape-à-l'oreille, de progressions trop peu variées, augmenté d'une sonorisation élevée aux limites de l'ouïe humaine. La virtuosité de Nisenson, qui maniait deux instruments à la fois, en mettait malgré tout réellement plein les yeux. Certains moments étaient toutefois d'une sensibilité remarquable, notamment une ballade que SoCalled a interprété en yiddish, ou le rappel où les musiciens sont descendus dans la foule. -Julie Berardino

Tania Gill Quartet (dim. 9)
Le Tania Gill Quartet a offert un chaleureux et intimiste moment musical au Upstairs Bar et Grill. L'atmosphère feutrée et l'été indien du début octobre n'avaient pas de trame plus agréable que celle de ses ballades jazz. L'ensemble excelle dans cette forme; le monde de la compositrice torontoise, son imaginativité caressante s'y dévoilent particulièrement. Grandes sections lyriques bien ficelées, progressions harmoniques finement élaborées, mélodies vives et éclectiques, jamais doucereuses. Davantage qu'une technicienne, Gill est une artiste de la narration. Ses ballades, infiniment belles, rappellent celles du cinéma, parfois celles de Michel Legrand. Gill a présenté des pièces issues de son dernier album, Bolger Station (sur étiquette Barnyard Records), qui compte également des œuvres plus rythmiques, plus lumineuses, notamment Magpie. Il lui a fallu une quinzaine de minutes pour réchauffer l'auditoire, pour se sentir pleinement à l'aise et fixer le propos de ses explorations ; les improvisations de la pianistes n'ont alors pas toujours visé juste. Son groupe avait également un côté mordant, en grande partie grâce à la verve et aux interventions énergiques de la trompettiste Lina Allemano et du batteur Jean Martin, qu'équilibrait la sensualité du contrebassiste (Montréalais celui-là) Clinton Ryder, qui s'est démarqué à la fois comme improvisateur et comme accompagnateur hors du commun. -Julie Berardino

The Elements Choir (mer. 12)

De tous les spectacles inscrits au programme du festival, celui du « Elements Choir » se détache du lot, non seulement par sa seule ambition artistique mais aussi par son envergure. De Toronto, le percussionniste Jean Martin, sa conjointe, la chanteuse Christine Duncan, se sont produits dans la grande Église du quartier d'Outremont avec le concours d'une cinquantaine de choristes et trois autres instrumentistes (leur con-citadin trompettiste Jim Lewis, le violoniste vancouvérois Jesse Zubot et le guitariste bien de chez nous Bernard Falaise, ainsi que l'organiste Eric Robertson perché dans le jubé à l'arrière de l'église). Projet inusité pour un festival de jazz, mais néanmoins pertinent de par sa nature improvisée, cette chorale imposante a livré une prestation en continu d'au moins trois quart d'heure, suivie d'une autre quinzaine de minutes en guise de rappel. L'improvisation collective est une proposition constamment semée de risques, d'autant plus en fonction des effectifs. En d'autres mots : plus ils sont grands, plus il est difficile d'assurer une certaine clarté dans le discours musical, d'où l'attrait évident pour la composition comme vecteur d'organisation sonore. Mais en l'absence d'une partition est-il possible d'arriver à des résultats conséquents ? Ce concert nous a offert quelques pistes.

À l'instar d'un peintre qui couvre sa toile à coup de grands gestes, les concepteurs du projet ont choisi de travailler sur la masse plutôt que sur le détail, rendu possible dans une partition soigneusement travaillée. Cette approche était d'autant plus judicieuse par rapport au lieu de la performance, soit la vaste l'Église d'Outremont aux propriétés particulièrement réverbérantes. Vu cette acoustique, certains « éléments » étaient n'étaient pas toujours perceptibles, du moins selon l'emplacement de l'auditeur dans la nef; on pense ici aux interventions du violoniste, ou encore du guitariste, pourtant toutes deux amplifiées. Cela dit, un autre spectateur, assis dans la seconde rangée, et non dans la quinzième comme moi, a entendu les deux sans problème, d'où l'importance de se placer le plus près possible de la scène pour bien entendre. Éloigné de tous les autres, l'organiste n'avait certes pas la tâche facile : le dos à l'estrade, il ne pouvait que la voir dans un miroir, son travail également compliqué par le délai dans la propagation du son. Mentionnons du reste que ce projet avait d'abord été présenté à Toronto l'an dernier puis mise sur disque sur le label du batteur (Barnyard Records, voir référence ci-bas), la prestation montréalaise précédée d'une autre au festival de Guelph à peine un mois auparavant. Comme toute musique d'improvisation, celle-ci comporte sa part de qualités et de défauts, tous deux inhérents à ce type d'entreprise et au contexte dans laquelle elle est présentée. Au risque de faire une généralisation, il existe deux manières d'apprécier la musique, soit de nous rendre vers elle pour l'appréhender ou de la laisser venir à nous tout simplement, sans trop se poser de questions. Nul doute, les auditeurs qui ont suivi cette seconde tangente ont mieux su tirer parti de cette proposition musicale décidément hors norme. -Marc Chénard

Maïkotron Unit (ven. 14)

Sur papier, la proposition semblait intéressante: le souffleur de Québec Michel Côté (saxophone soprano, clarinettes basse et contrebasse) - signataire il y a quelques années d'un sympathique disque free-bop sur étiquette Effendi (Lapon Balèze) puis collaborateur de Bill Dixon - s'alliant avec le contrebassiste/violoncelliste Pierre Côté et le batteur Michel Lambert, deux musiciens qu'on a entendus auprès de François Carrier, entre autres. Les extraits vidéo de leur nouveau projet, le Maïkotron Unit, circulant sur YouTube, avaient également piqué la curiosité de ce chroniqueur: on y entendait cet instrument inventé, le maïkotron, chimère se situant quelque part entre le fantasme d'un facteur d'instruments et le délire d'un plombier. De plus, la petite Casa del Popolo se prête parfaitement à ce genre de groupe demandant une écoute attentive. Cependant, dès le premier morceau, fort efficacement introduit par Pierre Côté à l'archet, on sentait certaines certaines incongruités entre les musiciens qui empêchaient la musique de « prendre » vraiment. Par exemple, alors que le contrebassiste semblait installer un passage très legato, saxophoniste et batteur venaient briser l'atmosphère avec un concept très rythmique. Ces ruptures de ton, constantes d'une interprétation à l'autre, empêchaient l'auditeur de pleinement adhérer au projet musical, tout en gênant l'évolution de l'intensité de la performance: les solos de Michel Côté, tant au soprano qu'aux clarinettes, tombaient souvent à plat, alors que Lambert, qu'on a déjà entendu plus inspiré, semblait souvent au bord du cabotinage. Pour sa part, le contrebassiste semblait être l'élément le plus solide de l'ensemble, même si dans ce contexte plutôt statique ses solides ostinati ne « levaient » pas vraiment. Quant au maïkotron lui-même (joué principalement ce soir-là par le batteur), ses capacités musicales se limitent à une coloration dans le registre grave qui peuvent intriguer sur de courtes périodes, mais dont l'usage soutenu finit par lasser. On aurait aimé adhérer plus pleinement à ce sympathique projet. -Félix-Antoine Hamel

Concert de clôture (sam. 15)
Il était une fois l'Off (Prise 2)

Lors de sa première édition automnale (en 2010), le festival inscrivit en soirée d'ouverture ce projet concept. Un an plus tard, il clôturait son événement avec une initiative identique, soit de réunir sur scène 11 musiciens de la scène montréalaise dans une formation inédite et auquel chacun des membres devait, du moins en théorie, composer un morceau de circonstance (neuf d'entre eux ont répondu à l'appel). Intéressante en soi, cette proposition permit aussi de rassembler des musiciens issus de différents cercles, certains sans doute inconnus à d'autres avant la mise en place du projet. Pour ces vertus, une telle démarche n'est pas sans poser certains problèmes, surtout lorsque des participants s'adonnent à des pratiques éloignées (par ex. la musique improvisée libre en contrepartie d'un jazz plus standard, basé sur la trame habituelle des variations thématiques à consonance tonale). Dans l'ensemble, le programme musical penchait largement en faveur de la seconde tendance, offrant toutefois des contrastes d'intensité entre les pièces. Celle de Christine Jensen en ouverture était la moins tendue d'un point de vue harmonique, alors que l'offrande du trompettiste Jacques Kuba Séguin – qui livra un solo de haute voltige frôlant dangereusement la démonstration technique – était résolument plus rythmée, avec quelques teintes de musiques d'Europen de l'Est. La pianiste Marianne Trudel, présente dans l'ensemble de l'édition 2010, pondit un opus aux maints détours, voire un brin décousu dans sa trame; le trompettiste Bill Mahar, pour sa part, reprit, en fin de soirée, un de ses vieux numéros aux allures jazz fusionnant des années 1970, un brin suranné dira-t-on. Plus contemporain, le morceau du saxo ténor Adam Kinner était d'une simplicité presque désarmante, son auteur se disant inspiré par l'écoute de la jeune vague norvégienne actuelle, en particulier le pianiste Christian Wallumrød. Difficile d'exécution en raison de ses modulations métriques constantes, la contribution du saxo baryton et clarinettiste basse Philippe Côté n'a pas trop souffert, les interprètes ayant tout de même pu tirer leur épingle du jeu malgré les embûches. Le contrebassiste Jean-Sébastien Leblanc nous laissa avec des impressions légèrement bleutées dans son morceau, nous démontrant par ailleurs lors de son introduction en solo des solides capacités instrumentales. Pièce intrigante en raison de sa nature schématique, celle du trompettiste Ellwood Epps était la seule à être mise en forme par les musiciens durant les répétitions, son compositeur se disant incapable d'écrire quoi que ce soit sans avoir entendu au préalable ses partenaires de groupe. En dépit des imperfections (un musicien ayant manqué son propre « cue » ), cette composition plus ouverte n'était pas dénuée d'un certain charme poétique. Mais de toutes les œuvres, celle du batteur Michel Lambert était la plus détonante (et étonnante) au programme. Artiste visuel, celui-ci aime beaucoup créer des partitions en forme de tableaux, ou d'images, le plus souvent incluant des consignes simples, comme une liste de mots comme seuls déclencheurs de jeu. Pour autant rompus que ces musiciens soient à des pratiques traditionnelles, ils ont toutefois été mis à l'épreuve ici; les résultats mitigés ont prouvé comment ce genre d'exercice n'est pas à la portée du premier venu, surtout si l'on manque d'une certaine expérience dans ces pratiques qualifiées de « non idiomatiques ». Quoi qu'on en dise de l'une ou de l'autre des pièces, ce spectacle de clôture du Off Festival a présenté un belle vue en coupe du jazz de notre ville. Un récidive serait à souhaiter l'an prochain, avec bien sûr une nouvelle distribution et, pourquoi pas, quelques invités venus d'ailleurs ?... -Marc Chénard


Joëlle Léandre and the Ensemble SuperMusique (Fri. 8)

On the short list of name guest performers participating in this year's festival, French double bassist Joëlle Léandre is surely the best known to anyone interested in the area of freely improvised musics. On the second evening, this musician was heard in two separate sets: starting off with a rather perfunctory half hour solo outing, Léandre was joined by the local Ambiances magnétique collective of free improvisers (7 in total comprised of its most usual suspects, Jean Derome, Lori Freedman, Joane Hétu, Jean René, Bernard Falaise, Danielle-P. Roger, and a relative newcomer to the crowd, trombonist Scott Thompson. After the very well attended opening night double bill (as mentioned in the first French review, see further down in this survey), turnout on this evening was rather thin, in spite of much advance billing and promotion. Because of this, there was a lack of atmosphere felt in the usually warm confines or the Lion d'Or, an old-theater space with much character to it. After more than three decades of professional activity and countless solo performances under her belt, Léandre's musical world is well-established by now, and she offerred her usual fair, bowing for the most part (expected from any classically trained player) and indulging in her semi-onomatopeic vocalese while sawing away on her strings. She has recorded several solo albums over the years, and any of these are far more inspiring than this performance was. After the pause, she melted in the background with the ensemble, though she contributed one piece as an opener to the proceedings. This and the remaining numbers (one even played twice) were more like compositional frameworks, guiding the players according to a number of loosely defined parameters. Listeners familiar with this kind of 'open-ended' music making know that misses are inevitable, even if they hope to get enough hits to make the evening worthwhile. Truthfully, the latter were in short supply on that night, leaving us with a little too many of the former. -Marc Chénard

Clinton Ryder Plein Nord (Sat. 8)

Clinton Ryder is one of Montreal's most dependable jazz bassists. This BC native is heard in a variety of contexts, from pianist Félix Stüssi's modern mainstream jazz quintet/sextet (at times rounded out by Ray Anderson) to guitarist Gary Schwartz's adventurous take on post-Ornette Coleman harmolodics. At the festival, however, he was given a rare opportunity to lead his own band (Plein Nord, or 'True North'). A pianoless quartet, it sports an interesting front line of violinist Jesse Zubot and reedist Frank Lozano (tenor, soprano sax and bass clarinet), the drum duties held by Isaiah Ceccarelli, who teams up regularly with Ryder. This writer has always entertained a certain fondness for this strings and reeds combination, and there are not that many precedents either, but more importantly it offers a wide range of contrasts and complimentarities of timbres, all the moreso because of Lozano's three horns. This band reminded listeners of the importance to stay for the whole show, as the two sets were very different in tone. Those who may have stuck around just for the first half might have found the very instrospective chamber music dynamics a little too confining yet, after the break, the band cut loose, squeezing the throttle with a much jazzier intensity, the violonist in partiular ripping off a couple of sizzling solos. Afterwards, the leader confided that this was precisely his intention, to present sets of contrasting tone and style, thus disproving this writer's conjecture that it may well have been related to an apparent amplification problem of the bass in the opening half. Overall, a pretty satisfying first step for Clinton Ryder and crew, and more performance from them would be more than welcome. -Marc Chénard

Jean René Et Quart (Sun. 9)

Montreal's creative music scene is not exactly a hotbed for violists, or anywhere else for that matter. Fortunately, we have Jean René as the local representative of this underrepresented string instrument. Jean René is best known for his contributions to projects led by René Lussier, Michel-F. Côté and Jean Derome. René performed for the second consecutive Off fest with his quartet Et Quart, featuring Joshua Zubot (violin), Nicolas Caloia (bass) and Pierre Tanguay (drums) at the Casa del Popolo. The quartet performed a mix of René's own compositions, several from his latest solo viola release Fammi (&records) as well as others'. The quartet performance was easily as quirky as the studio solo album. Note that unlike the studio solo recording, René did not appear to make use of any electronic manipulations to his viola in live performance. The ensemble sounded very well integrated and thoroughly absorbed in René's sound world. Very pleasing to the ear was the relationship of Zubot's crystalline tone versus René's very wooly viola tone, all against a backdrop of Caloia and Tanguay's foundation. The performance was mainly about the compositions, but left room for the musicians to improvise, and in Zubot's case, replete with a tremendous display of virtuosity. This is a group that needs to be recorded.

Thom Gossage Other Voices (Thurs. 13, first half)

Local drummer Gossage has been leading his ensemble Other Voices for several years now, documented on several strong releases. This concert was effectively the CD launch for his latest release In Other Words (Songlines).The ensemble has radically evolved from its original inside/outside approach. Spaces are now stretched out and the sonic palette has grown tremendously. There is a general chamber feel to the proceedings, although occasionally punctuated by blasts of energy that propelled the soloists. The band members are generally known for their straight ahead leanings (especially saxophonists Rémi Bolduc and Francisco Lozano) but the magic of this ensemble is that Gossage's compositions ease the musicians into areas where they typically would not venture in their own projects. This approach can be very fruitful under the right leadership, as is the case of this band. The musicians seem challenged (in a good way!) and genuinely captivated by the compositions, resulting in adding freshness to the music that sets this ensemble apart from the pack. One minor quibble would be that guitarist Steve Raegele occasionally seemed to meander, although it wasn't clear to this listener whether those moments were improvised or written parts of the compositions. That small complaint aside, the music was captivating and alluring. -Mark Chodan

Mark Segger Sextet (Thur. 13, second half)

Sharing the bill with the previous band was the Toronto sextet of drummer Mark Segger. While its lineup is a very standard one (piano, bass, drums, tenor sax, trumpet and trombone), it's musical concept was not. Playing all of the music contained on the drummer's debut record, this group attempted to negotiate a kind of contemporary jazz that somehow was lacking in concept, or at least one perceivable to this listener's ear. Whereas Gossage and co have spent many years developing a cutting edge concept of group play (and interplay), this sextet in contrast seemed to be still groping with these issues, offering somewhat diffuse results and little in term of soloing highlights. Since this group is new, best wait and see, and give them more time to hone a clearear concept of their actual musical direction. -Marc Chénard

Rémi Bolduc sextet with Jerry Bergonzi and Phil Dwyer (Fri. 14)

After a week of improvised musics heard in a variety of shapes, sizes and ambitions, the second to last night attraction brought in two out-of-towners, tenormen Phil Dwyer (from B.C.) and Boston's Jerry Bergonzi, both of them beefing up the quartet of local altoist Rémi Bolduc. The saxophone, as we know, is a loud sounding machine, three of them you can imagine can displace a lot of air, and decibels to whit. So when you have a front-line of die-hard post-hard boppers capable of playing the fleetist of runs at brakeneck tempos, it makes for a lot of higher-faster-louder exhibitions of chops. This seemed to have been the case (as I was told from several sources) of their rendition of Giant Steps at the end of the first set. Having caught the second set alone, I witnessed the group playing a very middle-of-the-road set of tunes (an indistinguished blues line by Bolduc, a couple of standards, including an old warhorse like All the Things you Are), all of which were in keeping with the inevitable succession of "soliloquies in front of a ticking clock" (as per Cage's admonishment of jazz). Somehow, after a week of musical adventures this outing seemed rather pallid in contrast, even a bit outmoded. And of the saxmen, Bergonzi, the star player, went through the motions in a fluent way, falling short of living up to what audience members should expect from a top flight jazzer like him. Dwyer, in contrast, was the main man here, mustering up some intensity in spots, while the rhythm section (Steve Amirault, piano, Fraser Hollins, bass and Dave Lang, drums) filled out the background effectively, yet with no real added value to the proceedings. One set, we'll say, was enough. -Marc Chénard