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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 10, No. 4

A Tale of Two Pianists

by Paul Serralheiro / November 29, 2004

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Jazz musicians in Montreal come in different stripes. Take Marianne Trudel and Holly Arsenault, for example, two Montreal pianists and composers. Although they had the chance to play duets together at the 2000 Jazz Workshop in Banff, they do not usually work in the same circles. Coming from varied musical and cultural backgrounds, each displays a highly individual style, as can be heard in their recent first disc releases.

Marianne Trudel's solo effort, Espaces Libres, is a distinct pastiche of her influences -- French lyricism, clear rhythmical strains derived from listening to artists like Keith Jarrett, free improvisation and the wide-ranging melodicism of world music. Initially trained in classical music, Trudel was soon drawn to jazz, even though she admits she "never fit into the jazz mould." What attracted Trudel, was the improvisational aspect of composition: "I liked to compose, to sit down and fine-tune musical ideas," she explains. Still in her twenties, Trudel is currently working on a Master's degree in ethnomusicology at the University of Montreal, and has some interesting formative experiences behind her. These include playing with Charles Aznavour in France, and writing arrangements for Altsys, Hugh Fraser and Bernard Primeau. She has rubbed shoulders at the Jazz Workshop in Banff with people like American trombonist George Lewis and Dutch drummer Han Bennink, and plans to work with Paul Rucker, a Seattle-based musician whom she met there. In addition to all this, Trudel, originally from Saint-Michel-de-Bellechasse near Quebec City, has recently been honing her skills as an accordionist, since, she explains, "I love the breath aspect of the instrument. It adds a whole other dimension to the playing." Finally, political involvement is also a concern: "I have always been interested in the links between music and identity, and I'd like to do music for films that are socially engaged, things like documentaries about environmental issues."

Cape Breton native Holly Arsenault, who spent time in Halifax before settling in Montreal in 1991, has somewhat of a different story. Her album Hush, like Trudel's Espaces Libres, highlights her composition chops as well as her instrumental talents. Arsenault's influences range from her teacher Kenny Werner, from whom she learned to "just be at the keyboard and to use the natural breath," to the modal concepts of composer/guitarist Roddy Ellias, to the Celtic looping melodies and buoyant rhythms she goes for with the support of Zack Lober on bass and Jim Doxas on drums. (Saxophonist Mike Murley and cellist Molly Read also appear on the disc.) Hush comes after years of work in musical theatre, which led Arsenault to tour Europe with a production of West Side Story, and to contribute to three of choreographer Brian MacDonald's projects – tributes to Leonard Cohen, Carol Pope and Joni Mitchell. It was on the Mitchell project that the essence of a modal approach became clear, "the way she sees the piano, as all the colours laid out." The focus on modality evident in Hush frees the writing of the clichés of jazz harmony. Arsenault's lyricism, a striking feature of the album, can be linked to her work with singers like Trisha Pope and Johnny Scott and to the influence of others who "are not afraid to be melodic" like the Peter Erskin, John Taylor, Palle Danielsen piano trio, and Keith Jarrett.

Hush will be launched on December 5th, 8:00 p.m. at Upstairs, 1254 Mackay, with Mike Murley joining the trio, and will be distributed via www.jazzpromo.com. Marianne Trudel's Espaces Libres is available at Sillion le Disquaire in Quebec City, through the artist's website (www.mariannetrudel.com), and will be in most record stores by February 2005. You can catch the Trudel trio at the Hotel Clarendon's Bar L'Emprise in Quebec City, from December 9th to the 11th, and in a solo performance at Montreal's Christ Church Cathedral at 12:30 p.m. on December 15th.

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