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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 21, No. 5 February 2016

Jazz: Off The Record

by Marc Chénard / February 1, 2016

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A year ago last March, the Effendi Jazz en Rafale series concluded with the onstage premiere of guitarist Michel Cusson’s appropriately-titled Solo project. The recording recently hit the market, its launch preceding a return performance, to be held at the Lion d’Or on the 11th of February. Its concept stems from a series of pictures that a woman had cast away on a beach the musician had been strolling on, and he picked them up and stashed them away at home in a suitcase for years. His imagination was triggered upon rediscovering them. What comes out of it is a kind of impressionistic soundtrack where the musician has made copious use of electronics (including loops, delays, reverbs, multi-tracking). Once heralded as part of Quebec’s leading fusion trio UZEB, Cusson sticks to much of the electrified stylings of the genre.

Jazz big bands are pretty well a luxury now. Yet, the Orchestre National de Jazz had its banner year in 2015, with four festival appearances in the province. But there are other large outfits looming around town, one being the Ratchet Orchestra of bassist Nicolas Caloia, and a new arrival on the scene lead by saxophonist Beth Mckenna.

Those in tune with the local creative/improv music scene are certainly aware of the bassist and his almost ubiquitous presence in it. His 18-piece group is comprised of several of its figureheads, including Jean Derome, Lori Freedman, Jean René, and Isaiah Ceccarelli to name but a few. March 27 marks the launching of the Ratchet’s third album, this one on the New York label Mode Records. In The Ratchet Orchestra Plays the Music of Malcolm Goldstein, they do just that: perform five works written by that renown American contemporary music violinist and improviser, and son of our city for close to 25 years now. While the whole group will not be on stage at the Casa del Popolo that night, a few of its members will pay tribute to the composer, who, as chance has it, will turn 80 that very day. After a premiere two years ago (which this writer attended) and a couple of more shows a year later just before this studio session, the resulting disc comes highly recommended for those with adventurous tastes.

Hailing from Nova-Scotia, saxophonist Beth McKenna came to our city to study at McGill. At 26, she launched her first self-produced venture called Start, an all-original program written for jazz orchestra, no less. Hot on the heels of that debut, McKenna was at it again last month, with her mainly youthful cast recording a new multi-part suite she calls Home – Montréal. On March 24, she premieres the whole work at l’Astral. A student of Christine Jensen, and equally influenced by that other prominent McGill graduate Darcy James Argue, McKenna wants to cast her net wide, both in her writing and by incorporating some electronics into her music. A name to discover. Likewise for the music.

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