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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 5, No. 2

Jazz Between the Festivals: Blowing with the Autumn Leaves

by Philip Ehrensaft / October 1, 1999

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The festivals may be over, but Montreal jazz buffs can enjoy the intricate polyphonies of saxophonists Jean Derome and Johanne Hétu, and percussionists Pierre Tanguay and Danielle Roger at Musique d'automne, the first of a quarterly series of concerts being held at the Centre culturel Calixa-Lavallé at 9 p.m. on October 20 and 21 (514) 598-0008.

The concert series is masterminded by Roger's SuperMémé co-operative to mark the passage of the seasons. The October gigs will feature the Derome Tanguay Danse duo and the Feuilles Mortes quartet (with all four artists) on the first night. The next night will feature the Sauvages Femmes duo of Roger and Hétu for the first set, followed by Feuilles Mortes.

Checking the evidence

Derome, Tanguay, and bassist Pierre Cartier's Thelonius Monk tribute album, Evidence, is one of the major Canadian jazz recordings of this decade. (Evidence was issued in 1993 by Ambience Magnétique, the label headed by Hétu.) It is an intense blend of old and new. From the outset, the three musicians communicate a rare sense of the structure and spirit of Monk's mysterious music, combined with subtle allusions to classic jazz from Jelly Morton to swing, plus the jazz innovations that hae taken place since the 1960s. Significantly, their improvisation is a polyphony of three equal voices rather than the more typical soloist playing against a background rhythm section. Neo-bebop ears may find this technique "free," but it actually harks back to the origins of jazz in New Orleans.

As saxophonist-composer Derome explains, although Monk ranks equally with Bird, Dizzy and Bud Powell as a founding father of bebop, the idiosyncratic nature of his music doesn't fit the mould of today's dominant neobop. Fakebooks -- the chord chart guides to jazz repertoire -- simplify and thus distort the complex fabric of Monk's music, he points out. Derome has spent long hours carefully transcribing Monk's music in all its wondrous complexity, as he has for Mingus and Ellington.

He is uniquely poised to do so. As a teenage jazz and blues flutist who played by ear, Derome learned to read music when he began conservatory training in classical music. During the first months he picked up the classical repertoire mainly by ear, and over time his unorthodox experience has given him an exceptional ability for writing down music as he hears it.

Derome's real conservatories, however, were Montreal venues like the Esquire Show Bar and In Concert, which featured a weekly stream of jazz greats during the 1960s and 1970s. He heard Monk, Mingus and Lacey, to name a few. He understood how their music unfolded differently from the standard bop format, where the opening theme sets harmonic parameters for virtuoso improvisations that are basically independent of the theme itself. Monk and Mingus, in contrast, systematically integrated thematic material into improvised passages. Derome found this deeply appealing.

Percussionist Tanguay is a kindred spirit. Their musical partnership has lasted for nearly two decades, another traditional practice that enhances their ability to improvise together -- a marked contrast to today's roster of short-lived groups, a tendency imposed by economic uncertainties.

Tanguay went directly to the source for his training: two years of private studies with an Indian tabla master and a further two years with African drum masters on both sides of the Sahara. Somebody with this level of initiative is unlikely to stick to the supportive role of a standard bop drummer. Tanguay's melodic, quietly complex playing is an independent voice. As a drummer who has been mentored in Africa, however, he can and does swing hard at will.


Live Jazz Picks, October

Event of the Month:

October 14-23 ­ Silence... On jazz à Fontenac ­ 14 concerts at La maison de la culture Frontenac (514) 872-7882. Highlights: October 14 ­ Guitarist Peter Leitch and saxophonist Gary Bartz. October 16 ­ Montreal saxophonists André Leroux and Michel Donato teamup with Brian Dickinson on piano and Jim Hillman on drums. October 17 ­ Gill Evans' seminal arrangement of Porgy and Bess will be played by the Montreal Big Band under the direction of Philippe Hudon. October 22 ­ Four of Canada's top bass players, Normand Guilbeault, Michel Donato, Norman Lachapelle and Frédéric Alaire team up. October 23 ­ Oliver Jones plays two of the last concerts of his professional career with a trio at 8 p.m. and solo at 10 p.m.


Not to be missed:

October 1 and 2 ­ Pianist Wray Downes, a pillar of Concordia University's jazz program, makes a too-rare Montreal appearance at Upstairs. n October 8 and 9 ­ The Mark Elf Trio at Upstairs. n October 29 and 30 ­ Dew East, featuring Jazz Report Award winner Barry Elmes on drums at Upstairs. (514)931-6808

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