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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 9, No. 9


by Lenore Alford / June 5, 2004

Twenty million dollars." That's the difference between the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (FIJM) and the Off Festival de jazz, according to two of the latter's co-organizers, bassist Joel Prénovault and vibist Jean Vanasse. But there are more artistic differences as well: the Off Festival is all jazz, all the time, and its focus is on local musicians and the jazz they create. As Prénovault quips, "Unlike the FIJM, we don't set up a 'jazz wonderland' for a week. We use musicians who work the territory year-round, right here at home." Those aspects were the raison d'être for the Off's creation five years ago, and they haven't changed. But equally compelling is the way this grassroots festival anchors itself deeply in a true Montreal context, making the city's inimitable culture the backdrop for its week-long showcase of jazz from June 25 to July 3.

Jazz in Montreal has traditionally cut across linguistic and cultural boundaries, bringing our city's cosmopolitan character into the spotlight even before that was fashionable. That mosaic is strongly reflected in the Off's programming. More by accident than design, the local musicians split neatly into equal groups of anglophones and francophones, and the choice of venues is also varied: the Quai des Brûmes on the Plateau, L'Alizé and Le Lion d'Or on Ontario St East, and Le Va-et-Vient in Little Burgundy. The last two venues are noteworthy in that the Off's main attractions happen at Le Lion d'Or, whereas Le Va-et-Vient will be home for more avant-garde jazz, e.g. Tim Brady (June 28) or Tom Walsh (June 29).

The Off Festival's opening show at Le Lion d'Or will be a nod to the 1950s beat generation, through which jazz was wed to spoken word, but it will also be a tribute to today's flourishing word culture in Montreal. Together with the "Comboff" band, there will be seven poets of different cultures on stage. "Because québécois culture is defined by language, we think it's great that the opening show reflects that," Prénovault says. As for its closing show, both he and Vanasse are tight-lipped about it, but they promise "un gros pow wow." The evening will open with the Mile End Quartet, which means a jam session, and the whole show will "be reflective of the five years of work the jazz community has put into the Off."

Of the festival's instigators, bassist Normand Guilbeault certainly qualifies as one of the community's major driving forces involved. Together with reedman Jean Derome and drummer Pierre Tanguay, he will be at Le Va-et-Vient on June 30, the night preceeding his performance with 71 year-old pianist Wray Downes in their "Hommage à Oscar Peterson" at Le Lion d'Or. Other events there include the Skip Bey-Tim Jackson Quartet (27), and two guest bands from France, the trios of Jean-Philippe Viret (29) and Par 4 Chemins (2). Primed for its first release in August, the Holly Arsenault Quartet plays at L'Alizé on June 29, with the Axel Fisch Trio and its guest, Swiss pianist Moncef Genoud, on July 1, and trombonist Richard Lalonde's Sextet concert and record launch on the following evening.

Summertime in Montreal always means a bewildering array of festivals, with the FIJM leading the parade, of course. Yet the unassuming Off continues to carve out its niche, thus providing some added exposure to our own musicians and enabling them to reach the hearts of Montrealers.

Please take note that both Jean Vanasse and his confrere pianist François Marcaurelle will be presenting their upcoming releases on the Effendi label on June 29 and 30, a free activity co-sponsored by the Off Festival, Euphonie and LSM (See advertisement on this page for more details).

Info: www.lofffestivaldejazz.com / 514-570-0722

Écoutes commentées

Dans le cadre du OffFestival de Jazz deux Jazzmans discutent de leur plus récent enregistrement avec la maison de disque Effendi :

Jean Vanasse, le 29 juin à 18 h

François Marcaurelle, le 30 juin à 18 h

à la boutique Euphonie

40, rue Jean-Talon O., Montréal

Entrée gratuite

Nombre de places limité.

Renseignements et réservations : 514 948.2520 jsgascon@scena.org

(c) La Scena Musicale