Off Jazz Festival Montreal

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For some, 18 is the age adulthood. Montreal’s Off Jazz Festivals reaches that milestone this month, even though it attained real maturity seven years ago when it switched its dates from summer to fall. What’s more, it achieved this without growing bigger every year. In the course of its nine-day run starting on October 5, there will be a manageable slate of 22 concerts, four of which are paired in double bills.

True to form, the event showcases local acts and new project premieres. Of these, six groups will perform music from their CDs, four of them to be launched during the event, the other two released last spring.

  • François Bourassa – Number 9 (Disques Effendi)
  • Wednesday Oct. 11, Lion d’Or, 8:30 PM

After a six-year hiatus, François Bourassa is back with a new quartet album whose title is pretty self-explanatory. The pianist leader has penned seven new compositions that confirm his status as an evolutionary musician. Bourassa is not a stylist who relies on the tried and true but he’s no revolutionary either; instead, he raises the bar a little higher for himself and his savvy sidemen, most notably his reedman André Leroux. The opening cut (Carla und Karlheinz) reveals the leader’s mindset, one informed by the orchestral jazz of Ms. Bley and the high-brow avant-gardism of Herr Stockhausen. Elsewhere, the band cuts a wide musical swath by using a range of sophisticated musical devices that never come across as rarefied.

  • Josh Rager – Jondo (Bent River Records)
  • Thursday Oct. 12, Maison de la culture Côte-des-Neiges, 8 PM

Pianist Josh Rager has put together a program of seven originals and one standard, meticulously arranged for a ten-piece band of top-flight Montreal players. The title cut (pronounced ‘Hondo’) is inspired by a vocal style in flamenco music that the leader has fashioned into a jazz vehicle. The opening two-part mini-suite Prodigal Son was conceived as a tribute to his composition teacher at McGill, the late Jan Jarczyk, who always encouraged his pupils to write in more extended suite-like forms.

  • Daniel Arthur Trio – Vivid (Self-produced)
  • Wednesday Oct. 11, Café Résonance, 5 PM

Born and raised in Seattle, keyboardist Daniel Arthur makes his recording debut here. Raised in a musical family with equal interests in classical music and jazz, he took to the piano by age six. As early influences, he acknowledges Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea, while mentioning earlier masters like Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner. Currently at McGill, he is also indebted to Jean-Michel Pilc in his search for personal expression. Arthur’s musical approach also draws on the classics: in Shostakovich, he collapses the Russian’s 14th Symphony into a piano trio version, while in Messiaen, he develops material based on the Frenchman’s system of modes of limited transposition. Thoroughly modern, the music here is a couple of nudges above customary jazz piano trio stylings. The group is truly balanced like an equilateral triangle, in that bassist Ethan Cohn and drummer Eric Maillet are in total synch with their helmsman.

  • Mario Allard Quintet – Diaporama (MCM Records)
  • Sunday Oct. 8, Upstairs Jazz Bar, 8 PM.

For his second album, about a decade after the first, alto saxophonist Mario Allard takes a turn with a classic jazz quintet of two horns and rhythm section. His long silence was due to a personal decision to take his time and gain maturity. In 2012 he studied privately with tenor star Donny McCaslin, who encouraged him to work on intervals and their relationships. Two years later, during his Masters at McGill, he received further tutelage from John Hollenbeck. While clearly in the hard bop lineage, this music is more compositionally developed. It is given vigorous performances enhanced by the recording’s dynamic sound. Its title refers to a series of visual images of places or people that the leader wanted to translate into sound. The opening track, Snowden, is dedicated to that (in)famous American fugitive.

Recent releases

  • Benjamin Deschamps Quintet – Demi-Nuit (MCM Records)
  • Sunday Oct. 8, Upstairs Jazz Bar, 8:30 PM

Benjamin Deschamps, an alto player as well, shares the same rhythm section as his colleague Allard, though trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier does upfront duties with him rather than trumpeter David Carbonneau, Allard’s frontline colleague. The sombre album cover and title of this disc, launched last April, reveal something of the musical tone here, more introspective and very much focused on the leader’s compositional proclivities. At the core of this disc is the extended 25-minute suite La prophétie, a through-composed kind of work with solo features for all band members. The saxophonist acknowledges three of his teachers, Jean-Pierre Zanella for the love of the instrument, Rémi Bolduc for his rigour, and Frank Lozano for impressing him with a sense of discovery. As seminal influences, he looks to Cannonball Adderley but also credits the lesser-known Dick Oatts, whose discography he has mined. Deschamps and Allard share the same bill at Upstairs, each with his own personal take.

  • Eric Hove Chamber Ensemble – Polygon (Inner Circle Music)
  • Friday Oct. 13, Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, 8 PM

Another local alto player, Erik Hove has a decidedly different take from his two colleagues. The music of his ten-piece chamber ensemble takes its cues from the spectral school of composition, its materials generated by fundamentals and their resulting natural harmonics. Two years ago, Hove released Saturated Colours for an ensemble of mixed woodwinds and strings, a line-up far closer to a contemporary chamber orchestra than a jazz band. Last April he presented the current album as a follow-up, this one with an added layer of electronics. The disc comprises eight fairly concise tracks with measured solo space for some of the band members, the leader most prominently featured.

Other festival highlights

Opening night, Lion d’Or, October 5

Sympathetic Frequencies (quartet led by drummer Mark Nelson) followed by the Rafael Zaldivar Trio and Ben Wendell (from New York) on tenor sax.

Closing night, Salle du Gesù, October 14

Il était une fois dans l’Off. Orchestra project headed by pianist Marianne Trudel.

For Big Band aficionados, October 6

Joe Sullivan Big Band, Lion d’Or.

A legend at the festival, October 10

Burton Greene Trio with Eric Normand and Isaiah Ceccarelli. Maison de la culture Côte-des-Neiges. A first-generation figurehead of the Free Jazz movement, this veteran journeyman, who just turned 80, made his debut on the now legendary ESP label in 1965! An opportunity not to be missed for any fan of the genre. Opening act is Josh Rager.

For complete program listings and ticketing, see www.loffjazz.com

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About Author

Marc Chénard is a Montreal-based multilingual music journalist specialized in jazz and improvised music. In a career now spanning some 30 years, he has published a wide array of articles and essays, mainly in Canada, some in the United States and several in Europe (France, Belgium, Germany and Austria). He has travelled extensively to cover major festivals in cities as varied as Vancouver and Chicago, Paris and Berlin, Vienna and Copenhagen. He has been the jazz editor and a special features writer for La Scena Musicale since 2002; currently, he also contributes to Point of Departure, an American online journal devoted to creative musics. / / Marc Chénard est un journaliste multilingue de métier de Montréal spécialisé en jazz et en musiques improvisées. En plus de 30 ans de carrière, ses reportages, critiques et essais ont été publiés principalement au Canada, parfois aux États-Unis mais également dans plusieurs pays européens (France, Belgique, Allemagne, Autriche). De plus, il a été invité à couvrir plusieurs festivals étrangers de renom, tant en Amérique (Vancouver, Chicago) que Outre-Atlantique (Paris, Berlin, Vienne et Copenhangue). Depuis 2012, il agit comme rédacteur atitré de la section jazz de La Scena Musicale; en 2013, il entame une collabortion auprès de la publication américaine Point of Departure, celle-ci dédiée aux musiques créatives de notre temps.

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