Since his arrival in town four years ago, trumpeter Hichem Khalfa has been on the move. Hailing from France, he came to Montreal struck by wanderlust. “I like to travel, discovering new things and places,” he explains. “At first I wanted to go to New York, like all aspiring jazz musicians. I was offered a scholarship there at the New School, but gave up on the idea when I saw what the cost of living was, paying the rent and all the tuition fees.”
One day, he stumbled on McGill University and its jazz program. He came over for an audition and was accepted. While an undergraduate, he recorded an album, Histoire sans mots (wordless stories) in 2014, a pure hard bop quintet outing with tenorman Al McLean. This past summer, however, he launched into a new venture, premiering at Montreal’s jazz fest an electrified quartet with no sax, but keyboards (Jerôme Beaulieu, as sole holdover from his previous band), electric bass and drums. In early September, this group earned first prize at the talent search competition staged by the Festijazz in Rimouski. In a press release on its website, the event’s organizers praise the eclectic nature of the compositions, where strong melodies morph into complex harmonic sequences that enabling Khalfa to rise above the other competitors, not just for his pieces but also for the remarkable group chemistry and virtuosity of its players.
A child of the Paris suburbs, this son of an Algerian family was weaned early on music, his father and an uncle being percussionists. For no specific reason, he picked up the trumpet at age seven. His training would also include serious classical studies at conservatories in both France and Switzerland. Yet, his ears were peeled on jazz, basically through recordings, many of which he’d play along with. Interestingly he attended his first jazz concert at 18. Enrolled at the music camp of the Marciac Jazz Festival, he was exposed to many young colleagues, a decisive experience in his desire to pursue jazz full time. As for influences, he names Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan among the ‘classics’ and adds Wynton Marsalis among the current exponents.
He is very keen on his new quartet, because it’s allowing him to get out of the beaten path. “At first, I was a little weary,” he says, “because it’s pretty taxing for a trumpeter to be the only front line instrument in a group for a whole evening, but after the Montreal show I felt up to the challenge. With a new set of originals at hand, he’s eager to spread out the word, not only on stage but also on record. Before year’s end, he’ll be in the studio to deliver his album, due out probably for next spring.
» On stage: Off Festival de Jazz, Friday Oct. 7, 10:30 PM, Le Dièse Onze http://the270sessions.com/artistes/hichem-khalfa/