The impetus of this blog, when I started out, was to document my life as a musician in Montreal. At the time, jazz blogging was in its infancy and centred around New York. I felt that Montreal's scene was equally vibrant and worthy of documentation. As the attention of indie-rock sites focused on the talent coming out of this city (many with links to jazz education programs in town), there wasn't the same mention being given to our jazz talent on the national or international stage. Ironically, as I've been more active as a musician, and therefore have had more things going on to document, my time for blogging has decreased. Yet one recent McGill Master's recital has prompted me to try and revise that.
Trombonist, composer, and arranger Jean-Nicolas Trottier was a few years ahead of me in our undergrad class at McGill. His concert of original big band pieces, held in the smallest recital hall available at McGill, was the catalyst for my own path down writing for large ensembles and cramming them onto tiny stages. Johnny has since become a first-call session player and arranger in town, and rightfully so. In his Master's recital, he led a tentet comprised of three saxes, two trumpets, trombone, and rhythm section. Due to the torrential rainfall of Tuesday, I was half an hour late to the set, and missed the opening tune "Mes Deux Femmes." I walked in on the closing woodwind chords of "Klondike Suite."
Trottier's writing features beautifully tense voicings, without sounding overly dense. The immediate parallel at the beginning of his "Chamber Suite" was Birth of the Cool, for its bouncy rhythmic sense and the roundness of the horn blend. Throughout the set, Trottier proved to be the epitome of straight-ahead jazz in 2012: there's an assimilation of great large ensemble jazz composers before him, from Tadd Dameron to Gil Evans. Anchored by a hard swinging rhythm section featuring guitarist Carlos Jimenez and pianist Jonathan Cayer, the ensemble sections were an outgrowth of Trottier's own trombone sound: not overly brassy or harsh, yet not pastoral in the way many post-Maria Schneider composers can be. Even the more angular tunes, like "Blue Lines" (a feature for trumpeter David Carbonneau and Cayer), and Part 5 of the "Chamber Suite" (seemingly indebted to George Russell's "All About Rosie") had the edginess sanded off. I appreciated that, aside from personal amps for Carlos and bassist Sebastien Pellerin, there was no electricity whatsoever. No microphones, which worked quite well in the new(er) Tanna Schulich Hall of McGill, and showcased Kevin Warren's touch on the drums behind the soloists. Even when Trottier soloed over the band - in cup mute! - he was completely audible in the back row of the hall.
The recital was essentially a dry run for the weekend's recording session. With standout soloists in altoist Samuel Blais and bari player J-F Ouellet, in addition to the aforementioned, Johnny's tentet is poised to take its place in the canon of great Canadian jazz composition.