Monday, December 10, 2012

Changing landscapes

Tonight marks the final hurrah of L'Envers in its physical location of 185 Van Horne. Since trumpeter Ellwood Epps started this adventure upon his arrival in Montreal, L'Envers has served as the hub for creative music, experimental music, musique actuelle and new music. Epps had launched the Mardi Spaghetti series at nearby coffeehouse Le Cagibi around the same time (my memory is foggy as to which came first), and in my mind was a catalyst for a new generation of Montreal improvisers. L'Envers was a performance space, a rehearsal space, but also a presenter: Epps & co. brought such world-class talent as Fred Frith, Matana Roberts and Henry Grimes to a space populated by thrift store couches and cushions to sit on the floor. It was a collision between often heady music and the communal nature of its Mile End neighbourhood. There's a final jam session tonight from 9 pm-midnight. My workload prevents me from attending tonight, but I'll be there in spirit. I wish them all the best; I have a lot of fond memories of that space, and I certainly hope they continue in their capacity as a presenter to continue to bring like-minded artists to town - even though it won't be at 185.

The last time I was at L'Envers was a few months ago for their "Rent Party," which they threw to supplement their shoestring budget (alongside their successful Indiegogo campaign) and renew their rent for a few more months. With artists and listeners shuttling between the "current" L'Envers (the front room of 185) and the "old" L'Envers (the bigger back room, now called The Plant), the night featured a contemporary string quartet, electro-punky-no-wave duos, and a burlesque routine done to a swing band. That night, I really got a sense of the scope of the L'Envers community.


A few weeks ago, there were a string of gigs in town - eons ago in blog terms - that fostered that sense of community as well. They really felt like events, like happenings, with the venues packed to capacity of people enjoying art and supporting the artists. I've been reflecting on what made those gigs so special, so very different from most other gigs in the city (and certainly most "jazz" gigs).

The first was Jai Nitai Lotus' album launch for his début solo record, Something You Feel. He mounted a live band from the ranks of the Kalmunity Vibe Collective (myself included) with DJ/producer Simahlak augmenting the sound. Maybe it's because I'm a huge fan of Mark de Clive-Lowe and the Roots, but live hip-hop and live electronica is not a novelty to me anymore, though it still seems to surprise a fair number of people in town. I don't think much of the audience knew what to expect musically before coming in, even if they were familiar with Lotus' earlier tracks. There were a lot of faces I recognized in the audience, the same faces I saw at the Nomadic Massive mixtape launch this summer, and many of the same faces were out a couple of nights later at the release of Henri-Pierre Noël's reissued album, Piano - the whole family was out in force. To have that awareness while playing is an exhilarating feeling.

Later that same week was Gilberto Gil's concert at Place des Arts, with my good friend Rômmel Ribeiro opening. When the announcement was made that Rômmel would warm up the stage for the master, I was incredibly proud and extremely joyous. It seems rare that we think of local talent in the same space as international stars, especially given the scarcity of Brazilian appearances in town. I would love to see more double-bills that not only pair deserving local artists with international headliners, but also make so much seamless artistic sense as this one did. Rômmel's wide-reaching scope of what Brazilian music means - a passion that's similar, and far deeper, than my own - is indebted to Gil's work over the past 40-odd years. Gil's show (the same to what Peter Hum saw in Ottawa) was his re-envisioning of the traditional music of Northeastern Brazil, with some brilliantly executed, thrilling and creative arrangements.

I sincerely hope that the combination of Gil and Rômmel - which culminated in couples dancing forró in the aisles of Théâtre Maisonneuve - redefines what Montrealers are capable of performing, presenting, and supporting in their music scene. A definition that is rewritten thanks to the passionate visionaries like Ellwood Epps.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

RIP Dave Brubeck

I remember it like it was yesterday. I became enamoured with music at a young age, courtesy of Billy Joel's 52nd Street. I was a bit of a Billy Joel obsessive as a kid, and in one of his long-form VHS tapes, Shades of Grey, he made a passing mention of Dave Brubeck's Time Out and that the artwork adorned a wall of his house. With the gift money of my ninth birthday, I went and bought Time Out.

"Strange Meadowlark" changed my life. Even at nine years old, and having only played piano for three years at that point, I viscerally knew that that - whatever "that" was - was what I wanted to do, what I wanted to become. Not long after purchasing the album, I got the folio of transcriptions and diligently learned most of them. I bought a bunch of the Telarc Brubeck records of the 90s and 2000s - Young Lions and Old Tigers was my pre-adolescent introduction to musicians like Christian McBride and Roy Hargrove. Along with Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis, Brubeck was my gateway into jazz. One of my first issues of Down Beat had a joint interview with Brubeck and Peterson. I can't even very well articulate just how deeply Brubeck affected me as a kid. He is a truly formative influence - not in the sense of someone whose vocabulary I investigated and analyzed, but in the sense of someone who truly altered my life path. It's been years since I've listened to any of those records, Time Out included, but I would not be a pianist, composer, or even possibly a jazz fan, without Dave Brubeck's work.

Though I never saw him live, at his last appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival I did get to briefly tell him the effect that Time Out had on me. I told him, with all truthfulness and no exaggeration, that I owe him my career. A trite statement, and likely one he had heard countless times over his long career, but a meaningful moment for me nonetheless.

Rest in peace, Mr. Brubeck. You have inspired countless musicians to pursue the path we call "jazz."