Create the right set of conditions and magical things can happen.
Such was the case on Sunday afternoon when Montreal pianist and composer Marianne Trudel, working with Victoria musicians Sean Drabitt (bass), Kelby MacNayr (drums), Anne Schaefer (vocals), and Alfons Fear (trumpet) produced jazz magic at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
Condition #1: a gifted pianist and composer with a truly transcendent vision.
Condition #2: supporting musicians able to rise to the challenge.
Condition #3: an audience that can really listen.
All three conditions were in place, along with an acoustically responsive room that allowed everyone to play unplugged, including Drabitt, who, in the sound check before the show, was able discard his amplifier after he found a sweet spot on the stage that produced all the presence he needed from his double bass.
The result: sublime music that transported the 80 or so people who chose jazz over hockey on the final day of the Olympics. (Trudel said she was amazed to see a full audience, joking that this might be the first time in Canadian history that a jazz concert won out over an important hockey game).
Trudel’s music has all the spirit and freedom of our national game, blending, as it does, classical, jazz, and free improv elements to create open, spacious musical landscapes filled with movement, drama, and colour.
Colour is the right word, since her compositions – one of which was acknowledged with a major prize at the Montreal Jazz Festival not long ago – are more akin to paintings than “tunes.” Using complex harmony (she favours seven note chords), varied rhythms, lyrical lines that really sing, and an unbounded musical imagination, she creates atmospheric pieces that capture time and place beautifully, whether it be a snowfall in the small Quebec village where she grew up (Mots d’hiver) or the joy of traveling on the open road (Sur la route).
Trudel values jazz for its potential to create great music in the moment and was quick to acknowledge the audience’s role in this process, saying that when the audience is listening, “music can really happen.” After the show she told me it was a treat to be able to play acoustically for such an appreciative group.
On stage she also acknowledged the role of the musicians supporting her. Clearly moved by their rendering of M, the very first piece they played, Trudel noted that she, MacNayr, and Drabitt had never played the piece together before, a testament not only to their skill, but also to the power of jazz to align its disparate elements in the moment and produce an emotional laser that cuts right to the heart of human experience.
Trudel’s music was filled with such moments, both in the first set when she, MacNayr, and Drabitt played as a trio, and in the second when Schaefer joined them on vocals and Fear sat in on trumpet and flugelhorn.
Schaefer’s unique voice seems perfectly suited to Trudel’s music, and she clearly enjoyed singing in the wide open fields of these spacious compositions. (She, also, I might add, delivered a beautiful rendition of the more traditional Bye Bye Blackbird, the one standard Trudel called ). Fear produced high quality horn work, particularly on his extended Blackbird solo.
A surprise in the first set was Trudel’s calling of a new tune penned by Kelby MacNayr. As artistic director of the series, MacNayr had asked Trudel to peform her own compositions, but having encountered some of his music on Friday night at Hermann’s, she opted to play his Ballade Numero Quatre. Despite its odd title (conceived by MacNayr as a tongue-in-cheek nod to Trudel’s French heritage), this sensitive, beautifully melodic song proved to be a hit not only with Trudel but also the audience.
From the feedback I got, the entire concert was a success and most members of the audience were delighted to hear this gifted performer from Quebec producing some of her magic on the west coast. She sold all of the CD’s she brought with her and returned to Montreal with a list of names and addresses from concert goers who missed out.
This concert was a fine example of what can happen when a great touring musician joins great local players to produce a new musical experience that enriches themselves and the audience. It’s a shame that our major jazz societies are not particularly attuned to this concept when organizing their events. Hats off to Kelby MacNayr and U-JAM for producing a series that encourages such cross-fertilization.
Rumour has it Trudel will be back on the west coast possibly this spring and very likely in the summer.