The young Montreal drummer Mark Nelson’s been featured as an exciting and propulsive sideman on more than a few fine albums and concerts that I’ve taken in over the last few years, playing with the noteworthy groups Field Trip, Parc-X Trio and pianist David Ryshpan’s Trio Bruxo, to name a few.
He steps out this weekend as the leader of his own quartet, Mark Nelson’s Sympathetic Frequencies, with a concert Saturday night at GigSpace in Ottawa followed by a gig Sunday at Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill in Montreal.
Here’s a sense of what you can expect from the group which also includes saxophonist Mike Bjella, pianist Andrew Boudreau, and bassist Nicolas Bédard, followed by a little Q&A with Nelson.
Can you give me your musical bio in brief — where did you grow up? When did you interests in drumming and jazz kick in? When and why did you go to school in Montreal?
Originally from Calgary, I began drumming at the age of 15. Not long after, my interest in jazz music arose. Two years later I found myself in Wellington, New Zealand furthering my pursuit of music in the form of a Bachelors Degree. An interesting time to be down there, what with all the hobbits running around! Upon recommendation from a professor who had lived in Montréal during the ’80s coupled with my intrigue about the culture I applied to McGill University for graduate studies. Ten years later I find myself coming full circle to finish the degree I initially set out to obtain.
2. I’m only heard you so far as a sideman in other leader’s groups, such as Field Trip.
What’s different about the music you get to make with your own band?
I’m in the composer’s hot seat now! With the other groups mentioned, they function(ed) somewhat like collectives with an open invite for compositional input. However I shied away from assuming that role as the other members were already so strong with their compositional voice. During that period I focused more of being the best interpreter of music that I could be. There’s still a sort of pressure in my group because all the members are leaders themselves. The difference is I’m embracing that challenge now!
3. Tell me the story of the group. Why did you start it? Why pick the people that you did to play in it? What goals do you have for the group with respect to its repertoire, direction and concertizing?
The group and its music was born out of the desire to communicate and connect with people. All the members perform music with that priority and are very multifaceted, authentic and aware individuals. It’s inspiring for me to be surrounded by this group of “jazz gents.”
As my cousin, composer, sound engineer and keyboardist for the Northern Pikes, said to me when he heard I was pursuing music: “The trick is to keep on doing it.”
4. Do you have any role models / inspirations when it comes to bands and band-leading?
A list of inspirational bands could be a little extravagant as I do enjoy variety. As far as bandleaders are concerned, a leader who catalyses the event without over-involvement is both inspirational and mysterious to me. Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter and well-known examples. During a masterclass at McGill last year, Shai Maestro spoke of this very dilemma he had gone through as a bandleader. The challenge of: “If you love something, set it free…” – Richard Bach
5. What’s your take on the Montreal jazz scene and in particular on what your peers are doing? Do you ever think of relocating to make music elsewhere, be it Toronto or Vancouver or Brooklyn or Berlin?
There is definitely creative things happening in Montréal: jazz labels, Jazz Composers Series, L’Off Festival de Jazz… It feels to me like there’s still room to move here, space for new jazz music to exist.
Some of my friends and colleagues are making a go it in the cities you mentioned, they’d probably say the same as me for their communities. Having been to all those places, my intrigue lies with Berlin. What a challenge: another language to learn!