When: Thursday, March 15, 8:30 p.m.
Where: NAC Fourth Stage
Tickets: $25 at nac-cna.ca or the NAC box office
Montreal alto saxophonist Benjamin Deschamps, who is still a few months shy of 30, has put a big year in his career behind him.
Last year he was named Radio-Canada’s rising star in jazz, and won the “grand prix révélation” of the Rimouski Jazz Festival. This year, he’s making greater efforts to bring his quintet’s bracing, modern mainstream jazz to the rest of Canada. He makes his National Arts Centre debut Thursday.
In conversation with the Citizen, Deschamps discusses his musical path to date and where he hopes it will lead.
Q: Tell me about your first steps as a music student and your first exposures to jazz.
A: My father is a music teacher and a classically trained French horn player. Naturally, I was curious about music, so I started saxophone at 12 years old. I started playing classical saxophone until I realized that I wanted to make a living out of music and jazz really appeared as being the right choice to work as a musician.
I really started playing jazz at Cégep St-Laurent while studying with Jean-Pierre Zanella. He is the one who gave me the passion for music, saxophone and jazz. And from there I was going to see all the shows I could in Montreal, and there was a lot to see.
Q: What appealed to you about jazz?
A: Coming from classical, jazz was really hard for me. All the improvisation and playing stuff not written was a huge challenge for me and I was amazed by it. I liked the fact that it was hard and that I was not good at it.
Q: Beyond Cégep St-Laurent, what further jazz studies did you do?
A: I continued my quest and went to McGill University where I had the chance to study with Rémi Bolduc. Rémi taught me how to play jazz. He taught me harmony and how to spell chords — any chords. He knows everything that there is and he is the best jazz pedagogue, in my opinion. I built my vocabulary and all the basics with Rémi.
Later, I studied with Frank Lozano, who helped me find my own sound. He led me outside the box and showed me music and how to be different, or more specifically, how to be myself musically. He is the one who pushed me to do my first record, What Do We Know, which was released in 2014. He showed me how vast music was.
For composition, I studied with Jan Jarczyk and Joe Sullivan, both great educators. Joe’s big band music is, in my opinion, some of the best big band music ever written.
Q: Tell me a bit about your own music.
A: It’s a balance between traditional and modern jazz. The rhythms are really more traditional and the harmony and the melodies are more concrete. I like to hide stuff from the listeners. Si et seulement si is a through-composed tune where it’s a very elaborate thing that is basically just a blues but disguised. I want the listeners to ask questions when they listen to the music. I want to pique the curiosity of the audience.
Q: What are the opportunities like for young Montreal jazz players, in Quebec and the rest of Canada?
A: There are more and less opportunities than we think to play jazz. First, we can play in Montreal in different jazz clubs. But past that, it’s hard to organize a tour in the province of Québec. There is the Bar Ste-Angèle in Québec City, but that’s pretty much it regarding jazz clubs in the province. So it’s easy to play on a regular basis but it’s hard to put a tour together and hit a lot of clubs all in the same week.
But there are some great jazz festivals. I had the pleasure to feature my music at Montreal’s Jazz Festival, the Montreal OFF Jazz Festival, the Québec City Jazz Festival. I also won the ”grand prix révélation” of the Rimouski Festi Jazz and I am going to play at the Saguenay Jazz and Blues Festival in April. So, there are a lot of opportunities, but we need to work hard on the booking and make a lot of phone calls to get to play a lot with original music — but it is possible!
I think that people are slowly starting to acknowledge who I am as an emerging artist in Quebec, but it’s really hard to export my music to the other provinces in Canada or outside the country. But slowly we’re working on it. This summer I have a six-show tour in the Maritimes, including a show at the Halifax Jazz Festival and we’re playing at the Toronto Jazz Festival in June, so there is hope.
Q: Tell me a bit more about the clique of musicians that you play and record with more regularly — I’m thinking of Charles Trudel and Rachel Therrien for example, and others on the MCM label. What do you have in common? What makes playing with them satisfying?
The label MCM (Multiple Chord Music) is an initiative from the musicians of Parc X Trio – Alex Lefaivre and Gabriel Vinuella-Pelletier. They decided to form their own label to suit their needs. After some years they decided to share their knowledge and help other musicians on the scene because they thought that the more we are, the more weight we would have and be recognized as a real label. In January we had the first edition on the Hiems Festival (winter festival) where we could hear three bands per night performing during three days for a total of nine different bands.
That being said, I knew all the musicians from the MCM family before the label. Charles Trudel and I have been playing together for years, we went to CEGEP together and university and we did our Master’s degrees together as well. He is part of my band since the beginning. That was already six years ago, and we play together on various settings, like top 40 bands and what not. I play in Charles’ band, which just did a five-show tour in Abitibi where he is from. We both play in Rachel Therrien’s Quintet, along with Al Bourgeois who’s drumming in my band and Charles’ band as well. With Al I had the pleasure to play in the production Forever Gentlemen where we toured Europe and Québec for a total of about 75 shows.
I think that Rachel, Charles and me, we all share the fact that we believe in creative music and we are pushing our way into the music business with our own original music. Charles just released his first record, Rachel did four records and I am going in studio in the next couple of months to record my third album, which is going to feature a different band.
This new record will be with no harmonic instruments and will feature Frank Lozano on tenor sax, Seb Pellerin on bass and Louis-Vincent Hamel on drums and me on alto. Same thing here — Seb is in my band since the beginning and we played a lot together in different bands, such as a Chilean Andes traditional band called Color Violeta.
There is a great music scene in Montreal and a lot of awesome players and a lot of different, creative music — not only jazz. All the musicians seem to evolve in different spheres and bring their own voice to whatever particular music they’re playing.
8 octobre Upstairs Jazz & Grill, Montréal
La soirée débute sur les chapeaux de roue avec le très énergique quintette de Mario Allard. Dix ans après son premier album, le saxo alto et chef de groupe signe son second opus, Diaporama, évocation en musique de souvenirs et instants d’une vie. Durant cette décennie, il s’est consacré à la recherche et aux études personnelles, dont une période passée à New York auprès du ténor Donny McCaslin et une autre à McGill, où il a complété sa maîtrise en interprétation jazz l’an dernier.
Les pièces, jouées selon l’ordre de l’album, démontrent une grande compréhension du langage. Leur facture varie énormément : rythmes changeants et tachycardiaques dans Snowden, mélodie veloutée et aérienne dans Blizzard évoquant l’hiver québécois, écriture à trois voix dans Filature ou encore séquences hachurées en homorythmie dans Street Business. Les différentes facettes du langage musical viennent colorer chaque morceau d’un souffle singulier et rafraîchissant avec en fil rouge des dialogues musclés entre le saxo et le trompettiste David Carbonneau, chacun d’eux ciselé et exécuté avec une précision d’orfèvre, et ce, dans une explosion d’énergie qui ne tarit pas un instant. Les compositions d’Allard, huit au total, sont bien encadrées, mais restent assez souples pour laisser ces jazzmen exprimer leur individualité. Certains solos s’aventurent dans des contrées plus exotiques et soulèvent même par moments des sourires et regards complices entre les musiciens. Doué d’une inventivité quasi inépuisable, le batteur Alain Bourgeois mérite une mention spéciale pour son énergie débordante. Mario Allard, pour sa part, y est allé de solos d’une grande intelligence, articulant un discours riche en idées, puisées à même les éléments-clés de chaque pièce. Difficile d’imaginer une meilleure ouverture de soirée que cette prestation enlevante.
La section rythmique d’Allard (Charles Trudel, p.; Sébastien Pellerin, cb. et Alain Bourgeois, btr.) était également présente pour la deuxième partie de la soirée, le trio rejoint par le tromboniste Jean-Nicolas Trottier et leur chef, le saxophoniste alto Benjamin Deschamps. Lauréat du prix Révélation Radio-Canada Jazz de cette année, le saxo s’appuie sur un savoir-faire considérable en matière d’écriture orchestrale, ses pièces Demi-nuit et Monélia étant deux bons exemples. Ailleurs, notamment dans Si et seulement si, il semble à la hauteur des défis qu’il se pose, car il utilise en guise d’introduction une série de onze notes (hendécaphonique en jargon du métier), la note manquante étant le si dans ce qui est un simple blues en do, pourtant habillé de manière méconnaissable.
Benjamin Deschamps termine en ce moment sa maîtrise en interprétation jazz à McGill. Son parcours est semé de plusieurs belles expériences, entre autres, une tournée en Pologne l’an dernier avec l’ensemble Odd Lot de Jacques Kuba-Séguin, un périple européen avec le groupe Forever Gentlemen et plusieurs tournées canadiennes, dont une avec la trompettiste Rachel Therrien. Quatre ans après sa formation, le quintette de Benjamin Deschamps a lancé Demi-nuit (MCM Records) au printemps. L’écoute du disque et du concert nous permet d’apprécier la fraîcheur des couleurs sonores et un sens raffiné de la composition qui mettent en évidence un aspect fondamental du jazz : l’importance de l’individu.
Au cœur du répertoire, Prophétie est une suite en trois mouvements qui met à nu chacun des membres. Ceux-ci se dévoilent à tour de rôle en soliste devant le public qui assiste alors à un véritable tête-à-tête où la pensée des artistes trouve toujours un juste degré d’expression musicale. Alertes et sur le qui-vive à chaque instant sur scène, les interprètes sont à la hauteur de la situation malgré la complexité des compositions. Tout semble couler dans un jeu en clair-obscur, à l’instar de l’illustration bleu-indigo en couverture du disque. Le langage recherché de cette musique a de quoi surprendre, car le quintette se lance volontiers dans des sentiers inexplorés, mais s’assure aussi d’un juste équilibre entre l’expression individuelle et le jeu d’ensemble. L’été prochain, cette formation prendra la route des festivals de jazz au Canada. Souhaitons à ces messieurs un accueil des plus chaleureux.
Sorti le 14 avril 2017
Benjamin Deschamps fait partie de la jeune génération de jazzmen qui font lentement mais sûrement leur place dans le milieu, autant à l’instrument qu’aux compositions. Le saxophoniste tente de trouver un compromis entre la tradition et l’avant-garde, et a ainsi lancé l’album Demi-nuit plus tôt en 2017 pour faire découvrir ses talents, en formule quintette (avec Jean-Nicolas Trottier au trombone, Charles Trudel au piano, Sébastien Pellerin à la contrebasse et Alain Bourgeois à la batterie).
L’album ouvre sur le mystérieux prélude Crépuscule, avant de nous amener à la pièce-titre Demi-nuit. Celle-ci est remarquable par sa ligne de sax qui domine une bonne partie du morceau, sur laquelle les autres instruments improvisent allègrement. Deschamps s’est très bien entouré, et la complicité semble évidente entre les différents musiciens. La suivante, Monélia, est encore plus chantante, et arrive dans ses solos à combiner virtuosité avec douceur, ce qui n’est pas une mince affaire.
Le gros morceau de l’album est consacré à La Prophétie, une suite jazz divisée en trois parties. Cette suite servait à mettre bien en valeur le talent de chacun des cinq musiciens impliqués et on a droit à de sacrées envolées, particulièrement dans les mouvements I et III, alors que le second mouvement, lui, est plus discret et sans batterie, mais très réussi, et surtout dans le mood général de l’album.
La dernière portion de l’opus contient trois pistes, la première étant L’oubli, justement pas tout à fait inoubliable, suivie de Slow Cooking. Très mélodieuse, limite berçante, cette composition deviendra vite un des incontournables de l’album. Puis le tout se conclut avec Si et seulement si, un «petit blues» qui s’écoute bien, sans être exceptionnel à l’oreille.
L’album Demi-nuit s’écoute très bien lorsque l’état d’esprit se prête à un bon jazz pas trop agressant. Oui, il contient sa dose de virtuosité, particulièrement avec La Prophétie, mais dans l’ensemble, il offre un bon compromis entre le talent des musiciens impliqués et l’envie de se faire entendre (et apprécier) par le grand public. Ce n’est pas pour rien que Benjamin Deschamps est devenu la Révélation Radio-Canada jazz 2017-2018. Un jeune homme à suivre de près.
Il est notamment possible d’entendre l’album sur Bandcamp.
À écouter : Demi-nuit, Monélia, Slow Cooking
Par Olivier Dénommée
Montreal alto saxophonist Benjamin Deschamps ventures across the border later this week to play three Ontario concerts — Sept. 29 at the Jazz Room in Waterloo, Sept. 30 at Record Runner Rehearsal Studio in Ottawa and Oct. 1 at the Emmet Ray in Toronto.
Before Deschamps, a bracing player and composer who is 29 years old, starts logging the kilometres with his quintet, get to know him and his music through the interview below.
Q: Tell me about your first steps as a music student and your first exposures to jazz. What appealed to you about music and about jazz?
A: My father is a music teacher and a classically trained French horn player. Naturally, I was curious about music so I started saxophone at 12 years old at my high school and I was playing in the wind ensemble. I started playing classical saxophone until I realized that I wanted to make a living out of music and jazz really appeared as being the right choice to work as a musician.
I really started playing jazz at Cégep St-Laurent while studying with Jean-Pierre Zanella. He is the one who gave me the passion for music, saxophone and jazz. And from there I was going to see all the shows I could in Montreal and there were a lot to see. There is a great jazz scene.
Coming from classical, jazz was really hard for me, all the improvisation and playing stuff not written was a huge challenge for me and I was amazed by it. I liked the fact that it was hard and that I was not good at it. So I like practicing — I guess that’s common to musicians.
Q: Over the years, whose music has impressed you most deeply and why?
A: I can’t stop listening to Dick Oatts. I think he as the nicest alto saxophone sound in the universe. Being an alto sax player, I am very picky on alto sax sound compared to tenors, which all sound good. But Dick Oatts has a warmth in his tone that I find astonishing. And his feel and his ideas, very chromatic and a way to play modern melodies over traditional jazz harmony is incredible.
But for compositions, recently I discovered John O’Gallagher, another alto saxophonist. His compositions are very modern and he uses his band differently, less traditionally. He writes a lot of 12-tone row compositions, and everything he does is always fresh and new. Very inspiring.
Q: Tell me about your jazz studies in Montreal. Who were your most significant teachers and why? What did you get out of your jazz-school experiences?
A: I already mentioned Jean-Pierre Zanella during Cégep St-Laurent but after that I continued my quest and went to McGill University where I had the chance to study with Rémi Bolduc. Rémi taught me how to play jazz. He taught me harmony and how to spell chords — any chords. He knows everything that there is and he is the best jazz pedagogue in my opinion. I built my vocabulary and all the basics with Rémi.
And later, I studied with Frank Lozano who helped find my own sound. He led me outside the box and showed me music and how to be different, or more specifically, how to be myself musically. He is the one who pushed me to do my first record, What Do We Know, which was released in 2014 on Oddsound Records. He showed me how vast music was.
For composition, I studied with Jan Jarczyk and Joe Sullivan, both great educators in their own way. Joe’s big band music is, in my opinion, some of the best big band music ever written, and now I even have the privilege to play in his band.
To me, learning jazz at school was good. I took advantage of the situation, I listened to a lot of teachers and I played with many peers and I think university is really an effervescent environment.
Q: How did you come to choose the musicians in your band? What do you appreciate most about them?
A: I chose musicians that I admire. I’ve been playing for many years with all of the guys from the rhythm section and in different contexts. We are all working musicians and we play together in different bands and do different gigs together and we are all very good friends. We know each other really well and we really enjoy playing together. The first record was in quartet but for the second one, I added a trombone, Jean-Nicolas Trottier. This addition really changes the sound of the band and this is what I wanted, a different sound. I love the sound of alto and trombone. I see it as a modern version of tenor and trumpet.
Q: Tell me about the material you’ll be playing. What are you going for with your compositions?
A: We’re going to play the material of the second record, the show and the tour is actually the Ontarian album launch of Demi-Nuit, which was released in Montreal in April this year. The music on this record is a balance between tradition and modern jazz. The rhythms are really more traditional and the harmony and the melodies are more actual sounding. I try to write especially for the musicians in the band. I wrote a three-movement suite called La Prophétie where every musician is featured and I spent time to create an environment for each of them to be featured at their best. I like to hide stuff to the listeners. Si et seulement si is a through-composed tune where it’s a very elaborate thing that is basically just a blues but disguised. I want the listeners to ask questions when they listen to the music.
Q: What hopes do you have for the album?
A: With this record, we already played at the Montreal Jazz Festival but we have a lot of shows coming up. We will play at the Montreal’s OFF Jazz festival and at the Quebec City Jazz Festival in October. Plus, we have seven shows in the Maisons de la culture in Montreal for the 2017-2018 season. We have a show coming up at the Ottawa National Arts Centre next march. We already have invitations to perform at the Saguenay’s jazz festival, the Toronto Jazz Festival and the Halifax Jazz Festival for next summer. So my goal with this record is to play it and to share and spread my music as far as I can.
The Benjamin Deschamps Quintet plays:
Sept. 29 at 8:30 p.m. at the Jazz Room in Waterloo. Tickets $18 ($10 under 30) here.
Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Record Runner Rehearsal Studio (159 Colonnade Rd. S., Unit 6) in Ottawa. Tickets $25 here.
Oct. 1 at the Emmet Ray in Toronto