|Marianne Trudel’s Trifolia. Photo credit: Randy Cole|
Montreal-based pianist and composer MARIANNE TRUDEL is an influential figure on the national scene in Canada. Her recordings have been nominated for a Felix (the Quebec awards) and a Juno (national awards). She was one of the first composers to receive a major commission from the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montreal. In October she will be on a seven-date tour of Europe and the UK with her band Trifolia. The three UK dates will mark her debut in this country. Dan Paton interviewed her in anticipation of the tour:
Marianne Trudel is musing on whether the term ‘jazz pianist’ continues to have any real meaning. ‘For me, music is one inclusive thing and I never really felt good with labels. I don’t feel like I’m a jazz pianist – I’m a musician and I get inspired by really different musical traditions and I just try to blend it in a way that it speaks.’ Discussing her musical background and training, Trudel says ‘I grew up playing classical music and I switched to jazz when I was 18. This was because I’ve always loved improvising but I didn’t know anything about it beyond that at the time! I discovered the jazz tradition and loved it but I also found the improvising of Han Bennink and Evan Parker very inspiring. I listened to Kenny Wheeler’s music a lot and that inevitably influenced my melodic sense. I love Brazilian music too.’
Trudel’s band Trifolia, an unconventional piano trio, formed in Canada after its three members played as the rhythm section for a larger, 12 piece festival project and decided they had to play more together in a small band context. The band is named after a three leaved flower. Does Trudel also draw influence from observations in the natural world? ‘I’ve always been inspired by nature. I grew up in a very small village of about 800 people, along the Saint Laurence river. My backyard was pretty much the Saint Lawrence river! I’ve always felt really close to nature. I do play under the name Marianne Trudel Trio when it’s more of a standard jazz trio, but that never felt right for this. There is something very organic in the way we play and we are all very passionate about nature. Etienne (Lafrance, bassist) is a big canoe fan. Every summer, he goes far up in to north Quebec for a month by himself to go canoeing.’
Perhaps the name also encapsulates the band’s democratic modus operandi. Whilst the majority of compositions on 2013’s Le Refuge are Trudel’s, there are also some where writing credits are shared, and the approach to improvisation is consistently interactive. Trudel is keen to emphasise the importance of her musical colleagues in every project she leads. ‘If I want to play with people, it’s because I want to hear what they have to say. Sometimes it gets too much! For the project with (Canadian trumpeter) Ingrid Jensen, I had to re-record part of it because I realised there was only one piano solo on the whole album! Trudel’s passion and enthusiasm for Trifolia specifically is abundantly clear. ‘It’s very open’, Trudel explains. ‘This is not something we had at the very beginning. There was a musical connection between us, of course, but we toured a lot and this really made it bloom’. (It is interesting that Trudel continues to use the language of nature here). Trudel is aware that this makes the band special. ‘Unless you are a big name, it’s hard to tour a lot and to get deeper and deeper with the same project. We have been fortunate to be able to do this with Trifolia.’
In spite of all the obstacles, thanks to a combination of industrious hard work and assistance from The Canada Council of the Arts, Trudel will make an impressive UK debut in October, joining the line-up of the Marsden Jazz Festival and performing a show at The Vortex in London. ‘It’s a challenge financially’, Trudel says, although her breezy effervescence hardly makes it sound like a complaint. ‘It’s not like people are willing to pay a big fee. They will try for the first time and see what happens. It’s also really hard to work on promo from here. I have my network in Canada and I know exactly what to do, even if it means six hours to Vancouver on a plane. But touring away from home is an adventure too! We’ve just been to China for the first time – talk about a different place! It’s a risk but I’m willing to take that risk with Trifolia because it’s a dream I have and I really believe in the music.’ What about the actual approach to performing and communicating with new audiences? Trudel is keen to emphasise the social, communicative and interactive aspects of the band. ‘I love to meet new people and I love to talk to the audience. I also have two other musicians who are really passionate and who are great to watch onstage. There are lots of smiles and we have a lot of fun.’ The fundamental delight musicians take in playing can communicate a great deal to an audience, particularly those who may even be new to improvised music entirely.
It is not difficult to see why Trudel evangelises for the individual qualities of the musicians in Trifolia. The band has a unique sound and character that owes much to their contributions. For example, Patrick Graham uses a range of percussion instruments rather than a conventional drum kit, allowing for a very wide dynamic range and some compelling sound worlds. ‘The textures and colours that Patrick brings to Trifolia are crucial. His sound makes me play very differently from how I would with a regular drum kit. With Patrick, I could go back to a level of dynamics and sensitivity in my playing that had got a bit lost. He can take a hand drum and just caress the skin, and I can be behind him very softly. His playing also resonates for the part of me that loves orchestration too.’ Trudel also explains that bassist Etienne Lafrance worked as a bassist for the Quebec Symphony Orchestra. As a result, he has considerable arco playing skills. ‘He’s not one of those bassists who reaches for the bow and just makes you want to die’, Trudel jests. This clearly gives the band many more options in terms of sound and atmosphere.
There are other, more isolated elements of Trifolia’s sound that also seem striking. On Trois Soleils for example, Trudel improvises on Wurlitzer electric piano but accompanies herself on acoustic piano. Another is her occasional use of her own voice, albeit not in a dominant, foregrounded way. ‘These were accidents’, Trudel suggests, ‘although it also came from my love of orchestration. I want to have rich textures, even if it’s only three people involved. There was a Wurlitzer in the studio and the idea of playing my solo on Trois Soleils on it just came to me and I went for it. The singing was kind of an accident too! I always sing when I play, singing my lines when I improvise. The mic was set up in a way that they could hear my voice, but I didn’t mean it. I was very shy because I’m not a singer at all – but we decided to keep it. It’s just a different texture again. Those two songs with accordion and voice bring something different to the show when we play live too.’
Trudel has said that what she enjoys most about Trifolia is the ‘freedom’. What does she mean by this? Again, it at least partially seems to come down to her interaction with Patrick and Etienne. ‘The foundation of freedom is trust’, she states clearly. ‘If there is no trust, there is no freedom. When I’m free on stage, it means I totally trust the players I’m playing with. I’m less and less interested in playing in contexts where this is not happening – all the channels need to be open.’
One of her pieces, Possibilities Et Limitations, suggests that Trudel is also interested in limitations too. ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way, I’ve always loved that phrase!’ she enthuses. ‘I’ve always really pushed myself. I will always push myself to the limits, in all kinds of ways. But I reached a point where it was no longer true – sometimes where there’s a will, there’s no way! We are human. Everybody seems totally overworked, overstressed, overtired. At some point we hit a wall. The song, musically, is a pedal on F with a really cool bass line. I’m really big on harmonies, but we stick to the F pedal. This is the limitation – yet it also goes somewhere, in this very defined zone.’ Neither this nor the emphasis on trust mean that Trudel seeks to become formulaic or polished, however. She seeks to retain the crucial element of spontaneity that makes improvised music so exciting. ‘When I walk on stage, there needs to be a notion of risk. I don’t want to know exactly what will happen in advance.’ Trudel’s enthusiasm is infectious and there can be little doubt that she will revel in sharing that delight in risk taking with UK audiences. If Trudel achieves her stated aims, people will leave the concerts feeling transported and moved. They are not to be missed.
Marianne Trudel’s Trifolia UK and European tour (DATES) is assisted by The Canada Council for the Arts/ Conseil des arts du Canada
UK Tour Dates
Oct 9th 2:00 pm Marsden Jazz Festival, West Yorkshire
Oct 9th 8:30 pm The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Oct 11th 8:30 pm Vortex Jazz Club, London, N 16