Live reviews

Reviews and dispatches from Montreal #FIJM 2022 (11): “Lorraine Desmarais et invités”

Lorraine Desmarais (with Alec Walkington in the background) . Photo Benoit Rousseau/FIJM

This was billed as “Lorraine Desmarais et invités; Lorraine Desmarais célèbre 40 ans de carrière” (Lorraine Desmarais and guests. Lorraine Desmarais celebrates 40 years of her career). The pianist/ composer/bandleader and educator is a wonderfully collaborative and communicative player. She expressed several times what a privilege it has been to work with so many great musicians.

This was also the vein of the feature she had done with La Presse as a curtain-raiser for this concert, which starts “Lorraine Desmarais is not one to complain about the difficulty of making a living from a passion like jazz. On the contrary, she considers herself privileged.” (LINK)

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The form of the evening was to start with solo piano, and then to welcome, one by one, a series of guests, culminating in the appearance of a full big band of elite Montreal musicians. It showed her strengths: she is always in an unselfish musical dialogue with her guests, always making them shine. It reminded me of the way guitarist Peter Bernstein once described the ethos of Jim Hall. Bernstein remembered that Hall had the “will to make everyone sound better and to lift the music”. It’s a good way to be, and it is also clearly Desmarais’ way.

Comparing the La Presse preview feature with the concert, there was one curious discrepancy. Whereas the article points out how important Desmarais’ influence and long-term legacy has been as an educator and as a role model for younger women musicians in jazz and elsewhere, and also lists some of her “daughters” (Marianne Trudel, Julie Lamontagne, Ariane Racicot, Emie R. Roussel, Ariane Moffatt)…in the event, Desmarais was the only woman to appear onstage during the whole evening. One female Montreal observer has been talking to me about the continuing prevalence of “bro jazz”. I don’t want to rain on this parade, but the Desmarais celebration did feel very ‘male’.

That said, the quality of jazz musicians in this city is always unbelievably high. It starts with the bass players. Alec Walkington and Alain Caron were featured in different contexts last night. There must be at least one bass player somewhere in Montreal who is just ordinary or a bit dull or lazy with tuning… but I have yet to hear her or him.

One surprise to me was to see orchestral conductor Alain Trudel in the role of trombonist as a duo partner, with all the skills of communication, pacing and story-telling from his day-job shining through in his trombone playing

Lorraine Desmarais and Alain Trudel. Phone snap

One Montreal fixture, who would be an asset to any big band in the world, is lead alto Jean-Pierre Zanella. His is one of those sounds that I hope to connect with when I come to Montreal – I would miss it if I didn’t – so this was the chance to tick off that personal box. Zanella had a solo feature, presumably written for him, “Bolero Romantique”. The sheer strength and presence of his sound on soprano sax were just incredible.

Here’s a safe bet: the world is moving on, and the next version of this gig will find room for some ‘invitées’ too.

Jean Pierre Zanella in the Lorraine Desmarais Big Band. Phone snap

Categories: Live reviews

2 replies »

  1. To not mention the gender elephant in the room would have made you negligent as a journalist. One does have to wonder how such an obvious disconnect could fall through all the cracks.

  2. A good friend of LJN has explained the gasps from the audience and the goosebumps last night. The Montreal audience was not expecting to catch all three members of UZEB on stage: Alain Caron (bass guitar), Michel Cusson (guitar), and Paul Brochu (drums).

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