Dispatches from Montreal 2023 (10): Thoughts on the album ‘Notes on Montreal’ after ten years

Sebastian writes: This piece is not about the 2023 festival, but rather an album for which I have huge affection, and think of as a masterpiece. In this feature, saxophonist Steve Kaldestad from Vancouver and pianist – and one of the best jazz writers in Canada – Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen, join me in praise of ‘Notes on Montreal’ by Mike Rud and featuring vocalist Sienna Dahlen, which is ten years old this year.

As Peter Hum has written here: “He made a glowing tribute to Montreal, one that ought to be put in time capsules.”

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Album Cover art by Mark Lang

Sebastian Scotney:

Mike Rud’s album Notes on Montreal with singer Sienna Dahlen has its tenth anniversary this year. Recorded in 2013, it won a JUNO award in 2014. It is one of my most listened-to albums. This is a musical crush of mine that has lasted ten years and remains undimmed.

I count the fact that I have been invited back to the Montreal Jazz Festival several times since 2014 one of the greatest privileges ever. I have covered it for the Economist, Telegraph, Arts Desk, JAZZTHETIK and LondonJazz News, and “Notes on Montreal” has been a joyous soundtrack and inspiration.

As I have got to know Montreal and made friendships here, “Notes on Montreal”, with its great songs, its subtleties, its depths, has been my companion, indeed my favourite tourist guide.

  • If I have made an annual pilgrimages up to the Cross on Mount Royal, it is because I have in mind the song about the transient student population of the city “As the Cross Look On”.
  • A visit to the “Tam” drummers on the slopes of the mountain was also inspired by the same song.
  • Parc La Fontaine became my favourite place for a shaded morning jog. I chose Air BNBs to stay in depending on how close they are to the park

And so on.

Mike Rud is from Alberta. Sienna Dahlen is from Dawson Creek in British Columbia. And yet both have made this city their adoptive homes for at least part of their lives. They have learned to love the city as what Germans would call a “Wahlheimat” (a home city of choice) rather than as a birthright. What I see is a deep honesty and a love here. And the finest level of craft at every level.

Sienna Dahlen and Mike Rud receiving the 2014 Juno Award for Jazz Vocal album in 2014. Screenshot

Steve Kaldestad

When checking out music, film, visual art, I’m always trying to gauge the intent and the honesty of the artist behind the creation…and how much work, and how much thought was invested, for example. Knowing Mike and having an insight into the work and time that he put into the Notes on Montreal project, I just have so much willingness to dig deep into appreciating the writing. There is so much depth there that I can keep diving in and finding new things. 

Randy Newman is one of my favourite composers (and I know Mike loves him too) and I’ve always enjoyed when Newman inhabits a character and writes from their perspective, sometimes completely foreign to his own experience. As the Notes project clearly sets out to do, Mike is obviously writing these songs inspired by different novels with Montreal connections, each with their own unique protagonists, but with each song you also feel Mike’s connection with, and love for, the people and the place. Mike assumes all the different characters and personas and does it so authentically.

The musicians on the album all play superbly, and Sienna Dahlen brings not just astonishing musicianship but also a wonderful directness and honesty, which is so perfect for the project. 

I think it’s a brilliant work of art and tribute to my favourite city, which is why I bought 5 copies of the CD. I hope in thirty years, more and more people will still be discovering how good, how honest this album is, and how it has stood the test of time.  

Peter Hum:

I admit to a strong positive bias about Notes On Montreal because Mike Rud and I have been friends since we met in Montreal in the late 1980s. I lived in Montreal for a few years back then, while I went to university, and because of that, I have additional warm feelings for Mike’s absolutely lovely recording.

Even without my bias, I would be in awe of the profundity of Mike’s work on this album. I think Mike penetrated the texts that inspired him better than most English grad students could have — I say this as a former English grad student — and the lyrics that he wrote stand all on their own as beautiful. Then, to have Sienna bring Mike’s words to life certainly took them to an exalted level. 

 I also admire the vision and ambition that Mike had to add strings to his project, which led him to learn how to write for strings. And I’m in awe of the album in part because I know that outside of music, Mike was facing challenges in his life. Beauty prevailed, despite adversity.

Despite his gifts and achievements, Mike is a modest, self-effacing fellow. If you were to praise Notes to his face, I’m sure he would deflect and credit any number of his collaborators as well as Sienna, including pianist Chad Linsley, bassist Adrian Vedady, drummer Dave Laing and recording engineer-producer Paul Johnston. But in the end, it’s Mike who showed music lovers in Canada and beyond what he is capable of. He made a glowing tribute to Montreal, one that ought to be put in time capsules.”

PERSONNEL: Sienna Dahlen (voc) Mike Rud (guitar) Dave Gossage (flute), Adrian Vedady (bass) Dave Laing (drums) Chad Linsley (piano) Mélaine Vaugeois (violin), Ariane Lajoie (violon), Ligia Paquin (viola), Annie Gadbois, Cello.

LINKS: Sienna Dahlen’s website

Notes on Montreal on Mike Rud’s website and YouTube Channel

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