… Montréal-based musique actuelle label has just set up a specific jazz imprint. — Coda Magazine, Canada
What a privilege it also is to present this still underrated music to audiences in Quebec and abroad, year in year out, with my friends and colleagues Jean Derome, Ivanhoe Jolicœur, Mathieu Bélanger, Claude Lavergne and, in the past, the late Michel Ouellet.
Right from this band’s inception, I had decided to include a few Mingus tunes in a repertoire of original compositions. In fact, my first two albums testify to this infatuation, as each one contains at least one piece by the famous bassist.
The feeling I had for this music could only drive me deeper into a project that would be solely devoted to this prolific composer. The idea of devoting ourselves to Mingus exclusively came to life in 1995 and a year later we recorded a first album, “Hommage à Mingus,” for the label Justin Time.
Despite the fact that “Hommage à Mingus” was moved to the back burner (between 1997 and 2003) in favor of other important musical endeavors, we kept playing our 3-4 concerts a year, which allowed us to keep the project alive by adding new Mingus tunes each time we performed.
“Dense, complex, unpredictable compositions full of sudden changes in rhythm and tempo, and even though they occasionally feature pretty harmonies similar to the ones his mentor Ellington could have thought of, these harmonies are often subjected to savage destructuring or surprise accelerations, and can even resolve into dissonances that were absolutely avant-garde at the time. (…) Through his words, actions and writings, Charles Mingus has left the image of a boisterous, short-tempered, even violent character, but his recorded works highlight different qualities, such as the intensity, spontaneity, and power of his music, along with an unconventional conception of jazz as it was performed during the ’50s and ’60s.” *
All in all, Charles Mingus has released over 60 records credited to his name and has left to posterity over 300 original compositions.
This album offers seven Mingus tunes for your pleasure, including a few standards like Pithecanthropus Erectus and Moanin’, but also a few more obscure numbers, such as All the things you could be by now if Sigmond Freud’s wife was your mother and Conversation, plus a revisited version of Fable of Faubus, here rechristened Fable of George Dubya (with appropriate lyrics). And to round up the album, Jean Derome’s beautiful composition MDMD.
I wish you a nice listen.
* DragonJazz — Pierre Dulieu, 100 CD de Jazz (http://users.skynet.be/sky19290/)
This album is dedicated to the memory of Michel Ouellet.
CD (AM 134)
- Label: Ambiances Magnétiques Jazz
- AM 134
- UCC 771028113422
- Total duration: 71:08
- Sympathique case
- 126 mm × 126 mm × 5 mm
- 50 g
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Among the First World’s experimental music communities, Québec’s Musique actuelle community is one of the more insular. One might surmise that they are sufficiently supported at home, making travel less the priority it is elsewhere in North America. Certainly, developing a US audience is nowhere near the top of their list, even though most of the New England is within reasonable driving distance from Montréal. Their CDs are not covered by such basic reference books as The Penguin Guide To Jazz On CD. They are busy living and doing their work, the overwhelming bulk of which bears only a passing resemblance to that from other communities. That’s why it is intriguing that these musicians would unabashedly celebrate mid-century American jazz in three concurrently released CDs.
For many interpreters of Charles Mingus’ compositions, the depiction of volatility seems to be the bar they strive to clear. And, bassist Normand Guilbeault’s well-balanced quintet on Mingus Erectus does that time and again with disarming ease. Part of this is attributeable to his choice of compositions like Pithecanthropus Erectus, which has Mingus’ signature mix of brooding and lashing-out, and All The Things You Could Be?, which gives ample space for soloists to work off Mingus’ emotional spikes. Guilbeault’s front line of clarinetist Mathieu Bélanger, trumpeter Ivanhoe Jolicœur, and Jean Derome, who plays flute and alto and baritone saxophones, meets these demands very well (the band is rounded out by drummer Claude Lavergne, who ably plays the role of Dannie Richmond). What they do better than most, however, is convey the gush of Peggy’s Blue Spotlight and the whimsy of Tijuana Gift Shop, not as the highs of a mood swing, but as fully realized moments. Guilbeault also milks the sarcasm of Fables Of Faubus with anti-Bush lyrics like “you’re so sick and ridiculous” that actually fit the idiosyncratic melody. These facets of Mingus’ music coalesce into a vivid portrait. It may not seem so at first, but Pee Wee Russell is almost as tough to interpret as Mingus, but for a host of different reasons. The arch eccentric of the generation that came of age in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, the clarinetist committed several endearing heresies late in life, such as playing with Thelonious Monk at Newport, and recording both Monk and Ornette Coleman tunes for Impulse. His playing was rife with odd phrases saturated by a disaffected, wobbly tone, which makes him vulnerable to bad caricature if the swing is sapped from his phrasing to emphasize his idiosyncrasies, or if his quirky intonation is overdone. Robert Marcel Lepage gets it right on Pee Wee et moi by sticking with the blues and not delving into Russell’s drink and depression riddled personal life. At his best, Russell’s playing conveyed wizened joy as it unhinges from the quotidian, which Lepage emphasizes throughout this album-length suite. He brings on a half-dozen clarinetists - Guillaume Bourque, François Houle, Jean-Sébastien Leblanc, André Moisan, Pierre-Emmanuel Poizat and Richard Simas - who hoot and wail with an appealing vigor (unfortunately, there’s no score card to tell them apart). While Guilbeault and drummer Pierre Tanguay simply steam throughout the date, the real wild card is guitarist René Lussier, whose off-kilter blues phrases and occasionally maniacal strumming frequently jolt the proceedings. Pee Wee et moi is a great wild ride. Trio Derome Guilbeault Tanguay is something of a Québécois Clusone Trio. Both groups love jazz enough to be occasionally irreverent with the genre. The comedic roles within the two trios differ: Derome is not as deadpan as Michael Moore; Tanguay’s humor is gentler than Han Bennink’s; and Guilbeault can’t match Ernst Reijseger’s ability to lay the cello across his lap like a guitar. And, their respective tastes bypass bebop, favoring the likes of Ellington, Kern and Porter. When they tap a post-war source on The Feeling Of Jazz, Trio Derome Guilbeault Tanguay tend towards the books of cool characters like Lee Konitz and Misha Mengelberg, though they also give Sonny Clark’s Sonny Crib a sufficiently gritty reading. Trio Derome Guilbeault Tanguay arguably has a tad more punch in their delivery, due to Derome’s harder-edged alto and baritone, the lower reach of Guilbeault’s bass, and Tanguay’s simmering grooves. This is an excellent album, which may pull Trio Derome Guilbeault Tanguay into the international limelight.
Need further proof that Quebec is a province pas comme des autres? At a time when jazz record labels and musicians lament lack of acceptance and opportunities, Ambiances Magnétiques, the longestablished, Montréal-based musique actuelle label has just set up a specific jazz imprint.
The reason is partially artistic and partially marketing, explains Joane Hétu, founder member of the AM collective, and artistic director of DAME, its distribution and marketing wing.
“Musique actuelle as defined by our community implies that the composer is also performer of his music,” she says, elaborating the philosophy that has guided AM since its inception in 1983. Yet with many of AM’s founders recently involved with projects honoring the compositions of jazz icons, such as bassist Normand Guilbeault’s new CD, Mingus Erectus, the need for a specific jazz label became apparent.
“Montréal’s jazz community is active all year long,” she notes. “With l’Off Festival de jazz de Montréal, a new Regroupement des artistes de jazz et de musique actuelle du Québec and a new interest in jazz from many musicians, now seemed as good a time as ever to support these artists.”
However, after having released more than 150 CDs, AM has established a certain reputation and market, the couple of jazz sessions previously released by the label “often ended up in the wrong sections in stores or in the hands of reviewers more interested in musique actuelle,” she adds. “Ambiances Magnétiques Jazz (AMJ) allows our jazz releases to be clearly identified, categorized, reviewed and marketed in the jazz family.”
Although AMJ’s first CDs — clarinetist Robert Marcel Lepage’s Pee Wee et Moi and reeds-bass-drums Trio Derome Guilbeault Tanguay’s The Feeling of Jazz are the others — came out at the same time as Mingus Erectus in late 2005, this clustering was “just luck,” she concedes. Each artist, an AM founding member, happened to have a project ready, although Hétu adds “having many releases over a short time period should help put our jazz label on the map.”
It’s too early to gauge AMJ sales, but like most of the label’s product, there’s a close correlation between live performance and a CD’s popularity. “It’s all about playing live,” she declares. “The more concerts the more sales.”
Among the 10 or so CDs AM releases each year, she expects that two to four will be jazz. But since AM is designed to give artists mastery over their work, it depends on what projects are offered to the label. Already scheduled for spring release is a trio disc by Quebec guitarist Antoine Berthiaume with bassist Michel Donato and drummer Pierre Tanguay and another by Italian pianist Gianni Lenoci’s Ensemble. Lenoci’s CD will be AMJ’s first disc by a nonCanadian. However since the parent label’s releases aren’t limited by geography, Hétu suspects AMJ will follow the same policy.
Again though, Hétu cautions that AM’s overriding raison d’être is to release, distribute and market CDs by its founding members or those recommended by a member committee. Busy with its own projects, AMJ won’t go out of its way to seek out new jazz talent. “We’ll leave the creation of a Canadian Jazz Idol to someone else,” she jokes.
Taking on the œuvre of Charles Mingus is a major challenge for any band, especially one led by a bass player. Not only, as in all jazz repertoire efforts, does the group have to avoid slavish imitation, but Mingus’ work also has to be presented with the sort of cocksure aggression that characterized the man himself.
Many musicians have tried to defy these odds, though few have been very successful. There are the various versions of the Mingus Big Band – Sue Mingus, Prop. – that with a bit too much fealty to the bassist’s widow, manage to perpetuate the bassist’s memory with unexpected versions of some of his better and lesser-known work.
Then there’s this left field entry. Organized by Montréal bassist Normand Guilbeault, it features a cross-section of that city’s musique actuelle players in a rare foray into unhyphenated jazz. Perhaps that’s why there’s freshness to these tunes – some of Mingus’ Greatest Hits – that have been played by many over the past four or five decades, and very frequently in the 26 years since the bass man’s death.
Musique actuelle is defined by its practitioners as music of today. Performed, it can have as many references to ProgRock, electronica, movie themes, contemporary, so-called serious music and traditional chansons as jazz and improv. Jean Derome, who plays alto and baritone saxophones and flute here, is involved in many of those mutant forms, yet turns in a surprisingly nuanced and jazzy take on Mingus. At times you could swear the solos are coming from altoist Jackie McLean or baritonist Pepper Adams, some of the legendary bassist’s favored sidemen. MDMD, the one non-Mingus composition here, is Derome’s as well, and cleverly slips in among Chazz’s work without a ripple. Drummer Claude Lavergne and trumpeter and flugelhornist Ivanhoe Jolicoeur have also been mainstays of musique actuelle over the years as has clarinetist Mathieu Bélanger, who brings outstanding atypical textures to this CD, with his standard and alto clarinet excursions on passages usually confined to saxophone reeds.
Of course the compositions’ overriding visualization comes from leader Guilbeault, who has involved himself in this repertoire for about 15 years, and recorded an earlier Mingus tribute a decade ago. Montréal-born, he’s one of the few musique actuelleers with a straight jazz background having played with such local heroes as guitarist Nelson Symonds and drummer Bernard Primeau. He has also worked with Québécois singers, on major projects conceived of by Derome, guitarist René Lussier and percussionist Michel F Côté, his own Parkerouac, wedding poetry and jazz and Riel, a musical about a 19th Century government-executed French-Canadian firebrand.
From inception, the eight tracks of Mingus Erectus balance on the Guilbeault’s rhythmic smarts. But his underpinning is flexible enough to allow Bélanger, Jolicoeur and especially Derome a 21st Century latitude with the tunes. Thus pieces may include multiphonic shout choruses plus sudden shifts of tempo and pitch without every losing the foot-tapping beat. Bélanger’s horn often sounds Québécois street band slurs and glissandi as much as traditional blue notes. Mixing his note-bending with brassy plunger work, Jolicoeur alternately brings to mind Ted Curson and Roy Eldridge, two trumpeters from different generations who recorded with Mingus. This is especially apparent on Conversations, where contrapuntal lines from the horns evolve from call-and-response to individual statements, including the trumpeter’s cascading triplets. All the while Guilbeault keeps up the ostinato, sometimes double-strummed.
On a shrill, almost piccolo-sounding flute, Derome’s cunning enlivens Tijuana Gift Shop, as harmonic convergence with the snorting trumpet lines and near-Dixieland clarinet glisses brings even more of a Latin tinge to the tune. Using a harsh vibrato and a hard reed, Peggy’s Blue Skylight becomes a baritone saxophone feature for Derome, with his stomping vibrato matching the powerful polyphonic bass work and contralto, contrapuntal coloring from the clarinetist.
Another highpoint appears with a recasting of 1959’s Fables of Faubus as 2005’s Fable of (George Dubya) Faubus. Retaining the circus-like mockery of the original –, a barb launched at Arkansas’ then segregationist governor – the Ensemble widens the sarcasm to lambaste the American president’s excursion into Iraq. It’s a technique Mingus often followed himself, taking on Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller and other politicians later in his life.
However, it’s a bit surreal to hear “No more stupid wars” and “Boo George Bush with your evil plan” shouted out in a heavy a Québécois accent. But the instrumental work is at the same high level as the initial recording of the piece and its subsequent recording with Curson and Eric Dolphy. Bélanger’s mellow, chalumeau tone keeps the tune moving forward, as the others provide a wavering countermelody. Derome double-tongues his alto saxophone reed and Jolicoeur growls timbres from deep inside his horn. One of the few Mingus tributes that approaches the passion and commitment of the honoree, Mingus Erectus inculcates a desire to hear Guilbeault and company in other contexts.
Sono ormai parecchi anni che il Normand Guilbeault Ensemble lavora sul repertorio di Charles Mingus: come a ogni gruppo che si accosti alla musica - e ai meccanismi musicali - del grande compositore, all’immenso piacere che accompagna il suonare quelle pagine si affianca la non facile responsabilità di come farlo.
Chiariamoci, non si tratta tanto di una questione di “rispetto” nei confronti dell’originale [che il materiale musicale del ’900 possa diventare “repertorio” per il solo fatto di esistere e di essere stato registrato è un fatto su cui non vale nemmeno la pena di soffermarsi più], ma di un problema personale, di come fare che meccanismi espressivi così intensi e evoluti entrino a fare parte del proprio lessico, di come la propria arte si relazioni con quella somma di Mingus [e altri].
Spesso, quando ci sono tributi o riletture del repertorio di grandi jazzisti del ’900 [pensiamo a Monk o a Ellington], il punto non è tanto quello di “suonarli male” o “rovinarli”, quanto quello di immettere nel proprio percorso musicale degli elementi di cui talvolta non si è risolto il rapporto o non si è in grado di esplicitarlo.
Non è questo il caso di Guilbeault e soci, che assommano alle capacità espressive personali un rapporto sempre vivo con la materia: risale al 1996 il disco Hommage à Mingus per la Justin Time e arriva ora questo ottimo Mingus Erectus per la Ambiances Magnétiques, lavoro in cui la band lavora su composizioni di medio/ampio respiro.
Si apre con “Pythecantropus Erectus”, che vive su una bella tensione tra l’afflato collettivo e la linea analitica degli assoli, così come All the Things…, bruciante e capace di mettere in luce la grande versatilità del sassofono di Jean Derome.
Oltre a Derome, anche gli altri componenti della band sono tutti ottimamente in sintonia, il trombettista Ivanhoe Jolicoeur, il clarinettista Mathieu Bélanger, il batterista Claude Lavergne ovviamente il leader al contrabbasso, Normand Guilbeault.
Jazz suonato bene e pensato bene prima di essere suonato: solo cosî il quintetto può immergersi totalmente nelle atmosfere mingusiane [anche quelle meno frequentate e in fondo personali di Conversation o Tijuana Gift Shop], donando loro un suono denso e caldo, ma trasparente, pronto a fare risaltare i singoli contributi.
Oltre a un aggiornamento della celebre Fables of Faubus alle tristi avventure odierne di George Dubya [oggetto delle critiche vocali del testo], il gruppo srotola una bella composizione di Derome, intitolata MDMD come omaggio mai banale all’ispirazione di riferimento. Gran finale con Moanin’. Mingus avrebbe apprezzato!
Known primarily for his post-bop and avant-garde/free jazz compositions, and for playing in the eclectic Montréal jazz scene, Normand Guilbeault competently leads his combo through the many twists and turns of Charles Mingus’s compositions on Mingus Erectus. This isn’t new to him, however — Guilbeault has included Mingus charts in his band’s live repertoire since its inception, recorded Mingus pieces for his previous albums, and even issued a previous tribute record, 1996’s Homage À Mingus.
Mingus Erectus is a live document of a tight repertory band playing some of the last century’s most inventive jazz. As a composer, Mingus began with Duke Ellington’s lush orchestration, then added an extended harmonic and rhythmic sensibility. As a bassist, he redefined post-bop bass as a solo instrument to rival its rhythmic importance. Guilbeault’s homage stresses both of these sides — he holds down the ensemble with his own superior bass playing while drawing fantastic performances from his sidemen, most notably Jean Derome (saxophones and flute) and Ivanhoe Jolicoeur (trumpet and flugelhorn).
The album’s track selection ranges from the immediately recognizable favorites Pithecanthropus Erectus and Tijuana Gift Shop to the more esoteric All The Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmond Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother. Fable of Faubus (a reference to the Arkansas governor who fought against the integration of Little Rock’s public schools) is re-imagined here as the lively Fable of (George Dubya) Faubus, with appropriate lyrics: “Why is he so sick and ridiculous? / He lied to the whole world about Iraq! / And he’s a fool!” The album’s only original track is Derome’s MDMD, and it fits surprisingly well among the older charts. Guilbeault and his Ensemble do Mingus’s music justice, and then some.
Le contrebassiste canadien que le collectif Ambiances Magnétiques nous avait déjà fait découvrir avec Riel, Plaidoyer musical (AM 073) voue une véritable passion à Charles Mingus dont il explore depuis près de quinze ans le répertoire et Mingus Erectus est le second recueil de son ensemble à se consacrer - presque - totalement à son mentor. Avec une équipe légèrement remodelée (le batteur Claude Lavergne remplace Paul Léger) et réduite à un quintet (l’ensemble a perdu son tromboniste, Michel Ouellet), Normand Guilbeault propose une relecture de sept thèmes de Charles Mingus, dont Pithecanthropus Erectus, pour citer l’un des plus connus, mais aussi Fable of (George Dubya) Faubus, au texte revisité (George Dubya n’étant qu’autre que George W.). Cette relecture, si elle reste relativement fidèle à l’esprit du compositeur, en plaçant par exemple la contrebasse au centre du dispositif, offre quelques variantes, notamment au niveau instrumental, la clarinette de Mathieu Bélanger se substituant au piano de certaines formations tout en faisant référence à son travail avec Eric Dolphy. L’enregistrement, réalisé en public en février 2004, transmet sans problème à son auditoire la chaleur des thèmes, la fougue de ses interprètes.
Non nuovo a tributi nei confronti della vasta e composita opera mingusiana (si veda Hommage à Mingus del ‘96 su Justin Time), il contrabbassista Normand Guilbeault ha in pratica dedicato interamente questi ultimi anni della carriera al repertorio del maestro di Nogales. Accompagnato da altri nomi noti della scena quebecoise, su tutti Jean Derome (già sodale in Bruire, insieme a Martin Tétreault e Michel Coté), il nostro infonde tale grande ardore nella rilettura competente e appassionata di rinomate pagine del catalogo dell’autore di colore (i classici Pithecanthropus Erectus, Moanin’ e Fable of Faubus con titolo e testo riadattati per un attacco frontale al George W. più detestato del mondo…), passando per episodi più oscuri e aggiungendovi un po’ di crusca del proprio sacco (MDMD, per la verità firmata da Derome con perfetta grafia mingusiana). Data la complessità della scrittura originale, operazione non facile ma ottimamente riuscita.
Canadian bassplayer and composer Norman Guilbeault offers an album of seven compositions by Charles Mingus. With his ensemble he already works some 15 years on the repertoire of this jazzlegend. His ensemble is a quintet consisting of the following musicians: Jean Derome (saxophones, flute), Ivanhoe Jolicoeur (trumpet, flugelhorn ), Mathieu Bélanger (clarinet), Claude Lavergne (drums, voice) and Guilbeault himself on doublebass and voice. All of them are top-players and feel very happy in the universe of Mingus as this CD shows.
Earlier albums of this ensemble often contain one or two Mingus-compositions. In 1995 Guilbeault released his first album completely devoted to Charles Mingus and now he compiled another album of works by this famous bassplayer and play a few standards like Pithecanthropus Erectus and Moanin, but also some lesser known works, such as All the things you could be by now if Sigmund Freud’s wife was your mother and Conversation. Jean Derome contributes also with a composition on this album called MDMD.
I’m not a dedicated listener of the jazz classics of Ellington, Parker, Mingus or any other. I do feel some affinity with the work of Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman, but in the end I must say jazz its not my thing. On the other hand I enjoy listening to - often European - free improvised music. So it’s from this perspective that I’m listening now to Mingus Erectus. I can’t judge whether this quintet stays close to the original and merely copies them, or whether they reinvent the compositions. I’m always a little suspicious when musicians play old jazz standards, as jazz is the art of improvising, which implies not merely repeating music from the past. But the marvelous playing of this quintet is tempting. Its done with soul and great energy. And this makes me forget the discussion I was just pointing at. For the piece Fable of (George Dubya) Faubus the lyrics have been changed and seem to concern president Bush, another sign of their up to date approach. All in all this is a very inspired live recording from 2004.
POURQUOI PAS? Le Canadien Normand Guilbeault fréquente le répertoire de Mingus depuis quinze ans. Une familiarité illustrée par ces captations en club. Elles restituent peut-être plus fidèlement que le Mingus Big Band la fièvre des interprétations mingusiennes, leurs dérapages rythmiques et harmoniques, collectives et solitaires, à la limite de la perte de contrôle, mais aussi la densité obtenue en petite formation. Le répertoire va du classique Pithecanthropus Erectus au plus rare Conversation en passant par Fables of Faubus (dont les interjections, hurlées sur l’exposé, s’adressent désormais à George Bush) et un original fort mingusien. On n’ouvrira pas la polémique du néoclassicisme et du répertoire mais ce disque méritera d’être versé au dossier (même si l’entreprise se justifie davantage sur scène que sur disque). 2
This extraordinary live tribute to Charles Mingus is the fifth superb offering from the great Montréal based contrabassist Normand Guilbeault for the Ambiances Magnetiques label. His marvelous ensembles features Jean Derome on saxes & flute, Ivanhoe Joliceur on trumpet & bugle, Mathieu Bélanger on clarinets, Mr.Guilbeault on bass & voice and Claude Lavergne on drums. All tunes but one by Mingus, all arrangements by Guilbeault and one original tribute tune by Jean Derome. The majority of small group recording by Mingus usually feature quintets or sextets, so it is appropriate the Guilbeault also use an inspired quintet. The only difference is that Normand uses no pianist, a rarity for Mingus himself, but the fifth player is a clarinetist. Normand has selected a number of Mingus’ finest pieces and they are done with passion, fire and that inventive spirit. Like Mingus, Normand also leads the band with his bass at the center of the action. Besides Guilbeault, the only player I am most familiar with is that wonderful alto saxist, Jean Derome. Still all three horns play magnificently throughout. On Pithecanthropus Erectus, the alto sax, bass clarinet and trumpet swirl around that feisty rhythm team, sailing together and held together just right. That great Mingus spirit is kept alive with some truly inspired playing. Very nice to hear that bass clarinet and regular clarinet, reminding us those great days when Eric Dolphy was in the Mingus band. Another great thing about Mingus was the way his bands drew from the long history of jazz. Here also we get those righteous blues spirits, those Ellington-like earthy note-bending vivacious horns, as well as Latin, dixieland and a wealth of other influences or styles. One of many highlights here is their great version of Fables of (George Dubya) Faubus, updated with some most appropriate and hilarious lyrics about our evil president and his cronies. Jean Derome’s MDMD is another gem in the Mingus spirit with superb, bluesy solos from each horn. If you are as knocked out by this excellent disc as I am, I recommend you check out Jean Derome’s swell Monk-tribute trio efforts on this same label, as well as any of the other fine CDs from the grand Normand Guilbeault.
It’s now been 26 years since bassist/composer Charles Mingus died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his music lives on. The leaders of these two loving, live-quintet tributes are both bassists. Guilbeault’s, done here in Montréal, has Jean Derome, Mathieu Bélanger, Ivanhoe Jolicoeur and Claude Lavergne on eight tracks including Derome’s MDMD and a rousing Moanin’ (my radio theme for many years).…approach the music with reverence and spirit, though Guilbeault’s is a little more on the cutting edge. Both 9/10
Le contrebassiste Normand Guilbeault voue un véritable culte à Charles Mingus qui a roulé sa bosse dans le monde du jazz de 1940, d’abord avec l’orchestre de Louis Armstrong, jusqu’à son décès en 1979. Mingus fut l’un des rares contrebassistes à composer, et surtout, à mener des ensembles de jazz. Après avoir croisé la route des Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Art Tatum durant les années 1950, il se tourne encore plus vers l’avant-garde durant les années 1960. Il participera à plus d’une centaine d’albums. Guilbeault, lui, a fondé cet ensemble depuis une quinzaine d’années, par simple bonheur d’interpréter le vaste répertoire de ce géant du jazz. Avec des calibres de la musique actuelle et jazz comme Jean Derome (sax, flûtes), Ivanhoe Jolicœur (trompette), Mathieu Bélanger (fluide clarinette souvent mise en évidence) et Claude Lavergne (batterie), Guilbeault s’éclate visiblement avec Mingus. On passe du bordel le plus complet (Pithecanthropus Erectus) aux morceaux plus accessibles, comme Conversation ou Tijuana Gift Shop, aux vives couleurs mexicaines. Très intéressant!
There aren’t all that many fascinating tributes around being made to the great Charles Mingus, so when Canadian bassist Normand Guilbeault decides to record Mingus Erectus, there is only reason for celebration. Gathering an all-star [Quebec-based] cast, he tramples on competition to give us a heart-felt homage to the late great master of the bass. Sometimes you don’t have to stretch or be on a mission to prove something in order to come up with a great recording. Playing it straight can be an adventure in itself.
All the pieces here don’t sound all too different from their original selves. Jean Derome’s saxophone playing is joyful as ever, rising to the occasion at all the right moments. Trumpet playing courtesy of Ivanhoe Jolicoeur is riveting as he scales those high notes and blows them sky high.
Finally, the bass playing of Normand Guilbeault himself is driven, precise, but too often it just falls a little flat. There are moments when I don’t quite hear the bass as high up in the mix as it should be. But then again, this is a technical aspect of the record. Let’s face it; you can’t really recreate the music that Mingus made. You can only bring your own two cents into the pot, and for now Mingus Erectus is as good an homage as you’re likely to hear.
As Andrew Homy mentions in his liner blurb, it is because the members of this Montréal band make this music their own that they are able to play Mingus’ works convincingly. With a slightly different line-up than a usual Mingus ouffit, the present quintet, under the savvy leadership of one of Montréal’s prime bassists, retains much of the boisterous energy and lyricism that typifies the creations of the Master. Furthermore, this excellently captured live performance bears much of the forcefulness and immediacy, which characterize the Mingus style. Qn the whole, the up-tempo tunes are more successful, wherein the soloists shine over a driving rhythm section. Ivanhoe Jolicoeur, whose appropriately hard bop trumpet playing is full of spark and ideas, turns in some sizzling work; Jean Derome (saxes and flute) and Mathieu Bélanger (clarinets) are no slouches either, each of them deftly navigating through all seven idiosyncratic vehicles heard here. That said, they come up short on Peggy’s Blue Skylight, where their reading of the tune seems a little too pedantic and the energy level flags along the way. In contrast, they attack Pithecanthropos Erectus with soulful abandon, and likewise for that mouthful of a tune entitled All the Things You Could be by Now if Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother. Elsewhere, the mid-tempo Fables of Faubus, partly an update on politico-idiocy which zeroes in on George Dubya and his war on Iraq, is only slightly better, but MDMD, a tune penned by Derome in the style of a Mingus dirge and showcasing Guilbeault’s playing to great effect, is both convincing and relevant. Once again, this band is really more engaging in the faster tunes, like the closer Moanin’, best known for its funky signature baritone sax riff.
The legacy of Charles Mingus, the tempestuous bassist/leader who recorded powerful statements reflecting the American Condition in the 1950s and 1960s, has never been fully explored. Bassist Normand Guilbeault has captured seven pieces the admixture of joy and anger that is Mingus. Add to that one original by reedist Jean Derome to make up this live recording. Trumpeter Ivanhoe Jolicoeur and clarinetist Mathieu Bélanger join Jean Derome in some outstanding solos. Mingus fans will appreciate the passion in the 12-minute opener, Pithecanthropus Erectus, and the closer, Moanin’. In between are some lesser-known Mingus works. Guilbeault and drummer Claude Lavergne update Fables of Faubus with shouts in honour George Dubya, all in the anti-establish Mingus spirit. 4
Back in 1996, the Normand Guilbeault Ensemble had recorded Hommage à Mingus (“Tribute to Mingus”) for the label Justin Time as the culmination of a couple of years of work and shows. The group carried on, but the Mingus project was put on the shelf, only to be dusted down a couple of times a year for special events. Slowly, the quintet came back to Mingus’ body of work, changing its repertoire and by February 2004 the Mingus project was back to full speed, ready to be captured live over two nights at the Va-et-Vient, one of Montréal’s most forward-thinking jazz clubs. Mingus Erectus offers seven revamped Mingus standards and not-so-standards, plus one original by sax player Jean Derome. Guilbeault’s other partners are Ivanhoe Jolicoeur (trumpet), Mathieu Bélanger (clarinet) and Claude Lavergne (drums). The set starts with a vigorous rendition of Pithecanthropus Erectus, led by Guilbeault’s quiet yet oh-so-efficient bass line. If that one makes a predictable opener, the choice of All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmond Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother and Tijuana Gift Shop are more surprising and a great change of pace. Bélanger throws in a dizzying solo in the first one, although the real treat is found in the group playing, tight and playful. The lighter Tijuana Gift Shop works out nicely but leaves less of an impression, while the ballads Conversation and Peggy’s Blue Skylight are treated with the utmost respect — which does not rule out some creative melodic developments. Fable of Faubus gets a very different treatment. Entirely updated to (dis)honor US President George W. Bush, this biting Fable of (George Dubya) Faubus adds a lot of crunch — good thing most listeners of creative jazz are of left-wing persuasions! Guilbeault and Lavergne’s vocal imprecations make the piece stand out on this otherwise instrumental record and, if the musical treatment sticks rather close to home, the political hijacking will surely please Eugene Chadbourne fans (and a few others too!). Derome’s MDMD is a nice slow-bop number, although it lacks some fancy. The set ends on a festive reading of Moanin, led by Derome’s swinging baritone sax. This second installment in Ambiances Magnétiques Jazz series makes a convincing statement, and the excellent live capture adds extra ambience to the performance.
Le contrebassiste montréalais a toujours voué une grande admiration à Charles Mingus; il a maintes fois évoqué le legs de son aîmé au cours des 15 denières années. Les efforts de Normand Guilbeault sont ici récompensés: il a accompli à mon sens le plus beau disque de sa carrière. Mingus Erectus ferait grandement plaisir au contrebassiste disparu à la fin des années 70, car il allie toutes les qualités de son approche légendaire: présence de solistes impétueux et virtuoses (particulièrement Mathieu Bélanger aux clarinettes et Jean Derome aux saxes et flûte), soutien rythmique impeccable, variations singulières des tempii, improvisation collective des plus ferventes, éloquentes déconstructions harmoniques. Et, bien sûr, ce côté baveux, irascible et dénonciateur de Mingus. On peut goûter à son irrévérence superbe notamment dans la reprise de Fable of Faubus, qui évoquait naguère un gouverneur raciste de l’Arkansas (Orville Faubus) et adaptée cette fois à George W. Bush que Guilbeault et ses collègues ne tiennent (évidemment) pas en haute estime.
Il y a 25 ans que Charles Mingus est décédé, le moment est donc bien choisi pour le saluer par un hommage. C’est ce que le contrebassiste Normand Guilbeault et ses musiciens font ici de belle façon en donnant le meilleur d’eux-mêmes et en se laissant traverser par les grooves d’enfer de quelques hits de Mingus (des années 50). Enregistré en concert au bistro culturel Le Va-et-Vient en février 2004, le disque permet d’entendre des musiciens au sommet de leur forme: Ivanhoe Jolicœur (trompette, bugle), Mathieu Bélanger (clarinettes), Jean Derome (sax, flûte) et Claude Lavergne (batterie) dansent en équilibre sur la ligne de contrebasse de Guilbeault avec l’agilité et la grâce des funambules.
Normand Guilbeault rend hommage à Mingus
Tout ce qu’on peut attendre d’un album est contenu dans Mingus Erectus. Vraiment tout? Affirmatif! Évidemment, les esprits chagrins ou éteignoirs vont chipoter ici et là, mais sérieusement, très sérieusement, cet album enregistré live au bistrot culturel Le Va-et-Vient par l’ensemble du contrebassiste Normand Guilbeault est la plus belle conclusion musicale de l’année 2004.
Sur un air de…Jazz et blues
C’est élogieux? Et comment! On s’emballe? Pas du tout. Un peu, c’est vrai. Mais bon, c’est un emballement qui n’a pas l’épaisseur d’un papier à cigarette. Parce que, entre nous, juste entre nous, il y a amplement matière à applaudir. À réduire à trois fois rien les réticences et les résistances.
Peut-être faut-il formuler une confidence. C’est tout simple: dans le jazz, pour nous, il y a Charles Mingus d’abord. Ensuite, il y a les autres: les sculpteurs du son, les pêcheurs de swing, les chroniqueurs du blues, les amants du bancal. Évoquer ces derniers, c’est dire leurs noms sans qu’il soit nécessaire de décliner les noms en question.
En haut, tout en haut, il y a Mingus parce que sa musique est révoltée lorsqu’elle n’est pas sensuelle. Parce que chaque note qu’il a jouée ou fait jouer est à la fois aiguisée et pesante. Parce que jamais il n’a conçu la musique comme un outil utile à l’ambiance. Parce qu’il exigeait de ses musiciens qu’ils jouent entre ses notes.
Un coefficient de difficulté élevé
Depuis une bonne quinzaine d’années, il ne passe guère un trimestre sans qu’on nous propose Monk joué par untel. Les producteurs ont tellement usé de cet artifice que le nombre de Monk revus et corrigés par des tiers, souvent trop polis pour être convaincants, dépasse le nombre de Monk par lui-même.
Cette forte inclination d’une industrie déficitaire sur le front des idées à noyer les rayons de Monk par autrui a eu un effet pervers: dévaloriser cet exercice de style qui consiste justement à consacrer un album à Duke Ellington, Benny Carter ou Dizzy Gillespie. On soulève cet aspect des choses pour mieux souligner qu’en s’attaquant à Mingus, Normand Guilbeault s’est du coup confronté à un coefficient de difficulté passablement élevé.
Ce groupe, ce Mingus-Guilbeault, a été formé il y a une bonne dizaine d’années de cela. Au départ, la batterie était entre les mains de Paul Léger. Aujourd’hui, elle est entre celles de Claude Lavergne, qui a ceci de bien, de pertinent, qu’il est dynamique. Il fait justement écho à l’énergie qui caractérisait le jeu de Dannie Richmond.
Au début de cette aventure, le tromboniste Michel Ouellet était de la partie. Mais voilà, ce dernier étant décédé il y a environ un an de cela, «j’ai estimé qu’il serait plus décent de s’associer un autre instrument». Entre les mains extrêmement agiles de Mathieu Bélanger, la clarinette, la basse avant tout, ponctue à coups de points-virgules ce qui — hélas! — se perd: les passions de Mingus.
À la trompette, Ivanhoe Jolicoeur est toujours là. Présent comme jamais. Ce qu’il y a de bien avec ce musicien au jeu vivifiant, c’est qu’il n’a pas son pareil pour mettre en relief le côté tourmenté de Mingus. On ne dit pas que Jolicoeur est tourmenté, mais… comment dire? Ce qu’on aime, c’est que ses interventions sont plus fréquentes que le furent celles des trompettistes de Mingus. Par sa fougue, sa précision, il réincarne Booker Little.
Aux saxos, l’alto et le baryton, aux flûtes, la petite et la grosse, la longue, qui retrouve-t-on? Jean Derome, musicien immense qui force l’admiration par son enthousiasme, sa science du rythme, la profondeur de son jeu. La profondeur… c’est ce qui, peut-être, distingue le plus Derome. Ce qui en fait en tout cas un des grands musiciens, tous pays confondus, toute couleur et toute taille prises en considération. On tient à souligner une chose: sa maîtrise du baryton donne à l’ensemble un son qui diffère de celui choisi en son temps par Mingus.
Et la contrebasse de Guilbeault? Elle est dense, dense, dense. Elle est à l’affût des notes confectionnées par ses amis comme elle les pousse vers l’horizon. Son jeu relève plus de la cabriole que de la prudence. Ce contrebassiste a ceci de commun avec son héros qu’il est toujours au bord du précipice sans jamais sombrer. Il est généreux, mais pas au point d’être masochiste.
Lorsqu’ils ont enregistré, deux soirées durant, les pièces de Mingus au Va-et-Vient, animé soit dit en passant par un bonhomme — Éric Pineault — qui mérite bien des coups de chapeau à cause des risques qu’il prend avec constance, Guilbeault, Derome et consorts ont mis en boîte de quoi faire au moins trois albums.
Celui qu’ils nous présentent commence avec Pithecantropus Erectus et se termine avec Moanin’. Entre les deux, on se régale avec All The Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother, Conversation, Tijuana Gift Shop, Peggy’s Blue Skylight, Fable Of (George Dubya) Faubus et MDMD, composée par Derome. Cet album, on vous en conseille vivement l’achat. D’autant plus que les chances d’entendre live ce groupe splendide vont se faire rares. Pour Guilbeault, l’année s’annonce chargée en raison des tournées de Richard Desjardins. Derome sera tout aussi occupé, de même que Jolicoeur, membre à part entière des Cowboys Fringants. Etc. Bref, on évoque cela pour mieux mettre en évidence que cette aventure, Guilbeault et ses complices la mènent avec passion.
En un mot, ils sont au diapason de ce qu’était Mingus. Point!
- Ken Waxman, One Final Note, February 6, 2006
- Petr Zvonicek, Unijazz, September 1, 2005