Con un po’ di immaginazione, si può pensare che questa è la musica che avrebbe fatto Russell nel ventunesimo secolo e, forse, non saremmo tanto lontani dal vero. — Musica Jazz, Italy
Une démarche généreuse qui démontre des talents conjoints. — Jazz Notes, Canada
Coda’s Top Tens of 2006, Ken Waxman
Pee Wee and Me: Lepage has created a sweet and slighly skewed homage to the legendarily idiosyncretic American clarinettist Pee Wee Russell. Each and every blues of this suite are an affectionate tribute to the great swing player. Deeply troubled clarinetist Pee Wee Russell rose to fame through the 1930’s and into the 1950’s where his musicianship was on par with leading jazz players of that time.
“Pee Wee and I are in contrary motion: he was a drinker, played the clarinet in an eccentric style in a conventional world and took up drawing towards the end of his career. I started my own by drawing. I don’t drink, and I play the clarinet in a more or less conventional manner surrounded by eccentric musicians. Pee Wee and I were destined to meet each other. Jazz, also, is a world of encounters. In Pee Wee’s day, traditional musical fanfares springing from European roots were discovering and integrating Afro-American blues. My own musical language also has references to fanfares within a blues context. The distance between the solo and its larger musical context is where Pee Wee and I come from the same family. Add the tendency to transform the clarinet’s timbre and you see where, over time, our paths cross. Each of the blues in this suite is an invitation to explore a particular aspect of Pee Wee’s phrasing. Somewhere along the way, Pee Wee said: “There are hundreds of clarinetists that play better than me, but nobody plays like me.” I’ll buy that line and use it as my own. I would even add that I never even play twice… exactly like myself… This disc is dedicated to my friend Raymond Gervais, who led me to discover Pee Wee Russell.” — Robert Marcel Lepage, Montréal, November 2005
- Label: Ambiances Magnétiques Jazz
- AM 144 / 2005
- UCC 771028114429
- Total duration: 58:12
- Sympathique case
- 126 mm × 126 mm × 5 mm
- 45 g
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In the press
Due autentiche orge clarinettistiche sono il tratto dominante di questi ottimi album. Nel primo, Lepage (uno dei fondatori, assieme a Lussier, del collettivo Ambiances Magnétiques, e titolare di oltre una dozzina di album per l’etichetta omonima) esplora - in maniera postmoderna ma non troppo - il repertorio e la poetica di un genio come Pee Wee Russell, musicista trasversale e fuori dal tempo se mai ve ne furono, e lo fa coinvolgendo altri sei colleghi di strumento tra i quali è certo Houle il più noto, anche dalle nsotre parti. Le uniche due incursioni nel repertorio di Russell, in realtà, sono quelle che aprono e chiudono il disco (Pee Wee’s Blues e Muskogee Blues), mentre gli altri dodici brani, tutti composti dal leader, formano una sorta di blues suite che si muove sorniona e ammiccante come una di quelle palle di vetro che, capovolte, lasciano cadere la neve. Con un po’ di immaginazione, si può pensare che questa è la musica che avrebbe fatto Russell nel ventunesimo secolo e, forse, non saremmo tanto lontani dal vero. Il ruolo di Lussier è quello del guastatore, del granello di polvere nell’ingranaggio, a metà strada tra Freddie Green e Eugene Chadbourne. Forse il gioco è tirato un po’ troppo per le lunghe, soprattutto per una certa uniformità di fondo, ma è senza dubbio condotto con maestria. […]
[…] Three free concerts at the Macdonald-Stewart Art Centre, headquarters for the festival’s colloquium, stood out. The acoustics and sightlines for those not in the first four or five rows at Mac-Stew are problematic. Happily, I was able to find a seat in the front for the concert by Robert Marcel Lepage’s Pee Wee et moi project, a genial tribute to the idiosyncratic clarinetist Pee Wee Russell by the Montréal clarinetist. François Houle, Lori Freedman, and René Lussier stood out, with Freedman — mainly on bass clarinet — sounding especially inspired. […]
An album featuring a choir of seven clarinettists might be overkill, but Pee Wee et Moi, Robert Marcel Lepage’s tribute to the clarinettist Pee Wee Russell, turns out to be a charmer. Tribute albums to jazz’s canonical royalty – Coltrane, Monk, Bird and so on – tend to feel self-conscious and overburdened by the Great Tradition; but there’s no such problem with Russell, one of jazz’s great mavericks (and great faces: Lepage’s cartoons of his mournful basset-hound visage adorn the CD sleeve). Lepage’s composite mosaic portrait of the dedicatee takes its inspiration from his blues-playing: Pee Wee’s Blues and Muskogee Blues are played straight and also serve as sourcebooks for Lepage’s own originals. A few abrasive postmodernist touches keep this from turning into a revivalist project, but most of the album works off a slinky, warped blues vibe that’s absolutely faithful to the spirit of Russell’s music. René Lussier’s razzledazzle Eddie-Condon-meets-Eugene-Chadbourne guitar work is the finishing touch.
Robert Marcel Lepage a raison d’affirmer que ses blues sont légèrement tordus. A partir de la deuxième plage, ses blues se contorsionnent, ils s’invitent en valses débauchées, s’offrent quelques riffs saillants (Dixie chinois, Pee Wee Rocks) et resquillent dans la marge. Une marge rassurante puisque habitée par une figure paternelle: le Pee Wee Russell.
Pour rendre hommage au clarinettiste, Lepage a fait appel à un guitariste (René Lussier que l’on est heureux de retrouver aussi prolixe et inspiré), un contrabassiste (Normand Guilbeault), un batteur (Pierre Tanguay) et une armada de clarinettistes (Lepage lui-même, Guillaume Bourque, François Houle, Jean-Sébastien Leblanc, André Moisan, Pierre-Emmanuel Poizat, Richard Simas), laquelle forme une masse sonore imposante (Pee Wee fait des archaïsmes, moi des anachronismes), parfois décapante, toujours décisive.
Il n’y a rien à reprocher à Lepage ici. Ses intentions sont claires et aucun grain de sable ne vient enrayer sa machine à swinguer. Bref, une musique vive et toujours soutenue. Swinguons heureux!
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.
Clarinettist Robert Marcel Lepage would probably agree that every jazz clarinettist must at some point come to terms with the heritage of the iconoclastic Pee Wee Russell, whose highly individual style within traditional swing settings not only explored the timbral possibilities of the instrument, but also raised questions of the relationship between the soloist and the musical context. Where Russell found himself in the company of conventional musicians, Lepage’s mates here are guitarist René Lussier, bassist Normand Guilbeault and drummer Pierre Tanguay, all of whom can be described as at least a bit to the left of the conventional path. Each of the compositions explores one aspect of Russell’s phrasing. The tour is a delight and a revelation: Pee Wee really did rock!
A far more effective take on the jazz tradition is Pee Wee et moi, Robert Marcel Lepage’s tribute to clarinetist Pee Wee Russell. The album features 12 wonderful originals and two Russell tunes arranged for no less than seven clarinets. And while that may sound like a jazz nightmare, Lepage’s quirky compositions and the fine rhythm section playing of Normand Guibeault, Pierre Tanguay and René Lussier make for a moody and interesting album that paints a vivid tapestry of Russell’s eccentric character. The songs are densely orchestrated often using rhythmically inventive shout choruses to evoke a 50’s swing feel, while harmonic and melodic shifts pull the work into the present. Ironically, the clarinet solos often begged for the restatement of an intricately arranged melody and René Lussier is underused on guitar, with quick glimpses of his amazing talent often drowned in a sea of reeds. But these are minor quibbles on what is a truly original tribute to an idiosyncratic clarinet pioneer.
Veterans of the new music/jazz scene of Montréal honor some of their jazz idols. The trio presents 11 standards of Duke Ellington, Lee Konitz, Sonny Clark and even Misha Mengelberg. Why record these standards that have been played and recorded by the composers and others so well and so often? Derome simply states “music needs to exist in the flesh” which is undeniably so. Jean Derome plays flute, saxes and also sings. Normand Guilbeault plays bass and Pierre Tanguay percussion. They really enjoy playing these standards and play them with verve. Robert Marcel Lepage concentrates on the work of Pee Wee Russell (1909-1969) a composer and clarinet player in the ragtime and swing-period. Not by playing his compositions, except one (Muskogee Blues). But by evoking his music through his own bluesy compositions. The pieces are played by Tanguay (drums) and Guilbeault (doublebass), René Lussier (guitar) plus Lepage and six other musicians on clarinets. In each track Lepage explores an aspect of Pee Wee’s legendary phrasing and tonal language. The result is some really ‘goodtime’ and accessible jazzmusic. Only by the complex and freaky guitarwork by Lussier - as in track 2 - we know life is more complicated.
Explorations among the wood, metal and air columns of the reed family […] Pee Wee et moi has a different agenda. Featuring Robert Marcel Lepage, one of the major players in Quebec’s musique actuelle scene, it’s an exploration of his links to Pee Wee Russell (1906–1969), jazz’s most idiosyncratic reed player. Russell, who over the course of his career played with everyone from Bix Beiderbecke to Thelonious Monk, was his own man in any situation. The strength of his oeuvre is such that Lepage, who composes theatre, dance and film pieces as well as improvises, felt, that long with a rhythm section, he had to invite six other clarinetists to share the clarinet role.
Although six reedists often playing in unison may conjure up bad memories of retro-jobs like Supersax, Québécois quirkiness prevents this. With the reed section, including Vancouver’s François Houle, made up of outright modernists and the rhythm section members – guitarist René Lussier, bassist Normand Guilbeault and drummer Pierre Tanguay – leaders of their own projects, this isn’t a band likely to play a Dixieland Jazz hotel party any time soon.
Instead, two Russell compositions and 12 of Lepage’s are used to sketch a slightly off-kilter view of the older clarinetist’s legacy. Taking Dixie-Swing conventions and turning them on their heads, at any time some of the musicians work from a 1930s base, while a few others are resolutely in the 21st century. Part of the date’s success has to be attributed to Maxime Séguin, who collaborated on the arrangements.
Look what’s done with Russell’s own Muskogee Blues, for instance. With Tanguay playing a simple backbeat and Lussier jangling T-Bone Walker-like licks, the tune surges polyrhythmically as one clarinetist growls in false registers like a modern version of Russell, while another emits a more elegant Jimmy Hamilton-like tone. Just after the turnaround the entire ensemble suddenly speeds up, then slows down to mid-tempo for the finale.
Unfortunately the booklet notes don’t name any of the clarinet soloists – surely Lepage couldn’t do all the work himself – but the key to this collection of blues lines is how Séguin and Lepage alter our perception of Quebec’s musique actuelle musicians as much as the purported Dixielanders.
Guilbeault, whose avowed influence is Charles Mingus, slaps his bass à la Pops Foster on Pee Wee fait des archaïsmes, moi je fais des anachronismes, while Lussier’s strings scratching suggests a tinny version of Tiny Grimes’ style. Right in the middle of the composition there’s a quick turnabout as the tempo leapfrogs from andante to agitato, followed by a high-pitched clarinet solo that in this context, sounds like Pete Fountain fronting a 1930s Swing Era band.
Similarly, Pee Wee joue aux échelles et serpents is a parody two-step, riding on Tanguay’s paradiddles. Here the guitarist showcases distorted strumming in Eddie Lang fashion, as the horn section riffs around him. Reed solo exhibitions include double-tonguing harmonic vibrations and chalumeau excursions.
Portrait de Pee Wee à la face longue finds Lussier procuring a Middle-Eastern, lotar-like sound from his axe, creating finger-picking reverb that meets a chorus of spetrofluctuation from one of the clarinetists, with the duo surrounded by repetitive legato riffs from the other reeds.
Fully POMO, despite the instrumentation, other tracks are redolent of Miles Davis’ Birth Of The Cool sessions – if that session had featured crisscrossing rasgueado guitar work; one of Gerry Mulligan pseudo-Swing Era lines, with a clarinet lead, two-beat drumming and the threat of bursting into barnyard cacophony every chorus; and Dixieland as interpreted in the style of French chanson by a marching band. The last includes a species of musical fanfare that springs from the European roots that influenced both Russell and Lepage.
Then there’s Dixie chinois, which sounds a lot more like Heavy Metal than Chinese music. Still, it does prove that the combined smeared overblowing of seven clarinets, often adding pedal-point snorts, can be as solidly rhythmic as any guitar-laden hard rock band.
Rippling unison section work from the reeds doesn’t upset the foot-tapping fervor of most of the tunes. Who knows maybe because of this the musique actuelle types will investigate Pee Wee’s Dixieland and – though doubtful – perhaps a few Classic Jazz fans will try to listen to POMO – or even MO – improvisations.
Compositeur à succès de musiques de films et de séries télévisées (Urgences), ce Québécois hyperactif s’affirme comme un touche-à-tout ironique qui pratique l’autodérision avec un sérieux magnifiquement imperturbable. Sa grande passion, c’est la clarinette. Dans un précédent album, il s’était posé cette question cruciale: «Les clarinettes ont-elles une âme?» Dans ce nouvel opus dédié à la ‘danseuse d’ébène’, il tente cette fois d’éclaircir sa relation arnoureuse avec Pee Wee Russell. Génie célibataire sans filiation ni descendance, ce clarinettiste hors catégorie a côtoyé tous les styles et toutes les époques. Au crépuscule de sa vie, il pouvait sans mentir se vanter d’avoir joué avec Bix Beiderbecke et Thelonious Monk. Qu’est-ce qui peut donc réunir ces deux individus aussi différents l’un de l’autre? Ce blanc de peau de Pee Wee a passé toute son existence à se noircir systématiquement, sans aucune modération, pour avoir le droit dans un monde très straight de jouer le blues de façon excentrique. «Moi, précise Robert Marcel Lepage, je ne bois jamais et je joue de la clarinette de façon plutôt straight entouré de musiciens excentriques.» lls étaient donc faits pour se rencontrer. Le résultat: ce disque en forme d’hommage décalé pour lequel Robert Marcel Lepage a écrit une douzaine de blues habilement tordus, une suite savante et désinvolte qui se veut une invitation à explorer un aspect particulier du phrasé de Pee Wee. Pour ce faire, il s’est entouré de toute une confrérie d’oiseleurs, une fanfare richement boisée. Au final, cela donne un agréable divertissement, une fantaisie très distinguée. Il y manque sans doute l’essentiel de ce qui fait le génie de Pee Wee Russell: le swing de la titubation et le lyrisme du gémissement. Personne n’est parfait.
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.
The wit and poetry of the late great clarinetist Pee Wee Russell are given a post-modern treatment by Montréal clarinetist Lepage and a host of other practitioners of the instrument. A total of seven clarinetists show up for this gig, along with a stellar rhythm section of René Lussier on guitar, Normand Guilbeault on bass and Pierre Tanguay on drums. It’s not surprising that it takes this much ebony to pay homage to Russell’s legacy. Lepage and company lead off with Pee Wee’s Blues, a Russell original, then explore various readings, variations in the blues form on the Russell style, winding up after the multi-referential romp with another Russell piece, Muskogee Blues. Through the journey, essentially consisting of studies in style, there are many delightful moments. Lussier’s twangy resonator-acoustic guitar blends right in, with its quirky evocations of cartoonish humour. In the spirit of play is a heartfelt tribute, making this a must for Pee Wee Russell fans and lovers of the clarinet in general.
II y a de ça un an, le label Ambiances Magnétiques, rattaché à la scène des musiques actuelles montréaiaises depuis des décennies, lançait sa nouvelle collection Jazz. Nous savions bien qu’ils avaient dans leurs écuries des musiciens qui pouvaient nous faire swinguer solidement.
Les deux plus récentes parutions de la collection sont d’ailleurs le fait d’habitués de l’étiquette AM, Robert M Lepage et le trio de Jean Derome, Normand Guilbeault et Pierre Tanguay. Ils nous proposent tous deux un regard rafraîchissant sur le passé, une petite pirouette ludique et passionnée dans l’histoire du jazz.
Cinq ans aprés un superbe hommage rendu à Jimmy Giuffre (Joue free AM 089), Robert M Lepage replonge dans l’histoire du jazz avec Pee Wee et moi, une suite de compositions en souvenir de Pee Wee Russell . Dans les deux cas, le blues et la clarinette sont à l’honneur. Auteur d’un Petit Robert Illustré de la Clarinette, Lepage se plaît à thématiser son instrument dans divers jeux de variation et de stylistique. Si Joue free trouvait le blues dans la volupté du chant, Pee Wee et moi l’insinue dans une affaire de structures, de jeux ludiques sur les caractéristiques et les tics de l’instrument et de l’instrumentiste.
Il regroupe une suite de petits «blues tordus» au profit desquels Lepage s’est entouré de six autres solides clarinettistes (dont François Houle et André Moisan), en plus de la guitare de René Lussier et de la rythmique Guilbeault-Tanguay. Ludique, la musique de Lepage nous entraîne dans un univers fait de connu - dixie, swing, etc.- en conservant toute son originalité mélodique. Elle se construit à partir des effets stylistiques propres au jeu de Russell, en déduit des structures, empruntant à la fanfare, au jazz et à toutes les musiques de notre époque. «Il état buveur, jouait de la clarinette de façon excentrique dans un monde straight…je ne bois jamais et je joue de manière plutôt straight entouré de musiciens excentriques. Nous étions faits pour nous rencontrer». Et avec un de ces excentriques, René Lussier, la complicité est encore une fois confirmée. Bravo!
Après Derome, le clarinettiste et compositeur Robert Marcel Lepage nous fait redécouvrir un musicien de premier plan: Pee Wee Russell. Associé principalement au style Nouvelle-Orléans, ce clarinettiste caméléon partagea la scène avec le prêtre du be-bop, Thelonious Monk, et le maître des harmonies, Jimmy Giuffre. Sur le mode de la conversation et des inventions, Robert Marcel Lepage a réuni sept clarinettistes, dont le très solide André Moisan, pour faire voguer son trois-mâts à la charpente solide. Quatorze plages de compositions originales à offrir sur-le-champ. 5
Simply put, this is Robert Marcel Lepage at his best: witty, funny, acrobatic and jazzy. Pee Wee et Moi signals a return to the creative heights of La Traversée de la Mémoire Morte, Adieu Léonardo and Les clarinettes ont-elles un escalier de secours. The “Pee Wee" in question is clarinetist and band leader Pee Wee Russell. Here, Lepage pays tribute to the man in his very own special way: by assembling a seven-piece clarinet section playing Lepage originals written as Russell pastiches. The results are simply wonderful, pairing up Russell’s swing and idiosyncrasies with Lepage’s bouncy, let’s-break-the-rules-and-have-fun-while-doing-so style. His arrangements for the clarinet section are lush and inventive, with plenty of group playing and a judiciously small number of solos (it would have been nice to know who plays them, though). Besides Lepage, Guillaume Bourque, Jean-Sébastien Leblanc, André Moisan, Pierre-Emmanuel Poizat, Richard Simas and the Vancouver jazz mainstay François Houle handle the clarinets. Lepage did a wonderful job at reinventing Russell’s style and incarnating the master’s spirit into his own brand of music, but Pee Wee et Moi is also noteworthy for reasons slightly beyond Lepage: it marks guitarist René Lussier’s first appearance on an Ambiances Magnétiques recording since his late-’90s fallout with the label. And that is another reason to rejoice! Lussier’s wacky off-the-wall playing (often sounding like the missing link between Fred Frith and Eugene Chadbourne and heavily featured throughout the album. Bassist Normard Guilbeault and drummer Pierre Tanguay round up the impressive formation. The set list consists of 12 Lepage originals book-ended by two Russell covers, Pee Wee’s Blues and Muskagee Blues. The album is released in Ambiances Magnétiques “Jazz" series, but in spirit, it sounds closer to the label’s vintage “musique actuelle" sound of the ’80s and ’90s than any other release in that series. A late-2005 must-have.
Friday, December 2, 2005 / New releases