… the music has soul, and feeds the mind as well as the spirit. — Signal to Noise, USA
When the Festival International Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville celebrated its 10th anniversary back in October, 1992, Montréal-based reed player Jean Derome was invited to open the proceedings with the world premiere of his new group, Jean Derome et les Dangereux Zhoms. The septet was a brilliant way to kick things off. The group, created especially for this occasion, represented an all star cast from the Montréal Musique Actuelle community. Consisting of Derome, René Lussier, Pierre Tanguay, Pierre Cartier, Robert Marcel Lepage, Guillaume Dostaler, and Tom Walsh, they were among the musicians who banded together to form the Ambiances Magnétiques musical collective and record label. In various forms, they had been collaborating since the late-’70s, exploding boundaries between genres ranging from Monkish jazz angularities to folk melodies, through-composition, cartoon calypsos, driving rock beats, and brash waves of noise.
For their premier concert, Derome drew on musical notebooks he had been keeping while on tour through North America and Europe. He remembers that “at first I didn’t know what I would compose for that event and decided almost at the last moment to use this material. One of the basic ideas was to mix improvisation with melodic material and make these co-exist. I was always attracted as a composer to make different layers, stratas, happen at the same time, sometimes in different tempos, styles, or sound color. The melodic material could sometimes be very simple. I like beautiful and simple melodies.” The group nailed that opening performance and went on to work out Derome’s book of compositions, recording a series of great releases which captured subsequent live dates.
Fast forward to 2008 and the celebration of the 25th anniversary of FIMAV. What better way to kick things off than to book Derome and crew for a look at where they’d been during the intervening years? To celebrate the event, Derome wrote a new piece for extended ensemble in homage to the festival which he paired with a piece he wrote to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Montréal-based production company Traquen’art. (It should also be noted that Ambiances Magnétiques celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2008 as well!) He augmented the core group of Tanguay, Cartier, Dostaler, and Walsh with seven guests. Vocalist Joane Hétu and turntablist Martin Tétreault were logical choices as they play critical roles in so much of Derome’s music. Lori Freedman’s clarinet and Gordon M Allen’s trumpet compliment Derome’s reeds and Walsh’s trombone. Bernard Falaise brought the integral sound of electric guitar back to the group. And the ensemble colorations were filled out with the addition of violinist Nadia Francavilla and violist Jean René.
While the instrumentation shaped the sound of the ensemble, it was the particular musicians that came first. Derome comments, “I compose for people not instruments… I was looking for musicians who could share the group’s strong points; discipline even in open improv, a sense of form, good ensemble playing, awareness, courage or boldness. Plus, these are the [musicians] around me. These are the ones living and active in Montréal… I work with all of them regularly and I know their strengths.” Derome effectively draws on the full extended palette the large group provides, drawing on his diverse and eclectic experience in writing and arranging for jazz ensembles, structured improvisation, theater, film soundtrack, and dance.
Derome’s writing takes on more expansive forms than the earlier sketchbook frameworks. He remarks that there is a retrospective aspect to the two compositions. This makes sense in that the organizational sensibilities of both Traquen’art and FIMAV balance a deep-seated sense of musical tradition with an ear toward the new. Both organizations have a commitment to placing new developments in the broad net of Musique Actuelle in the context of music and artists they have been presenting over the last quarter century. Traquen’art’s mandate is to produce and present events in the fields of contemporary creative music and those that reflect the musical traditions of the diverse immigrant community of Montréal. FIMAV has a strong sense of community as well, extending from the Quebec music scene to a constantly evolving global traditions of musical exploration.
Derome explains the impetus for the two pieces. “The pieces are a bit similar in their conception. I started by looking in the dictionary for Traquenards (which means ‘booby-trap’ or ‘ambush’) and Plates-formes which led me to ‘electoral platform’, ‘continental platform’, and the shifting of continents, bone structure of the skull, etc. So all the poetic inspiration came from the name of the two commissioners; in a way a portrait of the two organizations.” From there Derome took an inclusionary approach, thinking about the diversity of music presented by both organizations. “[The pieces] jump sometimes quite abruptly from one style to the other, more like film editing than regular musical composition. Sometimes introducing strongly contrasting material… [to create] juxtapositions to the limit of good taste, I must admit. Things that visual artist have been doing for a long time.” But Derome is too canny a composer/arranger to allow the pieces to devolve into mere jump-cut pastiche.
What comes through in both Plates-formes and Traquenards is a strong sense of overarching form and a keen ear for lyrical melodies. Themes are woven together with shrewd arrangements that make the most of the ensemble. Reeds, brass, and strings play off of each other; lilting lines are stated by one instrument and shadowed by others; Hétu’s percussive vocalizations and Tétreault’s scratches, pops, and samples are interjected, throwing the arc of the music in to unexpected detours. One moment, the ensemble floats along on an impressionistic riff; the next, the mood is fractured with jagged shards of noise. They can swing with abandon or rock out with caterwauling energy. All of this is done with a sense of playfulness rather than with distanced irony. While there are plenty of solo spots, to call out individual voices is beside the point as each member is so fully integrated into Derome’s arrangements.
In many ways, Jean Derome et les Dangereux Zhoms is the quintessential encapsulation of what FIMAV, Traquen’art, and Ambiances Magnétiques have been steadfastly promoting since their inception. Over the course of the last decade and a half, Derome and crew have held to their musical convictions. Drawing on the vocabularies of an expansive range of styles, they manage to turn their backs on them all to create a distinctive sound of their own. This music is a fitting tribute to these three organizations. Here’s looking forward to another quarter century!
—Michael Rosenstein, March 2009
CD (VICTO 114)
- 1Plates-formes (2008), 34:18
- 11Traquenards (2007), 35:51
- 11Piège à bulles, 2:00
- 12Piège inuit, 3:37
- 13Alambic, 1:29
- 14Chercher noise, 2:03
- 16Ta ferveur, 5:09
- 17La proie pour l’ombre, 1:41
- 18Miroir aux alouettes, 3:04
- 19Dream-Catch 22, 6:10
- 20Attrape-nigaud, 2:00
- 21Trap Case, 6:57
- Label: Victo
- VICTO 114
- UCC 777405011428
- Total duration: 69:56
- Jewel case
- 125 mm × 142 mm × 10 mm
- 90 g
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At the celebration for the 25th anniversary of the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV), reedist Jean Derome and an expanded version of his ensemble performed the two pieces that make up this disc. Derome is a mainstay of Quebec’s musique actuelle scene, debuting the Dangereux Zhoms in 1992 at FIMAV’s tenth anniversary. Plates-Formes et Traquenards showcases Derome’s compositional skills, as well as his ability to let loose, rock out and spray some noise. The arranged passages are lyrically clever, as the various instruments have fun with the written melodies. Joane Hétu’s powerfully expressive voice and Martin Tétreault’s turntable work take the music in unique directions. The disc is alive with positive energy, and surely the live performance that created it was even more high-spirited. Derome immerses himself in his music, and it shows.
Within the eclectic arena of Montréal’s Ambiances Magnétiques collective, Jean Derome is one of the strongest and most consistent voices. He is also one of the biggest jazz devotees in the group, making him — within the context of his adventurous cohorts — something of a traditionalist. He has a long-standing Monk tribute group. He plays saxophone, for the love of Pete. And, unlike the neo traditionalists, he reliably contributes to the tradition. Along with Évidence, his Monk project, Les Dangereux Zhoms is one of his longest-standing groups. The quintet been on hiatus for a while, but returned to the 2008 Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville more than doubled in size and with two of Derome’s most ambitious works to date; The pair of long suites made full use of his unusual jazz band plus viola, electric guitar and turntable, a big 12-tet that embarked on the Canadian festival circuit in the summer of 2009. And where Derome has an avowed love for Monk’s music, here he came off as a modern day Mingus. The big band is employed to sweeping, cinematic effect, with changes in mood and dynamic underlined by strong themes and, crucially, the rock solid foundation of Pierre Cartier on electric bass and Pierre Tanguay on drums. The tight adherence to structure allows Derome’s band, over the stretch of two 30-minute journeys, to go out while remaining in. Early in Plates-formes, an overtly lovely Guillaume Dostaler piano solo is interrupted by electrical buzzes and static. It’s not quite funny, but in that peculiar Ambiances Magnetiques way, it’s charming. And more importantly, within the structure Derome has built, it makes sense (or, at least, is made to make sense as the piece progresses). Likewise, a blistering electric guitar solo by Bernard Falaise or the outré vocalizations of Joane Hétu are force-fitted — without smugness or irony — into what remains a pair of works of jazz classicism. Victo’s reliably warm and present recording ensures that the breadth of the work is never lost. The performances captured on Plates-formes et Traquenards are dedicated to Productions Plateforme (FIMAV’s parent organization) and the Montréal production company Tranquen’Art, both of which celebrated their 25th anniversaries in 2008, as did Ambiances Magnetiques. Clearly something was in the Québécois air in 1993. Derome has issued a fantastic, and fitting, response.
Après avoir lancé son groupe Les Dangereux Zhoms au 10e Festival international de musique actuelle de Victoriaville, le saxophoniste et compositeur Jean Derome revenait sur les lieux en mai 2008 pour célébrer le 25e anniversaire du festival avec les pièces Plates-formes (du nom de la boîte qui produit le FIMAV) et Traquenards (référence à Traquen’Art, un organisme montréalais très actif aussi en musique actuelle). Cela donne deux pièces à plusieurs volets, très variées. Ça va de la mélodie ensoleillée au néo-bruitisme, et il y a même un solo de batterie! Les 12 musiciens s’en donnent à cœur joie, certains y allant de solos endiablés (Bernard Falaise est particulièrement remarquable à la guitare). Inspiré!
This live recording from the 25th edition of the Victoriaville festival in 2008 presents two pieces by an augmented lineup of Jean Derome’s Dangereux Zhoms in honour of the production companies Plateforme (Victo) and Patrick Darby’s Traquen’art. Each large composition is divided into segments that are typically structured around motifs, whether melodic, rhythmic or textural. Collectively, the pieces cover almost the whole range of approaches that have been subsumed under the musique actuelle label, encompassing elements of jazz, rock, noise, electronic and contemporary classical. Yeah, there’s a lot going on.
The FIMAV Festival offered the opening slot of its 25th edition to frequent participant and Montréal musique actuelle mainstay Jean Derome, who rose to the occasion with, basically, a new band and two new long-form compositions. Plates-Formes et Tranquenards documents the event in stellar clarity. Derome’s Dangereux Zhoms is a long-standing project, though it spent most of the 2000s under wraps. The unit had been reactivated in 2007 to release a new CD (To Continue), but none of that material is found here. However, the current DZ lineup provides the backbone of the project: Derome on flutes and saxophones (and some creative conducting), trombonist Tom Walsh, pianist Guillaume Dostaler, bassist Pierre Cartier, and drummer Pierre Tanguay. Augmenting the group are a cross-section of Ambiances Magnétiques’ larger circle of players, including vocalist Joane Hétu, guitarist Bernard Falaise (of Miriodor fame), and turntablist Martin Tétreault. This 12-piece ensemble performs two long suites (35 minutes each) by Derome, compositions that blend his typical driving odd-metered themes - the second and last parts of Plates-Formes, part six of Tranquenards, other sections, too - with jazzier bits, textural playing, and improvised and semi-improvised sections in subgroupings. Overall, the project sounds like a cross between Derome’s jazzier writing and Canot-Camping, his conducted improv project. It is prime Derome: soulful at times, perplexing at others, chaotic one moment, extremely well organized the next, both majestic (in a serial music way) and silly (in a circus fanfare way). A must for fans of Derome’s musique actuelle and an excellent audio recording to boot.
The Victo Festival & the Ambiances Magnétiques label both celebrated their anniversary in 2008, the year this concert took place. The Ambiances Magnétiques label, which has about 150 releases and the Victo label which this disc is number 114, are both from Québec and have nurtured & supported each other since the label and festival began. Hence, the 2008 Victoriaville New Music Festival began with this extraordinary performance.
For long time fans of Jean Derome and his partner Joane Hétu (who runs the AM label), we notice how their pieces become involved, focused and successful, whenever we get a chance to experience their works. Mr. DeromeLes Dangereux Zhoms has been around since 1992, with four fine disc on AM. For Victo 2008, DeromePlates-Formes refers to the shifting on continents or structures. After so many years, Jean has gathered an incredible cast of seasoned musicians who can capture his sound/vision perfectly. Commencing with stark and suspense-filled sounds, the sublime, melodic written material soon emerges and with superb, warm and flowing harmonies for all. DeromeJohn Zorn’s game pieces when he conducts and pulls surprising sounds and combinations of players into fascinating areas. Other sections of this work remind me of the playful and complex structures that ZappaTraquenards which means “ambush” and again the shifting sounds are consistently engaging. What makes this music special is the seamless balance between the written and improvised sections. The ensemble is in fine form here, the music is progressive in its own way with some nutty voices used as occasional seasoning. Traquenards has a more cinematic sound, moving between the tranquil countryside near Victoriavile and hustle & bustle of Montréal. And of course like all discs on the Victo label, the sound is perfect, capturing the performance in all of its glory. Another gem from Jean Derome and his wonderful ensemble and another winner from our good friends up north at Victo.