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Somebody Special Jean Derome

Jean Derome offers a fine selection of 9 Steve Lacy compositions played by Trio Derome Guilbeault Tangauy joined by pianist Alexandre Grogg on piano and the marvellous voice of Karen Young.

Steve Lacy has had a profound influence on me and has been a compass to show the way. Since his departure in 2004, many have forgotten that this giant of the soprano saxophone composed hundreds of beautiful songs as well. Throughout jazz history, very few have been so prolific — comparable to Duke Ellington, even. Now, fifteen years after Lacy’s passing, many more are investigating his treasury of songs. In a way, this record seeks to soothe a feeling of withdrawal. The whole jazz community will have to grasp this music to keep it alive, as I wish to do here.”

Jean Derome, March 2019


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Somebody Special

9 chansons de Steve Lacy

Jean Derome

Trio Derome Guilbeault Tanguay, Steve Lacy, Karen Young


About Somebody Special

Like many great artists who evolve throughout their lives, Steve Lacy and his work have been too easily understood. Many latch onto bits of his copious discography and reduce him to a trait or two: Monk devotee, glacial-toned soprano specialist, arch-modernist free improviser, etc., and that’s it. And while song is clearly the core of Lacy’s œuvre, few have delved into the enormous catalogue to assess what is a special repertoire in creative music history. Jean Derome is an exception, and his smart, varied selection is the result of a deep and loving dive, the kind of research he’s done for years with his elegantly swinging collaborators, Normand Guilbeault and Pierre Tanguay, a trio that has plumbed the books of Ellington, Mingus, Mengelberg, and many more. Karen Young sings Lacy’s daringly intervallic, chop-busting melodies with both precision and the élan necessary to bring them to life: The chamber-ish Art, setting Melville’s treatise on creativity, precedes Herbe de l’oubli, an ancient Man’yoshû poem atop an insistent, thorny ostinato that launches Alexandre Grogg into one of several dazzling solos herein. This wide-ranging program unfolds from there, alighting movingly on Joy, Lacy’s humanistic carol with words by Judith Malina. The key for me, however, is the mini-suite on texts by Canadian-born maverick poet, Brion Gysin: the namesake Somebody Special, the heart-wrenching Nowhere Street, and the ironic Blue Baboon, which gleefully riffs on the ‘moon/June’ clichés of Tin Pan Alley songcraft. Not only do they encapsulate Lacy’s remarkable compositional range and rebut any lazy pigeonholing, but they also shine a similar light on Derome. Like Lacy, he can be too-readily typecast as a furrowed-brow avant-garde noisemaker, but these three songs alone blow up any such assumptions, most thoroughly and charmingly with the Ella-and-Louis-styled “Baboon” duet steeped in a pop pleasure ethic that Lacy himself could seldom synthesise so convincingly. This living, breathing music is not specialised, and it is — and its protagonists are — more truly special as a result.

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In the press


Dolf Mulder, Vital, no. 1192, July 15, 2019

Was Derome’s latest Sudoku pour pygmées more of a rock-based album if you want, this time it is all about jazz. Not with compositions by his hand, but nine compositions written by Steve Lacy and selected by Derome. Lacy, who died in 2004, deeply influenced Derome during his career. The works are performed by his trio, consisting also of Normand Guilbeault (double bass) and Pierre Tanguay (drums). The trio debuted in 2004 with work with compositions by Derome. On later releases, they started to dig into jazz history and interpreted works by Ellington, Mengelberg, Konitz, Dolphy, a.o. But this time as said a release completely dedicated to one composer: Karen Young and Alexandre Grogg, who both have a prominent role on this recording, assist them. Young is a singer, composer and arranger from Quebec, singing in contexts of classical, world as well as jazz. Grogg, also from Quebec, studied improvisation, worked with Normand Guilbeault, Michel Côté and co-leads the quintet Ensemble en pièces. They concentrate on nine compositions by Lacy, or to be more precise songs by Lacy, he composed that for his wife and musical companion/vocalist Irene Aebi. Lacy is known most of all for his work as a free improviser on alto sax, performer and short-time collaborator of Monk, but what I discover now is that Lacy was also a composer of solid and beautiful melodic material, literally hundreds of songs. So I guess it took a while for Derome to select a few of them for his project. Songs that have lyrics written by Lao Tzu, Thomas Gainsborough, Herman Melville and Brion Gysin. The works are performed with verve and swing by the musicians, and the vocals by Young are great. This is music is very lively and breaths.

The works are performed with verve and swing by the musicians, and the vocals by Young are great. This music is very lively.

Le risque selon Jean Derome

Serge Truffaut, Le Devoir, June 22, 2019

Le trio que forme depuis une vingtaine d’années le saxophoniste, flûtiste, arrangeur et compositeur Jean Derome avec le contrebassiste Normand Guilbeault et le batteur Pierre Tanguay est sans l’ombre d’un doute l’une des formations les plus passionnantes du continent. Il en est ainsi parce que Derome n’a pas son pareil pour jongler avec le risque avec doigté. À preuve, son nouvel album, intitulé Somebody Special — 9 chansons de Steve Lacy, sur Ambiances magnétiques. Avant de poursuivre, soulignons que les 22 et 29 juin, ce trio se produira au Cheval blanc.

Avec ce Somebody Special, on vous assure que le risque pris par nos amis était au diapason de «l’énorme, pesant, très lourd». Car cet album n’est pas seulement musical, il est également littéraire. Très littéraire même. Il se trouve, comme disait l’autre, qu’en fait de chansons, Lacy avait emprunté des poèmes et des textes à des auteurs variés, mais surtout à Brion Gysin, avec lequel il se produisit d’ailleurs régulièrement et enregistra même un disque.

De citoyenneté canadienne, le peintre et poète Gysin a beaucoup étudié et vécu, pour faire vraiment court, à Paris. Il fut un des surréalistes avant qu’André Breton n’exerce à son endroit sa personnalité de père Fouettard en le renvoyant du groupe comme il l’avait fait avec Raymond Queneau. Qu’importe. Après eux, Gysin fut une des figures de proue des beatniks, admiré notamment par William Burroughs, pour le hier, et John Zorn, pour l’aujourd’hui. Bien.

Dans le volumineux catalogue de chansons confectionnées par Lacy — environ 500, précise Derome —, le trio en a choisi trois dont Gysin a écrit les textes, un de Herman Melville (Yes!), un de Lao-Tseu, un de Thomas Gainsborough, un de Po Kiu-yi et enfin un de Judith Malina. On l’aura compris, cet album propose une façade ONU.

Pour mener à bien son aventure, Derome a «exploité» les talents de la chanteuse Karen Young et du pianiste Alexandre Grogg. La clarté d’expression de la première, le dynamisme et l’attention du second, combinés au brio et à l’intensité de Guilbeault, au savoir-faire en multiples nuances de Tanguay, sans oublier l’ingéniosité de Derome, font de cet album… quelque chose!

C’est ce qu’on se dit, après écoute: «C’est quelque chose, cet album.» Il est à l’image du titre: spécial. Car on a l’impression que Derome et ses camardes sont passés entre les mailles ou les filets, c’est au choix. Parfois, on a le sentiment que le saxophoniste a fait de l’exploration sonore entre Eric Dolphy et Jackie McLean.

Parfois, on a l’impression que l’ensemble au complet évolue dans un territoire voisin d’Alban Berg d’un côté, de jazz de stricte obédience de l’autre. En fait, ce que cet album confirme, ou plutôt ce qu’il a de passionnant, est à mettre sur le compte de la surprise. À l’évidence, chacun des protagonistes cultive une inclination prononcée pour la curiosité.

Depuis le temps que Derome, Guilbeaut et Tanguay nous régalent, ils pourraient fort bien verser dans la mortifère gestion du fonds de commerce. Au lieu de ça, ils s’appliquent à nous étonner dans le sens le plus noble de ce verbe. C’est énorme.

… ils s’appliquent à nous étonner dans le sens le plus noble de ce verbe.


Stuart Broomer, The WholeNote, May 30, 2019

Saxophonist/composer Jean Derome’s work ranges from explorations of modernist masters like Monk and Mingus to his own conceptual epics like Résistances, his orchestral homage to the North American electrical grid. Here he explores the work of Steve Lacy (1934-2004), a key influence on Derome who advocated strongly for Thelonious Monk’s compositions and developed the foundations of free jazz with Cecil Taylor. Lacy also created a large body of art songs unique in modern jazz. Derome explores the range of them here, including settings of works from ancient China to the Beat Generation.

Derome brings his regular trio partners to the project, bassist Normand Guilbeault and drummer Pierre Tanguay, masters of propulsive and varied grooves. They’re joined by pianist Alexandre Grogg and the singer Karen Young, whose eclectic background matches the varied demands of Lacy’s music. The text settings include surprising authors like Lao Tzu, Thomas Gainsborough and Herman Melville; the latter’s Art initiates the program with a minimalist setting that suggests Japanese court music.

While those lyricists are as famous as they are unlikely, several of the highlights here come from Lacy’s association with the relatively little-known Canadian expatriate Brion Gysin, a literary collaborator with William S. Burroughs. Gysin’s playful, vibrant, hipster verses fall naturally on modern jazz inflections: when Derome joins his voice with Young’s on Blue Baboon, the group creates a witty update on the scat vocal group of the 1950s who rarely found lyrics this germane.

Derome explores the range of them here, including settings of works from ancient China to the Beat Generation…


Davide Ingrosso, SentireAscoltare, May 11, 2019

Nobili gli intenti del sassofonista, flautista e compositore canadese Jean Derome, classe 1955, che con questo Somebody Special dedica uno splendido omaggio alla memoria di Steve Lacy: si tratta di dieci composizioni estratte dal vasto canzoniere del sassofonista americano, scomparso nel 2004 all’età di 69 anni. Atto dovuto, se consideriamo che Steve Lacy, che ha vissuto a lungo a Parigi e per un breve periodo anche a Roma, viene ricordato prima di tutto per aver riabilitato ed esplorato uno strumento, il sax soprano, che nel jazz era fermo agli anni Trenta e a Sydney Bechet. «Ma molti hanno dimenticato che questo gigante del sax soprano ha composto anche centinaia di bellissime canzoni», sottolinea giustamente Jean Derome nelle note che accompagnano il disco, uscito di recente su Ambiences Magnétiques. Il quintetto è completato da comprimari di lungo corso come Pierre Tanguay alla batteria e Normand Guilbeault al contrabbasso, cui si aggiungono Alexandre Grogg al pianoforte e la cantante Karen Young.

Negli ultimi quindici anni abbiamo ascoltato le rivisitazioni del Rova Saxophone Quartet e gli studi in solitaria e non (non per forza al sassofono soprano, anzi) di Roberto Ottaviano, Matt Gustafsson, Gianni Mimmo e svariati altri. Ci sono persino dei gruppi interamente dedicati alla musica di Steve Lacy, dai The Rent ai The Whammies, passando per il progetto Ideal Breads di casa Cuneiform Records. Ma in pochi hanno rivolto la loro attenzione esclusivamente alle canzoni, tutte ovviamente bellissime e con versi estratti da poesie beat, da testi di filosofia Zen o da classici nascosti della letteratura mondiale. Lacy aveva iniziato a comporle nei primi anni Settanta per la voce della moglie, la violoncellista e cantante svizzera Irene Aebi, per poi coinvolgerle in un processo continuo, decennale, di trasfigurazioni e nuovi arrangiamenti.

E di questo si tratta, di ri-arrangiamenti, nelle dieci canzoni scelte da Jean Derome, basate su testi di Herman Melville, Brion Gysin, Po Kiu-yi, Lao-Tzu, Thomas Gainsborough e Judith Malina. L’effetto è piacevole e curioso, dal momento che Derome e soci fanno respirare, aprono e rendono accessibili delle musiche che, originariamente, presentano aspetti di non-immediatezza, dinamiche storte, angoli bui, strutture complicate e passaggi intricati: in pratica, quello che Lacy andava inquadrando sotto la definizione di poly-free; ciò che della sua musica è il tratto caratteristico. Qui, invece, gira tutto intorno alla voce di Karen Young, meravigliosa e accogliente, capace di modulazioni che impressionano, viva, vivace e ricca di calore umano. Una carezza sul viso, laddove il timbro vocale di Irene Aebi, a causa delle inflessioni da perfetta cantante d’opera, continua in molti casi a rappresentare uno scoglio per chi desidera avvicinarsi allo sconfinato corpus discografico di Steve Lacy.

Tra un senso classico dello swing e l’eleganza del miglior vocal jazz, queste cover sono quanto di più accessibile si possa trovare nella discografia di un autore obliquo e imprevedibile come Jean Derome, legato a formazioni che parlano i linguaggi dell’art-brut e del kitsch (pensiamo al jazz-rock mutante e cacofonico dei suoi Dangereux Zhoms, fondati negli anni Novanta), dell’improvvisazione rigorosa e della musica da camera. Ma qui la storia è un’altra e — leggiamo ancora nelle note — «l’intera comunità jazz dovrà cogliere la musica di Steve Lacy per mantenerla in vita». Nient’altro da aggiungere.

L’effetto è piacevole e curioso, dal momento che Derome e soci fanno respirare, aprono e rendono accessibili delle musiche che, originariamente, presentano aspetti di non-immediatezza, dinamiche storte, angoli bui, strutture complicate e passaggi intricati…

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