(Juste) Claudette is Michel F Côté latest project. Its origins go back to an evening of February 2006 when Jesse Levine, Bernard Falaise, the aforementioned Alexandre St-Onge and Côté himself happen to be together in a studio and recorded some improvisations. This music would eventually become the group’s eponymous CD, released last fall on Ambiances Magnétiques.
Michel F Côté likes each of his projects to have a well-defined and distinct identity. A quick listen to the music of Mecha Fixes Clocks (with or without its ‘s’), Flat Fourgonnette or Pink Saliva – a yet-unrecorded trio with trumpeter Gordon Allen and bassist Alexandre St-Onge – should be enough to convince anyone of this claim. (Juste) Claudette is no exception to this fundamental preoccupation. Indeed, Claudette (for the intimates) is all about groove. Yes, groove as in looped patterns, but also as in tap your foot and bob your head.
(Juste) Claudette – let’s stick to the official name to dissipate any impression of promiscuity – performed its second ever concert as part of the 25th Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. Actually, it is worth emphasizing that it took place on Sunday at midnight at the CEGEP de Victoriaville, one of the three venues used by the festival, as anyone who has visited the small Bois-Francs town would know.
While (Juste) Claudette dedicates itself to groove and rhythm, there was plenty to maintain interest and loads for the brain to chew on (then process). First, drummer Alexander MacSween was added to the line-up, thus turning (Juste) Claudette into a sextet as Côté had already recruited trumpeter Gordon Allen for the group’s live debut, back in October 2007. The addition of a second drummer allowed for some fascinating rhythmic events to occur. In one piece, Côté and MacSween played exactly the same beat, except that MacSween’s hi-hat notes were twice as fast as Côté’s. In others, MacSween would play a basic pattern while Côté would play between the beats in a looser manner or double the beat on his snare.
Second, (Juste) Claudette made it clear that rhythm and groove is not just a drums and bass thing. Sure, in some pieces, the drums and the bass would indeed start a rhythmic pattern and stick to it while the others instruments build upon it. However, in others, the basic rhythmic impetus would come from another instrument such as Falaise’s syncopated strumming.
As mentioned above, this concert took place on Sunday evening, thus near the end of the 2008 FIMAV. On the one hand, the somewhat festive and groovy aspects of (Juste) Claudette were a welcome relief at this point. Remember, this was the 20th concert festival-goers had witnessed in a three and a half day period, including some inevitably dry and less-successful ones.
On the other hand, in past years, the volume of the midnight concerts has often been a problem in that the loudness became an obstacle to a full appreciation of the music. Unfortunately, (Juste) Claudette was no exception. To put it bluntly, the volume was deafening. It makes no doubt that such a group can benefit from some amplification, but in this case, it actually had a negative impact. First, it simply was unbearable without earplugs. Second, some instruments simply did not sound well, the most obvious example being Côté’s carefully crafted toms which suddenly sounded like an amplified beam.
This said, on a strictly musical level, (Juste) Claudette definitely turned out to be one of the most enjoyable concert of the 25th Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville.