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Damian Nisenson, le polyglotte du jazz

Serge Truffaut, Le Devoir, August 11, 2018
Saturday, August 11, 2018 Press

S’il fallait prêter un visage actuel à l’opiniâtreté, voire au courage, alors Damian Nisenson conviendrait à merveille. Quel parcours que celui de ce saxophoniste et compositeur installé à Montréal depuis 2004! Quel destin que celui de cet homme qui propose aujourd’hui un album intitulé Sit sur l’étiquette Malasartes. Qu’on y songe: sa vie a été faite de la poésie juive des ghettos d’Ukraine et de Moldavie à la verdeur fiscale de la Suisse, en passant par le culte des kibboutz en Israël et surtout l’inclination pour l’horreur des généraux argentins. Détaillons. Du moins essayons.

À la fin du XIXe siècle pour certains ou au début du XXe pour les autres, ses grands-parents ont fui, jeunes, les pogroms qui rythmaient la vie des ghettos d’Ukraine et de Moldavie. Destination? L’Argentine. L’un des grands-pères était un poète qui parlait une langue aujourd’hui rare: le yiddish. Il récitait et chantait non seulement ses poèmes, mais aussi ceux écrits ici et là dans l’Empire austro-hongrois ou en Russie. Les autres? Ils aimaient la musique quand ils n’en jouaient pas. Du klezmer, il va sans dire.

De ces personnages dont les vies empruntent aux légendes se démarqua un grand-oncle. «En Argentine, il était un troubadour qui jouait du klezmer, mais aussi du tango et du jazz. Chez nous, la musique était toujours présente. Mes premiers souvenirs sonores, au début des années 1960, c’est Getz avec Gilberto et Mulligan avec Brookmeyer. À l’âge de sept ans, j’ai commencé à suivre des cours de flûte. Puis j’ai étudié pendant des années au conservatoire de Buenos Aires le violoncelle, la guitare classique.»

Au milieu des années 1970, les généraux argentins, si convenables aux yeux de Kissinger et de la cohorte des politiciens ivres de sang, imposent une manière de faire et bien des lois calquées sur le régime qui avait servi de modèle à Juan Perón. Inutile de préciser. Chacun aura deviné lequel. Alors Damian, âgé de 18 ans à ce moment-là, sachant que les étudiants étaient particulièrement visés, prit la route de l’exil à la vitesse grand V. Direction: la Suisse.

«Je me suis installé à Fribourg, où j’ai étudié le saxophone classique. J’ai commencé à jouer un peu partout ici et là, surtout à Genève. Lorsque la dictature des généraux a été renversée, je suis retourné en Argentine. Dans les années 1990, je jouais dans un groupe rock-pop qui avait pas mal de succès. Mais voilà, j’ai détesté ça. En 1997, j’avais quatre filles, j’ai décidé de quitter ce pays.»

«Peu après mon arrivée au Québec, j’ai fait la rencontre de Denis Leblanc, un excellent joueur de bandonéon, qui a écrit deux noms sur une feuille de papier. Celui de Joane Hétu [l’admirable fondatrice d’Ambiances magnétiques] et du batteur Pierre Tanguay. C’est Joane qui m’a conseillé de fonder un label. C’est comme ça qu’est né Malasartes.»

Aujourd’hui, notre saxophoniste propose donc Sit réalisé en compagnie de Jean-Félix Mailloux, qui est l’exemple parfait de ce que solidité à la contrebasse signifie, de Bernard Falaise, aussi tranchant et vif qu’un Marc Ribot, et du batteur Tanguay, qui a ceci de littéralement prodigieux, il n’y a pas d’autre mot, qu’il a fait l’alchimie entre Joey Baron, Shelly Manne et Billy Higgins.

Le résultat fait naturellement penser à John Zorn, celui de Masada, celui des associations avec divers cantors. En un mot, Nisenson a réussi quelque chose de très singulier: remonter le fil d’une vieille et lointaine culture avec un souci pour la finesse, la subtilité, qui fait de Sit un grand disque.

Sit
… avec un souci pour la finesse, la subtilité, qui fait de Sit un grand disque.

Review

John Eyles, The Squid’s Ear, July 23, 2018
Monday, July 23, 2018 Press

Fittingly, Les porteuses d’Ô was released in January 2018, the year marking the twentieth anniversary of the formation of Montréal’s Ensemble SuperMusique (ESM). In the years of its existence, the ensemble has explored ways of integrating improvisation with composed music, commissioning over fifty compositions that combine the two. So, it is no surprise that this landmark album features three new graphically-scored compositions which aim to do just that. The line-up of ESM has evolved throughout its lifetime, with few ever-present members; of the twenty-six players credited on ESM’s debut album, Canevas (Ambiances Magnétiques, 2004), only four feature among the thirteen on Les porteuses d’Ô — alto saxophonist and flautist Jean Derome, alto saxophonist and vocalist Joane Hétu, alto Jean René and percussionist Danielle Palardy Roger. ESM co-founders Hétu and Palardy Roger supplied two of the album’s compositions, the third coming from Vancouver-based Lisa Cay Miller; yes, all three pieces do have female composers.

Recorded live in concert, in Montréal, in April 2017, together the pieces run for just over forty minutes, the three being of similar lengths. The album opens with Palardy Roger’s 2014-15 piece En arrivant par le nuage de Oort, the title referring to the theoretical Oort cloud of icy objects, the origin of long-period comets such as Hale-Bopp. Palardy Roger says that “the unfolding of the composition evokes the journey one might undertake between the Oort cloud and the Sun.” Of course, the danger of such a statement is that the composition in question is listened to as programme music, with the listener literally interpreting each sound. To combat that, it would be useful to see the graphic scores themselves, but this CD does not include any of them, only their composers’ notes on them. Suffice to say that the music feels true to its composer’s intention; its soundscape begins with lots of small percussive sounds surrounded by space, and gradually becomes fuller, louder and more intense as it builds steadily to a climax.

By comparison, the next piece, from 2015-17, Hétu’s Préoccupant, c’est préoccupant, is far more garrulous and dramatic. Fittingly, the fifteen-minute track opens with a theatrical drum roll which leads into a prolonged passage of discordant sounds from the nine musicians involved, heralding the arrival of the composer’s own voice. From there on, the piece is episodic with that voice dominating. As the composition focuses on four “concerns that can insidiously interfere in our lives”, starting with “To Fall from High”, there is plenty of scope for expressive outpourings of emotion and angst, including weeping and wailing. The calmer instrumental passages provide welcome periods of respite.

The album closes with Miller’s 2017 composition Water Carrier which (in translation) is practically the title piece. Inspired by the issue of drinking water rights of First Nation communities in Canada, it is wholly instrumental, successfully integrating composed and improvised music. It features some poignantly melodic passages played by the ensemble’s strings. These are interspersed with some strongly rhythmic sections and others with a clear jazz influence.

Together, these three very different compositions show radically contrasting facets of ESM and demonstrate that it is in excellent shape as it enters its third decade.

Together, these three very different compositions show radically contrasting facets of ESM and demonstrate that it is in excellent shape as it enters its third decade.

Review

Roger Batty, Musique Machine, June 14, 2018
Thursday, June 14, 2018 Press

tse is a suite of five modern compositions that move between doomed simmering’s, angular sourness, and wavering dread. The release comes in the form of a CD on Sheffield’s Another Timbre, and as we’ve come to expect from the label this is another of shot well conceived & perfectly recorded experimental sound craft.

The five-piece work here is improvised, yet it revolves around a series of pre-agreed pitches. So, as a result, you get a suite that has continuity & recurring sour melodies, as well as feeling of foreboding loose-ness, and bitter surprise. The piece was recorded in November 2017, at the insub.studio in Geneva.

The three-piece collective is made up of Cyril Bondi — Indian Harmonium, pitch pipes, and objects. Pierre-Yves Martel — Viola Da Gamba, pitch pipes, & harmonica. And Christoph Schiller — Spinet. The blend of droning & sawing instrumentation give the trio a very much of a doomed & slurred sound, and they use this to good effect on tse.

The five-piece suite comes in at a total of forty-six minutes — with each part of the suite hitting between seven & ten-minute mark. The suite opens in a fairly coarse/nervy manner with a spaced-out mixture of brooding string simmers, sudden higher pitched string twangs, and slurred pipes. As we move through the suites runtime the pace is kept fairly considered & slowed — as angular droning meets with a blend of higher-to-sour string pluck, and bleak stretched out simmer. From time to time pulled-out & slurred melodies appear, but ultimately these seem secondary, and the main focus here is to create a doomed atmosphere & malevolent haze of sound

The work does very much feel like a suite, due to both the focused selection of pitches, and the occasion recurring patterns. And on the downside this does, at times, create a feeling of little progression/ movement — but if you’re interested slowed, slurred, off-kilter & decidedly soured modern composition I think you’ll get something out of tse. I took this release away with me on a recent Greek holiday, and it both nicely lulled me out and created an effective bleak contrast to all the sun & fun going on around me.

Tse
The work does very much feel like a suite, due to both the focused selection of pitches, and the occasion recurring patterns.

Review

Brian Olewnick, Just outside, June 6, 2018
Wednesday, June 6, 2018 Press

It’s probably fair to say that we all have our instrumental prejudices, silly as those undoubtably are. I know people who don’t like flutes or violins, baffling as those attitudes are to me. But I have to admit that it takes extra concentration on my part to get past the essential sound of a harpsichord. I do think that this is more an issue on recordings than live as just last year I attended a home concert by the very excellent local harpsichordist Andrew Appel and enjoyed it without reservation. Maybe it has something to do with childhood encounters with the keyboard in schmaltzy horror movies or as backdrop to any number of faux esthete contexts. But that jangly sound, the lack of sustain….something makes it tough for me.

The spinet is essentially a small harpsichord and Christoph Schiller, to the best of my knowledge, pretty much confines his playing to to it. Here, he’s joined by Cyril Bondi (Indian harmonium, pitch pipe, objects) and Pierre-Yves Martel (viola da gamba, pitch pipes, harmonica) on five improvised tracks (I — V). On the first, the trio circumvents any foolish objections on my part as Bondi and Martel lay down long, smooth lines onto which Schiller sprinkles slivers of spinet, glinting amongst the hums. Those drones are beautifully constructed themselves, a lovely combination of timbres, and the spinet adds a wonderful texture. By the way, I’m guessing that Schiller applies some extended techniques now and then (perhaps bowing the spinet’s interior or otherwise directly manipulating the strings?), though I’m not at all sure. II is similar, though generally pitched higher and with somme separation between phrases. There’s a stretched feeling, a bit more astringency that’s piquant, a nice shift from the prior track. In fact, the variation is subtle on each of the five pieces. Given the drone0like nature of the harmoniums, harmonicas and pitch pipes and virtually the opposite aspect of the spinet, that’s not so surprising; only the viola da gamba might go “both ways”, though Martel seems to switch between arco and pizzicato now and then. Another predilection of mine is, with regard to anything more or less in a drone style, toward the low and grainy, so I found IV especially appealing, a really delicious, calm sequence of lines, rich and complex, with deep tones from (I think) the pitch pipe. V offers slightly more aggression from the spinet, at higher pitch levels and with somewhat sourer harmonies and, again, heard in the context of this “suite”, works perfectly well. In fact, listening to tse as a suite, and a very ably constructed one, seems to be the way to go, at least for me. Spinets be damned, it’s an engaging and discreetly demanding listen; good work.

Tse
In fact, listening to tse as a suite, and a very ably constructed one, seems to be the way to go, at least for me. Spinets be damned, it’s an engaging and discreetly demanding listen; good work.

Review

Massimo Ricci, The Squid’s Ear, June 5, 2018
Tuesday, June 5, 2018 Press

When it comes to naming names in the all-encompassing landscape of contemporary music, Jean Derome’s eminence remains relatively unquoted amidst the sacred cows of the last decades. A first-class reedist and composer, he’s indelibly associated with René Lussier — specifically, in the duo Les Granules — beyond significant proprietary works (random memory selection: 1988’s Confitures de Gagaku, on Victo). Derome has shown time and again that his idiosyncratic creativity, compositional skill and ability to put a theory into artistically fructiferous practice are second to none. In its clever mix of conceptual consistency and stimulating interplay, Résistances clearly explains why.

Though partially scored, the composition’s motility principally depends on the nineteen performers reacting to previously learned hand signals. After acknowledging the crucial elements of orchestration in conjunction with the intrinsic influence of electricity in all forms — including the overall tuning — it takes a moment to realize that the scope of this opus reaches far higher than a simple “conducted improvisation” (note the involuntary irony of the term “conductor” in this context).

Across a plethora of intermingling styles, the ensemble — comprising several among Derome’s regular partners in crime — connects with the basic vibe through surges of energy dressed as eruptions, conversations, screams or drones, the whole informed by a cracking musicianship. Notwithstanding the considerable emancipation allowed and the absence of jazz-related stereotypes, the lingering sensation is that of a finely regulated mechanism. Still, serendipitous mutations occasionally materialize. The bulk of Piétinements, for example, resembles Igor Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring played by Pink Floyd circa A Saucerful Of Secrets, lysergic slide guitars and all. In a pair of collective blasts we couldn’t help thinking — in principle — of Frank Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh. The absurdly jarring funk of Mélodie 2 flowing into a marvelous Danse finale may indeed prompt someone to start jumping around the house.

Please consider the above references as a mere reviewer’s divertissement. In reality, there’s so much shifting of acoustic identity and abundance of inventive playing here that coming to grips with this particular form of Derome’s imagination could trigger intellectual paralysis in the easily affected. The remedy lies in the very cause: treat the patient to a few additional hours with this remarkable album; then it’s get up, pick up your mat, and walk. Unless one’s dead for real.

Derome has shown time and again that his idiosyncratic creativity, compositional skill and ability to put a theory into artistically fructiferous practice are second to none. In its clever mix of conceptual consistency and stimulating interplay, Résistances clearly explains why.

Review

Paul Serralheiro, The Squid’s Ear, May 30, 2018
Wednesday, May 30, 2018 Press

Erik Satie is an iconic avant-garde composer, ahead of his time, underestimated by teachers and rebuffed by critics. Posthumous revenge (if there is such a thing) has been sweet, as his music is some of the most often performed in a variety if contexts, including the stage, film and cabaret settings. This particular recording of Satie’s music takes an appropriately creative approach to rendering the quirky, mystical and ultimately uplifting music.

In the 18 tracks on the CD the Québec sextet Cordâme (a French pun on “strings-soul”/”body-soul”) perform many of the popular themes of this enigmatic, yet accessible composer. The musical pallet includes such pieces as the Gnossiennes, the Gymnopedies, as well as some less-often played compositions such Danses de travers, Rêverie de l’enfance de Pantagruel and Réflexions sur choses vues à droite et à gauche (sans lunettes).

The flow of rhythm that characterizes this set draws more from jazz, gypsy music or pop music than from the classical template, with a steady pulse emphasized by percussion and bass, underscored by the string duo of violin and cello, and punctuated by the percussive interplay between piano and harp. The result is graceful, beat-based expression of this diaphanous and at times surreal music, with the languorous harmonies and telescoping melodies being borne by the lilting rhythms.

The compositions, while respected in their forms and lyrical content, are laced with improvisations and structured in arrangements that color the pulses, while preserving the recognizable qualities that people love about Satie. This is not abstract avant-garde, nor romantic excess. It is restrained, yet expressive, with a resulting sweet tension that is mostly light and pleasant.

This is not abstract avant-garde, nor romantic excess. It is restrained, yet expressive, with a resulting sweet tension that is mostly light and pleasant.

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