Last year the festival silently got rid of something that certain of us kept a close eye on: the Jazz Contemporain series. It’s understandable; in 2008 (its final year) I saw a couple of concerts in the series that obviously lacked attendance. But the question remains: how do you present this more adventurous and demanding music that also inescapably belongs under the umbrella term ‘jazz’?
Luckily, the avant-garde still has a place at our jazz festival. This evening’s Jean Derome concert at L’Astral proved that the festival programmers still care to present the more challenging-though equally satisfying-side of the genre.
Saxophonist and flutist Jean Derome led a vigorous and inspired concert with his quintet Dangereux Zhoms. Drummer Pierre Tanguay, pianist Guillaume Dostaler, electric bassist Pierre Cartier and trombonist Tom Walsh played as a coherent and sympathetic group alongside the energetic leader.
As their name implies, the band finds a kind of surrealist balance between light-hearted witticism and trenchant word play. Derome’s music is difficult to classify and is packed with references to styles as wide reaching as funk and baroque music. Often he layers simple ideas on top of each other to create a dense but intelligible sound. A folk melody on flute will occur simultaneously over a sustained counterpoint in a different key, while bass and drums lay down a repetitive groove. Each section of a song will shift into a new register, a new zone of sound separate from the last. The success of the band isn’t so much what they do as how much they do and how seamlessly they move between such different musical styles.
If they weren’t amazing improvisers, the composing might even seem a bit flighty. At times, I found myself wanting less contrast and more commitment. But the subtle logic of the improvising held it together.
Where the composing may dip its feet in, the improvising dives head first. Each musician plays with a kind of patient insistence that is rare and delightful. Dostaler, Derome and Walsh, in particular, each have a way of chasing after an idea until they have wrenched some kind of emotional weight from it-seizing all they can. As a spectator it’s nothing short of fascinating.