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Gentiane MG: "stretching to explore the unknown"

On Friday, Montreal jazz pianist Gentiane MG (short for Michaud-Gagnon) makes her Ottawa debut in a duo concert at the Record Runner Rehearsal Studios. She's performing with Ottawa-born tenor saxophonist Chris Maskell; both are currently in the master's program in jazz performance at McGill University. They'll be playing standards and some of their own compositions.

Montreal pianist Gentiane MG recently paid tribute to Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk, the three pianists she thinks have contributed the most to the evolution of jazz piano playing and composition (photo by Jean-François Hayeur)Gentiane is from Saguenay, Quebec, and discovered the piano at five years old. She originally studied classical piano, winning two Quebec competitions and reaching the finals in the Canadian Music Competition – but then moved into studying jazz and improvisation. She studied jazz performance at McGill University with a $15,000 Schulich Scholarship, finishing her undergrad degree in 2014. She received a Graduate Excellence Fellowship Award to work on her master's, and study with renowned French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc.

For several years, she's been playing with bassist Levi Dover (who has also performed with Maskell) and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel in her trio, and performing regularly on the Montreal jazz scene. This month, she's playing at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill every Tuesday with different musicians and a different repertoire each week.

Friday's concert is the second in the Live @ Record Runner series at the new Record Runner Rehearsal Studios in mid-west Ottawa.

OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor interviewed Gentiane via email this week. The following is an edited version of our exchange.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: This month you did a show at Upstairs paying hommage to the great pianists (Hommage aux grand pianistes). In your opinion, who are the great pianists? Which pianists have influenced you most as a jazz musician? Are they the same musicians?

Gentiane MG: I wanted to focus on pianists who contributed to the evolution of the genre as musicians and as great composers. That's why I mostly played music by Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk. They are the pianists/composers who I think have contributed the most to the evolution of jazz piano playing and composition and who marked the beginning of modern jazz.

Bill Evans' compositions are complex harmonic studies, and are very rich sounding. Herbie Hancock frequently plays with modal mixture, unexpected resolutions, and very dark-sounding colourful harmonies and melodies, and Monk is minimalist and modern for his time.

These pianists have influenced me greatly, as have many others. I used to transcribe a lot of Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau and McCoy Tyner. I would say they are all great sources of inspiration.

Also, I got the chance to study with Jean-Michel Pilc for a year and a half, from who I learned a lot about piano playing and about music in general on a very deep level. It was extremely inspiring and life changing.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: How are you inspired by the jazz musicians you perform with? How does playing with Louis-Vincent Hamel and Levi Dover in your trio affect your sound?

Gentiane MG: Playing with different musicians affects the way my voice is heard as a musician and the way I play. Especially with smaller formations, like duos or trios. The smaller the band is, the more open the musical dialogue can be, and the more risks I can take. It becomes all about the way other musicians react to what I play, and how we can all feed each other with our own inspiration in the moment. The musical dialogue is not the same between different musicians, much like how verbal communication can be vastly different between different people.

I've been playing with Louis-Vincent and Levi for several years. What I like about this trio is that we all give a huge importance to sound on our respective instruments. Louis-Vincent and Levi both have a very expressive and sensitive way of playing their instrument. It creates more possibilities for dynamics and varied atmospheres, which goes a long way to serve the music that I compose.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did you meet Chris Maskell? Where have you been performing together?

Gentiane MG: Chris and I met when I went back to McGill University in 2015 to pursue my master's degree in Jazz Performance. We were in the Chamber Jazz Band together. We started playing duo sessions on a weekly basis last year, mostly exploring the standard repertoire. We've had a couple of duo gigs around Montreal since then, and also a quartet gig in Toronto together.

When I play duo, I try to move away from the usual forms and stretch out to explore the unknown. It is interesting, as a piano player, to play without a rhythm section because I have much more harmonic and rhythmic freedom.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: What will you be playing at your concert on Friday?

Gentiane MG: On Friday, we will probably be playing standards in unusual ways, some arrangements and a couple of originals. I'm looking forward to it!

Chris Maskell and Gentiane MG will perform a duo show at the Record Runner Rehearsal Studios, Unit 6, 159 Colonnade Road South (between Prince of Wales Drive and Merivale Road) on Friday, January 27, at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 6:30. Tickets are $20, and are available on the Record Runner website and at the door. The hall seats 35.

    – Alayne McGregor

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Read OttawaJazzScene.ca's articles about Chris Maskell: