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Julie Lamontagne Quartet opens 2011 Festival de Jazz Desjardins

Julie Lamontagne and Chet Doxas  ©Brett Delmage, 2011

Wednesday night was the first time Montreal jazz pianist Julie Lamontagne and saxophonist Chet Doxas had played together in a formal concert since they were teenagers.

While they had occasionally jammed together over the years, she said, their previous concert appearances were with a city big band they played in high school, with Lamontagne playing saxophone instead of piano.

But you wouldn't have known it from the way Doxas smoothly integrated with Lamontagne and her long-time trio. In their outdoor concert in Aylmer, Quebec on July 27, they played an energetic and melodic 70-minute set that inspired a standing ovation at the end.

The material was primarily originals from Lamontagne's two CDs. The group opened with "Désillusionnée" from her second CD, Now What. On the CD, Donny McCaslin takes the saxophone part; here Doxas produced a quiet, slow line soaring over Lamontagne's full and romantic piano, which then became faster near the end of the piece. The following piece, "K.O.", upped the speed with fast, syncopated playing from all the musicians. Doxas echoed Lamontagne's rhythm and vice-versa, and then Richard Irwin jumped in with a fast drum solo to end the song.

"Hank Dog", from her first album, Facing the Truth, opened with a fast, clear bass solo from Dave Watts. The piano and sax then took up a steady, funky rhythm that occasional moved into boogie-woogie. "Taksim", which was inspired by a trip to Istanbul, Turkey, started out with atmospheric light drumming, with cymbals glistening on top. The piano added a repeating rhythm with light grace notes, and the sax joined in with a slow, deep line hinting at Oriental mysteries.

But the non-originals were equally interesting. Lamontagne dedicated the standard "Easy to Love" to Montreal pianist Oliver Jones, who was her first contact with jazz after an initial training only in classical music. While the piano treated this piece as a romantic ballad, Doxas' saxophone added a bit of an edge, especially in a strong, swinging solo.

Lamontagne also rearranged a concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff for her trio. The result changed tempos frequently, from a waltz to a march. A strong bass line underlay the piano, which ranged from delicate to crashing chords, and from strongly classical to almost swinging, for a result that surprisingly worked.

And Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" was turned into a lament for a lost love, with romantic piano and melancholy, almost breathy saxophone. The dance beat disappeared, leaving the sadness of the ballad underneath.

If one of the reasons you attend the Ottawa Jazz Festival is to sit in a green park on a lovely summer evening and listen to good Canadian jazz in the company of other music lovers, this week's series at Parc L'Imaginaire (across the street from the Aylmer Marina and beach) is definitely for you. With the musicians playing in a raised open gazebo and a lots of room to park lawn-chairs nearby, the sightlines and sound were excellent. The audience (estimated at about 250) was remarkably attentive and quiet, and appeared to be really enjoying the music.

And Lamontagne's enthusiasm about her music and the other musicians was infectious. The music was dynamic and in many cases simply fun, while still clearly individual and complex. She introduced Watts and Irwin as her "original trio" and you could see how smoothly they played together. The closing standing ovation showed how well she connected with the crowd.

    – Alayne McGregor

Other jazz concerts at the Parc L'Imaginaire July 28-30 and into August.

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2011