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Afrocentric jazz returns to Le Petit Chicago after an intense and satisfying debut

Pierre Chrétien was constantly exploring the capabilities of the vibraphone at the October concert at Le Petit Chicago. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

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A new Afrocentric jazz group will have its second outing Monday, born out of learning a new instrument and the overlap among local jazz groups.

Pierre Chrétien, best known as the keyboardist/composer in the Souljazz Orchestra, started learning and experimenting with the vibraphone last spring. So when his fellow Souljazz member, Zakari Frantz, invited him to curate a Jazz Monday at Le Petit Chicago last October, it seemed like a good opportunity to unveil the vibes in public.

The lineup was Chrétien, plus three members of the Jazz Monday house band: Frantz on alto sax, Mike Essoudry on drums, and Joe Hincke on bass. They were joined for that evening only by Montreal trumpeter Rachel Therrien.

And the vibe that night was so intense and satisfying that they're back this Monday at Le Petit Chicago, with a proper name for the group: the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble. Chrétien has now written originals for the ensemble – “at least a dozen brand-new never­-before-heard original tunes”.

He described their music on Facebook as a “musical collision, in the middle of the Atlantic, between North American and African streams of jazz, resulting in a new, previously unknown world of sounds. Deep, spiritual, and modal excursions for the true jazz lovers out there.”

For Monday, they'll just be a quartet, but Frantz said they would be joined by trumpeter Ed Lister when he returns from cruise ship work in a few months.

Their first show attracted a full house to Le Petit Chicago on October 28, 2013, and filled the Gatineau bar with grooving, complex music.

Besides being Chrétien's first public performance on the vibraphone, it was also the first time that Montreal trumpeter Rachel Therrien, whose range extends from Afro-Cuban to mainstream jazz to free improv, had played at Jazz Mondays.

Chrétien created an Afrocentric set list for the evening, with pieces by Mulatu Astatke (“Yekermo Sew”) and Salah Ragab & The Cairo Jazz Band (“Egypt Strut”), inserted among jazz classics by Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, John Coltrane, Bobby Hutcherson, and Duke Ellington.

Unlike the usual looser jam feel of a Jazz Monday, this was an intense performance – with lots of listening. The bar was quieter than usual, with a very attentive audience, and you could see how involved all the musicians were in the music.

It was a thoughtful presentation, in which each instrument complemented the others. In some places, the trumpet and alto sax might call out together; in others a flugelhorn would soar over rippling notes on the vibes. A circling trumpet solo might be underlined by cymbal-heavy drums, or slow, echoing notes on vibraphone be echoed by breathy saxophone. An extended percussion intro to “Afro Blue” on drums, bass, and clave finally broke out into a slow, haunting melody, but with the energy of multiple of instruments all contributing.

The audience repeatedly recognized their musicianship with strong applause.

Chrétien will be back on vibes again this Monday with Frantz, Hincke, and Essoudry. Besides his originals, the set list is expected to include tunes by Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, Salah Ragab, Bobby Hutcherson, Mulatu Astatke, and Dave Holland. You can hear for yourself what impressed October's audience.

   – Alayne McGregor

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    All photos © Brett Delmage, 2013