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Guillaume Martineau's cinematic music electrifies the NAC Fourth Stage

Guillaume Martineau Quintet
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, October 24, 2015 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of The Guillaume Martineau Quintet

After the music ended and the applause died down, I simply sat for a few moments, reliving the the power of this quintet's performance at the NAC. It was a concert which began with quiet, classically-influenced passages and ended in thunderous jazz-rock, increasing in intensity and enveloping the audience during its 80-minute length.

At Guillaume Martineau's NAC Presents concert, there was a high degree of communication and conversation among the musicians (l-r Martineau, Tevet Sela, François Jalbert) ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The music was both electric – with the bass and guitar players making considerable use of pedals and effects – and acoustic – unadorned grand piano, saxophone, and drums – but with each voice contributing to the overall sound, whether simple and restrained, or all-out.

Montreal jazz pianist Guillaume Martineau describes his compositions as cinematic. And if you like your cinema mostly on a Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars scale, rather than understated interior dramas, that adjective fits quite well. Each of the eight pieces he played at the NAC Presents show told its individual story through intertwining melodies and multiple sonic lines and each was memorable in its own way – some more grandiloquent than others.

That's not surprising with Martineau's wide-ranging CV: a Masters degree in classical piano from McGill University, followed by a jazz degree from Berklee College of Music. From his classical experience, he's developed a taste for multiple movements, multiple voices, and a large dynamic range in his compositions; from jazz, room for improvisation and collaboration.

Equally important to the sound were the other four other Montreal musicians on stage: Tevet Sela on alto and soprano sax, Simon Pagé on electric bass and effects, François Jalbert on electric guitar and effects, and Mark Nelson on drums. These are musicians Martineau has played with for the past three years, since he returned from Berklee. With the exception of Nelson, all appeared on his first album, Par 5 Chemins, released in 2014.

All but one of the pieces played at the concert were from that album, presented in the same order as they appeared on the album. Martineau told the audience that he had organized the tunes as though they were a film of a single day: a cinematographic voyage through the day, beginning with daybreak and ending in night.

The quintet opened with the lovely “Hors du monde”, a thoughtful and romantic piano ballad first accented by occasional sharp interruptions on guitar, and then becoming a duet between piano and light, metallic guitar. That segued directly into “Le matin des magiciens”, which opened with a strong melodic line on alto sax and a fluid guitar solo underlaid by bluesy piano. It then alternated between quieter passages and strong climaxes driven by bass and guitar, before ending with a sparkle of piano notes.

I particularly liked the electric energy of “Tesla”, dedicated to Nikola Tesla, who pioneered the use of alternating current for distributing electricity. The forward momentum of that song never let up, with circling alto sax and vibrating piano. Martineau's hands were jumping around his keyboard; Jalbert used a slide to create bright, jabbing lines on his guitar which built up and up over the music.

Martineau plans to record his second album in November, but in this concert only included one of the new pieces he's written for that CD. “Anicroche” was slotted in mid-concert, replacing a song from the first album. It was an upbeat number with the feel of merry-go-round music, with a happy melody on soprano sax and guitar and Nelson adding hard-edged drum beats.

“L'âme dans le désert” was more thoughtful. It contained multifaceted contributions from the musicians, but had its own conceptual integrity, held together by wistful piano melody. Like the famous numerical sequence, “Fibonacci” featured repeated and interesting variations on a punctuated rhythm, increasing in intensity, with Sela's alto sax soaring over with a flowing and invocatory solo. “Lolo” was named after Martineau's childhood teddy bear, and was a nostalgic piece with all the musicians contributing to its sweet feel.

The last piece, “L'heure du hibou”, was by far the most intense, and most clearly showed Martineau's influence from progressive rock groups. He said it was an invocation of the world of dreams or the world of fantasy. It started off with fast pounding on the piano and hard drumming, with insistent guitar and soprano sax on top. As in “Le matin des magiciens”, the piece alternated between relatively quiet and extremely full-bodied in an extended treatment. As it developed, it became very much jazz fusion in style – no classic bebop here, but instead an all-out assault on the senses, grabbing all the oxygen. It ended with a strong flourish on guitar, soprano sax, and piano, followed by an even louder feedback riff.

Martineau isn't well-known in Ottawa, having rarely performed here. However, he charmed the Fourth Stage audience with his grin and his enthusiasm about his music, speaking in a mixture of French and English. The audience strongly applauded at the end, but as I looked at some surprised expressions, I wasn't sure that everyone there had expected quite such an electric show.

I though it exhibited imagination and showed the originality of Martineau's musical voice. The high degree of communication and conversation among the musicians was really evident, and contributed to a memorable concert.

    – Alayne McGregor

Set list (all compositions by Guillaume Martineau):

  • Hors du monde
  • Le matin des magiciens
  • Tesla
  • Anicroche
  • L'âme dans le désert
  • Fibonacci
  • Lolo
  • L'heure du hibou

View photos of The Guillaume Martineau Quintet

Read OttawaJazzScene.ca's interview with Guillaume Martineau: