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Lorraine Desmarais Trio at Salle Gésu (review)

Lorraine Desmarais   ©Brett Delmage, 2012Lorraine Desmarais Trio
Montreal Jazz Festival, Salle Gésu
Saturday, July 7, 2012 – 10:30 p.m.

Lorraine Desmarais' performance at the Montreal Jazz festival was effervescent, in her piano playing, in her extended and cheerful explanations of the music, and in her intuitive interactions with her musicians. Not giddy, but rather expressing the joy of music shared with people who appreciated it.

She opened the concert with the title track from from her latest trio album, Couleurs de Lune [Analekta, 2012]: a sparkling piano ballad over a strong, consistent inflected beat, and that set the mood for the memorable evening.

Playing primarily her own compositions, Desmarais was accompanied by the same musicians as on the album: Frédéric Alarie on double bass and Camil Bélisle on drums. Alarie and Bélisle have played with Desmarais on several other of her albums as well, and showed that in the sure-handedness of their playing this night.

In fact, the concert directly reflected the album, right down to the order of almost all the songs.

“Forever Yours” included space for pyrotechnics on piano and bass, in a tender ballad that ended in a more punctuated vein. “Rose” moved from slow and thoughtful to outright romantic, in a piece that felt like balm for the soul. “How Can You Miss a Fruit Salad?” was a bright dialogue with frequent changes in direction – rather like a scattered conversation – and with room for the rhythm section to shine before it ended with a flourish.

“Largo” was more powerful and dramatic, using repeated patterns on piano and a slightly atonal bowed bass solo to build unreleased tension before resolving with a flurry of bright notes. “Week-end à Toulouse” had an almost-classical introduction before becoming brighter and more up-tempo, reminding one of a delightful afternoon.

“Les couleurs de tes yeux” was the first song not from the album, and featured Desmarais alone. Ostensibly a ballad, its strength was in its repeated patterns which slightly mutated on each repetition, and in the intense feeling revealed underneath the notes.

Lorraine Desmarais   ©Brett Delmage, 2011Coming back to the album, “Le Bolero” was an atmospheric piece, with full-bodied piano, lots of cymbal work and a melancholy, evocative bass solo. It was a fine ballad, but the Mexican bolero which Desmarais said inspired it seemed to have little or no influence on the actual music.

“Alberto”, on the other hand, did have a strong Latin vibe. A tango, it started off fast and angular, with a strong vibe on bass and drums. In the middle, it switched to a lighter melody, but then the vibe reasserted itself for a strong ending.

“Danny Boy”, the old Irish chestnut, showed it still had emotional impact in Desmarais' simple, unaffected version, with a muted, bluesy bass solo from Alarie. The concert ended with “Tsai-Tsien!”, a recounting of her experiences in Shanghai, with a consistent strong, fast beat linking its sections together.

After a standing ovation and a bouquet, Desmarais finished with an extended version of “How High the Moon” – a swinging standard that was a departure in style from the rest of the concert. All three musicians let themselves go for a fun, fast rendition, which inspired another ovation.

Desmarais has been a major musician in the Quebec and Canadian jazz scenes for almost three decades now, playing with numerous international stars as well. In Ottawa, she has been most frequently seen with her big bands where (inevitably) the horns take more of the centre stage. To hear her in a simple trio setting, with pieces which complemented but did not repeat each other, showed her continuing talent, both as a performer and as a composer.

    – Alayne McGregor

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