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Three standing ovations for Jérôme Beaulieu Trio's first show outside Québec

The Jérôme Beaulieu Trio played piano, bass, drums, and typewriter for their opening number at their enthusiastically-received NAC Fourth Stage show on March 1. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

The Jérôme Beaulieu Trio
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Saturday, March 1, 2014 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of this concert

Sitting front and centre on the stage Saturday night was a manual typewriter – a portable Remington – placed on a small box. Not your typical accessory for a jazz piano trio, you might think.

But as a percussion instrument, and a way to intrigue the audience, it worked remarkably well.

This trio of 20-something Montrealers – Jérôme Beaulieu on piano, Philippe Leduc on bass, William Côté on drums – have made a point of including unexpected sounds, loops, and effects to enhance their music. So there were extensive collections of effect pedals next to both the piano and the double bass, and Côté could play sound clips from his drum pad, as well as deploying his own repertoire of bells and other percussion instruments.

But, at the same time, those effects never distracted from the essential flow and melody of the music.

The show began with repeated chiming bells, underlaid by low muted bass lines. Then came a sound clip: a man talking in rapid French. And as that ended and Beaulieu's piano entered, Leduc moved to the typewriter and started typing two-fingered, with lots of carriage returns. The combination was surprisingly melodic, the piano giving it a traditional jazz feel. And it introduced the audience to what they could expect that evening: tight ensemble playing, innovative techniques which served the music, and a great deal of emotional resonance.

That piece, “Lettre à un vieux politicien”, was from the trio's latest album and actually a commentary on current Quebec politics, although Beaulieu didn't announce it as such. In rapid succession came two other songs from that album, both of which were both greeted by strong applause, an indication of reactions to come.

While “Watch Out” used sound effects (a cloth shoved through Leduc's bass strings to mute them, Côté playing a hockey noisemaker along with his drums), ultimately it connected through its strong dancing rhythms, its dynamic range, and its joyousness. The ballad “Grands Jardins” began slowly and gracefully, bowed bass and light cymbals underlying the piano, and then built into more punctuated patterns, ending with sparkling piano notes.

“La Tourte” was more dramatic, Beaulieu's resonant piano initially contrasting with Côté's strong drumming. Côté had two snare drums (one tuned higher than the other), and repeatedly dropped a large metal chain on one to add texture; he later moved to accented hand drumming. But the piano melody predominated, become more thoughtful while the underlying beat stayed consistently strong.

“Love is All” by Swedish songwriter Kristian Matsson (aka The Tallest Man On Earth) was the trio's first non-original. Beaulieu said they'd only recently added it to their repertoire: it had an almost-Appalachian folksong feel. The melody flowed between the bass and piano, each lyrically expanding upon it while keeping the romantic feel. It was warmly received by the audience.

The three-movement suite, “L'Homme Sur La Lune”, was the title track and centrepiece of the group's first album. Beaulieu said it was inspired by a garage sale find by Leduc, who collects old vinyl: recordings of the actual Apollo 11 transmissions in July 1969, with narration by broadcaster Walter Cronkite. They jammed while Leduc played the record, and from that jam Beaulieu created the suite.

It was an intense piece, starting with intricate, fast interplay among the trio, followed by Cronkite's voice announcing the first day of the mission, and the countdown to liftoff. The celebratory music after that clip softened and became more thoughtful before the audience heard Neil Armstrong's voice announcing he was on the moon. Then it became more anthemic before building to a large crescendo of jubilation. The audience also celebrated the music with huzzahs and strong applause.

“Ti-chien aveugle” (little blind dog) included a recording of Quebec spoken-word artist Ivy reading poetry he had written to fit the music. Ivy's deep, rich baritone harmonized well with the rich piano and atmospheric drumming. His vocal rhythms and internal rhymes fit the repeated patterns within the music, and the ultimate effect was mesmerizing.

The trio ended their show with a cover of “I Might Be Wrong”, a song by Radiohead from 2001. Their version was infectiously rhythmic underneath the upbeat melody. Stressed notes on piano, hard drumming, and fast and repeated bass riffs all added to the demanding forward momentum. It ended with thundering drumbeats leading to a strong flourish: undoubtedly jazz in its style and range of musical exploration, yet also true to its source.

The audience immediately stood for a spirited standing ovation. The trio responded with another new cover: “Crabbuckit”, the 2004 hit by Canadian rapper k-os. It was a tour-de-force, with Beaulieu's piano and Leduc's bass “rapping without words”. They reflected the original's vocal beats but also emphasized the essential melody, while Côté's clear beat on snare kept the song fast-paced. It was accessible, bright, and still very jazzy.

The audience sprang to their feet again and demanded a second encore. The trio responded with “La Chute”, one of the first songs Beaulieu wrote for the trio in 2011. This ballad grew in intensity, the piano moving from quiet romanticism to more abstract patterns, and Leduc adding accents by pressing his fingers against first the strings and then the wood of his bass to create a muted, off-kilter sound. Beaulieu returned to melody near the end, and finished with a few bright single notes.

And then there was a third, unforced standing ovation. I expect that, if the crowd in Confederation Park is even half as enthusiastic, the trio will have a very successful show at the Ottawa Jazz Festival this June. With their mixture of melody, innovation, and strong musicality, it will definitely be a show you won't want to miss.

    – Alayne McGregor

View photos of this concert

Programme:

  1. Lettre à un vieux politicien
  2. Watch Out
  3. Grands jardins
  4. La tourte
  5. Love Is All
  6. L'Homme sur la Lune
  7. song by Félix Leclerc
  8. Omnibus / Ti-chien aveugle
  9. I Might Be Wrong (by Radiohead)

    Encores:
  10. Crabbuckit (by k-os)
  11. La Chute

See also:

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2014

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