Marianne Trudel Quartet with Ingrid Jensen
Guelph Jazz Festival
River Run Centre, Co-operators Hall
Thursday, September 15, 2016 – 7:30 p.m.

Marianne Trudel and Ingrid Jensen
Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium
University of Guelph
Friday, September 16, 2016 – 9 a.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage

Marianne Trudel wasn't going to let anything stop her getting to the Guelph Jazz Festival this year.

The Montreal jazz pianist, composer, and improviser suffered a serious concussion this summer, and hadn't played the piano for two months – only starting again 12 days before the festival. Her doctor had recommended she not perform.

Marianne Trudel did not want to miss this year's Guelph Jazz Festival, and gave a full-bodied performance there with her quartet. ©2016 Brett Delmage
Marianne Trudel did not want to miss this year's Guelph Jazz Festival, and gave a full-bodied performance there with her quartet. ©2016 Brett Delmage

But as a long-time performer at Guelph, she did not want to miss the last festival to be curated by artistic director Ajay Heble. “This is my favourite festival in the country,” she told the audience at her Thursday night concert, “and Ajay is a very, very special person, close to my heart. I think he did a merveilleux with this festival, and it's something special to be here for his last show.”

For this concert, she was accompanied by three stalwarts of the Montreal jazz scene: Jim Doxas on drums, Rémi-Jean Leblanc on double bass, and Jonathan Stewart on tenor and soprano sax – plus trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (formerly of BC, now of Queens, NY). They performed six pieces from Trudel's most recent CD, La Vie Commence Ici [2014], all originals of considerable sweep and richness.

The theme of the album is the ability to be fully present in the moment – an ability which Trudel contends many of us have lost. For many years, she said, she was the only musician in Montreal without an iPhone, and getting one, after considerable peer pressure, was her “worst mistake ever”.

Trudel was very much present at this concert. Given the vibrancy of her performance, you would not have known she had been ill.

They opened with “Deux Soleils”, an approachable ballad which showed off the strengths of this album: Trudel's intimate and intricate piano introduction, Doxas' responsive percussion (including the belt of bells he had slung around his chest), and the fine melding of muted trumpet and saxophone creating the melodic theme.

The album's title track opened solemnly with deep, clear notes from Leblanc's bass ringing out and modulating down as Stewart entered on soprano sax for an anthemic duet with Jensen. Jensen and Trudel then both used the piano as a sounding board: Trudel plucking the strings inside, and Jensen playing her trumpet into the middle of the piano, her fast bursts of sound each creating a subsequent echo. She also played longer loops of sound into the piano later on in the piece.

It's been several years now that Trudel has been working with Jensen on this music, and yet it still felt fresh and vibrant. Jensen has a real feel for the exactly right interjection at the correct moment, whether fast and high, or rough and intense. She and Stewart (who also was on the album) could played together comfortably, easily changing moods from melancholy to disquieting in their duets, each enhancing the other.

I particularly enjoyed “Le Vent est un Chance”, which Trudel said was inspired by the winds blowing along the St. Lawrence River in the area where she grew up: “Anywhere there is wind, I feel at home.” Trudel wasn't afraid to allow space in this lovely melodic number to evoke periods of calm, but there was also lots going on: a fanfare of trumpet and soprano sax, and fast piano lines with interrupted chords. Doxas waved his paper score to create extra textures evoking gusts, and added rustles and bright hard taps on cymbals. The piece ended with long trumpet lines, as lonely as the wind.

After a quiet opening in which the drums and bass dropped to almost inaudible under Trudel's sparkling piano, “Urge” became a more rhythmic piece. Leblanc played on the wood of his bass with his hands and Doxas added fast taps, while Jensen first clapped in time to the riff they created and then added urgent punctuated muted trumpet notes. It ended on a joyous note, Jensen's trumpet circling up and up.

As they did their National Arts Centre concert in 2014, Trudel's quintet closed with “Choral”. It was a peaceful and nuanced closer, with just enough melody to catch your heart. The audience greeted it with a standing ovation.


Pianist Marianne Trudel and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen created resonant sounds with the piano at the Guelph Jazz Festival ©2016 Brett Delmage
Pianist Marianne Trudel and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen created resonant sounds with the piano at the Guelph Jazz Festival ©2016 Brett Delmage

At 9 a.m. the following morning, Trudel and Jensen gave a duo performance and workshop at the University of Guelph. They performed one improvisation and two of Trudel's compositions, joking that “we don't need the boys”. They also talked about audiences, performance spaces, and the role of thought during improvisation, and Jensen explained her choice of trumpet and why she exchanges mouthpieces within a performance.

The room, used by the university's music program, sounded much better than the rather dry Co-operators Hall. Nicely resonant and with very clear acoustics, it allowed the two to demonstrate how Jensen's blowing her trumpet into the body of the piano, while the sustain pedal is pressed, can create some extraordinarily beautiful echoes. The sounds rang throughout the highly responsive university hall, and slowly faded out. As Jensen said, that effect “sounds like the angels” and is “another level of creating magic”.

Jensen plays a less-typical A440 trumpet, rather than the standard B-flat, which she says has allowed her to donate her flugelhorn to a museum. She brought three different mouthpieces with her (switching between them in the previous night's performance, as one listener observed) and she demonstrated how each produced different textures. One sounded sweet and dark; the next even richer, darker, and fatter; and the third sharper and more commanding (although she noted it could be sweet and dark if warmed up).

In response to a question about what she was thinking while improvising, Trudel was vehement that she didn't think while improvising, because that would cause her to freeze up worrying about making mistakes. Instead, she's listening and responding in the moment, with her experience guiding how she plays. As an anxious person, she said, “improvisation is my meditation”.

Another audience member mentioned a famous quote that one should only be a musician if one can't do anything else. For Trudel, however, it was very much the reverse: she said she'd wanted to be a pianist from age 5 onwards, and for her there was no other choice, regardless of the work it entailed.

That meant before audiences, she said. She said she could sense if an audience was interested, even if they were totally quiet and did not always clap for solos. The worst audience, she said, was a dead room, or a half-empty room with everyone at the back and not close enough for her to sense them.

“I really need to play for people.”

Set list for Thursday night concert

  • Deux Soleils
  • La Vie Commence Ici
  • Soon
  • Le Vent est une chance
  • Urge
  • Choral

– Alayne McGregor


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