The Simon Denizart Trio
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Back Stage
Saturday, March 4, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

At their NAC première, the Simon Denizart Trio easily won over their audience with original music produced with liveliness and zest. From their first song onwards, the Montreal jazz trio's pieces evoked strong applause, and culminated in a standing ovation.

Simon Denizart on piano, Jeanne Corpataux on double bass, and Simon Bellemare on drums kept the energy level high and the musical interplay intense at their NAC premiere March 4. ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Simon Denizart on piano, Jeanne Corpataux on double bass, and Simon Bellemare on drums kept the energy level high and the musical interplay intense at their NAC premiere March 4. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Their music was a celebration – and an expansion – of the classic jazz piano trio form, with each piece taking an initial musical idea and stretching it, while retaining accessible melodies and rhythms. The trio released their second album, Beautiful People, last November, and, at this concert, performed all the tracks from that album, plus two songs from their first CD, Between Two Worlds.

The audience's warm reception wasn't because of familiarity – these pieces hadn't previously been performed in Ottawa. And while the trio is well-known in Quebec and has toured twice across Europe, Ottawa is the only city in Canada outside Quebec they've ever played in.

Denizart is the composer in the group, but all three musicians – Denizart on piano, Jeanne Corpataux on double bass, and Simon Bellemare on drums – contributed substantially to the sound. It was a highly interactive 90-minute show, with the music flowing easily among the musicians.

With the NAC under construction, the concert was held in the Back Stage – the Fourth Stage's temporary replacement – which also doubles as a rehearsal hall. It's a smaller space, with 40 fewer seats and less space for the bar, with the bar line-up extending right in front of the stage before the show started. On the other hand, it had a lovely intimate feel and excellent acoustics – although with no raised stage, the sight lines could be iffy for some of the audience.

“Beautiful People”, the opening number, began with only Denizart on piano, combining sparkling runs of notes with percussive plucking of the strings within. It was a dramatic number, and the drama built up as the bass and drums joined in, creating a rushing river of sound with sprays of bright patterns above, before ending abruptly with a flourish.

“Last Dance” was a slower and more measured piece, with melodic patterns that created a strong emotional resonance. Corpataux increased its impact with a bowed bass solo, with a passionate, cello-like voice and intense vibrating lines.

In “Monique”, Bellemare echoed and enhanced Denizart's muted playing on the piano strings with his own cymbal taps, and then both worked together to create a memorable repeating riff – which all three then played with, changing their dynamics abruptly but keeping the connection to same resonant figure.

Each piece was brimming with energy and with musical ideas. “A Day in Hell” began as an unhurried ballad, and then alternated contemplative approach with emphatic, all-out trio playing, including a fast conversation in which Denizart's bright piano contrasted with Corpataux's deep, inflected bass. Bellemare opened “Skyline” with a funereal march of mallets on snares; Denizart added solemn piano to create a reflective piece with overtones of a country music lament.

I particularly enjoyed Corpataux's growling bowed bass solo in “Pocket Wheels”, almost weeping in places and vibrating throughout the room.

Denizart chatted amiably with the audience in French, introducing the songs and telling stories about what inspired them, and evoking laughter and smiles in return. On “Family Ties”, for example, he explained how different he found child rearing in France, where he comes from, and Quebec – the Québeçois are much more gentle with their children and don't yell at them – and then followed that with a piece which ranged from accented and full-bodied to light and wistful. There was a warm, friendly vibe throughout.

The trio closed with the title song from their first album, “Between Two Worlds”, an inviting number with an instantly-recognizable riff which the trio ornamented as they increased the piece's forward momentum. The audience greeted its quick close with strong applause and then a standing ovation. The trio came back for an encore, “If I Were a Rock Star”, also from their first album – a propulsive piece which varied its voice but not its breakneck speed. It inspired another standing ovation.

Listening to the trio, I was reminded of the late pianist Esbjörn Svensson and his trio, with their combination of intense, immersive performances and melodic compositions – or, in the trio's quieter moments, Tord Gustavsen. There's definitely a classical influence in places, and the trio is clearly familiar with the jazz canon. When we heard them at Brookstreet in November, they were played Herbie Hancock and jazz standards, and giving them a similar high-energy edge and appreciative feel.

This concert came about because Denizart is the 2016-17 Révélations jazz pick from Radio-Canada (French CBC). For the last nine years, Radio-Canada has honored a young, French-speaking, Canadian jazz musician – usually but not always from Quebec – in this program, which promotes and mentors musicians each year.

And for the last four years, those musicians have also been showcased by the National Arts Centre in an NAC Presents concert. reviewed all four, and their performances have all been high-calibre, interestingly individual, and well-received. I'm looking forward to hearing what Denizart does in the future, and what new francophone jazz musician Radio-Canada picks next year.

    – Alayne McGregor

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Set List

(all songs by Simon Denizart)

  • Beautiful People
  • Last Dance
  • Monique
  • Family Time
  • A Day in Hell
  • Pocket Wheels
  • Skyline
  • Between Two Worlds
  • Encore: If I Were a Rock Star

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