©Brett Delmage, 2017
Emie R Roussel (keyboards) and Nicolas Bédard (bass) created a a dense, immersive melody together in the trio's tune “De Tadousac à Auckland”. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

The Emie R Roussel Trio
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 8:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

In under two years, pianist Emie R Roussel, bassist Nicolas Bédard, and drummer Dominic Cloutier have played shows in eleven countries across four continents: Europe, Japan, Australia, and the U.S. and Canada.

In their NAC Presents show Thursday, the Montreal jazz trio displayed the results of those recent world-wide travels: not just the tunes on their new CD, but also a flowing and strong communication, and tight and inventive playing. And they had many travellers' tales, about “all the new cultures and all the new food that we discovered. ... We love music but we also love food. We love to cook and we love to discover new tastes, new restaurants.”

Switching easily between English and French, Roussel rhapsodized about five unbelievably great pasta dinners in a row in Northern Italy, and told tales about barbecuing steaks in Australia, as she explained the background to the pieces they were playing. And you could hear that sensual appreciation transferred to their music as well – while there was clearly careful thought behind the compositions, the trio presented them with joy and verve.

All of the songs were trio originals, and all were from their latest CD, Intersections, which was released this month. The album's title refers to both the many interactions they had with the people and places they visited, but also the three guest artists on the CD.

In contrast to the damp and cold November weather outside, the music was upbeat and energetic, with only a few slower pieces. It was also filled with unexpected rhythms and changing patterns, with enough groove and melody to keep it accessible but with these extra touches keeping it interesting.

Their opening number, “9 'Til Late”, was inspired by playing at the Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in Melbourne, Australia, where they couldn't initially find the door. They went around the back and finally found a “huge steel portal”, with a sign giving the opening hours as simply “9 'til Late”.

In other words, to be determined in the moment – and the propulsive rhythms in this piece fit that indeterminate theme. They didn't settle into a groove; instead the melody was repeatedly interrupted by hard-edged, popping percussive passages. Partway through, Cloutier developed those into a drum solo – an imaginative segment that enhanced the whole piece.

With his bass drum providing a steady beat, he produced an echoing and ever-changing rhythm on his snare drum, enhancing it with increasingly ringing cymbal hits. This worked particularly well in the Fourth Stage, with every nuance of his performance audible and creating a potent soundscape

It's less common that a drummer gets the chance to solo in the very first number in a show; that solo – and Bédard's expressive bass solo which followed it – demonstrated without saying how integral all three musicians are to this trio's sound.

In contrast, “Troisième Vague” created a continuous stream of music, slowly building through repeated patterns. Roussel contributed a graceful, sparkling piano passage that became faster and more driving; Bédard added a deep, pointillist bass solo; Cloutier initial cymbals squeaks and then strong drumming; and they all combined into a fast-moving torrent of sound, with a light and thoughtful bright treble pattern rising to the top before fading to the end. The audience applauded strongly.

“Nulla Regula Sine Exceptione” (translated by Roussel as “there are no rules without exceptions – I think life would be really boring if there was no exceptions to all the rules we had”) began unusually with an drum and bass duet, measured and stately, before she joined in with rippling piano. It gradually increased in intensity, with repeated runs of notes on piano before finally resolving in a light flurry of notes.

The trio's previous CD, Quantum, added a noticeable R&B groove to their sound. Some of the pieces on Intersections retained this groove: for example, “Vingt-Troisième Étage”, for which Bédard switched to electric bass. His deep throbbing bass lines contrasted with Roussel's luminous, conversational piano, and Cloutier's bright cymbals in a piece where the the underlying patterns changed again and again.

“Tout Le Monde Ensemble” was Bédard's tribute to Montreal veteran bassist Norman Lachapelle, a musician who has strongly influenced his work. Roussel said that both of them played on this piece on Intersections. It opened with an intense bass solo, spitting out notes and steadily increasing in speed. With the addition of drums and piano (and with Roussel later switching to keyboards), the piece grew in energy. A hard-edged, echoing drum solo culminated in a series of heavy bangs, and then all three were in full flight, letting the music stream out.

The trio's second set began with another food reference: the song “All the Things You Want in a Bowl”, which Roussel told the audience was a take-off on “All The Things You Are”. With Roussel continuing on keyboards and Bédard on electric bass, it again showcased a series of patterns which shifted and morphed again and again to create a vibrant piece.

“De Tadousac à Auckland” was a slower, more thoughtful piece: a dense, immersive melody from keyboards and electric bass, with strong metallic textures in the background on cymbals and snare. At one point, Roussel was altering her keyboard voicing to create a more dissonant overlay of tones on tones. She told the audience that the piece was about the context in which you hear music changes it – just like the taste of a cup of coffee just after eating a grapefruit is very different than the coffee alone.

The trio returned to an acoustic sound with “Les Sens À Sens Unique”, which opened with Bédard's individual and rounded bass notes ringing around the room, followed by a more powerful thrumming bass pattern. Roussel entered with light, ruminating piano, and Cloutier picked up mallets to play quietly but very distinctly on drums and cymbals. Their playing fit the carefully-tuned sound ambiance of the Fourth Stage, filling it and allowing the sounds of each instrument to bounce and meld and interact. The tune eventually picked up energy, becoming syncopated and joyful before finally fading out.

The trio closed their 90-minute show with “Aroma d'Aosta”, an fast, dynamic number with assertive playing from all three, which ended suddenly with a quick string of piano notes and cymbal taps. The audience, which had been clapping appreciatively at solos and song breaks throughout the show, responded with extended applause.

I'm not surprised that the Emie R Roussel Trio has been able to connect with audiences around the globe. The clear joy that they communicate with their music is undoubtedly catchy, and their pieces can be appreciated both for their foreground upbeat melodies and for their underlying complexity. Combine that with their “complicité” – their mutual musical bond and appreciation – and they look like a group well worth following in the future.

The Emie R Roussel Trio will perform at the Maison de la culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in Montreal on Tuesday, December 5. In February, 2018, they will tour western Canada, with performances at the Yardbird Suite in Edmonton (February 2), and the Centre culturel francophone de Vancouver (February 3). They will return to France and Belgium later next year.

Set List (all compositions by the trio and from Intersections)

Set 1:

  • 9 'Til Late
  • Troisième Vague
  • Nulla Regula Sine Exceptione
  • Vingt-Troisième Étage
  • Tout Le Monde Ensemble

Set 2:

  • All the Things You Want in a Bowl
  • De Tadousac à Auckland
  • Les Sens À Sens Unique
  • Aroma d'Aosta

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