Samuel Blais ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Samuel Blais ©Brett Delmage, 2012

Samuel Blais Quartet
Montreal Jazz Festival, CBC Stage (outdoor)
Friday, July 6, 2012 – 8 p.m.

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Montreal jazz festival crowds may come out for the big-name imports, but they really appreciate home-town successes too. For Samuel Blais' second appearance at the festival, there was a good crowd, lots of applause, and lots of interest.

It didn't hurt, of course, that Blais introduced almost every piece with an explanation, sometimes in English, more often en français (or both).

The alto saxophonist brought an all-Montreal group with him: Jim Doxas on drums, Morgan Moore on double bass, and Paul Shrofel on keyboards. Moore and Shrofel had played on both of Blais' albums; Shrofel is known for his work with Nikki Yanofsky and Sophie Milman, and Moore has played with Ranee Lee and Sophie Milman.

They played six of Blais' originals, all but one from his most recent album New Angle [Effendi, 2010]. They were generally fast-paced and intricate, ranging from bluesy to abstract. Particularly notable was the ballad “Souvenir effacé”, which Blais composed while studying for his masters at the Manhattan School of Music. It featured a quiet dance between vibrant keyboards and supple sax, with many changes of lead and motifs and considerable dynamic range.

“Brooklyn Tow Pound” perhaps reflected Blais' annoyance at having to pay $600 to retrieve his car: a fast, punctuated piece featuring mini-crescendos and notes spitting out from piano and sax.

The one new piece, “Tricyclic”, had Doxas defining the beat with the bass drum in coordination with the sax line circling up and down. Shrofel's piano took over with a fast rollicking beat, and Doxas moved to hand drumming, before all three joined back in.

The show closed with “La prophétie (du Dieu-Femme)”, which featured Moore's resonant bass solo – a quiet point midway among assertive sax riffs.

Ottawa audiences could have heard Blais play twice in the last 18 months at Café Paradiso, although those appearances featured more NYC musicians than Montreal. This concert certainly showed that Blais' music worked equally well on a larger scale than a jazz club, and the generous applause at the end showed it connected well with a general audience.

    – Alayne McGregor

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