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Radio ›› Plates-formes et Traquenards

[traduction française non disponible]

When the Festival International Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville celebrated its 10th anniversary back in October, 1992, Montréal-based reed player Jean Derome was invited to open the proceedings with the world premiere of his new group, Les Dangereux Zhoms. The septet was a brilliant way to kick things off. The group, created especially for this occasion, represented an all star cast from the Montréal Musique Actuelle community. Consisting of Derome, René Lussier, Pierre Tanguay, Pierre Cartier, Robert M Lepage, Guillaume Dostaler, and Tom Walsh, they were among the musicians who banded together to form the Ambiances Magnétiques musical collective and record label. In various forms, they had been collaborating since the late-’70s, exploding boundaries between genres ranging from Monkish jazz angularities to folk melodies, through-composition, cartoon calypsos, driving rock beats, and brash waves of noise.

For their premier concert, Derome drew on musical notebooks he had been keeping while on tour through North America and Europe. He remembers that “at first I didn’t know what I would compose for that event and decided almost at the last moment to use this material. One of the basic ideas was to mix improvisation with melodic material and make these co-exist. I was always attracted as a composer to make different layers, stratas, happen at the same time, sometimes in different tempos, styles, or sound color. The melodic material could sometimes be very simple. I like beautiful and simple melodies.” The group nailed that opening performance and went on to work out Derome’s book of compositions, recording a series of great releases which captured subsequent live dates.

Fast forward to 2008 and the celebration of the 25th anniversary of FIMAV. What better way to kick things off than to book Derome and crew for a look at where they’d been during the intervening years? To celebrate the event, Derome wrote a new piece for extended ensemble in homage to the festival which he paired with a piece he wrote to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Montréal-based production company Traquen’art. (It should also be noted that Ambiances Magnétiques celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2008 as well!) He augmented the core group of Tanguay, Cartier, Dostaler, and Walsh with seven guests. Vocalist Joane Hétu and turntablist Martin Tétreault were logical choices as they play critical roles in so much of Derome’s music. Lori Freedman’s clarinet and Gordon Allen’s trumpet compliment Derome’s reeds and Walsh’s trombone. Bernard Falaise brought the integral sound of electric guitar back to the group. And the ensemble colorations were filled out with the addition of violinist Nadia Francavilla and violist Jean René.

While the instrumentation shaped the sound of the ensemble, it was the particular musicians that came first. Derome comments, “I compose for people not instruments… I was looking for musicians who could share the group’s strong points; discipline even in open improv, a sense of form, good ensemble playing, awareness, courage or boldness. Plus, these are the [musicians] around me. These are the ones living and active in Montréal... I work with all of them regularly and I know their strengths.” Derome effectively draws on the full extended palette the large group provides, drawing on his diverse and eclectic experience in writing and arranging for jazz ensembles, structured improvisation, theater, film soundtrack, and dance.

Derome’s writing takes on more expansive forms than the earlier sketchbook frameworks. He remarks that there is a retrospective aspect to the two compositions. This makes sense in that the organizational sensibilities of both Traquen’art and FIMAV balance a deep-seated sense of musical tradition with an ear toward the new. Both organizations have a commitment to placing new developments in the broad net of Musique Actuelle in the context of music and artists they have been presenting over the last quarter century. Traquen’art’s mandate is to produce and present events in the fields of contemporary creative music and those that reflect the musical traditions of the diverse immigrant community of Montréal. FIMAV has a strong sense of community as well, extending from the Quebec music scene to a constantly evolving global traditions of musical exploration.

Derome explains the impetus for the two pieces. “The pieces are a bit similar in their conception. I started by looking in the dictionary for Traquenards (which means ‘booby-trap’ or ‘ambush’) and Plates-formes which led me to ‘electoral platform’, ‘continental platform’, and the shifting of continents, bone structure of the skull, etc. So all the poetic inspiration came from the name of the two commissioners; in a way a portrait of the two organizations.” From there Derome took an inclusionary approach, thinking about the diversity of music presented by both organizations. “[The pieces] jump sometimes quite abruptly from one style to the other, more like film editing than regular musical composition. Sometimes introducing strongly contrasting material… [to create] juxtapositions to the limit of good taste, I must admit. Things that visual artist have been doing for a long time.” But Derome is too canny a composer/arranger to allow the pieces to devolve into mere jump-cut pastiche.

What comes through in both Plates-formes and Traquenards is a strong sense of overarching form and a keen ear for lyrical melodies. Themes are woven together with shrewd arrangements that make the most of the ensemble. Reeds, brass, and strings play off of each other; lilting lines are stated by one instrument and shadowed by others; Hétu’s percussive vocalizations and Tétreault’s scratches, pops, and samples are interjected, throwing the arc of the music in to unexpected detours. One moment, the ensemble floats along on an impressionistic riff; the next, the mood is fractured with jagged shards of noise. They can swing with abandon or rock out with caterwauling energy. All of this is done with a sense of playfulness rather than with distanced irony. While there are plenty of solo spots, to call out individual voices is beside the point as each member is so fully integrated into Derome’s arrangements.

In many ways, Les Dangereux Zhoms is the quintessential encapsulation of what FIMAV, Traquen’art, and Ambiances Magnétiques have been steadfastly promoting since their inception. Over the course of the last decade and a half, Derome and crew have held to their musical convictions. Drawing on the vocabularies of an expansive range of styles, they manage to turn their backs on them all to create a distinctive sound of their own. This music is a fitting tribute to these three organizations. Here’s looking forward to another quarter century! —Michael Rosenstein, March 2009

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Durée totale: 69m56s