Pianist and composer Lorraine Desmarais is known in Canada, the USA, Europe, Mexico, China, Indonesia, and Africa for her solo, trio and big band performances. She has also appeared with many symphony [...]
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For those who like to enjoy the holiday season with an unusual, fresh musical approach, Analekta offers Jazz for Christmas by the Lorraine Desmarais Trio. The album promises to delight jazz aficionados and convert more conservative music lovers! Lorraine Desmarais conquers audiences and critics alike wherever she performs. Recognized around the world as an outstanding jazz pianist and composer, Lorraine Desmarais makes her awaited Analekta recording debut with festive music. The Montreal pianist and her accomplices (Camil Bélisle, drums) and Frédéric Alarie (bass) – with the special participation of the incomparable Jean-Pierre Zanella (saxophone) – brilliantly reinvent classics including Jingle Bells and Schubert’s Ave Maria in an irresistible fashion.
For any creator, whatever the discipline, each new work is a chance to measure the distance travelled since the first exploratory steps; to recapitulate the past, all the better to embrace the future. This Christmas disc of Lorraine Desmarais—which we would be wrong to consider a mere divertimento—is no exception to the rule.
Over the last twenty years, the Montréal-based pianist and composer has proved to be an important figure in modern jazz, both in Québec and abroad. Her success is perhaps even more remarkable in that as a holder of a graduate degree in classical piano, she had probably not planned on a “blue-note” career. But life, like jazz, is made up of those unplanned but fortunate meetings, such as the virtual encounters the young Desmarais had with her first idols, Bill Evans and Chick Corea, whose examples were to irrevocably change the trajectory of this “child of Chopin.”
Fourteen years after collaborating on the album Vision, this session is a sort of reunion for Desmarais and her guest, saxophonist Jean-Pierre Zanella. A true and erudite champion of Brazilian music in our northern latitudes, Zanella brings to this recording his haunting saxophone sound, finding a graceful balance between authentic saudade and the joyfulness necessary for any project that falls under the spiritual guidance of good old Santa Claus. It is also with obvious and audible pleasure that Desmarais reunites with her now indispensable colleagues, drummer Camil Bélisle and bassist Frédéric Alarie, on this new opus, which, beyond its seasonal dimension, constitutes a sort of follow-up to the excellent discs Bleu Silence and Love.
From the obligatory “Jingle Bells” to Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” this is of course a highly familiar repertoire. And yet there are a few surprises, thanks in particular to the subtle and intelligent arrangements. Indeed, it isn’t hard to imagine the scope of the task that these well-known festive tunes represented in terms of both orchestration and interpretation; even more so than for jazz standards—so often adapted from old Broadway musicals—the challenge for Desmarais and her colleagues was to retain the charm and sincerity that make these tunes so dear to our hearts while infusing them with enough fire and originality to give them the swing that all jazz tunes must have. It goes without saying that the musicians united on this recording picked up the gauntlet thrown down to them with thoughtfulness, grace and, above all, good taste.
I believe it was the novelist and walking encyclopedia of Montréal, Gilles Archambault, who wrote that almost by their very nature, Christmas albums, even those by jazz artists, take us back to childhood. So it is with childish glee that I will here allow myself to thank Lorraine Desmarais for so elegantly slipping this gift into our Christmas stockings; it not only bears witness to a career that has spanned twenty years, it is also a sign that (as the title of a well-known song tells us) the best is yet to come. And, if that’s the case (and I am sure it is), then the next twenty years promise even more rejoicing.
© Stanley Péan
Writer and jazz lover
Translation: Peter Christensen