Maz and Les Poules à Colin – Mar. 23 at Hugh’s Room Live
It had to happen. The members of MAZ and Les Poules à Colin have individually and collectively spent way more than the reputed ten thousand hours of honing their musical craft to become an expert, and now it shows in the way they are propelling Québecois traditional music into the future.
The two bands jointly presented a concert recently at Hugh’s Room Live in Toronto. PAC played during the first half; MAZ did the second half, and then, for the finale, members of both combined to see us out with a medley of rip-roaring tunes from the Québecois trad repertoire.
Les Poules à Colin
They really had no choice in the matter. Béatrix, Colin, Marie, Éléonore and Sarah all grew up in families where traditional music was a way of life, so for them to each make music a career was a no-brainer. The quintet has a new CD just released, titled Morose, showing their wicked sense of humour along with their absolutely rock solid musical chops. Most of the tunes on the recording dwell on death and depressing subject matters, but you might not know that from the fun approach to music, which shows both in their live performance and on the CD. The clever arrangements of the myriad of instruments the band members play make the music a complex audible garden: you never quite know what you’re going to be hearing next.
Colin and Marie Savoie-Levac’s family lived in the Lanaudière region where their mother, Denise Levac, is a close friend and musical collaborator with Claude Méthé and Dana Whittle, parents of Béatrix. Claude is a legendary force in trad music – a prolific composer and master fiddler. Colin and Béa met as very young children through their parents’ mutual love of the music and absorbed a steady diet of trad from infancy. Both were in the influential family band Dentdelion.
Sarah Marchand and Éléonore Pitre had similar family influences. Sarah’s father, Paul Marchand, is an accomplished folk musician, a guitarist and singer with a gentle, soulful style. When Sarah sings, you can hear echoes of the sweet gentle phrasing of her father.
Éléonore’s father, Gilles Pitre is a Québecois gigueur (stepdancer), percussionist and dance caller and has been the director of the Festival Memoire et Racines in Joliette, Québec. With such huge musical influences within their families, it is no wonder that these five young people are so incredibly talented.
The video trailer for the Les Poules à Colin/Maz double album launch at Hugh’s Room Live
Four of the five members of PAC also studied at the Cégep régional de Lanaudière in Joliette, Québec, an hour or so northeast of Montreal. It was there that most of the band studied jazz techniques and improvisation and began to take their music beyond the confines of Québecois folk traditions, growing those call-and-response songs and fiddle tunes through innovative arrangements that the band members collaborate to invent.
Colin plays guitar, mandolin, and banjo, and his foot percussion is superb. “When I was at the Cégep in Joliette studying music,” he said, “I was surrounded by other students whose parents wanted them to leave music behind and go study accounting or law or something. But in my family, when I expressed interest in learning how to play the mandolin, an instrument appeared on my next birthday, and then I was given lessons [with Michel Bordeleau of La Bottine Souriante]. It was at the Cégep that I realized just how lucky I was to have grown up in such a supportive family.” At age fourteen, Colin was already playing fretted strings like a professional, and now at age 24, when he’s not playing with PAC, he is off subbing in in bands like La Bottine Souriante, the Yves Lambert Trio, and De Temps Antan.
Béa, age 22, plays fiddle like she was born with it in her hands, but she actually started in classical training at age 7, gradually switching to traditional music under the mentorship of her parents. She also sings with a pure young voice, bringing new life to old melodies, and, like her father, she is a prolific composer.
Sarah, age 26, on piano, brings a grace with her fingers to her jazz/pop-influenced keyboard skills, after having started her musical career on guitar at age five. For all of her young life, Sarah has been singing. She has a gorgeous, gentle soprano voice and mature interpretation of her material.
Éléonore, now 28, began her musical education on violin at age 4, and moved on to guitar at 14. In addition to attending the Cégep in Joliette, Élé studied jazz-pop guitar at the University of Québec in Montréal, giving her the solid musical skills she needs to be the anchor for PAC.
Marie’s path was similar. Taking after her musician mother, she began to play flute at age 12, followed by piano when she entered the Cégep at 17, then bass shortly afterwards. Her highly competent and energetic bass style cements the tireless rhythm that is behind every PAC number.
Listening to this young quintet, you get the impression that they are way older than their years. There are beautiful multi-voice harmonies and complicated arrangements with the myriad of instruments that they have at their disposal. The band’s sound is equally at home in a supper club or on a giant summer festival stage. They create a field of sound that envelops the audience, and it’s delightful to see these young people carrying the torch passed by their families into a new dimension.
The new CD, Morose, is the fourth recording from the minds of this fabulous young band. It is a collection of traditional and newly-composed songs and instrumental tunes that revolve around the theme that is the title of the album. Like the band members, the title Morose is completely bilingual, though most of the songs are sung in French.
Gloomy, bleak, depressing – the tunes were especially selected according to Colin.
“We wanted to do something that was completely original in the trad world,” he explained. But the band has done it in a way that is great listening, not depressing at all, with a great drive that has everything to do with Colin’s matchless foot percussion over arrangements that remind you of a mature boreal forest. You don’t know where to look, or what to listen to first.
Says Béa, with a twinkle in her eye: “We have a song that is about daughters who don’t listen to their mothers… and die because of it.” Colin, smiling, tells of another “where a mother doesn’t like her son’s girlfriend, so she tells him to kill her.” With their curiously morbid sense of humour, the driving beat and foot percussion, they make death, depression and dying sound downright cheerful! Morose is a fun listen.
Marc Maziade is a rare intellect in traditional Québecois music today. His is a deliberate and thoughtful consideration of the elements of the music he is making. You might call it a giant leap into the future of traditional music, but in his mind, it’s all about building bridges.
The new album by MAZ, titled “I.D.” explores interpretation: identity, ideas, identification, and “identiairs”… traditional tunes that inform Québec culture. However, this band makes a giant transition with these arrangements into a new dimension of what it means to be a trad musician in Québec today.
Marc, like the members of Les Poules à Colin, became interested in trad music at a young age, but graduated into improvisation and musical innovation as he grew into adulthood. Studies in university concluded with his unique Master’s degree in traditionally inspired composition, after having followed an eclectic self-directed course in traditional, jazz, world, electronic and classical music. It is a wandering muse that has led Marc down the path to creating contemporary interpretations of traditional music. This new album, I.D., is exciting and wholly interesting listening, and you can hear the roots of this new work in the previous MAZ CD, Télescope, which is quite different but just as interesting.
The Hugh’s Room Live show featured the four members of MAZ on stage: Marc Maziade on electric guitar, banjo, foot percussion, programming and vocals; Roxanne Beaulieu on keyboards, synthesizer and vocals; David Simard on fiddle, feet and vocals; and Hugo Blouin on double bass, keyboards and vocals.
For that evening, accomplished fiddler David Simard was replacing Pierre-Olivier Dufresne, who plays on the I.D. album. David substituted for Pierre-Olivier on relatively short notice, and with little rehearsal, but you would never have known. His playing of the complicated jazz-influenced compositions was superb and exciting to listen to.
Tradition and creation are the twin components of the vision that Marc had for the I.D. project. “It pushes further than the old and the new,” he said. There are traditionally inspired songs, but the work pushes beyond the standard fiddle, guitar and foot percussion sound. “There are jazz, rock and world music influences that help to strengthen the bridges with music in the rest of Canada,” Marc said.
The band’s appearance in an official showcase at WOMEX, the World Music Expo in Poland last fall, brought their music to the attention of artistic directors from festivals all over the world, and cemented their growing reputation. In 2017, they played for Canada 150 celebrations all across Canada, and in Accra, Ghana for the 30th anniversary of Ghana/Canada bilateral relations. The year before, they were delighted to appear at the Sinaloa Cultural Festival in Mexico. For the upcoming 2018 festival season, the members of MAZ are really pleased to be invited to tour the United States and Europe. It seems that their appearance at WOMEX, the biggest world music festival around the globe, has paid off big time.
“Quebec music is seen as world music everywhere,” said Marc. “We are trying to build something… something that captures the distinctiveness of Quebec music while building links between cultures. In Canada, we have musical currents emerging from our distinct French and English speaking cultures. We can highlight the music of disparate peoples and communities, but underneath, it is all the same expression of identity. In MAZ, we create with the conscience of the music.”
Marc expounded upon his ideas about identity: “When we speak about ‘world’ music, we know it is merely a label. Music is created around the world by people, and the music people make is ‘folk music’ … because the folks of the world make it!” ‘Trad’ music is based on human tradition, musical identities that arise from culture and expression over time,” he added.
“In Montréal, we see cultures differently,” said Marc. “Montréal is an incredibly diverse place. We showcase the various talents of the varied cultures in the city, but still have an identity shared within the geographical province of Québec. We are building links and uniting people.” For Marc, it is a conscious process through the projects of his band.
“Rather than emphasizing differences and replicating purist collections of folklore” Marc explained, “we are incorporating a kind of musical anthropology, promoting identities of various kinds, bringing together individual, city, and provincial identities and traditions into a kind of collective.”
“We ask ourselves, ‘what brings us closer?’”, he added. “‘What brings us together as a collective? What do we have in common?’ We reflect on a foundation of what we do.”
“The principal character of Quebecois traditional music,” said Marc, “is its instinctiveness and its energy. There is a feeling of urgency in the music when it’s played with conviction.”
He then asked a great question: “What makes it TRAD and NOT TRAD at the same time?”
To answer that, you’ll just have to listen to I.D., a magnificent musical oeuvre from the hands of four very talented musicians brought together by the genius brain of Marc Maziade.