Saturday, October 15, 2016

Lorraine Desmarais Big Band - DANCES, DANZAS, DANCES

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"I've heard so many wonderful Canadian (and especially Quebecois) artists at The Montreal International Jazz Festival. One of my favorites played the festival this year with her big band. Lorraine Desmarais at the piano can be romantic, melancholic, purely melodic, or down to earth and swinging. I love the most when she's so swept up in the music that she leaps to her feet as if catapulted by the groove...I especially remember her portrait of an Argentine who taught Lorraine how to tango…

This year's big band show at L'Astral was all about 'Danses, Danzas, Dances' (title of her newest album)...What's as great about her big band music is the big band playing her music, a Who's Who of the Montreal jazz scene...also spotlighted was carnivorous tenor saxist Andre Leroux, and, really, Lorraine spotlights them all. Lorraine's concerts always have been highlights for me at the festival, and especially this year, I enjoyed so much of Lorraine Desmarais' dancing!"

-Michael Bourne, On-Air Host/Producer/Blogger WBGO JAZZ 88.3 FM - New York City

"Colourful and contrasting dance styles. Compositions laced with humour. Surprising, unusual - and not always danceable - rhythms! Each one of these dances reflects the improvisational talents of the outstanding musicians who join me on Danses, Danzas, Dances.”
- Lorraine Desmarais, pianist, composer-arranger, band leader

At first glance [listen?], one would be tempted to consider Lorraine Desmarais as the Canadian, or should I say, Canadien, Maria Schneider.

But that would be all wrong because the texture of Lorraine’s writing is vastly different from that of Maria’s.

What is right about such a consideration is that “texture” is a point of emphasis that could form the basis of a comparison between Lorraine and Maria’s music.

This is because when writing about the music of Maria Schneider, the “texture” of her music is often stressed as that quality which makes it so unique and so appealing.

This is also the case with the music of Lorraine Desmarais as revealed in her recent, independent CD Danses, Danzas, Dances.

But what is a musical definition of “texture” which joins with melody, harmony and rhythm [meter] as a fourth building block used to create a musical composition?

Ironically, of the four basic musical atoms, the most indefinable yet the one we first notice is – “texture.”

“Texture” is the word that is used to refer to the actual sound of the music. This encompasses the instruments with which it is played; its tonal colors; its dynamics; its sparseness or its complexity.

Texture involves anything to do with the sound experience and it is the word that is used to describe the overall impression that a piece of music creates in our emotional imagination.

Often our first and most lasting impression of a composition is usually based on that work’s texture, even though we are not aware of it. Generally, we receive strong musical impressions from the physical sound of any music and these then determine our emotional reaction to the work.

Beyond the texture or sound of her music and the lasting physical and emotional impact it can create, Ms. Desmarais’s music is also heavily rhythmic – the most visceral and fundamental of all the musical elements. In  Danses, Danzas, Dances, her use of rhythm is especially compelling because it is structured around various dance forms.

Music takes place in time and like many great composers, Ms. Desmarais uses rhythms and the relationships between rhythms to express many moods and musical thoughts.

She uses rhythm to provide a primal, instinctive kind of foundation for the other musical thoughts [themes and motifs] to build upon.

This combination of powerful, repetitive rhythmic phrases and the manner in which she textures the sound of her music over them provides many of Ms. Desmarais’s compositions with a magisterial quality.

Another of Ms. Desmarais’s great skills as a composer is that she never seems to be at a loss for the new rhythms that she needs to create musical interest in her work.

She is a master at using the creative tension between unchanging meter and constantly changing rhythms and these rhythmic variations help to produce a vitality in her music.

In her use of melody,  Ms. Desmarais approach to composing, arranging and orchestrating appears to have much in common with the Classical composers of the late 18th and early 19th century [Mozart and Beethoven as examples] in that she relies on a series of measured and balanced musical phrases as the mainstay of much of her work.

And like these Classical composers, Ms. Desmarais is also careful not to let one musical element overwhelm the others: balance between elements is as important as balance within any one of them.

Ms. Desmarais obviously places a high value on melody in her writing as her themes have a way of finding themselves into one’s subconscious and staying there a la – “I can’t get this tune out of my head.”

This is in large part because Ms. Desmarais’s melodies are actually easily remembered short phrases, generally four or eight bars in length and these are often heard in combination with other similar phrases to fashion something akin to a musical mosaic with individual pieces joining together to create a musical whole.

Ms. Desmarais crafts little melodic devices that are wonderful examples of the composer’s art. And she has learned over the years to base her compositions out of the fewest possible melodic building blocks because if there are too many melodies, or for that matter, too many rhythms and too many different chords in a piece, the listener can get confused and eventually bored.

And on the subject of chords, the building blocks of harmony, here Ms. Desmarais’s approach is one involving multi-part harmony and is more akin to modern composers such as Debussy, Bartok and Stravinsky than to those of the Classical period.

Perhaps you can discern some of these qualities in her music by listening to the to the Soundcloud audio track entitled Reel which follows these excerpts from Lesley Mitchell-Clarke and Trevor Whittamore’s media release for the CD.

“With the release of her new, big band jazz CD, DANSES, DANZAS, DANCES, consummate, gifted and dynamic Montreal-based jazz pianist, composer and arranger LORRAINE DESMARAIS ( has not only explored new territory as an artist, but in manifesting her vision, has surrounded herself with the creme de la creme of the Montreal and Canadian jazz cognoscenti-including brilliant musicians Richard Gagnon (trombone), Dave Grott (trombone), Mohammad Al-Khabyyr (trombone/voice), Bob Ellis (bass trombone), Andre Leroux (tenor sax/flute/clarinet), Jean-Pierre Zanella (saxophones/flute), David Bellemare (tenor sax/flute), Jean Frechette (baritone sax/clarinet), Alexandre Cote (alto sax/flute), Ron Di Lauro (trumpet/flugelhorn), Jocelyn Couture (trumpet/flugelhorn), Jocelyn Lapointe (trumpet/flugelhorn), Aron Doyle (trumpet/flugelhorn) and completing her fine rhythm section are Frederic Alarie (bass) and Camil Belisle (drums).

Desmarais wears several hats on this compelling, sensual, rhythmic and deeply evocative project, having not only composed, arranged and performed on all ten tracks, but also having acted as producer and artistic director. DANCES was launched with a hugely successful concert at this year's Montreal International Jazz Festival, where the joy was shared by audience members and critics alike - including Christophe Rodriguez of The Montreal Journal, who wrote that "Pianiste Lorraine Desmarais et ses complices ont injecte une forte dose d'octane" [Pianist Lorraine Desmarais and her accomplices have injected a strong dose of octane.]

Desmarais and her dynamic big band are currently planning international appearances in support of DANCES, DANZAS, DANCES which will include performances Toronto and New York City (where Lorraine lived during a significant part of her exceptional career.)

The beautifully recorded, masterfully performed and profound musical journey that encompasses DANSES, DANZAS, DANCES features ten original compositions and big band arrangements by Lorrraine Desmarais, including (in her own words!).

"Ultra Triple Swing" - a touch of madness, bursts of energy and bright tones, explosive rhythms, the big band boldly leaps between blues and jazz, sweeping me up to swinging heights!

"Olivier" - the sensual poetry of the Bossa Nova, infused with luscious Latin flavours and tasteful nuances. An intimate conversation between a piano and an orchestra. I feel the caress of a cool and gentle breeze.

"Reel" - a feast of fabulously funky solos and bold melodies blown by a boisterous orchestra. Like a long-forgotten Irish folk tune, this piece reminds me of the lively square dancing of my youth.

"Habanera" - like a captivating choreography, this music conjures up dizzying dance steps, set to a breathtaking soundtrack.

"Tango" - passionate, seductive, and sensuous. Delicate dance steps set the tone for an elegant improvisation.

"Milonga" - ardent Argentina, fiery footsteps pounding to a fast and uptempo beat. I am quite taken by the rustic charm and humour of this joyful celebration of life.

"Bolero Romantico" - I wrote this seductive, gracefully moving piece in a flash of inspiration, inviting the soprano saxophone to dance with the orchestra, as if gently gliding over turquoise waves.

"Reggae Do" - a jumble of joyful tones, thrilling rhythms and intoxicating ostinato, spiced up with solos that sizzle under the warm, Jamaican sun.

"Walzer" - as if set in the era of knights and nobleman this piece evokes all the poetry of an elegant ballet, where dancers exchange longing glances, and come together in a graceful embrace. Let yourself be charmed by the subtle nuances of this delicate waltz.

"Samba Para La Corrida" - a sunny Brazilian beach, alive with hip-swinging grooves and festive sounds that burst out like colourful confetti. Transport yourself to the carnival and samba your troubles away!”

Order information is available at

Media contact: Lesley Mitchel Clarke - or via Trevor Whittamore -

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