The Liquor Store Serves the Montreal Jazz Festival Well

A few weeks ago, I was at La marche d’à côté to see Montreal Blues-Rock guitarist Justin Saladino. I was intrigued by the precision of his rhythm guitarist. His name was Felix Blackburn.

“Yes, I do play in another band, a jazz band,” said Felix. “It’s called The Liquor Store. We’ll be playing at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Come check us out.” I come to their second show at the festival and I am not disappointed.

I arrive at the stage at SNC-Lavallin square hoping it wouldn’t rain again tonight. The stage was outdoors; some tables and chairs are set up; and the front of the stage is cleared to make a makeshift dance floor. A huge puddle keeps the audience from taking advantage of all the space available to them. The bright red stage lights are temporarily blinding me.

A series of radio noises are played, some excerpts of songs are heard and The Liquor Store comes on stage. They waste no time and grab the crowd’s attention with a blaring horn, thunderous drums and a funky guitar rhythm.

The Liquor Store is made up of K.O.F. (vocals), Max Miller (vocals), Félix Blackburn (guitar), Rémi Cormier (trumpet), Alex Francœur (saxophone), Félix Leblanc (keyboards), Émile Farley (bass) and Jean-Daniel Thibault-Desbiens (drums). Their music is a cocktail of rap, jazz, funk and R&B. After the first song, Francœur says to the crowd: “Approchez-vous!” (come closer). Seeing that most of the audience is still at the tables after the second song, Miller teases the audience members who were too shy to come to the makeshift dance floor. Then, some women and couples begin to fill the dance floor. Miller’s jokes were partially an introduction to the song “Room for Everyone,” a song containing social commentary. The band follow up with “Hooked,” a song with a keyboard intro reminiscent of something off Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew,” some verses in the style of Lauryn Hill or the Fugees and K.O.F.’s rap style which is similar to those heard in France. Then, The Liquor Store invites soul singer Wayne Tennant to sing with them, “In the 514.” Tennant seduces the audience with his piercing yet smooth falsetto notes while Blackburn charms them with a sensual guitar solo.

Each band member showcases their musicianship through various instrumental pieces and freestyle jams. Throughout the jams, the crowd claps their hands and cheers. Miller and Francoeur, like hype men in rap groups, tell the crowd to jump and wave their arms. The band members state their names, bow and leave the stage.

It isn’t over. Just when you thought The Liquor Store had run out of brew and that the party was over, the band had more goods to deliver.

The band returns to the stage with guest singer Nadia Baldé and play a soul tune. Towards the end of the concert, the brass section borrows a page from classic heavy metal bands by playing a game with the audience they call “question and answer.” It consists of call and response patterns in which the brass section “call” the crowd by playing a short melody and the audience “respond” by singing it back to them. They sang every note accurately and almost as loudly as the brass section.

The whole concert was a series of masterfully mixed cocktails with using the finest ingredients from the most diverse of styles. Their performance was explosive. The Liquor Store doesn’t serve mojitos or beer: they serve Molotov cocktails.

Mastery and Elegance

Note: This article was originally published on the Trio Fibonacci’s blog. You may view the original article here.

We chose a theme that relates to current events: migrants.” That is how Julie-Anne Derome began the “Artistes Migrateurs” concert on March 4th at Bourgie Hall at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The Trio Fibonacci violinist explained that the pieces she would present that night were written by composers who had to leave their home country.

Derome was sitting next to cellist Gabriel Prynn but the usual pianist, Wonny Song, was absent because he was on paternity leave. He was replaced with Michel-Alexandre Broekaert.

The Trio Fibonacci liked interacting with the audience; they would sometimes talk to them in French, other times in English. Derome told a few anecdotes to present Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Trio No. 3:

Each part of this piece reminds me of a part of Villa-Lobos’s life. He was a self-confident man. He went to the Amazon forest to study indigenous music and was kidnapped by cannibals.”

Indeed, this Villa-Lobos trio was made of different parts. The violin and cello harmonies were perfect. Gabriel Prynn’s powerful, furious yet controlled vibrato added to the elegance of the string parts. Right from the first piece, Broekaert showed he was Song’s ideal replacement. His long legato phrases flowed sometimes with the gentleness of a river, other times with the power of a waterfall.

The Trio Fibonacci continued with Vocalise by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Instead of playing the original version for voice and piano, they played an arrangement for violin and cello. Derome’s violin stood out thanks to her expression the emotional power of neo-romanticism, the movement Rachmaninoff was part of. “By listening to this piece, you can really feel a sense of sadness and loss,” said Prynn after playing the piece.

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Photo credit: Flo Pelz

 

Prynn then presented Trio No. 2 by Alexandre Tansman. He told how Tansman, thanks to his friendship with Charlie Chaplin, was able to immigrate to the United States. This Polish Jewish composer fled his native Poland to seek refuge in France before settling in the United States. His music, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1946, is a reflection of his migration. A hint of klezmer could indeed be heard in this trio.

Before the intermission, the Trio Fibonacci presented Trio No. 3 Dumky by Antonin Dvorak. Derome described this piece as being “steeped in Czech folklore.” The beginning of the piece is long and slow, but the rest is full of cheerful and intense moments. As a response to this energetic performance, the crowd rose out of their seats and gave the Trio Fibonacci a standing ovation which encouraged the musicians to come back on stage.

After the intermission, Derome said with a puzzled tone:

When I was a student, I had a guitarist friend who played some Manuel Ponce pieces. I wondered, ‘Who was this obscure composer? If he’s not well known, then he must be bad.’ We will show you tonight that this statement isn’t true.”

It was then Gabriel Prynn’s turn to present Manuel Ponce’s Trio Romantico. He described this piece as being “as dramatic and muscular as a Beethoven piece.” He went on: “Before letting you go into the cold, Canadian night, we hope to make you feel the warmth of Mexico.” All the things the members of the trio said were true. Broekaert showed the piece’s power with his flashy and thunderous playing. The chemistry between the three musicians was evident through call and responses phrases they traded.

After the concert, the Trio Fibonacci received an even greater ovation than at the intermission. The intensity and virtuosity of the trio served the emotions the pieces conveyed. In short, this concert can be summed up by two words: pure passion.

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Photo credit: Flo Pelz