Emelie – Claire Barlow; The Juno, the Duck, the Mouse and ‘Bunny’

For Emelie – Claire Barlow, the fifth time is a charm.

Following four previous Juno nominations, Barlow finally won a 2013 award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year. The album is called ‘Seule ce  Soir’ . A disc which was recorded in 2012 and was initially intended as a compilation of all her French songs she has done over the years.

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‘Most of my records have one or two songs in French and we played most of them live. I just thought it was time to  re – record  them because over the years they have evolved. So the project took on a life of its own. Half the record is newly recorded versions of old songs and the other half are new songs. ”

Barlow, combining new and old – did not discover that a huge gap existed between the compositions. According to the native of Toronto, the blending of material was smooth.

“I found the album worked in a very cohesive way. For me, my creative process is taking a song and changing the arrangement completely and making them my own style. An example would be Croissants de Soleil. Ginette Reno is very pop oriented and we took her song, stripped it down and made it a lush romantic Bossa Nova. Because I have a band that has played with me for several years, there is a consistency in the record between the older and newer songs. They all sound as if they come from the same place.”

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Barlow makes no bones about the fact that she is in control of the arrangements and the writing process. She chooses the repertoire and the album name. Although, over the years she has mellowed and given up more of her ‘ perfectionist’  habits, she has learned  to ‘trust’ more people. Changing arrangements, especially on stage,  used to stress her out. Now – she realizes that sometimes, the most  interesting things come from the need of adapting it. Having musicians who are world class helps that process quite a bit.

Emelie – Claire explains …

” I sit at the piano and come up with the ideas and write out the charts for the bands. They are very generous musicians who bring their own ideas and styles and then – things evolve. Especially after playing the songs live.  Getting older and trusting everyone more leaves me more freedom to improvise on stage. Don’t forget, we are also traveling with a different amount of musicians sometimes. We may not have a piano player one show. My voice will compensate for that missing sound and my voice becomes the piano. If the horns are the instrument that is missing, same thing – my voice fills in that gap.”

emilie488152-000009_LREmelie – Claire’s voice is very ‘instrumental’ in her career.

Starting at the age of nine, Barlow has used her voice in television commercials singing jingles which appears to have launched an ensuing  career which started about fifteen years ago. Barlow plays or ‘acts’  characters in animated television series ( see link below).

Singing Jazz or doing voices are equally comfortable for the late thirties Barlowe and she is currently the voice behind an animated character in the television series; Almost Naked Animals. It is in the third season and Emelie plays ‘Bunny‘, a rabbit aptly named and ( as it turns out ), aptly placed as well …

“I moved into a new place about six months ago and I actually have a mantle. I took my Juno award – which is quite heavy ( I may use it to work on my biceps), and surrounded it with a stuffed animal of ‘Bunny’ along with a glass duck and a mouse. They are all looking at my Juno – it is pretty funny.”

The Juno, the Duck, the Mouse and 'Bunny'.
The Juno, the Duck, the Mouse and ‘Bunny’.

Something that is not very humorous, is when Emelie discovered that she had won the Juno award. She was on tour and could not attend the ceremonies. She came off stage following a one-of-kind performance and was informed by her trumpet player she had won. According to Barlow – shock was the first emotion that invaded her body.

” I was in total shock, it took a while to sink in and when it did – it was such a great feeling. It is hard to describe. I was also a lot happier than I thought I would be.” She laughs. “It was a little disappointing not being there to accept it but then I realized that I was surrounded by the people that made it happen and that I had  just finished doing what I loved.The ensuing ‘craziness’ that took place celebrating was memorable and will always be that. A great memory.”

Emelie – Claire was also overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and affection from her family and friends. According to Barlow – it was the most moving part of receiving the award. A feeling which was overwhelming in a good way and fills her with happiness and pride. Her parents, both professional musicians ( Dad’s an award winning  Jazz percussionist and Mom’s a singer), were so thrilled and excited for her. All this means a lot to Emelie yet this place in her life was not so much envisioned as it just came about naturally…

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“I really don’t know what I imagined.” Admits Barlow.” I think it’s just a path I followed from the beginning without even questioning it. My parents were very busy session musicians and I spent a lot of time in studios. It all feels normal to me and even now, when I am in a little studio, locked away from the craziness of the world around me – I feel safe and cozy. I am in my little cocoon and that’s perfect for me.”

Emelie admits the music business is very tough and when an award happens like this – it is a sign indicative of how people feel. It validates what she does and although she would still make music regardless – she cannot help but feel all her hard work is worthwhile. The end justifies the means.

Emelie- Claire Barlow is playing July 5th at Theatre Maissoneuve as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival. A theater which – according to Emelie, is a beautiful place to play. She will be performing a lot of her new songs – both young and old, and bringing a full band along for the ride. That way – her music will be heard as recorded. She also has a couple of special guests joining her on stage yet she is not at the liberty to say who they are at the moment.

“I cannot remember exactly …” Says Emelie.” I think this will be my fifth appearance at the Jazz Festival and I love it. Montreal audiences are so passionate and they make you perform so much better …”

The fifth time is a charm after all …

Visit Emelie’s site here !

Voice and animation work

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Top Ten Signs the Jazz Festival is Coming Soon!

It is almost that time of year …

The grass is getting greener, the trees are overflowing with growth and City Hall smells like … well, never mind …

The Montreal International Jazz Festival is around the corner and people in the city of Montreal are bracing themselves for a ten day onslaught of foreigners. Yes – many West Islanders will be venturing to the downtown core for their annual pilgrimage.

Many tourists will also arrive. Sporting outlandish summer costumes tacky enough to make Don Cherry cringe. From Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Zaire – music lovers will invade Montreal with enough  accents to make Pauline Marois shake in her lingerie ( Marois? Lingerie? Ewwwww).

Here now are the Top Ten Signs the Jazz Festival is coming soon to a street corner near you …

10. CD‘s are available for sale in liquor stores, pizza parlors and the pockets of the homeless guy at the corner of Atwater and Ste Catherine.

9. The drummer who plays plastic buckets is seen everywhere! ( wait – he is seen everywhere all the time – never mind).

8. Andre Menard’s smart phone has fifty missed calls a day from a certain Anthony Bennett  …

7. The movie ‘All that Jazz’ – number one on Netflix, Videotron and the Dollar Cinema!

6. Jazz – ercise making a huge comeback!

5. Rumors of the Super hospital being named ‘L’hopitale Brubeck – just that; rumors ….!

4. Rumors of Corey Hart opening up for Dr. John – just that; rumors!

3. The Breakfast Club movie poster is everywhere!

2. STM bus drivers breaking into ‘song and dance’ every second stop!

and the number one sign the Jazz Festival is coming soon …?

1. Sales of Conway Twitty’s greatest hits? Sadly in decline …

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Gilberto Gil; A Brazilian Mick Jagger?

When a seventy year old man is able to lift people from their seats – over and over and over again …

A flip of the fedora in his direction is not just necessary – it is required.

Photo courtesy of Anne Achan

Gilberto Passos Gil Moreira, born in 1942, is the man responsible for a love – in at Theatre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts last night. Who knew that a man from  Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, could one day be king of Montreal – if only for a couple of days.

Dressed entirely in a white suit and a blue guitar as an accessory, Gil was a presence the moment he took center stage. John Bon Jovi and Stephen Tyler take note. Before the status of Mick Jagger is obtained – an obstacle by the name of Gilberto stands in the way.

Gil is an icon. Gil is a performer and a groundbreaking songwriter. Gil is special.

With his trademark dance moves a la James Brown / Jagger, his falsetto notes arriving on cue and an ability to raise the level of the musicians around him – Gil possesses that ‘something’ which all superstars possess. Elvis Presley had it, Micheal Jackson had it and the man who was at one time his country’s Minister of Culture – is one of the few living who not only ‘have it’, know precisely how to use ‘it’.

Photo courtesy of Anne Achan

That’s exactly what Gil did, utilizing every tool in his white suit jacket to get the audience so involved – the rain outside, a footnote in the long history of Montreal Jazz shows.

Gil utilized his song;  ‘Fe Na Festa’, as an instrument of warmth. A beach – the only thing missing in a theater suddenly alive with rays of musical sunshine. People perked up, they took notice and from that point forward – a sold out theater  were drinking from the palm of the ‘once upon a time’ jailbird’s palm.

‘Vamos Fugir’, ‘Expresso 2222’ and ‘Andar com Fe’ – three songs ripe with a vocal following from the crowd mixed in age, continued a stand-up, sit-down, stand-up roller coaster of a set. The crowd danced, the ushers danced, the band danced and the man himself –  appearing ghostly under a white spotlight, summoned  the only man who may have been able to upstage Gil himself.

Bob Marley appeared. Through song. Particularly – ‘Three Little Birds‘ and ‘No Woman No Cry’. A pair of tunes which rode along within Gil’s four decade repertoire. A duo which delivered smiles to people’s faces and warmth to the coldest of souls.

People were lifted out of their seats over and over again.

Even seventy year old men …

Susie Arioli; Concert Review

Sometimes, poems are written in the dark …

Thoughts and feelings piercing the blackness like a knife profound with emotion. Last night at Place Des Arts – Susie Arioli and her excellent group of musicians delivered lines on a platter spun with golden oldies.

The patrons or as the English say; the punters – recipients of a catalog smitten by the Great America Songbook. Who says Valentine’s day must be celebrated on the 14th of February …?

The songs chosen by Miss Arioli, tunes which placed feminine heads upon manly shoulders – sheer diamonds in a jewelry jukebox. Arioli’s voice, a female version of Mel Torme. Smoother than a velvety fog hovering above a city begging for raindrops of nostalgia.

The first half of the show complimented by My Funny Valentine. A song written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Following a half dozen ‘warm-ups’, Arioli and her backing musicians – appeared to hit stride with the tune which was originally penned for Babes In Arms on April 14, 1937. Arioli’s voice almost mesmerizing in it’s roller coaster indentations.

As he has done for seven discs – guitarist Jordan Officer complimenting the original classic with his clever arrangements and Charlie Christianlike riffs. It is obvious how Arioli and Officer hooked up once upon a time at a Stephen Barry Blues Band jam. A mutual understanding of  songs like ‘Husbands and Wives’, ‘Pennies from Heaven’ and ‘Here’s to the Losers’.

It is difficult to mess up a dinner table set by musicians such as Bill  Gossage (Bass), Cameron Wallace ( Tenor Sax) and Tony Albino on drums. A trio not just primed to fill in empty spaces of a musical scale, primed to headline on their very own if needed. Wallace providing sounds following a childhood education of Clarence (The Big Man ) Clemons. Sultry? Soothing?Ambitious ? All the above.

The song of the evening – “Mother Earth’, originally penned by Memphis Slim. In a show which emphasized Jazz, Officer’s guitar rock – like and menacing while Gossage ( on the stand-up bass), a rock in a weighted down rhythm section complete with Albino’s metronome motions. That is when Miss Arioli was not keeping time with a snare of her own. A pleasant addition to an act void of over – the – top antics …

Miss Susie did not appear in a giant egg a la Gaga. Arioli does not require the bells and whistles. Her vocal chords sounding the charge in a warning of standards to come.

What did come to the surprise of many, were a pair of  Christmas songs. A back-to-back duo fastened to the back end of a two hour show like sleighbells on the Grinch’s back. ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Blue Christmas” – adding a splash of warmth to the most cynical, watered – down enemy of the holiday season. Scrooge was chased out quickly by Arioli’s renditions of the wintery classics …

Another surprise to a non-fan, the presence of trilingual chatter. French, English and Fr – anglais; shattering any preconceived notions that Arioli’s songbook would be under scrutiny from any race or group of people. Add that to the song; ‘Un Jour de Difference’, a musical score penned by Maria Greve and made famous by Lys Gauty – a flicker of Paris candlelight embracing a Montreal crowd huddled together on a cool November evening.

Sometimes, poems are read in the dark …

Sagapool – Not your Father’s Folk Music

‘The guy in the hat. Call the guy in the hat…!’

That’s all I knew about Sagapool previous to their show Wednesday night at L’ Astral on Ste.Catherine  Street in Montreal.

Now – much is known…

Guilliaume Bourque ( the guy with the hat), clarinet player and co-founder – explains the feeling  when the band discovered they had won the Felix award for best instrumental group in the province of Quebec.

“It was such a nice feeling. We felt we won not just for ourselves but for our families, the former members and anyone who has helped us out over the years. Fourteen years is a long time and we could not have done it alone.”

Wednesday night, judging by the amount of people in attendance ( including a few babies), it was obvious the band‘s first show to promote the new album was a success. Each song concluded with ovations that could have deafened an otherwise perfect eardrum.

What Sagapool offers is a blend of  folk, jazz, funk, punk and just about everything in between. Think Arcade Fire without lyrics and a few less members. Says Guilliaume;

“There are three of us left from the original line-up. Myself, Zoe Dumais (on fiddle) and Luzio Altobelli on the accordion. We were originally called Mamouche but we changed the name because the style of music had changed that we were playing. The name Sagapool came to be because a lot had changed in our lives. We had kids, got married and bought houses. All this altered the way we approached writing and the band now contained a story – hence the word Saga.” He continues. ” Pool – funny enough,  is like a ‘hockey pool’ – meaning we are a pool of musicians. That’s how we got our new name – Sagapool!”

Guillaume was pleased with the way the show went. The group wanted to portray a more energetic  performance than what comes across on the new disc. The CD reflects a ‘wintery’ feeling – according to Guillaume, and it is not accurate on the sort of band they are;

” It’s hard to write music without the feelings you have sometime. As I said earlier, our lives changed and we were in a cozy, comfortable place. That is how the album comes across …”

The show at L”astral – was exciting in other ways as well. It was the first time the group used advanced lighting techniques for a backdrop on stage. The work was done by Mathieu Denomcourt – a fellow whose talent appears endless.One effect which was simply mesmerizing, were red ‘leaves’ flowing from the ceiling to floor in an endless loop. The theater was black while pianist Alexis Dumais ( the brother of Zoe) played a beautiful song on piano. The song; Coeur D’Aiguille was magical and the ‘make believe’ leaves – like petals on a flowing river …

Dany Nicolas ( guitars, mandolin and banjo ) along with Marton Maderspach ( drums, percussion), are the remaining members of a group who are departing on a tour in February. Ontario then out west.   Places they have been before with the exception of Perth, Ont. They were supposed to play the Montreal Jazz Festival last summer but things fell through. Instead, their Wednesday  show was part of the Jazz All Year Long series.

” Arcade Fire really put Montreal on the map.” Explains Guillaume. ” When we were playing in Vermont and Maine, people thought it was cool we were from the same place as them ( Arcade Fire ). Even though at that time our English was not that great …”‘ He laughs.

Sagapool does have a couple of songs with words. On the albums under the name Mamouche. There may be some more in the future …

“All the members are so into writing music, we don’t want to write words! We have friends who have written stuff – maybe we will use them!” Says Guilliaume. ” Right now we are going to enjoy the holidays then hit the road. We will do more shows in Quebec in the future, after all – except for Marton, were are all Quebecers.”

Sagapool or rather – the members, all met at school. A music conservatory. A place where dreams became a reality for Guilliaume. There remains one question …

Will he continue to wear his hat during interviews?

Listen to one of the new songs here!