Adventures in sound at this week’s OFF Jazz Festival

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Hichem Khalfa

Montreal jazz musicians are about to take the stage at the 17th annual OFF Jazz Festival, a 10-day event (running Oct. 6-15) that brings together local creative improvisers and some international guests for a galvanizing marathon of music.

Among the 25 concerts programmed by the festival organizers — musicians themselves —the variety and vigour of Montreal jazz talent is stunningly evident, with projects from veterans like Thom Gossage’s Other Voices (Oct. 12), Al McLean’s “Chasin’ the Trane” (Oct.  13) and alto saxophonist Yves Charuest’s three collaborations. Some new names pop up this year as well, like trumpeter Hichem Khalfa and composer-singer  Sienna Dahlen, to mention but two who seem to bring a distinct approach to their playing — Khalfa draws on his Algerian roots for melodic and rhythmic ideas and Dahlen works her nuanced vocal style.


Sofie Norling

Opening and closing night concerts feature the most impressive concepts. Saxophonist composer and bandleader Christine Jensen launches the festival on Oct. 6 at Lion d’Or with “Transatlantic Conversations,” a meeting of Swedish musicians Maggi Olin and Sofie Norling on the one hand and Jensen’s band (with her famous sister Ingrid Jensen in the trumpet chair) on the other, along with a roster of local jazz stalwarts like trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier and saxophonist Joel Miller.

The festival’s closing night event at le Gésu promises to be an especially ecstatic blast, but with a sad note: Toronto guitarist Ken Aldcroft, who was scheduled to participate, passed away a few weeks ago. Nonetheless the evening promises to be an exciting meeting of the Montreal-Toronto Art Orchestra and jazz legend Roscoe Mitchell of Art Ensemble of Chicago fame.


Yves Charuest

A special presence this year that deserves to be highlighted is Yves Charuest. This saxophonist, a recipient of last year’s François-Marcaurelle Award, is a creative dynamo and by far one of the local scene’s most consistent and enduring free improvisers. He plays in Chaosmos (Oct. 8),  in the Still + Georg Graewe evening (Oct .9) and as part of the Montreal-Toronto Art Orchestra.

Variety, diversity and eclecticism being key concepts in the OFF programming, it’s fitting to also see the bluesy Dawn Tyler Watson quartet booked at Upstairs (Oct. 14) and the Isis Giraldo Poetry Project at Résonance Café (Oct. 13), as well as (from the USA) the eclectic and adventurous Claudia Quintet, led by drummer and composer John Hollenbeck, at the Lion d’Or (Oct. 12).

A number of new projects will be launched, like Quatrro Venti, a series of compositions by saxophonist Jean-Pierre Zanella (Oct. 11), Sienna Dahlen’s Ice Age Paradise CD,  saxophonist Jonathan Lindhorst’s Limerence CD, as well as the Schwartz/Coté/Doxas 3rio’s debut release. Meanwhile, at Galerie MCM visual artist Réjeanne Lizotte will show her work in the Échos du Jazz exhibition, paintings inspired by jazz performances.

Guitarists will be lured by New Yorker Ben Monder (with trumpeter Aaron Shragg) at Lion d’Or (Oct. 7), Peter Bernstein’s concert at Upstairs (Oct. 8) and his master class (Oct. 9), and the trio comprised of local six-stringer Gary Schwartz, saxophonist Alexandre Côté and drummer Jim Doxas at Diéze Onze(Oct 13).

OFF festival concerts are scheduled at three venues that program jazz year round—Dièze Onze, Upstairs and Résonance Café—and at Lion D’Or,  la Sala Rossa and le Gésu for the closing night extravaganza. Master classes will be held at Concordia University (Bernstein) and McGill (German pianist Georg  Graewe).

The festival was founded 17 years ago in response to what was seen as an insufficient inclusion of local talent in the Montreal International Jazz Festival . The musicians basically took the means of production into their own hands and have offered consistent quality programming  since 2000.

There’s lots of exciting and affordable music to look forward to at this year’s edition, including free events like the daily 5à7 happy hour at Résonance Café and nightly sessions at Dièze Onze from 10:30 p.m. ■

For the complete OFF Jazz program, schedule and ticket info, see the festival’s website. Ticket prices vary. All-access festival passes cost $99.

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