Genre-jugglers Les Projectionnistes will play this Saturday at the St. John’s Jazz Fest. Elling Lien took a look through their luggage to make sure they’re not concealing any dangerous avant-garde goods.
It is a dark night on Duckworth.
Walking alone from George Street after three too many martinis, I catch a glimpse of someone in the corner of my sharp eye. I look around and the street is as empty as a mousetrap with no cheese. Have they found me? Could my seedy past as an international spy assassin be catching up with me?
Suddenly I see a cartoon bicycle snapping around the corner like a rubber band. An anvil strapped to the side is engraved with the word “ACME”.
“Hop on!” The rider blurts. “Hurry!”
I hop on the back and with a scream of tires we speed away. A shiny black 1957 Chevrolet screeches after us in hot pursuit.
Reaching inside my coat to feel the cold steel of my Beretta 92FS, I realize I haven’t had to use it once in the twenty years since I ‘disappeared’.
But tonight is a different kind of night.
Les Projectionnistes are a different kind of jazz band.
Their music tells stories. It juxtaposes ideas. It's technically complex. It's driving. It's clever. It's over-the-top. It's sarcastic. It's complicated. It's passionate. Wacko. Crazy. Kooky.
Claude St-Jean, the band’s musical composer and musical director, says people are often surprised at the band’s energy and musical range. He attributes it partly to knowing the limits of the members, and consciously pushing those limits when he composes their music.
“What we do is a creative music,” says St-Jean. “I don’t want to make what everyone else is making. I want to play music that’s in touch with the feeling or the buzz of the band.”
St-Jean says he first started the band in 1996 when he was feeling held back by his brass band L’Orkestre des Pas Perdus.
“I needed to create something more rock. Something with more energy.”
He set to work piecing together a band of talented players from diverse ends of the Montreal music spectrum. From jazz to avant-garde to progressive rock.
With a diverse team, the resulting sound is not jazz, it’s not avant-garde, it’s not progressive rock. It’s not blues. It’s not reggae. But in many ways the result is like a wrestling match between all of those elements.
Or like a Warner Brother’s cartoon – a pastiche of strong atmospheres and irregular time signatures, with just enough recurring elements to keep it coherent.
“I don’t want to lose people when they’re listening to us play, but at the same time I don’t want to make it easy.”
This fine balance makes listening to the band an enjoyable trip, where the music can place you in a very specific situation.
For example, their song “Qui est a l’Appareil?” (Who is at the phone?) from their 2005 album Vue, is, according to St-Jean, intended to a simulate the swelling of stress when the telephone rings with an expected call.
“Sometimes in a show I say things like, ‘The next piece of music you will have a bomb to diffuse in the song.’”
“I want the audience to enjoy the music, but I try to give an idea what I was thinking when I was composing the music.”
But St-Jean doesn’t even have to do that. The sextet of electric guitar, tenor sax, alto sax, electric bass, trombone and drums makes irresistably visual music.
“I’m very lucky to do this kind of music,” he says. “To have money for playing and to communicate some crazy things to people – it’s very important to me.”
Saturday 22, Les Projectionnistes w/ Dameian, and Larra Skye. $10 general, $15 double, $7 student/senior and $20 family, 7-11pm at Harbourside Park