Jazz fans were treated to quite the evening of music last Saturday when guitar legend Al Di Meola took to the stage at Salle Pierre Mercure for a full evening of music. Being the only act on the bill can be a daunting task for some, but when you have over 40 years of material to choose from the only problem is finding the right mix of tunes to play.

Most of the evening was spent bouncing back and forth between celebrating Al’s classic album Elegant Gypsy which turns 40 this year and playing some of the newer tracks off of his most recent release Elysium. With the exception of the first few songs of the second set, this was a mostly electric guitar night featuring the full band… and what a band it was!

Its core was a powerful rhythm section composed of Luis Alicea on drums, Elias Tona on bass and percussionist Gumbi Ortiz whose high energy and constant movement around the stage brought both his fellow musicians and the crowd to life.

Rouding out the lineup were pianist Philippe Saisse and violinist Evan Garr who stood out as a force to be reckoned with in the future. On many of the songs Garr would share the solo duties and could clearly hold his own as a master of speed and technique.

The story of how Garr came to be up on stage with one of his idols is inspiring and has a Montreal connection. Watch the clip below for the story in Al’s own words and a small example of Garr’s brilliance at playing the violin.

As great as the backing band was, this show was a brilliant example of Di Meola’s mastery of his craft. A performer who has never shyed away from complexity, speed and technical wizardry, this performance pushed the limits of how well someone can play music live.

Although clearly a jazz-latin style performer, it was interesting to see a little bit of rock and roll as a root influence. One such example is Al’s re-imagining of some Beatles tunes, most notably the famous McCartney guitar ballad Blackbird which he played as a solo acoustic number on Saturday. There was also a brief full band version of the Zeppelin classic Black Dog with Garr doing his “Robert Plant impression” by substituting the lead vocal part for violin.

If you missed it don’t fret. Al has a long time love affair with Montreal and is a good friend of the Jazzfest, so there will certainly be more chances to catch him in the future.

* Photos by Stephanie Laughlin

The Revival was the scene of the hottest show in Toronto last weekend.  The Justin Bacchus Collective held their CD release event at this swanky downtown joint, and quite honestly, I’ve never been to an album release that hosted as many guests before.

Bacchus and the band drew on its fans from their years of residency playing at the famed Rex Jazz and Blues bar, a musical mecca in the heart of downtown Toronto.  It was at the Rex that this group of musicians, who were all at the top of their game already, were able to jam together and fall into their Collective groove.

They have honed a sound that is very obviously influenced by Stevie Wonder and his contemporaries, but each song has been given the “Collective treatment” which is uniquely theirs; a blend of funk and jazz, with some soul and R&B in there too.  There are even gospel inspired harmonies in some tracks.


Yes indeed.  The music is colourful and engaging.  Every band member is in the top tier of the city’s pool of talented musicians.  They’re make-a-deal-with-the-devil good.

Seriously.  Bacchus fronts the band with his powerful pipes and wrote or co-wrote most of the tunes on the album.  The music director of the group, Sam Williams, who also plays keys/synth and bass and co-wrote many of the tracks, has done some truly outstanding work arranging the tunes on the album.  Elmer Ferrer performs electrifying solos more skillfully and tastefully than most musicians I’ve seen; he’s an absolute monster on the guitar.  Larnell Lewis masterfully provides the rhythm section.


This is a must-see live band if you like jazz and funk music.  Their spirit is contagious.

That said, it’s always an extreme challenge to capture the energy of a live show in a studio recording, especially when you’re accustomed to performing to fans who obviously love and adore you, because players feed off the audience and vice versa.  Time of Your Life comes pretty damn close to a live show.  Listening to the album, it’s so obvious that everyone in the sessions is having fun, and that’s what funk is all about.  The Justin Bacchus collective brings a refreshing modern flare to music that any fan of Stevie Wonder or James Brown would truly dig.

Hopefully some footage from the CD release will be posted, but in the meantime check out a video of the band performing John Mayer’s hit Waiting on the World to Change at one of their regular gigs at the Rex a couple years back.

At this point in time, only one of the album tracks, What It Is, is available on iTunes as a single.

Photos by Stephanie Beatson

Artsy Chicks

What is this and where is it going? You may ask yourself those very questions listening to local Montreal band The Artsy Chicks. The truth is you’ll never know and that’s just fantastic. For now, let’s describe their music as experimental, although that will change from one album to the next according to the band’s keyboardist Zach Scholes.

Scholes met fellow bandmates Dominic Caterina (guitar), Juan Cruz Fernandez (guitar/vocals), Mario Lombardi (bass, tenor saxophone) and Corey Tardiff (drums) while studying music at Vanier College and formed The Artsy Chicks exactly one year ago, in the spring of 2013. They had already released a full-length album, Kwoto Zeetrus, by November. The album is a rambling exploration of noise, post-rock, a good measure of jazz and a hint of surf rock. It showcases the band’s impeccable balance between chaos and structure. It’s some good noise, that’s for sure.

The band have another record coming out this summer and Scholes explained that this time, their sound will be much more surf rock oriented.

“One of the reasons we all got together is we wanted to be in a project that does whatever it wants to do. We just like to try and do different things and do our best. All of us really enjoy music, we all study different things and continue to study so we wanted an outlet for that,” he said. “We’re already working on the next two records and they’re going to be totally different. We’re all musicians and we’re all composers, we all do different things that stimulate us musically.”

Nowadays, it’s common to see so many different influences coming together in a band’s sound. The Artsy Chicks have a bit of a more novel approach in that they go through phases with their composition, much like many listeners, myself included, go through phases with music. You might be really into a certain genre for a little while and eventually you start feeling something else.

The one thing the band conscientiously strives for when it comes to their sound is honesty, not just with listeners but also among themselves.

“That’s the feeling that I like and that’s the feeling that we’re trying to go for. [Bands who try to sound a certain way], there’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t work for us and the way we think about it,” Scholes said. “We worked really hard to get into a position where you can tell someone flat-out ‘this isn’t working’. That person can tell you to fuck off if they want to. There’s a nice dynamic there. I think it makes for better music.”

The band are taking full advantage of their current dynamic and steady surge of material and are trying to get it all out while it’s there. This explains how they’re managing to work on two albums simultaneously after having released one just six months ago. Not to mention all the shows they’ve been playing in Montreal and the Canadian tour they’ll embark on mid-June (they have an Indiegogo campaign on right now to help fund the tour).

They’ve played with plenty of prominent local bands including Atsuko Chiba, Archery Guild and Hellenica and participated in the fourth edition of monthly series The Secret Museum of Sound and Nature.

“There are so many great bands,” Scholes said. “We really like playing with Hellenica, it just seems to fit so well with what we’re doing now. It’s amazing to see him live cause he’s one guy with a guitar. It’s quite a mind-trip.”

He said The Artsy Chicks will be playing with Hellenica again for their album launch July 6 at La Vitrola (details to come).

Scholes also had nice things to say about another Montreal band, Feefawfum, who will be performing with them tonight.

“They’re amazing. It’s going to be really out there,” he said. “The guys in the band are phenomenal musicians and we’re really excited to be playing with them.”

The Artsy Chicks perform tonight, May 11 at Piccolo Rialto with Feefawfum and Palm Trees. Doors open at 8 p.m., $5.

Photo by Justine Israel courtesy of The Artsy Chicks.

*Correction: This post originally stated The Artsy Chicks’ sophomore album launch would take place June 6 instead of July 6. Apologies for the error.

Right around sunset on Thursday night of the Festival International Nuits D’Afrique, the somewhat scattered but engaged crowd at the Loto-Québec stage got a jolt of hard-hitting funk that did not let up for over an hour. The set played by the Stooges Brass Band was varied, containing original songs, jazz, and a few New Orleans standards. The band was tight, harmonies were surprisingly lush, and the solos ranged from screaming with energy to nuanced statements with complex jazz language. By the end of the show, people filled the square and the New Orleans natives made us all feel like we were in the Big Easy.

When your band has been together since 1996, toured the world, and has included New Orleans stars such as Trombone Shorty and Big Sam in its time, I think you are allowed to call it an institution. The Stooges Brass Band performed with a confidence and swagger that reflected their years of experience. At one point in the show the trombone player and MC Walter Ramsey mentioned that they had been playing for 30 minutes, but it felt like they had just started.

The show had a bit of everything. There was singing, rapping, calling and responding, dance lessons, audience participation (and competition), and smiles all around. The set kicked off like gangbusters with a few originals such as “Wind it Up.” Anyone craving some explosive brass band funk was immediately nourished. At the end of just the first song, I was already wondering how the horn players could possibly maintain their chops through an entire set playing in such a brash style. They did not disappoint.


Despite the physical feat this band achieves, one can wonder if their skills translate outside of the brass band genre. After an arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Spain” that led directly in to Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” there were no doubts that this band had the technical chops to back up that soul. The latter was tastefully reharmonized and voiced for the horns in a way that paid tribute to the original while still sounding fresh.

It was at this point in the show that we were treated to a real taste of New Orleans. The band took a few pages from the New Orleans songbook with a medley of Rebirth Brass Band’s “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up,” “Do Whatcha Wanna,” and John Boutté’s “Treme Song.” Even if they have played these songs hundreds of times, they performed them as if it was their first time and they needed the world to hear.

I cannot imagine how anyone in the audience could have stood still through the Stooges Brass Band set. They played with an undeniable sense of urgency, even if that urgency was for you to get down. The grooves were deep, the ensemble playing was crisp, and the party vibe was infectious. They only stopped between songs once during the show, and the rest of the time was full-out energy. Montreal was lucky that these guys made the trip up north from the Crescent City. Hopefully with exposure like this the band will become more of a household name as they so truly deserve.

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Photos by Evan Crandell. Check out our album on Facebook for more. 

If Krystale is a machine as she claims, she is one that has soul.

That was a terrible pun, but it highlights a theme of the Montreal singer’s new album Machine. She continually navigates a balance between warm, romantic vocal delivery and cold, withholding lyrical content. The dichotomy creates an exciting, diverse set that will satisfy any fan of original soulful music. Krystale succeeds here by singing with a confidence and talent that command attention from the listener. The songs are complex but catchy, the performances are first rate (Krystale is joined by Harvey Bien-Aimée on drums, Hrag Keuchkerian on guitar, and Pierre Erizias on bass), and the production by Tim Gowdy creates a lush sonic atmosphere that coheres the album.

Machine is a clear synthesis of Krystale’s previous EPs, the jazz-inflected Reboot (2011) and The Good Fight (2012) in which she was joined by beat-maker Kaytranada. It is her most unified work and it achieves the ideal of sounding organic, even with the inclusion of electronic elements. Many musicians categorize themselves within the jazz, soul, R&B, and electronic genres but nobody else sounds like Krystale.

While Krystale’s vocal prowess is undeniable, the emotional tone of her lyrics is one of the most noticeable attributes of the album. She is vulnerable but also closed off, making the listener curious as to what will come next. With song titles like “I Don’t Like to Share” and lyrics such as “I’m a Machine” and “I be cold if I have to / self control is a virtue,” we can only wonder why she is so emotionally guarded. There are lighter moments, though, with lyrics about restarting, changing perspectives, love, and companionship.

The title track puts Krystale’s expressive vocals on display while leaving room for funky bass fills from Erizias. Here we also witness how tight the band is through a complex arrangement that includes a four-on-the-floor, head-bobbing bridge and syncopated hits to close the song. Bien-Aimée’s drums and Keuchkerian’s guitar riffs are in the forefront of “Cold Without You.” They pair with Krystale’s airy, emotional singing to create a spacey, entrancing musical experience. “Midnight Blue” sounds nothing like any of the other songs but could be the one that best encapsulates the balance between upbeat, accessible music and sombre but tender lyrics. This is the song with the fastest tempo and has an unrelenting rock feel, all while being matched with lyrics such as “I taught myself disaster when the hue soaked in my sight / but the dark seems so fulfilling / there’s no way to change my mind.”

Some listeners might notice that many of the songs have similar structure with verses, choruses, and a bridge toward the end of the song, but each composition is unique enough that it stands on its own. Machine works because each song is catchy in its own right, but when put together they all gel as a cohesive work of art. Krystale’s vocals and compositions carry the album, but the instrumental performances and production prove just as integral to the outcome. Krystale’s sound is wholly unique, particularly within the Montreal area, and that makes Machine an album you do not want to miss.