The up-and-coming Montreal jazz musician brings her trio to the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage on March 28.
Montreal jazz pianist Gentiane Michaud-Gagnon (or Gentiane MG as she abbreviates her name) ignited her career with a bang less than two years ago and shows no sign of slowing her momentum.
The 27-year-old released Eternal Cycle, her first album as a leader, in the summer of 2017. That album of original compositions for her trio was picked by CBC as one of the year’s best Canadian jazz releases. For 2018-19, Michaud-Gagnon was named Radio-Canada’s jazz discovery.
On Thursday, she brings her trio to the NAC Fourth Stage, in advance of the upcoming release of her sophomore album Wonderland, to be released in early May. Below, Michaud-Gagnon, a composer and player who’s unafraid of exploring complex musical and psychological realms, discusses how she’s progressed as an artist.
Q: You recorded your second album with your trio in January. How does this record differ from your trio’s debut disc?
A: My second album is in a way a development of the first one, while being quite different. There are two pieces in Eternal Cycle that I think initiated the creative process for these new 13 pieces. The writing is more developed, the pieces are contrasting and each has a different rhythmic concept. I wanted to explore different forms. There are some short interludes, some through-composed pieces, as well as a suite in three parts. I also searched for new ways of creating improvised sections in order to lead the trio and myself to new territories.
Q: How would you describe the emotional content of your music?
A: Music is a language that goes way beyond the reality of words. I think each person has its very particular way of perceiving the message of one given piece of music. My short answer would be that I tend to be attracted by darkness when it comes to art in general, although there is a lot of nuance to that idea. Darkness can’t exist without brightness.
When I compose, I think a lot about the idea of inaccessible feelings, of contradictions, of emotions that I can’t control. Each piece has a real meaning to me based on where I was in my life at the moment I composed it. How emotions can be translated to music is still a concept that I find mystical and that I don’t quite understand rationally. I just know that music is the only way for me to transcend a whole world of emotions, thoughts, and to dig further into the unknown.
Q: How significant are the titles of your compositions to you? What should a listener take from such evocative titles as Forgiveness, Repentance, Sanctuary, Erased Self, Empty Canvas and Heavy Weight?
A: Titles are hard to find and are very important to me. Often, while I am in the process of writing, I start conceptualizing what the piece means to me. Then, I try finding a phrase or an idea based in reality that describes it. Once the concept is more defined, I search for the right word, or the right few words. That last step is the hardest. Most of the time, I have the title before the piece is finished, although sometimes it requires more research. Other times I get lucky and the title comes first and starts the whole creative process.
When it comes to albums, I try to find the title as early on as possible so I can write pieces that are all part of the bigger concept. Eternal Cycle was expressing deep emotions that sometimes go away but that always come back. Wonderland represents hope. It’s a place where things can be different, a place where beauty still exists and where the cycle might be breaking. Forgiveness, Sanctuary, Erased Self, Empty Canvas and Heavy Weight represent many of the necessary steps toward that Wonderland.
Q: Beyond your trio, you’re also playing with some musicians a generation older than yourself, such as Yannick Rieu and Frank Lozano. What do these experiences give you? What do you have in common with and how do you differ from jazz players who might be twice your age?
A: I feel blessed and grateful for the opportunity to share and to learn from these incredible musicians. Playing with such musicians has made me grow enormously. They have more experience, they’ve played with more people than I have, and they have more knowledge.
What we have in common is something that I think we’re all trying to reach. Something that goes beyond reality and that touches spirituality. A state in which only music really means anything and where us as mortal human beings doesn’t matter so much, at least while we play. I think it’s in those moments especially that age doesn’t mean anything anymore.
Montreal has a very rich jazz community in that sense. Older musicians share with younger musicians, and I am always amazed to see how age is transcended by the fact that we share something very meaningful to us all and this alone is enough to let go of our differences.
Q: What artistic and career goals do you have for the rest of 2019?
A: First of all, we will launch my new CD Wonderland on May 6. I already have concerts booked around Quebec for the rest of the year and we’re working on a Canadian tour for the trio in the fall. I love traveling. I am currently working on some new music for a duo with saxophonist Frank Lozano, and regularly playing around Montreal with different projects.
My short-term artistic goals are always evolving. I have spent the better part of the last year working toward the release of my upcoming album, and am now finally able to re-focus my energy towards working on my personal musical development. But in the end, I think it’s all serving the same purpose: to keep growing as a performer and composer and to continue sharing with other musicians.
Gentiane MG Trio
When: Thursday, March 28, 8:30 p.m.
Where: NAC Fourth Stage
Tickets: $19 at nac-cna.ca or the NAC Fourth Stage
Article written by Peter Hum
Article originally posted at ottawacitizen.com