In June 2012, three of Canada’s greatest musicians/composers came together for the first time as a trio to undertake an ambitious project. It was the celebrated solo percussionist Marie-Josée Simard who had the idea of joining with François Bourassa and Yves Léveillé, two very talented jazz pianists, to form a percussion-and-pianos combination. The trio set off together to explore some of the highways and byways of contemporary classical music, jazz, and improvisation sometimes flavored by worldmusic.
Their unique journey, with gongs, marimba, tubular bells and vibraphone resonating in tune with way-out pianos, reveals a palette of unexpected sonic colors. The enthusiasm with which audiences have been greeting the trio since they first got together testifies to their talent.
Le Devoir described their music as being of ”extreme originality.” The 2012/13 and 2013/14 Opus Prize for best jazz concert and album of the year was awarded to the trio, confirming the exceptional quality of their free and inventive explorations, and the evident pleasure its members take in sharing their musical visions.
Marie-Josée Simard, percussions
Marie-Josée Simard has been leading a solo percussionist career for nearly 30 years. She has recently branched in a new direction by initiating the En trois couleurs jazz trio, together with the renowned pianists and jazz composers François Bourassa and Yves Léveillé.
It’s with her mother, when she was eleven years old, that she made her first steps in vibraphone playing. She then pursued her studies at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal, thus becoming the first women holding a degree in percussion in Canada. She perfected her art in London, under the supervision of James Blades from the Royal Academy of Music, and Michael Skinner of the London Opera Orchestra. She pushed her training further with the renowned marimbists Leigh Howard Stevens (New-York, 1981) and Keiko Abe (Japan, 2007).
Marie-Josée Simard received the Prix Opus 2013 for the Best concert – Jazz, with the En trois couleurs trio. In 2003, she received the National Assembly of Québec medal. In 1980, she won the televised competition Maurier Search for Star in Toronto. In 1979, she was unanimously awarded First Prize at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal.
The Fondation des arts et de la culture Comeau has established the Marie-Josée Simard Grant in order to foster the development of talented musicians from the Côte-Nord region.
Her deep commitment to the progress of her discipline has drawn the attention of many renowned composers: Pierre Max Dubois, Clermont Pépin, Denis Gougeon, Jacques Hétu, Serge Arcuri, François Dompierre, Rachel Laurin, Tim Brady, François Bourassa, Michel Lysight, François Richard, etc. She has also made personal transcriptions of more than thirty classical masterpieces for the vibraphone, marimba and xylophones.
Her numerous public performances include the followings : 1984, guest soloist, Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert in honour of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, and his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh; 1992, soloist representing Canada, benefit concert for the New York Metropolitan Opera; 1998, premiere of Concerto pour marimba et vibraphone, created for her by composer Jacques Hétu, performed with the string orchestra I Musici in Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts, Montréal; 2005, duo with flutist Marc Grauwels, Kumho Arts Center in Seoul; premiere in 2010 of 3 Jazettes concertantes pour marimba et vibraphone by François Bourassa with the Trois-Rivières Symphony and in 2012 with the Orchestre Métropolitain at the OSM’s Maison Symphonique.
Her discography of nine CDs includes the recording of 10 new pieces by fellow composers, 4 pieces she has written and 27 transcriptions of classical masterpieces and world music.
Committed teacher, Marie-Josée Simard has trained young percussionist at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal from 1991 till 2003. Between September and December 2015, she obtained the Sudio/Residency grant from Tokyo Wonder Site (Japan) from the Conseils des Arts et des lettres du Québec. Canada Yamaha Artist since 1992.
Yves Léveillé, piano
Highly respected for his compositions and arrangements, as well as for his numerous collaborations with some of today's most important jazzmen, singers, dancers, songwriters, actors and directors, Yves Léveillé is also the founder of Les Productions Yves Léveillé, an organization devoted to producing and presenting contemporary jazz performances. He has held the position of artistic director since the company's inception in 2002.
Born in Lévis, Quebec, Yves Léveillé has lived in Montreal since 1984. In the 1990s he decided to create his own ensemble dedicated to the interpretation of his original compositions. Since then, he has recorded seven albums under his own name. Available on the Effendi label, these recordings have been very well received by critics and audiences alike. Léveillé is increasingly in demand to perform his music in Canada, as well as in Europe and the United States. Yves has received a number of prestigious Canadian grants, including a six-month residency at the Studio du Québec in New York City and another at the famous Banff Centre.
With the release in 2010 of the Pianos album (FND100), audiences discovered his inspired partnership with Japanese pianist Eri Yamamoto. This two-piano project met with tremendous success on tour and received support from the Yamaha firm, which led to its première at the Yamaha Salon in New York City. In the fall of 2012, with the support of CALQ and the New York State Council on the Arts, Yves was able to pursue in Manhattan his collaboration with his musical accomplices, pianist Eri Yamamoto and drummer Ikuo Takeuchi.
His second album of 2010, Chorégraphie (FND103), provides an eloquent summary of the three previous years of work, and was selected by Le Devoir as one of the top five jazz albums of 2010. On that recording, Yves Léveillé presented the fruits of his collaboration with pre-eminent Quebec jazz artists.
In 2013 Yves Léveillé teamed up with pianist François Bourassa and percussionist Marie-Josée Simard to create the En trois couleurs project. Together they offer an inspired journey through the ever-changing landscape of contemporary jazz, free improvisation and world music. Their performance won the "Jazz Concert of the Year" Prix Opus 2012-13. That year also featured a performance by Léveillé during the inaugural concert of the Casavant organ in Quebec City.
Ever prolific, Léveillé released a new album in February of 2014, the highly appreciated Essences des bois (FND131), featuring woodwind instruments. Following his experience touring with the peerless multi-instrumentalist and improviser Paul McCandless, Yves felt compelled to demonstrate how woodwind instruments, often perceived as delicate and muffled, can also be used in a crisper, more muscular fashion. Heading a septet for flutes, oboe, English horn, clarinets, saxophones, piano, acoustic bass and drums, Léveillé steps out of well-trodden paths by avoiding the use of the brass instruments which tend to predominate in jazz. Essences des bois was named “Best Jazz Album of the Year” at the 2014 ADISQ awards and ‘Best Jazz Concert of the Year’ at the Prix Opus 2013-14 Awards ceremony. Not to mention that the national public broadcaster Radio-Canada selected the album on its top-five list of the best jazz albums of the year.
In 2015 Yves Léveillé embarked on a new adventure with his New York accomplices Eri Yamamoto and Ikuo Takeuchi, creating a series of original compositions inspired by the refined, sophisticated sounds of traditional Japanese musical aesthetics. This intercultural marriage, entitled The Japan Project: Memories and Inspirations, made its début that spring at the Alliance française in Toronto. Autumn 2015 was marked by two international tours of Essences des bois, one in New York with concerts at the renowned Dizzy’s Club at Lincoln Centre, and others at the Flushing Town Hall. The second tour was in China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou). In February 2016 the album En trois couleurs was released on the Atma-Classique label, and won the Prix Opus 2014-15 in the jazz album and world music category.
Yves Léveillé then paired up once again with Marie-Thérèse Fortin, his long-time piano accompanist and arranger, to present Marie-Thérèse Fortin chante Barbara. In May 2016 the show was remounted for a series of thirteen performances at Théâtre Outremont.
In October 2016 the En trois couleurs trio headed off to China. Marie-Josée Simard, François Bourassa and Yves Léveillé performed concerts in top venues in seventeen Chinese cities, reaching an enthusiastic audience of more than 15,000 spectators.
At the moment Yves Léveillé is preparing Triptych, an event celebrating his 30-year career, and consisting of three strongly contrasting evenings. The prolific pianist-composer will invite major jazz figures he has encountered during his career to share the stage with him: the Essences des bois trio, the new Quintette (Kevin Warren, Guy Boisvert, Yannick Rieu, Jacques Kuba Séguin and Yves Léveillé) and the duo Y2, where he will perform with saxophonist Yannick Rieu. The performances will be presented from May 10 to 12, 2017 at Théâtre Outremont.
Seeking to articulate a musical language that is in turn lyrical, cerebral and dreamy, Yves Léveillé is on a never-ending quest for beauty within the jazz idiom.
François Bourassa, piano
Over nearly three decades, François Bourassa has built many musical mansions. As pianist, composer and bandleader, he long ago became an international example of Canada’s contemporary jazz scene. A model of both consistency and evolution, he continues to challenge himself, his talented musical partners and his ever-widening community of listeners.
Bourassa was born in Montreal on September 26, 1959. Initially inspired to play piano by his mother’s example, he put the instrument aside for five years in favor of the guitar. “Even as a teenager I was passionate about music,” he recalls. “I would transcribe Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix solos. Then my taste grew more sophisticated when I heard progressive rock, especially Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I came back to the piano at 17 and started to write tunes. Return to Forever was my transition point to jazz, after which I discovered Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Coltrane and Miles.” Now a committed if self-taught improviser, Bourassa studied composition at McGill, where he earned his college degree.
In 1983, Bourassa, bassist Guy Boisvert and drummer Yves Boisvert formed the François Bourassa Trio, an ensemble that won the prestigious Montreal Jazz Festival new talent competition in 1985. “We entered as a lark, having had almost no previous gigs,” Bourassa admits; but the instrumental proficiency and creative affinity of the pianist and the Boisvert brothers was undeniable. The festival prize led to hometown gigs, touring throughout Canada and a debut album Reflet 1 in 1986 that underscored the band’s roots in the music of Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Wayne Shorter.
Bourassa then returned to studies at Boston’s New England Conservatory, where he focused on improvisation with George Russell, Fred Hersch, Tom McKinley and Miroslav Vitous and earned a Master’s degree. At the same time, the Trio continued to evolve, building an international following with initial appearances in Europe (1988), the United States (1992) and Asia (1993), and recording its second album, Jeune Vieux Jeane in 1992. In addition to the many compositions he wrote for the ensemble, Bourassa also began to produce larger works that incorporated string quartets and string orchestras, as well as masses and ballet scores. “I like spontaneity and freedom, but organization as well,” he notes. “It’s tough when I write for people who don’t improvise, because you can’t assume dynamics and phrasing; but you can’t let composition become too prominent. The balance is key.”
Echo, from 1996, gave a major boost to Bourassa’s international profile. It also marked the end of the Bourassa Trio era, as the ensemble soon expanded to include another prominent member of the Montreal jazz community, saxophonist and flutist André Leroux. “Andre would play with us occasionally from the time we began,” Bourassa recalls, “and he had called me for a duo concert in 1995 where we played so well together that I invited him to play with the trio.” Initially billed as the François Bourassa Trio + André Leroux, their initial recording Cactus (1998) revealed a new power and emotional range that had blossomed by the time the JUNO award-winning Live was recorded at Toronto’s Top of the Senator in 2001. “I think I got more adventurous once I had a quartet,” Bourassa offers. “André brings a different side to my music. He has great energy, where I’m more introspective. His arrival was a big change, one that has allowed me to express my love of Coltrane and Wayne Shorter.”
More change was forthcoming. The 2002 recording Indefinite Time now identified the band as the François Bourassa Quartet, with Yves Boisvert replaced by Greg Ritchie and Aboulaye Koné, a percussionist from the Ivory Coast, adding new colors on the track “Boubacar.” The composition is dedicated to Malian musician Boubacar Traoré, who has inspired Bourassa to include more of an African color in his recent work. The djembe and talking drums of Koné were added again on the Quartet’s next recording, Rasstones (2007), with Ritchie and Phillipe Melanson playing drums on different tracks. Melanson became the permanent drummer at this point, joining original members Bourassa and Guy Boisvert and 14-year veteran Leroux in what is now one of Canada’s and the world’s most venerable jazz ensembles.
Recent years have seen Bourassa take on new challenges, including an occasional trio with saxophonist Jean Derome and percussionist Pierre Tanguay that has taken the pianist into more unstructured realms; a New York City residency lasting six months in 2005; and a growing list of commissions including, most recently, an orchestral concerto for vibes and marimba. The constant is the François Bourassa Quartet, and on its newly recorded Idiosyncrasie (2011) it displays new levels of mystery, whimsy and passion, with more angles and space in its sound and an ever-deepening telepathy among its members. “Continuity is important for me,” Bourassa summarizes, “and even when I have been focused on other projects it is easy for us to get back together. The challenge is to write music that will take things a step forward, because I don’t want to repeat what we’ve already done. I’m always open to new discoveries. It never stops.”
(Bob Blumenthal, 2011)
On Number 9, François Bourassa’s ninth album of original music for his own band, the Montreal-born pianist and empathic colleagues allude to formative influences, serendipitous encounters and places from his past. That might suggest a highly reflective program, and the seven performances here certainly convey thoughtfulness. But the true focus of composer-improviser Bourassa and his ensemble, from beginning to end of the record, is in the moment, now.
Sensuous imagination supported by sterling technique, François here empowers reeds player André Leroux, bassist Guy Boisvert and drummer Greg Ritchie to embark on an adventure-strewn, winding road that tours vistas and waysides of a collective mindscape, strikingly different at every go ’round, each listen. The music of Number 9 cycles from melodic lyricism to pure sonics, from a swinging basis to open space, from probing inquiry to fervent self-expression to satisfying resolutions, sometimes conclusive. There is finesse and passion, flintiness and warmth, formal structures and free association. Some of Number 9 is simply dreamy. Bourassa and company make these diversities all of one piece, aspects of an ensemble sensibility. The quartet covers a lot of ground from a complex of perspectives, new details unveiled with each turn of the ear. Return, repeat, replay, dig in, lay back. A world of music comes clear. (From the liner notes by Howard Mandel, 2017).
In 2017-2018 Francois will tour and promote “Number 9” across Canada, and continue his various side projects (En Trois Couleurs, Hommage à Dave Brubeck, Jeanne Rochette etc.) – travelling to China, the US, Europe and more.
Trio En Trois Couleurs - Voir venir la meute
Trio En Trois Couleurs - Keiko
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