NORMAND GUILBEAULT ENSEMBLE – Hommage À Mingus: Live At Upstairs 2008

Ambiances Magnétiques

Master saxophonist Jean Derome – one of the members of bassist Guilbeault’s ensemble – writes that “Mingus’ music (…) is not for the lukewarm and the undecisive” (sic). Now, I have a high degree of respect for Derome, and the few Chazz albums in my possession are obviously treasured. That’s why it is surprising to ultimately perceive this homage as exactly that: lukewarm and rather scholarly for good measure, a polite jazz album like hundreds you’ve already heard and will hear – nothing more and nothing less. It’s certainly replete with expert playing and deep familiarity with the material, but it is also a record where there’s not a commonplace that doesn’t get used. In particular, certain renditions are predictable to the tiniest detail – case in point, the exhausted bluesy accents of pianist Normand Deveault’s soloing – and at least two of these versions are desperately overstretched, resulting quite tiresome after a while (“Sue’s Changes” wins this contest hands down at over 21 minutes, but “Song With Orange” comes a close second). The unavoidable clap-and-howl routine following each solo is logically there. A typical situation in which a large part of the soul of the original tunes remains buried under the (admittedly undeniable) technical skills.

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