A virtuoso electric and six-string bass player, Alain Caron discovered jazz at the age of 14 listening to an Oscar Peterson recording. His 1977 encounter with guitarist Michel Cusson produced the popular jazz fusion trio UZEB, which released ten albums between 1981 and 1990, selling 400,000 copies worldwide. Following the band’s break-up in 1992, Caron created his own label (Les Disques Norac) and released his first solo album, Le Band, in 1993, followed with collaborations with numerous international artists, live concerts and more solo album releases. In June 2013, with collaborations from his longstanding musical partners Pierre Côté on electric guitar, John Roney on keyboards and Damien Schmitt on drums, Caron released Multiple Faces, his eighth studio-recorded collection of bass grooves.
“This last recording is pretty much in the same performing and writing vein as the one before, Sep7entrion,” Caron explains. “Besides, it’s the same musicians. We had toured together, and the band ended up creating a sound I wanted to develop on Multiple Faces. When I wrote the music for the new album, I did it specifically for our band members. While you’re writing, you always keep an ear on the final result, not only for the arrangements, but also in terms of solo distribution. As for the playing style, you might call it jazz-rock or fusion, although that’s such an overused term. Any composer who does more than writing radio music can be considered to be a fusion composer at some level. The core of my music remains jazz. So, let’s call it 2000s fusion,” he proposes in jest.
Caron started believing that there was life after UZEB when he personally received the most recent Montreal International Jazz Festival Oscar Peterson Award, nearly two decades after the same honour was bestowed on his former band in 1991. “You know, it’s not easy making a name for yourself after playing in a group that’s reached a level of success. Unless, of course, you’re Paul McCartney! You get labelled for life – even today I’m regularly being referred to as the UZEB bassist. That award made me happy because it reminded me that I still have things to make happen.”
Pastorius & Co.
Though Jaco Pastorius has had a considerable impact on his performing style, Caron clarifies that the U.S. bassist never was his main source of inspiration. “When I first heard him, I thought he played so well I had to stop listening right away because I didn’t want to be overly influenced. I was shocked by his sheer daring. But I spent much more time listening to Ray Brown, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Scott LaFaro, Ron Carter, Eddie Gomez or Stanley Clarke, which of course doesn’t take anything away from my admiration and respect for Pastorius. I’ve tried to diversify my bass playing influences in order to develop my own idiom, and I also analysed the performing techniques of many other musicians such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Michael Brecker or Pat Martino,” Caron adds.
An exceptional musician having performed in over 30 countries, Caron considers the American market to be the most impenetrable of them all. “There’s too much protectionism down there. It’s very hard to make a living in the U.S. unless you are playing locally in large centres such New York or Los Angeles. American musicians themselves sometimes have to venture outside their own country to be able to earn their bread and butter. They have to move away. For a foreigner, it becomes very complicated in terms of paperwork and visas. Agents too are quite protectionist. I know – I contacted them all, and they all responded, ‘We’ve got tons of bassists!’ I would like to do a U.S. tour some day, but I’ve stopped fighting. I no longer call people. I wait for them to call me.”
With invitations to teach master classes around the world, past musical contributions to the recordings of some 20 artists in a variety of genres, 11 ADISQ Awards, one Prix Gémeaux and two Oscar Peterson Awards, Alain Caron seems to have fully realized his musician’s dream. Considered by some to be one of the world’s top bassists, he personally believes that his apprenticeship is not over and that there is still much to be achieved. “Life as a musician is like an endless road,” Caron muses. “The only possible end is your own limitations, and I hope never to reach mine. As for musical expression, I’m now interested in developing my improvisational skills, how to play with the right amount of precision and intelligence. You can have a head full of music and never be able to write out. I also want to develop my composing skills so as to be able to express myself as accurately as possible. I often feel that what I write could be better. Then there is your work as a producer or arranger. It too requires good taste and the ability to make informed choices.”
As he gears up for the 2014 NAMM Show in January and a European tour in March and April, the 58-year-old performer is thinking of everything but retirement. “Obviously, I have been doing this for many years now. I try to keep in shape as much as possible. I know that I will eventually have to slow down, but I don’t think it will be to retire. I’m going to take it easier in specific areas – travelling, for instance. I want to enjoy life, but music is fun and I’ll keep going as long as I possibly can. No-one is ever going to be able to take this away from me.”