Love and heartbreak. People and places and things. It’s common knowledge that that’s where legions of musicians have found the inspiration for their songs.

Literature and mathematics are not quite up there, but the Toronto jazz trumpeter and composer Brownman  (born “Nick Ali”) says those are his go-to topics when he sits down to compose.

And, as someone who heads seven (!) different ensembles, the Trinidad-born  Brownman never stops composing. His outfits include Cruzao, a Latin-jazz-funk quintet; the hard-swinging Brownman Akoustic Quartet; the 15-strong Latin-jazz big band Cruzao Grupo Monstruoso; and his Miles Davis-influenced Brownman Electryc Trio.

“I read a lot, on average about three books a week, so my tunes are often inspired by literature.”

Where he gets the time to play with each outfit is a mystery, but that’s beside the point. Just like his creatively restless idol Davis, Brownman is a prolific and adventurous spirit.

“I read a lot, on average about three books a week, so my tunes are often inspired by literature,” he says. “For example, the tune “Mago Malpensado” (“The Evil Magician”) on the Cruzao CD Shades Of Brown was my attempt to encapsulate the story of Faust using a Latin-jazz setting as the backdrop.” That album, which came out in 2002, led to a National Jazz Award for composition.

And where does math figure in the compositional equation?

“Before I went to New York to study with Randy Brecker, I did a physics degree, so sometimes I try and let the language of the universe – mathematics – guide my writing,” he explains. “For example, I find the irrational number series fascinating. This is a number that can not be expressed as an exact ratio, and I’ve been playing with rhythmic mappings for irrational number series over the last few years.”

He uses the piece “Irrational Funktion,” on the Electryc Trio’s fantastic 2013 CD, Gravitation: A Study In Freefall, to illustrate his point.

“It features a bass line whose syncopated rhythms are drawn almost entirely from a particular irrational number series mapping,” he says. “It gave me this lop-sided rhythmic thing, which sparked the writing process. I then gave these rhythms a key centre and assigned pitches so a bass line emerged. From there, I added harmony, and finally wrote a challenging melody over the entire thing.”

If that went over your head like it did mine, just keep this in mind: The music remains totally accessible, groove-heavy jazz, created by people who play like it’s their last day on this planet. It’s visceral, and it cooks.

“I love this freaking thing, and feel honoured that Gravitation is now a part of my own musical lineage,” Brownman says.

Brownman Music
Selected Discography:
Shades of Brown (with Cruzao, 2002), Juggernaut – (with Brownman Electryc Trio, 2009), Gravitation: A Study In Freefall – (with Brownman Electryc Trio, 2013)
SOCAN member since 2000

The year 2014 is shaping up as Edgar Bori’s moment. This Montreal artist – who has long hidden his face from his audience, only revealing his identity in 2009 – has just completed his dream album trilogy Balade-Malade-Salade. He’s gearing up for an extended tour of two continents, while preparing to celebrate 20 years as a professional artist and 60 as an earthling. Quite a way of leaving behind 2013, a year that definitely ended on a bad note.

At this time last year, Bori and his spouse Cathie Bonnet were about to sell Productions de l’onde, the small company set up in 1992 to deal with the singer’s musical activities and provide a home to emerging artists. They wanted to pass the torch and ensure the company’s long-term financial viability. Four months later, the new owners had abandoned ship after accumulating a $375,000 debt.

Rather than watching the company sink, Bori has now come back on board and launched a fundraising campaign in the hope of being able to pay back those who had been swindled, and things are looking up, with some $35,000 having been raised so far through the Kapital crowdfunding platform. Bori will then fugure out how to share power while avoiding the same mistakes and retaining the artistic control of the company. “We must prepare for a transition,” the artist says. “It’s a lot of work, and I’m pushing 60. The administrative part is time-consuming, and after awhile you can no longer do it all by yourself.”

Musical Salad

The troubles came at a time when Bori was about to complete his most ambitious project ever, the Balade-Malade-Salade trilogy. Released in 2012, the Balade part of the trio featured a variety of creative collaborations as well as a few uncompromising personal creations. This was followed by Malade, a more experimental and introspective venture, and then by Salade, a recording project that was released slightly behind schedule in the spring. Unlike the first two installments, this latest disc is comprised of covers involving guest artists (François Cousineau, Yannick Rieu, Romulo Larrea), including a brilliant piece amalgamating two classic French songs, Léo Ferré’s “Avec le temps” (“In Time”) and Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas“ (“If you go away”).

This last piece was inpired by a meeting between Bori and the late Roger Zanetti, aka Zaneth, a friend of Ferré. “Zaneth told me that Léo had written ‘Avec le temps’ in response to Brel’s lyric saying ‘If you go away… Oh, I’d have been the shadow of your shadow.’ Ferré was telling Brel, ‘Don’t worry, man, in time, you’ll stop being in love.’ I put both lyrics side by side, and since they both talk about the same things – jewels, fire, a dog, a shadow – I thought there might be something to this.”

Salade is avaibable both on its own and along with the other volumes of the box set. To encourage people to buy the full collection, Bori added a fourth recording called La Route (The Road) that includes pieces that did not make it to the final trilogy, as well as excerpts of an interview that took place in his car.


Noting that 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of Félix Leclerc’s birth, as well as some of his own personal milestones, Bori is pretty confident that this year is going to evolve into “something quite magical.” Part of that magic is sure to carry into his stage shows as the performer prepares to embark on an extensive Quebec tour to promote both his new compositions and his growing discography. And since Bori, now a solo artist, performed as part of a group (also named Bori) from 1994 to 2000, the chances are that former colleagues will join him on part of the tour. These people include the actors and musicians who fronted his shows in the years when he preferred to remain a faceless performer.

“This show will be called Balade-Malade-Salade, but it will be subtitled ‘La dernière répétition’ [‘The Dress Rehearsal’]. This will make it possible for me to stop the music half-way through a song if I want to, take instructions from the stage director or talk with the audience. I feel ready for this after spending so many years behind a mask or a screen.”

Besides his shows for grown-up audiences, Bori is also planning to continue performing his long-in-the-making children’s show Le petit ours gris de la Mauricie (The Little Grizzly from Mauricie), which combines his own creations and a tale written by Félix Leclerc. In the fall, the singer-songwriter is planning to resume his activities in France, where he has a solid followng in the alternative music scene. He could end up spending quite awhile there, as he’s planning to set up a series of cabarets for emerging professional or semi-professional artists, and songwriting workshops, on top of the two types of shows he normally performs at home. In the meantime, Bori is looking forward to moving on to his “next dream of writing a book, which would be another world again!”


To make a contribution to the Production de l’onde fundraising campaign, visit

Cargo Culte is basically the result of a chance meeting between rapper/lyricist Éric Brousseau (formerly known as Seba, a member of Gatineau) and the bass guitarist Jean-François Lemieux (Daniel Bélanger, Jean Leloup) in a video club. “I was working at the desk,” Brousseau recalls, “and J-F happened to drop by. We talked about music and shared our vision of what a rap group should sound like. Nothing happened for a while, and then, six month later, I got in touch with him. He asked me to come over, and we began building songs while keeping an eye out for a third musician. Soon afterwards, I get a call from Alex McMahon (Plaster) telling me that he would be interested in helping me make a rap album on drums and keyboards. A few days later, all three of us got together to make a small demo, and the rest is history.”

Les temps modernes [Modern Times], Cargo Culte’s April 2013 10-track CD, is reminiscent of the raw energy of Gatineau’s early days, and reveals a more mature approach harking back to the solid Beastie Boys sounds of the Check Your Head period with Zack de la Rocha (Rage Against The Machine) overtones. “I wanted something real heavy,” Brousseau explains. “I listen to a lot of punk music, Nirvana and so on, and I felt that Gatineau’s last album [Karaoke King] was far too soft. I couldn’t identify with it. Neither could the listeners, for that matter. Playing it in concert was a painful experience. I was born for the stage, and I couldn’t blow up the way I like. So, I wanted to get things going with a hard product, something that Gros Mené could come up with if they did rap.”

“I’m looking out for the next Kurt Cobain to shake things up. What we need is another music revolution.”

While he had been known for giving strong directions to his Gatineau cohorts, Brousseau tried to leave more freedom to his Cargo Culte associates. “In the new project’s early days, I wanted the drums and the bass to sound exactly the way I had in mind, but after a while I shut up. I just let them be. In the studio, we decided to record everything from morning to night, and everything was pretty much improvised on the spot. I came in with lyric snippets, and the guys started to jam from there. At night, we’d bounce a tune off, and that’s what ended up on the recording.” McMahon “J-F and I,” McMahon added, “also had a few beats in our chest drawers. Old things we’d done on our laptops over the years. We used some of that.”

Straightforwardly delivered in Félix Leclerc’s language, Brousseau’s sometimes acid in-your-face lyrics, which are reminiscent of those of Biz (Loco Locass) and largely inspired by Noah Levine’s Dharma Punx, contribute to the album’s deep spiritual side. “People are going to draw parallels between our sound and the Beastie Boys,” Brousseau cautioned, “but it goes much deeper than that. I’m a keen observer of life, and I like to write about love and sexual relationships. ‘Le chien de madame’[‘My Lady’s Dog’] and ‘Champs de bataille’ [‘Battlegrounds’] both depict heavy relationships I went through. The stories I’m telling are often personal, but songs like “L’enfer, c’est les autres’[‘Hell Is Other People’] are about… other people! In the past, I often ended up on my own on the lyrics side because no one had the nerve to criticize me. But I got a lot of input from Alex for this project. He helped me a great deal on the direction things should be going.”

All Cargo Culte members earn their living exclusively in the music business by now. Brousseau deejays two nights a week and teaches rap music in a youth centre when he is not at home creating rhymes. The other two group members work as musicians and producers for other artists. The key to survival, Lemieux explains, is to work on as many projects as possible. “Still,” he admits, “this frightens me sometimes because all I’ve ever done in my life is music. Thirty years of it pretty soon. Looking around the industry, I find lots to worry about. Great things continue to be done, but it’s getting crowded out there. Album budgets are shrinking. I’m still working a lot, but I’m making less money. What really keeps me going is working on personal ventures like Cargo Culte.”

At press time, the trio was hoping to be able to present a monthly show as the resident band of a yet undisclosed Montreal venue, a stint that will be followed by new studio sessions with guest artists for the next, “more open” Cargo Culte album. “I’d like something on the level of the Bran Van 3000 gang,” Brousseau explains. “Something I’ll want to listen to over and over. The only albums I’m still playing are old releases from Sonic Youth or A Tribe Called Quest. Everything seems to be formatted these days. It all sounds the same. It’s interchangeable. I’m looking out for the next Kurt Cobain to shake things up, but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon. What we need is another music revolution.” Led by Cargo Culte, maybe?