Philippe BSinger-songwriter Philippe B found inspiration both from being in a couple, and from the movies, for his sublime fifth solo album, La grande nuit vidéo. Make a batch of popcorn and whip out the Kleenex before you sit down to take in this impressionist, sentimental drama – where real emotions arise through fictional situations, resulting in one of the most beautiful albums in Québec so far this year.

True or false? Did you really meet your girlfriend “à taverne Chez Baptiste” on Mont-Royal Avenue, as you sing in the country ballad “Interurbain” at the heart of the album? Yes, says Philippe B. “There’s truth in there, and there’s stuff that’s totally made up,” he says, specifying that he wagered that his (partial) concept album would move people by keeping things simple. “I know I’m not the only one who’s in a stable relationship and watches movies and TV series as part of our daily lives…”

La grande nuit vidéo is a “concept” album that’s not bogged down by its concept: It’s  a love story – including the stormy passages that sometimes implies – where the two main characters imagine their love for each other both in their daily lives, and in the fantasy world of the movies.

Although that’s one possible interpretation of B’s fifth album, he says, “My manager did not believe it was a concept album at all. I’m on the fence, myself: it’s my most thematic album, or rather, the one whose theme is the most coherent, because all the songs pretty much tell the same story.” Some of the album’s songs still feel a little more far-fetched, like the aforementioned “Interurbain,” and the instrumental suite “Le Monstre du lac Témiscamingue,” which marks the middle of the album. “If only because of its musical style, ‘Interurbain’ allows us to let go for a few moments,” says Philippe B. “Yet lyric-wise, it still fits within the album’s script.”

There really is a story being told on La grande nuit vidéo, “in the sense that it is the same couple throughout, two characters,” says the singer-songwriter. “The woman is voluntarily represented, contrary to Ornithologie, la nuit (2014), where the female presence was disembodied. Here, she’s the leading role, with lots of lines.” And that role is played by Milk & Bone’s Laurence Lafond-Beaulne. “I wanted a single singer that could sing as comfortably in French [on the sumptuous “Anywhere”] as in English, in order to be convincing.”

QUOTE: “I love the idea of an album you love immediately, yet discover new things about it every time you listen to it”

La Corde

The rest of the album is a magnificent pageant of stripped-down songs – acoustic guitar or piano, and voice – embellished by ornate orchestral flourishes. It’s all in the dosing. Take for example, “Explosion,” the album’s opener: no chorus, just one long, lilting melodic phrase sung over an acoustic guitar motif, repeated twice. During the instrumental break on the second repetition, a string ensemble briefly makes the rich melody soar and sets the tone for the upcoming songs. It shows a rare grace and refinement, in a pop music world  where strings are often relegated to the role of sonic wallpaper.

Orchestration-wise, La grande nuit vidéo can be considered as the sum of the experiments heard on Variations fantômes (2011), where classics of the classical and romantic periods were sampled, as well as on Ornithologie, la nuit’s brass and woodwind arrangements. On this album, it’s all about enhancing specific sections of the compositions with orchestrations written by Philippe B, with the valuable advice of his friends and collaborators Guido del Fabro, Frédéric Lambert and Philippe Brault, the latter also playing electric bass on a trio of more uptempo tracks.

“I write songs, the artist insists. I bear that in mind when I’m working on the arrangements. It sounds simple when you say it like that, but it forces me to choose how I’m going to orchestrate and mix the album: if I add more sonic ingredients, it is at the service of the melody and lyrics, not because I’m trying to fill all the available space. Everything is there for the song, and for lyrics-based songs, I would dare say.”

The 39 Steps

Initially, the idea was to have instrumentals between each song, to give the whole concept an even more cinematic feel. Those instrumental sections were then incorporated to the songs, “because if I’m going to tell this couple’s story from a movie perspective, it needs to be felt musically, too,” says Philippe B. “The album concept justifies those instrumental orchestrated bridges, because it really is like watching a movie… I did listen to a lot of film music while I was creating this album,” yet without any clear, specific musical reference.

The references to the movies are in words, images, and names. “Je t’aime, je t’aime” is a reference to Alain Resnais’ film of the same name. “Debra Winger,” whose name becomes a song title, is Philippe B’s heartthrob. The scene, in the song, where she finds herself in the desert is a reference to The Sheltering Sky (1990), “a highly erotic classic,” says B. “It’s the story of a jaded couple who embark on a trip to re-kindle the flame. Sure, it’s commercial American fare, and she’s a popular icon. But she’s my crush, and, it’s funny, I remembered people almost chastising me for it… I told that to a friend, who asked who my favourite actress was, and he chastised me. Who’s your favourite? Debra Winger? Get outta here! What?! I’m allowed, no?”

The album’s booklet also thanks the poet Charles Baudelaire – “a read from my youth, one of his poems is titled “Anywhere” [even in the original French], and my song mimics that poem” – as well  as Québec filmmaker Jean-Guy Noël (on “Sortie/Exit,” where Philippe B name drops the name of the movie Ti-cul Tougas), and classic mystery/thriller filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, a kind of catalyst for the album.

“I wrote the music for a dance performance – my girlfriend is a contemporary dancer and choreographer… She was putting together a show based on Hitchcock’s use of staircases, their symbolic nature, the trouble they represent, man-woman relationships,” says B. “She danced on a staircase and I was playing the music at the bottom of those stairs.” “Les Enchaînés,”, the French translation of Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), was initially written for that dance performance, as was also “Rouge-gorge.” “That was the starting point,” says Philippe B. “I said to myself: ‘The movies are not bad at all!’ I think I consume more movies than I do music. I have a lot to say on that topic!

“I love the idea of an album you love immediately, yet discover new things about it every time you listen to it. That way you can love it even longer. It is a real joy for me as a lyricist to create links between the songs, to strew references here and there, it ties the album together in a different way. Just like a good movie, like a movie you like immediately because of the story, but when you watch it again, as with a good Kubrick film, you notice the references, like this or that sequence is a nod to Hitchcock… Ideally, you want both, a clear story and a commentary of the history of cinema, nods, great photography, etc.

“When I was younger, I’d make fun of film buffs that saw links everywhere. But over time, I understood that movie makers did have a lot of depth in their work,” says B.  And he in his, being a writer, composer, arranger, singer, and producer who has created an exceptional album. “Also, I try to not be inaccessible. I am a songwriter, after all…”

Few would argue the contentions that the trombone isn’t the world’s most popular instrument; that jazz isn’t the highest-selling genre of music; and that Edmonton isn’t the world’s biggest music market.

So how did Edmonton-based jazz trombonist Audrey Ochoa beat the odds to create a thriving career?

“By playing every possible style, with as many musicians, in as many situations as I can,” says Ochoa, who on May 5, 2017, released her second album Afterthought – a work of contemporary jazz, mixed with her Latin and funk influences. “I say ‘yes’ as often as possible – and enjoy accommodating odd requests like costumes, background vocals, dancing, jumping and whatever else, up to and including doubling on the Sousaphone at an annual cabaret show.

“I try to normalize the trombone in every situation. For example, playing ‘rhythm trombone’ in a blues quartet when I’m subbing for the harmonica; playing with pedals and loops when playing with hip-hop or electronica groups; and above all else, I try to honour the fact that every genre has its own language and conventions. I don’t want to stretch the musical situation before ingratiating myself first.”

“I try to normalize the trombone in every situation.”

Ochoa is a mainstay in the Canadian jazz scene, and a powerhouse trombonist.  Typically for a jazz musician, Ochoa has a degree in music – in her case, from the University of Alberta. Atypically, she’s performed with the likes of The Temptations, Dan Aykroyd, Carol Welsman, Hilario Duran, and more, as the “first-call trombonist” for touring acts passing through Edmonton.

Also atypically for a jazz album, there are no covers on Afterthought – it’s all originals. “I like to compose,” says Ochoa. “I find that most of my tunes are derivative of other standards anyway. The jazz medium is largely assessed on the improvisational language, so why not explore that on tunes of my own making?”

And what’s her composing process? “For this latest album, I wrote the bulk of the tunes using guitar and voice, finessing the tunes on [music notation app] Finale,” says Ochoa. “I always write alone, often singing voice memos on my phone while I drive, and then later adding grooves, and individual parts. It always begins with a melody. In the final stages I always rely on the mastery of [her trio bandmates Mike Lent and Sandro Dominelli] to add their personalities to their parts. It is jazz, after all.”

As befits Ochoa’s eclectic, open-minded musical approach, Afterthought includes two remixes by fellow Edmontonian, DJ Battery Poacher (a.k.a. Dallas Budd). “He produced and engineered an album by my friend, singer-songwriter Amber Suchy,” says Ochoa. “She showed me some of his electronic work one day, and I was so immediately taken with the sound that I demanded his contact info and texted him out of the blue. I asked if he would consider working with me on a couple of tunes, and he agreed, sight unseen. He’ll be doing the Edmonton album release show, and I’m looking forward to future live performances with him.”

Laurence Lafond-Beaulne

Laurence Lafond-Beaulne (Photo: Julien Laperrière)

Inspired by the recent “green” shift of several festivals and events in Québec, Laurence Lafond-Beaulne, half of duo Milk and Bone, is ready to take things to the next level. With the help of the organization Scène écoresponsable, she’s created a guide for artists who want to reduce their environmental footprint while on tour.

Between all the discarded water bottles backstage, the coffee cups bought on the road, the greenhouse gas emissions from their long and winding road trips, life on the road involves a considerable mobilization of resources that have a harmful environmental impact.

Aware of this, Laurence Lafond-Beaulne looked to get involved and change things. She started by writing to a few of her peers in the music industry.: “It became quickly apparent that I wasn’t the only one who noticed there was a problem with how we do things,” she says.

Motivated, she searched for further documentation on the subject. “I’m telling you, I couldn’t find anything interesting!” says Lafond-Beaulne. “In Québec, we have initiatives implemented by festivals and individual artists, but there’s no artist-based collective awareness movement. You have bands like the Cowboys Fringants, who take concerted action for the environment through their foundation, but there’s nothing at large.”

During her research, the Montréal musician eventually found the work of Scène écoresponsable, an organization whose goal is to integrate the notion of sustainable development to performing arts practices. Intrigued, the organization’s general manager, Caroline Voyer, introduced Lafond-Beaulne to Aurore Courtieux-Boinot, who was studying for a Master’s degree in environmental sciences, and was interested in the same issues.

Thus was born the Artistes citoyens en tournée (ACT) movement. “All three of us got to work with the idea in mind to produce a guide for artists who want to commit to reducing their environmental footprint,” says Lafond-Beaulne. “At the time, I was on tour with Alex Nevsky, and I suggested doing that tour without water bottles. Initially, everyone was stoked to bring their reusable bottles, but after a little while, I heard comments from a few people who said they felt like they were drinking less water in a day because of this. That’s when I understood there needs to be an adaptation period. Changing their habits sometimes scares people.”

“The goal is to implement what you can. Everybody has their own pace.”

ACT LogoIt’s precisely to facilitate this transition period that the project’s three creators developed their three-step guide, each step being a higher level of eco-responsibility. The goal of the first step is to integrate regular but simple actions, such as bringing one’s re-usable drinking vessel and utensils, bringing one’s personal soap and shampoo to hotels, and turning off all unused electrical equipment between the sound-check and the performance. Through their riders, artists also have the ability to effect changes in the habits of venues, by requesting, for example, to have a water fountain in the dressing room, and to request actual towels instead of paper towels.

The second step concerns the production of more eco-friendly merchandise. Artists are invited to opt for locally designed apparel made from organic and fair-trade cotton and natural inks. “They’re suggestions, not rules,” says Lafond-Beaulne. “We know it’s not easy for some artists to do all this with their limited financial means. The goal is to implement what you can. Everybody has their own pace.”

Finally, the third step is a full commitment, and mainly concerns reducing pollution from road transportation. Artists are invited to use a GHG calculator to evaluate their environmental footprint according to the model of their vehicle, and the number of kilometres they travel. “Not everyone can afford to rent an electric vehicle, so this tool allows you to calculate how much money you need to give to environmental organizations in order to compensate for the amount of emissions you produce,” says Lafond-Beaulne.

Up to now, Lafond-Beaulne has received the support of many of her peers, notably Groenland, Koriass, Les soeurs Boulay, Philippe Brach and, obviously, Alex Nevsky. “As a matter of fact, no one is against the idea,” she says, “but these artists were particularly enthusiastic about it. Now that our initiative is in place and the research complete, all that’s left to do is implement it. I’d also like it if artists would talk about it, and proudly show their support as ACT members.”

We’re just a few days away from the official launch of the movement, and Lafond-Beaulne is already looking to the future, and actively seeking financial partners. So far, the organization has managed to survive with grants totalling $3,000, but it won’t be able to sustain itself in the long run, especially with its growing ambitions. “Once the project is securely implemented here, we’d love to export it to the rest of Canada, and even internationally,” says Lafond-Beaulne. “Might as well have maximum impact for all the work we put into this.”