A seasoned pianist, refined melodist and composer open to creative exchanges, Yves Léveillé has just released an album he called Essences des bois (Essences of the Woods) and which, as the title suggests, puts woodwind instruments front and centre. This seventh Léveillé release is inhabited by a spacey sonic landscape where the listener may slow down to admire specific contrapuntal elements or gently follow the melodic line around clusters of saxophones, flutes, oboes, English horns or clarinets, backed by a rhythm section of drums, double bass and piano.

Forest soundscape

Linking his decision to work with an instrument family to a painter’s palette choice, Léveillé explains that he “wanted to create an album with a different overall colour. By staying away from the brass instruments that are prominent in jazz music, I was able to produce a more muffled, pastel-tone coloration. This may be what provides listeners with the feeling of easy breathing and airiness that they experience hearing this piece.”

Léveillé, who was given the honour of being the first musician to play the new Casavant organ of the Palais Montcalm’s Raoul Jobin Hall in Quebec City a few months ago, feels a close connection with his audience, and claims that this contact can be established from the very moment a composer chooses a title for a piece of music. “In a concert setting, I’ve noticed that titles predispose listeners and bring them to a particular listening state,” says Léveillé. “Titles make it possible to involve listeners by holding them accountable for their own interpretation of the music they are about to hear. A case in point is Perceptible, the opening piece of Essences des bois, which I intended as an invitation to the listener to get ready for the journey. That’s why I placed it there.”

Is the choice of themes or sources of inspiration as important for a jazz composer as it is for a folk or pop songwriter? “Jazz composers find inspiration in their own past experiences, too,” says Léveillé. “What changes over time is the level of subtlety in the piano technique, enabling a more precise expression of specific ideas or feelings. It boils down to cutting out verbiage and concentrating on what’s essential… I couldn’t describe to you the roundabout way I took to achieve this!”

In the composer’s own words, Léveillé’s jazz writing is a quest for truth: “Whenever I listen to music, any music, whether it be contemporary, sophisticated or way out there, it’s got to be something that touches me. I must feel something moving at the solar plexus level. And I have to be in that exact same state to be able to write music. Only when the time comes to polish it up and put the finishing touches do I ever bring the toolbox out.”

Connecting with others

Far from being a solitary pursuit, however, Léveillé’s quest has been marked by significant collaborations along the way. “At one time, I was working on a project with the New York pianist Eri Yamamoto, and I got the idea of inviting the prominent multi-instrumentalist and Oregon member Paul McCandless to join us. We formed a trio, and the experience helped me get an even deeper insight into the sophistication of woodwind instruments.”

Following his successful partnership with Yamamoto and the release of Pianos (2010), Léveillé is now considering a new project: “While I was in the Big Apple recently, we started exploring the idea of creating, along with Ikuo Takeuchi, a series of compositions inspired by traditional Japanese music. We will be approaching the Japanese folklore from a contemporary and a modern vantage point to see where that will lead us. This project will keep us busy for part of 2014, as will the En trois couleurs concerts with percussionist Marie-Josée Simard and pianist François Bourassa.”

A recent winner of the Quebec Music Council’s Opus Award for jazz concert of the year, that trio performed the opening concert of the Jazz en rafale festival at L’Astral concert hall in Montreal last March. “I’m working on a number of projects simultaneously,” the musician explains, “including a presentation of the Essence des bois music in a septet setting, a performance with Marie-Josée [Simard] and François [Bourassa], the collaborative project with my New York City Japanese colleagues, my regular quartet…”

Léveillé does not share the view that jazz music is king of the Montreal summer music programming, but remains forgotten for the rest of the year. “You have to stay on course,” he says. “The work always goes on. You have to approach presenters, create events and so on.” As founder and artistic director of Productions Yves Léveillé, an organization working in the area of modern jazz concert production and presentation since 2002, the musician can “confirm that this kind of work isn’t easy, but that many opportunities open up if you are proactive – which I am!”