The trumpet is arguably the first instrument of Jazz but we hear it infrequently in Auckland. When we do it is seldom the lead instrument. To redress the balance, the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) featured Lex French last week, an impressive musician who is garnering increasing attention on the Jazz scene. This gig was one to look forward to. The occasion was the launch of his new Rattle album ‘The Cut’, which is an international affair; recorded at McGill University’s MMR & Studio ‘A’ utilising top rated young Montreal musicians. The mixing and mastering done in Auckland by Rattles Steve Garden. For the album release tour French had assembled a quintet of Wellington based musicians, people he has played with before and all well-respected.
While French has been around for some time and amassed an impressive CV he is not as well-known in Auckland. After this album (and gig) that should change. In spite of his relative youth he has already worked extensively overseas and has long been an essential component of the Wellington scene. He came to my attention earlier this year when ‘The JAC’ toured New Zealand and he really stood out, as trumpet players of his calibre are few and far between in New Zealand. His ability to engage an audience goes way beyond mere chops as the way he connects is personal. His tone is impressive as is his control of dynamics. While a strong decisive player, he can also whisper a beguiling phrase. ‘The Cut’ features his own compositions and these are as strong as the playing on the album.
If I had to pinpoint a particular mood, a particular composition I would draw your attention to ‘Metro’. Montreal has an impressive metro, teaming with cosmopolitan life. This track (2) and the others on the album connected me back to a city I love; a great Jazz city. This is what Jazz does best, paints sound pictures, reconnects us to fading memories while at the same time pointing to the unknown. ‘The Cut’ has an up to the moment feel with strong edgy interplay between instruments. Strangely it conveyed to me the vibe of Miles ‘Sorcerer’ album. Perhaps it was the compositions, perhaps it was the phrasing and intonation of the trumpet, but whatever the reason it evoked memories. Over the week I have played the album over and over and with each acquaintance a new pleasure discovered.
French is from Wellington New Zealand and there he obtained a B Mus with honours before moving to Montreal’s McGill University to complete a Masters. McGill has a highly respected Jazz Studies course (the Schulich School of Music). As an aside, New Zealand has another respected McGill alumni in drummer Ron Samsom (now head of Auckland University’s Jazz Studies Program). The musicians on ‘The Cut’ are all from McGill, Montreal. They are Lex French (trumpet), David Bellemare (tenor saxophone), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Nicolas Bedard (bass) and Mark Nelson (drums). French is clearly the leader, giving a consistently strong performance, but with impressive sounding musicians like this behind him he is extremely well supported. For the New Zealand tour he had Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes, Piano), Scott Maynard (bass) and Lauren Ellis (drums). Having keys replace guitar changed the feel somewhat, but both configurations were effective in their way. With the authoritative French upfront it could hardly be otherwise.
French is impressive in an ensemble but he is a standout when leading his own unit. Buy this CD to show your support for an up and coming artist, but above all buy it for the pure enjoyment of sampling the best of contemporary Jazz. We can also chalk this up as another win for Rattle, in what is already an impressive 2014 Jazz catalogue.
What: Lex French ‘The Cut’ Album release for Rattle Records www.rattlerecords.net
Who: Lex French Quintet: (‘Album) Lex French (trumpet, leader), David Bellemare (tenor saxophone), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Nicolas Bedard (bass), Mark Nelson (drums). (NZ tour) Lex French (trumpet, leader), Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes, piano), Scott Maynard (bass), Lauren Ellis (drums). www.alexisfrenchmusic.com
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 18th June 2014 www.creativejazzclub.co.nz