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Temps Libre

Temps Libre EP

[Howl! Arts Collective; 2013]

By ; June 5, 2013 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

From its earliest iterations to its most recent tonal extrapolations, jazz music has always felt purposefully about “something”—there is no sense of waste or triviality, even at its most improvisational. Now, that “something” can be different for each listener, as jazz oftentimes seems reliant on the interaction between audience and artist for its intent and impact to be made fully known. Even the most atonal and dissonant of musical strains rely on the acceptance of their most abstract concepts to be able to connect with the listener on any relatable level. This is even more apparent when you begin to think of jazz as a form of protest music—whether it stands vehemently against social inequality or something more specifically political. And because there are no lyrics (generally speaking) to specify what subject the music is referring to, the artist must provide some context, be it a song title or a referenced series of events.

The Temps Libre EP by Montreal’s Stefan Christoff, Brahja Waldman and Peter Burton, which also happens to be the first release from the St. Laurent Piano Project, is a perfect example of how music, without explicitly declaring so, can attempt to say something meaningful about a particular issue without a reliance on lyrics. But as such, some context is needed for this collection of songs to fully blossom in the minds of its listeners and to attempt to provide relevant commentary on what it does purport to observe on. In this case, it’s the student strike which occurred in Quebec, from February of last year until late in the summer. The strike was initially in reaction to the Quebec Cabinet’s proposal to substantially raise tuition between 2012 and 2018. There was a bit of back-and-forth between the government and student unions but no agreement could be reached and so what was described as “the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history”—that being the 400,000-500,000 person march on downtown Montreal on May 22nd—became the rallying point for many student protesters.

As this “act of civil disobedience” raged outside La Sala Rossa studio, Brahja Waldman (sax), Peter Burton (contrabass), and Stefan Christoff (piano) set about the difficult task of aurally conveying the sense of frustration and general pissed-off-ness of the student and faculty population of Montreal. Armed with just a few instruments, this trio recorded four tracks of pensive and brooding jazz that managed to successfully express these feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment in the government and the way in which they handled this volatile situation.

Each track is simply titled by its sequential placement, and they all feel drawn from experiences during this period of time. Obviously we’re dealing in non-specifics here given the nature of the music, but each track successfully evokes some indeterminate time and space—the corner of some crowded street or the steps of some government building. From the subtly antagonistic piano on “2” to the spry saxophone on “3,” the notes casually bend around each other and take on a life of their own in the pursuit of historical documentation—or its tonal equivalent. Even the piano on “4” seems to be questioning the events taking place around its own recording, while the interplay between piano and saxophone on “1” seems like a discussion of current events in its own right. But while these songs are not dense instrumentally (you could describe them as being rather superficially simple actually), they are filled with the swelling emotions of rebellion and hoped-for vindication. Simple thoughts and actions, and by extension musical arrangements, are sometimes given weight by circumstance and that is exactly what happens on Temps Libre. The social context elevates these songs above simply being a display of technical prowess; they become a discourse on the events themselves.

An incredibly collaborative and affecting collection of instrumentals, Temps Libre invests the listener emotionally despite its non-lyrical narrative. And by understanding the charged atmosphere during which these songs were recorded, you come to appreciate the subtle nuances of the arrangements (both planned and unplanned), as well as the intense emotions that brought these songs into existence.  There is also a sense of uncertainty that hovers above these songs, and it’s not just limited to the music.  Waldman, Burton, and Christoff seem unsure in regards to any happy conclusion and the music reflects this hesitancy.  But what isn’t in question though is the passion and restless creativity that manifests itself time and again across these tracks.  Whether you consider yourself a fan of jazz or simply a somewhat interested — or disinterested — passer-by, Temps Libre allows us to squeeze in between the notes of the instruments.  And it’s here that we hear and understand the full impact of what is being said, or rather, what isn’t being said but is quite clearly being felt.


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