The history of music is all about borrowing and building on the work of predecessors, whether it be Griots keeping old stories alive and telling the stories of their time, or Johann Sebastian Bach traveling to hear Buxtehude’s organ playing and transcribing Vivaldi, or jazz musicians of the 21st century learning from mid-century 20th recordings by Clifford Brown or Charlie Parker. Additionally, musicians have used their instruments to tell their stories, whether it be voice, drum, kora, saxophone or symphony orchestra. Not surprisingly, the long-playing vinyl recording itself has become an instrument of choice for musicians of the 21st century who have inherited the art of mixing from predecessors as illustrious as DJ Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flash, not to mention the many lesser known DJs out there spinning discs on turntables in the house parties and dance halls of the world.
One local act that centres on this most post-modern of musical arts where pastiche is king and time travel a given, but with a decidedly fresh approach, is Jazz Amnesty Sound System (J.A.S.S.). Deejays Andy Williams and Lewis Braden (aka DJ Sweet Daddy Luv) are the duo at the turntables, spinning jazz tracks from their colossal collections. Moving their mixing art further, they are currently finishing a 2-LP release called An Afro-Cuban Excursion, featuring the music of the Cuban-born eclectic jazz pianist Omar Sosa.
Andy Williams is no stranger to Montréalers as a tasty spinner of jazz recordings, and Lewis Braden has joined the UK-born Williams to mount a series of projects focused on mixing jazz for the masses. Williams and Braden have worked together since 2010, but this is Williams’ 40th year in the business. He’s also in his 25th year at Montreal’s CKUT, airing a show called “The Goods.” Braden, for his part, has been a self-confessed “music industry lifer” since the 90s, working in the record distribution business, notably at Cargo records and Ninja Tune. His record collection is in the 20,000 range. (He calls it “The Record Canyon.”) Along with his involvement in JASS, Braden has a label called Totally Real Probably Not Fake, which releases his own music under the name “almost nobody,” as well as bands like Boar God, Ironic Butterfly and the mysterious 4th-dimensional band called The Graffiti People. Following a more journalistic and scholarly bent, Williams, along with deejaying, has been a pedagogue since 1996, teaching math, science and the humanities for the first 18 years, and later black social history. He ran a series of workshops on jazz history at McGill University for 10 years and is a frequent guest lecturer on the subject at local colleges and cultural institutions.
Keep it Fresh
The collective goal of Jazz Amnesty Sound System is to try “to draw attention to jazz.” The instrument they use to do their work is a complex one. “My instrument,” Braden says, “is a basement full of records.” And the art is many-layered. “It’s a selection thing. We’re not scratch DJs. It’s about the flow,” he explains, pointing out the improvisational aspect of the art that requires close listening and reading the energy of a crowd of dancers. “Your plan is, I’ve got this many records,” Braden quips.
The fact that “Jazz is so vast” is the challenge JASS rises to, via their collection. They believe that it is entirely possible to present mixes on a particular theme that can be different each time out, just like a true jazz performance, given the fact of the substantial quantity of tracks on LPs, most of which people have never heard.
“There’re so many records out there and I’ve always looked at that as a challenge,” Williams says. “My former mate in the Goods, Scott C, always said, ‘Keep it fresh.’ So in my mind it’s always there, to keep it fresh. You’d be surprised – if you have 5,000 records in your collections, you probably play 10,000 of those tracks, but there’re actually 30,000 or more of those tracks. So you can always keep it fresh.”
The duo admit that they have “some grandiose ideas,” but this hubris is backed by a love of jazz and an encyclopedic knowledge of the discography of jazz, an aspect of their work that becomes obvious when one listens to their mixes (available at https://www.mixcloud.com/J_A_S_S/). Culled from their personal collections, the mixes are impressively varied and include masters like Duke Ellington and Randy Weston, rarities like Ahmed Abdul-Malik (the hard-bop oud-playing bassist), futuristic visionary Sun Ra, CTI jazz (1970s jazz’s most idiosyncratic label), 80s jazz, women in jazz, jazz rock experiments and much much more.
A black vinyl disc spinning under a diamond-tipped stylus on a turntable was once, of course, the standard thing for decades, but with the rise of the CD and more recently the phenomenon of streaming and digital/virtual product, things have changed dramatically to the point where DJs do their work via laptops. The trend is reversing, however. Braden found it remarkable that after this year’s International Record Store Day on April 18, Nielsen’s ratings showed sales that week that were the 3rd largest since they began listing the stats in 1991. Although the music market is still overwhelmingly digital, vinyl, like CDs, is “for those who want to buy stuff, and there’s digital for everybody else,” Braden says. “That means, roughly, that physical musical products these days are 70% vinyl and 30% CDs for those who want a physical product, and there is digital for everyone else. Even Bruce Springsteen only makes about 10,000 copies of a record,” a far cry from the heyday of the LP when sales were in the millions of units.
During the heyday of the CD, vinyl was kept alive by Heavy Metal fans and electronic music DJs, Braden claims, but also significant is the richness of the analogue sound and the fact that analogue round waves, in contrast to the step waves of the digital format, will carry bass sounds more fully. “That’s why Dub step, when it came out, was all on vinyl… the bass just sounds so much better,” Braden adds.
Curating the Jazz Experience
Jazz is not often spun by DJs, but it is a rich vein to mine for these artists. “The idea is there’s lots to jazz,” Braden says. “Jazz dips into all kinds of different things and it’s been around for a while and it’s influenced music all the way through, so we try to touch on different aspects of it with the mixes.”
The idea for JASS came after a fortuitous event when Braden was deejaying at a wedding and the client wanted an all-jazz playlist. Braden found that people really liked it and came up to ask about the tracks. He didn’t want to embark on the project alone, so he recruited Williams due to his expertise in the genre. “I’ve learned a lot from him just hooking up with him,” Braden says, “so we decided to start JASS.”
The focus on jazz was a natural thing for Williams: “I’ve always been involved with jazz since I was 17. So we made projects out of concepts we’d discussed, for instance the event at the Contemporary Art Museum called Living Inside Jazz, which involved mid-century furniture and music within jazz.” Braden elaborated: “Music was chosen on the basis of album covers. Every time we would play the record, we would slide the cover under a camera and the camera would project the image on a screen behind us.”
“We rented a bunch of mid-century furniture,” Williams adds, “and set up two facing living-room sets with big old TVs but the TVs had jazz images and quotes from jazz musicians.” Because of poor sight lines preventing the projection of the images to everyone’s field of vision, they went as far as setting up a projection system where images of the album cover would appear on blank covers that patrons could read to find out what they were listening to. “We also had magazines and books. I brought in Jazz Times and other things pertaining to jazz.”
For Braden, the JASS project has a large scope. “Part of what we do with this is we’re freeing jazz. We expose people to it as best we can. And because jazz is such a wide thing there are lots of different ways to go about it. So we have a lot of these different projects that are about ‘here’s another way of looking at jazz.’ That Musée d’art contemporain project was album cover art. We curated another project that was a Jazz Mass, at the Red Roof Church on President Kennedy, (where) Andy and I deejayed a set of all spiritual jazz music. And we had jazz musicians come in and just randomly start playing.”
“There was Gary Schwartz, (and) the Maha choir,” Williams says.
“We also had Bob Olivier do a Jazz Mass,” Braden adds. He was like our preacher for the night. We had Eric Lewis read something about his mother passing and John Coltrane. It was really nice. We also do this project called the Evolution of Jazz, and the concept is something that we can do over and over again. Each performance can be unique, but the general idea is we start from Quadrille from 1889 off a cylinder and then we’d play that and then the next track a few years later, and each track goes further and further along in the history of jazz, so in a set you’d hear jazz mutate, but because there’s so much jazz, you could do that journey a million different ways. And we have images to go with it so we can equate where we are… what era we’re in.”
Back to Vinyl
As mentioned above, the JASS project of the moment involves the music of eclectic jazz pianist Omar Sosa whom Williams met through Scott Price, Sosa’s manager and owner of Otá records. It was in 2008 in Barcelona, but Williams had always been a fan of his. “Omar bangs out an album or two a year, which is really impressive, but I realized when I was going to his shows, there were all these baby boomers, whereas this was also the most beautiful, spiritual music that younger folks and my average listeners, friends I know, would listen to – like Pharaoh Sanders and Yusef Lateef – and I thought, why can’t Omar have that kind of a setting? And I spoke to Scott Price about it and he said ‘that’s not a bad idea.’”
Braden adds, perking up, “none of his stuff was ever on vinyl, either. It was all on CDs and digital. The crux was like, why don’t we do a compilation of his Afro-Cuban stuff, put it on vinyl and use that to try to attract a larger audience? Andy had sort of worked some of this out before I got involved and I’ve been assisting him to make it actually happen. It’s called an Afro-Cuban Excursion. And Omar Sosa covers the African music diaspora. Lots of different musicians from places like Mali, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire… Andy did a really good job of choosing one track from each of these records and making a nice compilation that highlights one of the aspects of Omar’s sound.”
The project will mean a vinyl release of Sosa’s music packaged as a 2-LP set with original cover art from HVW8 artist and co-founder Gene Pendon, and extensive liner notes from McGill University educator and professional pianist David Rhyshpan. Originally scheduled for Montreal’s Suoni per il popolo festival this June on the same bill as free jazz saxophonist Charles Gayle, the launch has been postponed due to a cancellation by Gayle.
Sosa’s African experiments parallel William’s own as he is no stranger to African music, having been, among other things, involved in a South African project for 3 years in a row called All Roads Lead to Gugulethu, which is also scheduled for future release as a 2-LP set on the G-Three/Jazz Amnesty label.
Along with the Omar Sosa and South African projects, Williams and Braden are looking ahead to a venture focusing on free jazz, with the help of free jazz musician and record collector Eric Lewis, the goal being an interactive three-way mixing of free jazz tracks to create a new, unique soundscape, fully improvised.
For more info on the upcoming release dates of J.A.S.S.’s Omar Sosa, South African and FREE J.A.S.S. projects, and Andy Williams’ and Lewis Braden’s art of DJ mix generally, you can visit https://www.mixcloud.com/J_A_S_S/.
Que ce soit par la musique, les chansons, la photographie, le cinéma ou la peinture, ce que j’exprime avant tout ce sont les émotions que nous vivons tous en tant qu’êtres humains.
Quand je chante, je me connecte avec mon Créateur. Quand je chante, je rentre dans un bien-être physique, mental et spirituel. J’écris des chansons aux rythmes autochtones en racontant des histoires vécues, des situations, des émotions qui ont existées et qui existeront toujours. Je suis près des gens. Par mon langage simple, direct et compréhensible il est facile de visualiser mes chansons.
En m’inspirant de la nature, des arbres, des animaux, des gens, des villes, c’est par la photographie que je laisse parler leurs âmes. Je me connecte avec mes intuitions. Je prends cette photographie. Je leur cède la place. Leurs émotions parleront au travers d’eux.
C’est par la peinture que j’exprime mes états intérieurs profonds et inatteignables en utilisant la peinture acrylique sur grande toile.
Que ce soit le cinéma d’animation en stop motion, la fiction ou le documentaire c’est la magie qui m’attire dans ce médium. Les images qui bougent. Lire entre les lignes. Se raconter sa propre histoire. Faire le point sur soi. Se poser des questions. Réfléchir à sa situation. Évoquer des faits. Faire rêver. La possibilité d’entrer dans l’écran et faire partie des images. Je deviens magicienne des images, de la mise en scène, du scénario ainsi que des décors. C’est un médium que j’aime depuis longtemps puisque j’ai étudié les communications et le cinéma au Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. Après avoir terminé et réussi mon BAC en Théâtre (Jeu) à UQAM, c’est là que mon rôle de comédienne et de metteur en scène s’épanouissent. De plus, je me permets de réaliser mes musiques sur mes films. Donc, le cinéma, pour moi, devient rassembleur avec tous mes autres médiums.
Mes quatre médiums se rejoignent tous soit en prenant des chemins différents ou en se mariant les uns aux autres. Mon travail se termine seulement lorsque mon produit final me parle et me satisfait.
Mustang (composed and interpreted by Marie-Josée Tremblay)
Mustang © Martine Marie Josée Tremblay (aka MJ Tremblay)
They run after me,
They hope to catch me.
They wish to kill me,
They want my skin.
I just run faster…
The same old story:
Chasing after me…
“Try to capture me”!
Wild horse (wild horse)
Wild horse (wild horse)
Mustang is my name! 4X
Don’t you know your rights
About free hunting!
For your own pleasure?
You push us away.
Trapp’ us from our land.
We become your slaves!
This is the end of:
Wild horse (wild horse)
Wild horse (wild horse)
I had a family … I was surrounding by
My brothers and sisters, my fathers and mothers,
My children, grandparents.
We’re warriors of the time! 4X
Mustang is my name! 4X
(see La Boîte aux paroles)
Whether in animation or stop motion, fiction or documentary, it’s the magic that attracts me in this medium. Images that move. Reading between the lines. Telling my story. Taking stock of my life. Asking myself questions. Reflecting on my situation. Calling up the facts. Creating dreams. The possibility of entering the screen and being part of the images. I become a magician of images, staging, scripts and sets.
Ni l’un ni l’autre (Wapikoni mobile)
Le battement de ma ville (Wapikoni mobile)
Un matin tranquille (Wapikoni – UQAM)
L’envol (Wapikoni – UQAM)
For more information on Marie-Josée Tremblay and her art and music, please visit her general website, her music website and the Wapikoni website for young Indigenous filmmakers. Her songs will also be available via the CD Baby website and on iTunes, Amazon and other digital platforms in the near future.
Cultures around the world provide a rich heritage to draw from for practicing contemporary artists, but it’s always a thorny issue when a non-native draws on stylistic features of the practices of another culture, as care needs to be taken to avoid cultural appropriation and ensure respectful treatment of that source culture and its artists.
In this CD by the Montréal group known as Togetherness, the music of South Africa is the stylistic core, featuring tunes by composers Abdullah Ibrahim, Dudu Pukwana and Mongezi Fez. The CD also includes tunes by non-African musicians inspired by the South African musical style – a joyous choral sound that is rhythmically infectious and melodically sweet and celebratory – as well as featuring some outside-the-box playing by the seminal musicians mentioned above.
In this release, five of the six musicians involved are Montrealers (Ellwood Epps, trumpet; Erik Hove, alto sax; Scott Thomson, trombone; Stéphane Diamantakiou, double bass; Louis-Vincent Hamel, drums), and they are joined on three tracks by South African saxophonist Rus Nerwich, a native Capetonian who appears to have been a catalyst in this band’s genesis. Nerwich’s presence provides an obvious authentic link to the source, but the authenticity also comes via the musicians’ approach. Their pleasure in exploring and sharing the music comes through loud and clear and is what makes this set worth listening to repeatedly.
Music aficionados are no strangers to the South African idiom. The recent death of South African flugelhornist Hugh Masekela was widely noted in the mainstream press, evidence of the esteem people had for his musicianship worldwide. Paul Simon’s use of township players and the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo in his Graceland album, while controversial, nonetheless played a role in raising the profile of South African music.
Celebrated jazz artist Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand) is here represented by two tracks: “Salaam” and “Blues for a Hip King. The CD features two other South African composers: Mongezi Feza, a fascinating trumpet player with the fabled South African jazz group The Blue Notes (which included Louis Moholo, Nikele Moyake, Johnny Dyani), and Dudu Pukwana, saxophonist and chief composer with The Blue Notes (“Angel Nemali”). The non-South African composers include Misha Mengelberg (“Kwela P’Kwana”), William Parker (“Looking for Gilchrist”), Roswell Rudd (“Bamako”) and Togetherness’s trumpet player Ellwood Epps (“Homescoolin’” and “Clay”), seamlessly weaving their pieces into the whole. All share the celebratory qualities mentioned earlier.
The first track sets the cheerful tone of the album. It is “Kwela P’Kwana” by Misha Mengelberg, New Dutch swing master, a tune that appears on the Vancouver label Songlines, in a CD with contemporary jazz artists Dave Douglas, Brad Jones and Mengelberg’s Dutch compatriot, drummer Han Bennink. It is a parade-like anthem announcing the upbeat music to come. This buoyant tone is also a feature of Pukwana’s “Angel Nemali,” Feza’s “You Ain’t Gonna Know Me (‘Cause You Think You Know Me)” and Epp’s own “Clay.” The other two composers, William Parker (“Looking for Gilchrist”) and Roswell Rudd (“Bamako”) are Americans who are squarely in the avant-garde camp. Rudd, a trombonist who passed away last year, was one of the pioneers of free jazz, and bassist Parker is currently one of its most prominent and respected artists. The pieces reflect the free spiritedness of South African jazz.
The eight tracks taken together share characteristics of early New Orleans jazz, for the three-horn front line (a fourth horn appears on three tracks) and the perky drumming and bass lines and the feel-good effect that seems to be the ultimate redeeming and endearing quality of this release, which is thankfully respectful of the musical sources. But the band also seems devoted to the idea of celebrating the spirit of the South African musicians and their musical heritage. The arrangements are varied and the playing is inspired and polished.
Togetherness, formed in 2016, has since played more than a dozen performances, including the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Something Else! Festival and a tour of Ontario. The future looks promising for the group, judging from this CD, which is evidence that cultural borrowing can work if done respectfully, with proper recognition of the source artists and the wealth of their cultural heritage.
CD Details: Togetherness, on the Mr. E Records label (#5)
Recorded by Zach Scholes at Atobop Studio, Montréal, on October 1, 2017
Imagine nomads in quilted alkhallas (long loose robes), strumming ektaras (single stringed drone guitars) in the Sufi-Baul tradition on the streets of Chicoutimi, Québec! “Goley malé goley malé Pirit koro na!” Don’t mess around with love, because it will mess your life up: one of the most famous Baul songs from India.
Well, it almost happened! Instead, when Mosaïque from Québec journeyed to Kolkata (Bengal, India) to present two joint concerts with Surojit and his band Surojit O Bondhura, there was one question on everyone’s lips: what made Surojit, one of the top musicians from West Bengal, go all the way to Québec and associate with a band there? Instead of trying to explain himself in words, Surojit let Mosaïque showcase its music in a major press conference and two subsequent concerts in Kolkata itself. A magic web had been spun on stage through this sharing of each other’s music. It was the music produced by Mosaïque and its philosophy that deeply touched Surojit, and left an impact on him. A bond had been created between Québec and Bengal.
Surojit went to Saguenay, Québec to be with Mosaïque in 2006, 2008 and 2013, enjoying himself in impromptu jam sessions, exploring different sounds and participating in formal concerts. While preparing for the three major concerts in 2013, Surojit was struck with a strong desire to produce a new album to share Mosaïque’s magic with a wider audience. The first tracks were laid while he was in Québec in August 2013. The work on the album continued on both sides of the world, connected through the Net. However, Surojit in his fondest dreams saw Mosaïque and Surojit O Bondhura on the stage together in Kolkata. His dream came true in January 2015. The two bands, steeped in music and friendship, spent four weeks putting the final touches on the album Folk Fusion: a fusion of minds and hearts.
Surojit often mentioned that one of the facets of Mosaïque that appealed to him was its dedication to music and its adventurous spirit of exploring rhythms from far and near. Although his contribution to the music of Bengal is through his songs crafted in Bengali, it did not deter Mosaïque musicians from being drawn to him, and as Surojit mentions in one of his postings on Facebook: “Music has only one language: MUSIC.”
Although Surojit has produced several albums, prepared musical scores for a number of movies and won several prizes, he feels that this album with Mosaïque is something special. The album is now available online on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/id1039452841) and will be eventually available on other platforms as well. Surojit O Bondhura is perhaps the only band in India that has ever given rise to a flourishing poetry club (Surojit O Bandura Kobita Club) with about 10,000 members, to promote and share the works of established as well as new performers and artists.
 Mystic minstrels from rural Bangladesh and the state of Bengal (India)
 Translated into English, this means “Surojit and Friends”