Bob Mersereau album Review of Carte Blanche

Friday, February 7, 2014

Moncton's les Païens is coming up on their 20th anniversary as a band next year, and wanted to make a brand-new album that celebrates that, and one that proves they are stronger than ever at the same time. The instrumental jazz group has always been about moving forward. Since they've been together, they've constantly changed, adding new members who bring new sounds to the mix. When they first started out, there were even vocals, with everything from hard rock to surf to country at any given time. But by 2000, they had moved towards jazz, and that's where they've been planted since, although they've certainly rewritten most ideas of what a New Brunswick jazz band could be.

Also over the years, they've become a sort of house band to the Moncton scene. You'll find them anchoring the music side of the Northrop Frye festival, adding their touch to live poetry readings, or jamming with the other invited musicians. If there's anything, a party or an art project in the area, there's a good chance they'll be involved, with movies, theatre, visual artists, they're always up for a challenge and a way to explore new roads. They've been the soundtrack to Moncton for the past 20 years, the urban sound of Acadie. And as an instrumental group, they've crossed the language barrier so many times it just doesn't exist for their followers.

Lately, they've also added beats and grooves to their sound, and that has really brought them to a new audience. The dance side has allowed them to hit the festival circuit, whether it's English or French. They aren't a jam band, but an improvisational one, and they'll pick up on what the crowd is like, and run with that. They never play the same set twice, and the element of surprise makes each of their shows fun for the audience and the band. And in doing this, they are certainly spreading the word about jazz. It's brought them a new, younger audience. They don't compromise the jazz for broader popularity, and they present it with confidence, finding the fine line between progressive and accessibility, with a melody and groove, something you can tap your foot to.

The new album, Carte Blanch, moves les Païens further down the experimental path. There's lots more improvisation this time, as the songs were created by jams in the studio, based on some pre-recorded segments. There's loop-based music, with beats that edge them further towards dance grooves. And there's an added hand as well, producer Andy Creeggan, who helped edit the improv sessions and turn them into tracks. Essentially he became the sixth member of the group. The ex-Barenaked Ladies member moved to Moncton a few years back, with all his collected gear and electronics, and found a great local project to get involved with.

Expect a few fun events over the next few months for the group as the birthday approaches. There's already been a new documentary on the group, put together by Radio-Canada in Moncton. And the Carte Blanche album is coming out on vinyl as well in early 2014, something the band is really happy about, as it's the first of their releases in that format.