Gradually, and with little fanfare, the Canadian Effendi label has been amassing a substantial catalogue of contemporary jazz with special focus on Montreal's vibrant scene. That's not to suggest that all its artists are born and bred Montrealers. Pianist John Roneyheard recently on saxophonist Remi Bolduc's Cote D'écoute
(Effendi, 2005)originally comes from Toronto, while saxophonist Christine Jensen hails from British Columbia. But an increasing number of artists seem to be finding their way to Montreal. With strong scenes in cities like Vancouver and Toronto, Montreal's European cosmopolitanism seems to nurture a more open and adventurous environment.
Nova Scotia-raised pianist Steve Amirault now calls Montreal his home, but he spent a number of years in New York studying with Richie Beirach and working with artists like Dave Liebman, Joe Locke, and Eddie Henderson. Breath is an album that would surely raise a lot of eyebrows were Amirault to have a more significant American presencethis is the kind of piano trio record that deserves the same attention as better-known pianists like Brad Mehldau. His trio, featuring bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Greg Ritchie, demonstrates the same kind of innate simpatico found in Mehldau's group, but Amirault's a less dense player than Mehldau, and a more overtly lyrical writer.
In fact, if there's the inevitable comparison to Mehldau, another pianist with whom Amirault shares a certain commonality is Lyle Mays. Amirault has a romanticism, a directness, and a refreshing optimism that distinguishes him from contemporary pianists who feel that in order to be modern, one needs to be oblique. The deceptive ballad "Between Dreams, for example, combines a delicate pulse with an impressionistic approach that belies a vivid dramatic sense, building so gradually as to be almost unnoticeable.
Just because Amirault's writing is vividly thematic and accessible in its rhythms doesn't mean it's either simplistic or single-layered. But tunes like the brightly up-tempo "Acceptance and the more gentle, folksy "Je Vois Clémente Danser are so eminently singable that even Amirault's more advanced harmonic conception on the change-laden and irregular-metered "Society Intrigue and the ethereal tone poem "At the End of the Day remain highly approachable.
Vivan, part of the Toronto scene for fifteen years and a player who's as comfortable with the complex charts of the Mike Murley/David Braid Quartet as he is the more mainstream Rob McConnell & the Boss Brass, is both firm anchor and elegant soloist, most notably on "Forgiveness, which manages to be sentimental without becoming saccharine. Ritchie may seem content in accompanist mode, but his refined and spare approach lends weight without being overbearing.
Breath is so unequivocally attractive that it runs the risk of feeling superficial. But pay attention and it becomes clear that there's much more going on than meets the eye. With an ability to keep things simple without sacrificing depth, Amirault is clearly a pianistand a writerto keep an eye on.