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Chantale Gagné: Composer on the Rise

R.J. DeLuke By

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I need to feel the piano, the keys under my fingers, and try new sounds and new ideas. —Chantale Gagné
Chantale Gagné has been locked in with some of the best musicians on the scene since the pianist/composer moved to New York City in 2008. She's an import from Quebec. Raised in a rural part of the province, she cut her teeth in jazz circles in Montreal before moving to the Big Apple. She's not only taken to the town, but her deft touch and great feel on her instrument has endeared her to musicians in her new city.

"I felt at home, I felt good here," says Gagné of here arrival in New York. "Of course, it's a very intense city to live in. But it felt so good. I love the energy. There's always something going on. I like the culture. The jazz. There is access to everything here. If you want to go to museums, or go to listen to night music, any kind of music here. I like the people here. Walking on the streets, discovering the city."

It works the other way as well. Musicians she encounters feel a similar joy. She's played with top-flight musicians since coming to the U.S., including stalwarts Peter Washington and Lewis Nash, who have played with her on all three of her CDs, the latest The Left Side of the Moon, released last year. Each recording is outstanding, revealing her chops, strong and vibrant touch and her innate creativity. Added to the new recording is Steve Wilson. On the last, Wisdom of the Water it was Joe Locke. The first was a trio effort made not long after she came to New York, Silent Strength.

There's great strength to all of her works, which largely contain original compositions. The melodic and harmonic twists she commits to paper with pen are as enjoyable as her fingers sweetly playing the ivories. This woman can dig in and swing, or play with great delicacy and finesse. But she finds particular joy in writing.

"I love to sit down every day and write something, or play something. Tryout something. I need to do that. I need to feel the piano, the keys under my fingers, and try new sounds and new ideas. I try to do it every day a much as I can," says Gagné. "I really just enjoy composing. Even if I don't have a project, I just want to play something or write something a little bit every day. The next day I might not be happy with it and throw it away or just put it aside. But I need it. It's stuff that's in me."

Growing up in the rural part of the French Canadian province, she didn't hear a lot of jazz. But an older brother was into the music and it filtered down to her. Once bitten, she pursed it right through college.

"I think it was the soul and the swing, the rhythms," she says. "That's what attracted me first. I was not listening to jazz when I was young and when I heard it, what you notice first is the swing and the soul of jazz. Then you start wondering, 'What are they doing? What's going on there?' That was second. But first the rhythm and the interaction among the musicians."

When she was preparing for her third recording, and writing new music for it, Gagné knew whom she was writing for. That helped plan the approach to some of the tunes.

"I definitely wanted to play with Lewis and Peter because I really like the sound that they have together and how they make my music sound. They know me and they know how I hear a tune. I really don't have to say anything to them. And I really don't want to say anything to them, because I want them to create what they hear and how they envision my music," she says. "They have such good instincts with the music in general. They are amazing musicians. They're actually helping me. The way I compose, it has a sound of course. But the was we play the music, it brings something more to it. We create a sound."

She adds, "I love composing. That's maybe what I enjoy the most. I think it's important to find your sound. Create your own sound and your own trademark. I haven't forgotten the standards and the tradition, but it's good to have your own music."

Gagné hesitated at first in regard to selecting a player to create a quartet, or maybe two for a quintet. thinking about a quintet, but then I decided I wanted to do quartet. She decided on four musicians, "simple, organic and acoustic. I thought about Steve Wilson and I absolutely love his playing and especially his soprano sax playing. I love his sound. That's exactly what I needed for this music. I knew who I wanted, definitely."

The title cut displays that soprano sound in full form, soft and plaintiff at first, progressing to wild and free flowing as the music shifts into a higher gear. "Your Blues Is My Blues" is a swinging selection giving all the musicians moments to shine, Wilson on alto this time; Lewis's propelling the groove with just the right surprises, and Washington's showcasing his thick, billowing bass lines. "Up Again" is the elegant ballad feature, stately and serene. Like each of her albums, it bears repeated listening.

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