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Quiet Knowing: The Music Of Gentiane MG

Quiet Knowing: The Music Of Gentiane MG

Courtesy Benoit Rousseau


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'Walls Made of Glass' imagines the listener in a quiet space, flooded by daylight as it streams in through transparent walls.
—Gentiane MG
My first impression upon hearing Gentiane MG's work for the first time was that her writing is phenomenally brilliant. She is a standout talent. Michaud-Gagnon's music flows masterfully with poise and grace. She commands the piano with elegance, subtlety, and a refined quiet knowing.

Her music and artistry are mysteriously intriguing, with the enchanting deep influences of the great impressionistic French composers like Ravel and Debussy from cultural roots lying deep within Gentiane's sublime approach. Phenomenally arranged sound colors are expressed with influences ranging from rock to classical with Gentiane's dreamy stream of consciousness fused with French impressionism and even McCoy Tyner-like fourths voicings. A bliss-listen results from MG's intuitive approach. A yes to this!

I was always on the hunt for the best international talent. I had approached Gentiane years ago about her latest release and even though I had reached her too late to cover her past release as a writer, I was excited to have found such a wonderfully inventive compositional talent so well-versed in fusing the romantic beauty of French impressionism with sophisticated, highly inspiring jazz piano trio performance.

A knowing, clever artist, pianist Gentiane writes, reflects, creates, and blurs the edges, adding her contribution to the world of classical-jazz fusion with creatively compelling ideas and honest exploration. Paying homage to the best French composers on her latest release, Walls Made of Glass, while creating her stamp of originality, she explores profound themes of nature, and stretches and extends her approaches toward the fascinating.

A venture into the natural world seems organic with impressionism, and under the flowing piano musings of Gentiane, a flock of birds descends on a lone figure, flowers smile in silence, ocean waves have rhythmic form, a tree becomes a miniature, and light is silently entwined in the moon, the sun, the Truth and the sacred.

"According to a Buddhist adage, three things cannot remain hidden for long: The Moon, the Sun, the Truth." As an author, Gentiane also writes eloquently as a wordsmith, crafting her thoughts so wonderfully with finesse, and with thought-provoking expression, and beauty. As a listener and as a national Canadian music juror I always want an artist to challenge me with something new or fabulous, whether it's an original music approach, philosophy, subtlety, or unique expression. And Gentiane never disappoints.

From the foreword pianist/composer Gentiane MG's new accompanying jazz album release art book, Walls Made of Glass, a glimmering abstract excerpt emerges:

"When a light glows in the dark, our eyes are unavoidably drawn towards its beam. The moments from which this music originated are like this light. The contrast made them unexpectedly, miraculously, perceptible."

The listener can predict that Gentiane is also a wonderful visual artist by her inclination towards a searching and intuitive creative sensitivity. As a multi-dimensional creative artist, Michaud-Gagnon encompasses much thoughtful depth.

Gentiane MG is a wonderful pleasure to listen to. Escaping into her brilliant work, MG's release Walls Made of Glass, TPR Records, has her falling into the prodigious category of "wow-talent," once again. The Gentiane MG Trio video performance of, "Flowers Laugh Without Uttering a Sound," is mesmerizing and as far as trio and piano performance goes, it's perfection, making you want much more. All About Jazz dropped in for a Zoom coffee chat with Gentiane Michaud-Gagnon at her Montreal home in Quebec, Canada.

All About Jazz: I am thrilled that a Canadian may be the first and a woman at that. I refer specifically here to you, Gentiane. Has anyone ever released a jazz album, a book, and a film all at once before, like you? It's a triple-play, a wonderfully creative suite of music, artbook writing, and film all within your piano trio like a double-trio. I am delighted to see your work come to fruition as you release this astounding two-year feat of creative work on September 23rd, 2022, with the film following the date afterward. How did you accomplish such a formidable task?

Gentiane MG: The void created by the pandemic left me longing for meaningful life experiences. And that's what art has become to me. I think it always was, but I understood it more deeply recently—a way of feeling alive—which became quite obsessive, I won't lie! I was living in this parallel universe, thinking about this music pretty much all the time for an extended period of time, like two years. So that's probably why a lot came out of it. "The music came first, and then I realized that I had still a lot to express. I had images, moments, ideas kind of stuck in my head, and I felt the need to express them through different art forms."

AAJ: Much of your work Walls Made of Glass was created during the restrictions of the pandemic shut-down. What was transpiring for you at the time? How did you manage to create so much during such a trying time?

GM: As I express in the introduction of my book, there's an image that I like to use to express how inspiration was generated during those hard times. If I turn on a light during the day, I won't necessarily perceive it. If I turn on the same light in the dark, all of a sudden, I may feel like I'm witnessing something very special. Every inspiration in Walls Made of Glass is a bit like this light—moments that were made magically perceptible by contrast with the ongoing darkness.

AAJ: What strikes me about your album concept is your approach to vision and the larger overall architecture of form to your approach and that is just the music, we haven't even discussed the film yet. The composer within you is always surfacing. How did you approach the conceptualization and sketching?

GM: The music came first, and then I realized that I had still a lot to express. I had images, moments, ideas kind of stuck in my head, and I felt the need to express them through different art forms. That's how I got the idea of a book. And the video made sense at that time. I wanted to document this period because I felt like it was special.

AAJ: Take us through the new album, tell me how the meaning of Walls Made of Glass took shape.

GM: Walls Made of Glass represents a world that is somewhat closed to the outside world, but that is also open to it symbolically. It's also a metaphor for light getting in and out, and being reflected in all directions.

AAJ: Your composing is closely entwined with reflective philosophy and the beauty of abstract thought. Your comment, "According to a Buddhist adage, three things cannot remain hidden for long: The Moon, the Sun, the Truth." For you the artist, how does this reflect your quest for the "Truth?"

GM: I realized that for me, one of the biggest obstacles to general well-being was not the "difficult reality" of things, but trying to avoid this reality. The idea that whatever the truth is, it is gonna be there and that simple awareness might be the key, just like when I look at the sun or at the moon, is beautiful to me. Music/art is an ideal—isn't it? It's been teaching me a lot.

AAJ: Your composing process. It's a serious endeavor. In an age of cell phones and computers, how do you turn off these days and prepare to create and write your projects?

GM: I never bring my phone in my practice space. Just knowing that it's there will block my focus. To be freed from my phone and completely alone helps me get lost in the creation and in the music. That's part of why music, and composing, is such a relief to me and almost an essential need.

AAJ: What is the most important aspect of your creative and compositional work for you?

GM: I think above all is the idea of expressivity. I think that music is a language and has the power of communicating emotions, abstract ideas, and life. My work as a composer is to use the tools that I've learned to use to communicate ideas through instrumental music, and hopefully eventually touch other humans in doing so.

AAJ: Tell me about the work you have been doing with your trio over recent months.

GM: We have been working together on this music quite a lot. My artistic goal was to find a balance between composition, piano orchestration, etc., and freedom, improvisation and space, for everyone to be creative while playing the music. We workshopped a lot in 2021 to 2022, then we recorded the album last February, and finally will be launching on September 23, 2022!

AAJ: Your trio toured in Europe most recently for jazzahead! 2022 with other visiting Canadian artists. Talk about about the stop-by in Europe and the plans for your upcoming tour.

GM: We had the chance to go to Germany to perform at jazzahead!, and now we are going to have the opportunity to go back to Europe in the fall to launch this new record, this time in France! We're super excited. We also have a big tour in Canada, which we are really looking forward to.

AAJ: What has the takeaway been for you as an artist when performing with an audience?

GM: We have been lucky in the last few years to be able to share this music with attentive beautiful audiences that receive our music well. It's always such a beautiful thing to be able to touch people with what we do, it gives it a sense of purpose and meaning.

"Each individual artist is a grain of salt, and at times it can make us feel like we're not important, but it's the addition of all those grains of salt that really contains all the meaning."

AAJ: As an educator, how are you balancing the academic world with touring and releasing an album?

GM: It can definitely get intense at times, but students tend to be understanding with schedule changes. Some periods, like in the last few months, I have been teaching a bit less, and then I might plan to do it a bit more when we come back from touring.

AAJ: Tell me about your film and how your film took shape. How did you put it together, did you have a director, and did you produce it? What was your concept behind the creating of it?

GM: The idea of the film was to put the human aspect of the music in context. I thought that this music was really born from a kind of special period of time and that it was important to document it.

The Walls Made of Glass film is in the form of an EPK. I talk about the creative process for Walls Made of Glass , and the universe surrounding the album. It was filmed partly in my home and in my creative space, partly in the studio. There's also a section with bassist Levi Dover and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel that talks about the recording process and playing as a trio. The film features some pieces from my album Walls Made of Glass.

I did that with Benoit Rousseau, who is an amazing photographer, very sensitive person and artist. He had mentioned to me the idea of making that kind of video a few years ago, and now with Walls Made of Glass, it made sense to finally do it .

AAJ: As a writer and composer of abstract concepts, what was your thought process like as you penned your book and created its artwork?

GM: My goal was to be as authentic as I could with what was in my head while composing. The process was almost observing and then trying to express what I was observing. I tried to keep instinctive at first, and then worked for a long time towards enhancing what it wanted to be. The process for the book was actually quite similar to the one for the music.

AAJ: What do you think for you is the larger universal meaning of your work at this point for you as an artist?

GM: There's a cry for human connection hiding behind this album, and it's my way of feeling like I can contribute to the world, as a grain of salt in the universe.

AAJ: Going forward into the future as we navigate after the Canadian music industry was shut down for two+ years, what is your message of hope to others as we navigate through a difficult period in history?

GM: What I have been telling myself is that music and art have not asked for any of that, and I think that if I really believe in art, it is my responsibility to keep going through difficult times. Each individual artist is a grain of salt, and at times it can make us feel like we're not important, but it's the addition of all those grains of salt that really contains all the meaning.

"I tend to think about composition as creating moods, atmospheres, and general expressivity. Nature is an endless source of inspiration because it symbolizes life and existence in all its complexity, with which I can relate... "

AAJ: Capturing the dual nature of beauty amongst the shadows are concepts that emerge from within your writing. Is it a nod to love for Zen?

GM: In a way, yes, I mean I think that is what music is to me—an assemblage of tensions and resolutions. What inspires me to create music is to find those tensions and resolutions in the world, and that is often through contrasting feelings of lightness and heaviness, joy and pain, etc.

AAJ: You fuse the romanticism of classical music and impressionism from your French roots with intuitively clever jazz and rock influences. On that journey of exploration and fusion, outline some of the highlights for you of your creative journey.

GM: The main thing for me was to be authentic with what I deeply hear and love. And a big part of it is classical music, which I played a lot as a child, teenager, and still now. And then, of course, the foundation of jazz, which to me are language, improvisation, and groove.

AAJ: Yet you bring memorable ideas into your work without hesitation. From a grand moment of communing with a flock of birds to the idea of a miniature tree, these are sharp and focused nature-driven images. How has the natural world driven and shaped your compositional work?

GM: I tend to think about composition as creating moods, atmospheres, and general expressivity. Nature is an endless source of inspiration because it symbolizes life and existence in all its complexity, with which I can relate I think.

AAJ: What do you feel that we can learn from the natural world around us? How does it guide us?

GM: The art of existing, of silence, of space. I feel like trees and animals have understood many things that we haven't. Also, humility. So many modern research about animals is pointing out the fact that so many species are extremely intelligent, and feel emotions, and have a sense of self, just like us. Which is something we have a hard time seeing in general as humans. We like being the center of our world.

"If I turn on a light during the day, I won't necessarily perceive it. If I turn on the same light in the dark, all of a sudden, I may feel like I'm witnessing something very special."

AAJ: You have been working with your bandmates bassist Levi Dover and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel for several years, tell me about your close musical connection. The trio's sound has developed so powerfully and brilliantly as demonstrated in your trio's video, "Flowers Laugh Without Uttering A Sound."

GM: I have been playing with Levi and Louis-Vincent for many years now. I think a big part of this trio's sound comes from what I like referring to as, "musical intimacy." There is a sense of complete trust between us which allows us to feel at ease and to be able to be in the moment, to take risks, to create something together and to let the music flow between the three of us. When I was composing the music of Walls Made of Glass, I really heard both their unique sounds in my head, and my intention was to come up with compositions that would allow Levi and Louis-Vincent to feel free to really express their own personalities within the framework of this music.

AAJ: What would be a future dream trio or solo project for you?

GM: For now, I think my dream trio is the one I have with Louis-Vincent and Levi, because we've been developing something for many years and that sense of musical intimacy in itself is hard to replace. Maybe incorporating something? Like a special orchestral project? I will definitely explore solo piano eventually, like many pianists have done, when I feel like it's the right time.

AAJ: What is coming up for you soon with your projects?

GM: We are launching Walls Made of Glass on September 23, 2022, followed by our Canadian Tour and a tour in France. I'm super excited to play in Europe with this trio. Then, a lot of touring projects are on the way for 2023, and I will probably get back to writing, also, and think about the next project!

AAJ: Wrapping it up, with your closing and final thoughts, leave us pondering on some of that magical wisdom of yours.

GM: Thank you for this. As artists we have a personal quest for expression, and research, etc., etc., but really what gives it meaning is to share the works, and in a way communicate and hopefully touch other humans. I'm looking forward to sharing this music on the road and elsewhere!

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