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Sylvain Provost: Desirs Demodes

Robert J. Lewis By

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Sylvain Provost
Désirs Démodés
Effendi Records
2009



If you've been among the very best in your chosen field (of jazz piano) over a long career, there will inevitably come a time when what you say carries as much weight as what you play. So when pianist Oliver Jones, second perhaps only to the great Oscar Peterson in the genre, sings the praises of Montreal jazz guitarist Sylvain Provost, people take notice—and listen.



Among the many pleasures that will recommend themselves in Sylvain Provost's Désirs Démodés is his ease and fluency in different styles of guitar. Provost confesses that he might have become a rock guitarist if it weren't for the eardrum busting decibels that characterize the genre. But having been there, his musical palette is more colorful than most, and from time to time, when the music announces the need, Provost doesn't flinch from cranking up the amp and supplying some electric glide in blue.



In an uncompromising, genre-bending version of John Coltrane's "Central Park West," Provost, perhaps under the benign influence of guitarist Jim Hall, infuses the expansive preamble with an airy filigree of notes and downy textures, only (a la Allan Holdsworth) to morph into the electric-fusion mode with such ease and inevitability that he makes the case that the song had to wait 50 years for its ideal rendering. Precedent setting interpretations such as this leave no doubt that jazz's verve and vitality are best served and preserved by those madly inspired leaps that look beyond the score for the music's true greatness.



Throughout Désirs Démodés's ten tracks, all but two of which are originals, Provost's versatility guarantees any number of highly engaging twists and turns. And before the first spin of the disc is completed, the realization will have dawned that the guitarist, who would rather understate than force any issue, is an exceptionally creative soloist. That Provost will always remain an acquired taste speaks to the subtlety and intricacy of his finger work and invention, and commitment to being himself and staying within himself in whatever music he's performing.



Almost all guitarists, in the narration of their solos, achieve their resolution or climax as a function of the notes in ascent; climbing the neck of the guitar as far as it physically allows. Far too often, the musician who would rather show what he can do than share what he has to say, will fall back on a predetermined interval (the arpeggio) in order to deliver himself to the appropriate high point on the neck of his instrument. He learns to skillfully hide behind visually arresting technique, and like the thespian or screen actor, incorporates memorized gestures into his performance that allow him to ape emotions he is unable to summon from within. If the musician performs well enough, the concert-goer will not suspect he has exchanged an evening of music for theater.



Since listeners are always looking for reasons to separate the merely competent guitarist from the very best, what singularly stands out in Provost's soloing is that rare ability to achieve resolution (ecstasy) playing in descent. His gripping, probing electric solo in "Egerie" is not only a CD but genre highlight—because he's able to lay down and seamlessly synchronize an extended series of emotional peaks despite the descending interval of notes. This is an accomplishment which speaks of his understanding of the emotive underpinnings of music. In all of jazz and pop/rock there are only a handful of examples in which climax and ecstasy are achieved via descending notes. Steely Dan did it in some of its compositions, and Frank Zappa, in especially his soloing. Both deliberately begin high in order to effectively, meaningfully descend, to the effect that they have entered a new idiom into the ever expanding musical cosmos. Like the baker who has discovered how to get a rise out of bread without yeast, the musician who has something meaningful to say will find a way to say it regardless of restrictions imposed by convention or chart.



Just when it seems we might have had enough of that oft played warhorse, "Summertime," Provost bears down on it and emerges from below the surface of an easy summer day with a rendering that unfolds like the anxious passing of time—its fugitive aspects are marvelously transmuted into haunting sequences of fragile, fragmented chords and tentative single note rejoinders. The notably arresting introduction that refuses to play by the rules reveals a composer who is not afraid to reject his own false starts, who is his own harshest critic, who makes the case that the standards are such by virtue of their inexhaustibility.



"Février" is perhaps the most noteworthy track in the collection. Closer to classical than jazz, it's a highly personal statement that attempts to reconcile the composer's calling with his outside-looking-in view of the world. As an evocative mood piece that uses broken chords and lateral slippage (unconventional modulations) to advance its ideas, it takes the listener on a weighty but hopeful journey that is subject to constant variation and movement. Not even three minutes long, the music celebrates and rewards the creative process and the long hours dedicated to its perfection. What causes an exceptional work like "Février" to erupt into being is the composer's unceasing quest for equilibrium that only he can provide, which becomes his signature and sanctuary—the place the listener goes because he knows who is there and what awaits.



Désirs Démodés should not only be a cinch for a Juno nomination, but is a credible candidate for Grammy Jazz Album Of The Year. It's a CD that grows on the listener through the power of its finely wrought melodies and discreet originality.



Sylvain Provost once again performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival (its 30th edition in 2009), in the 3-day long Guitarissimo concert series, along with headliners Stanley Jordan and Russell Malone. He could also be found in Montreal's Palais des Congrès's convention salons (for the Montreal Guitar Show), where luthiers from around the world gathered to show their stuff, asking only the best, such as Provost, to bring out what is best in their precious-perfect instruments.




Tracks: Moody Funk; Désirs Démodés; Poème Latent; Femme Murmure; Frère Jazz; Half-Breed Blues; Central Park West; Février; Égérie; Summertime.



Personnel: Sylvain Provost: guitars; Guy Boivert: acoustic bass; Alain Boyer: drums; Carole Therrien: vocal.

Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Effendi Records | Style: Modern Jazz


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