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Take Five with Alex Lefaivre

Alex Lefaivre By

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About Alex Lefaivre

Born and raised in Montreal, Canada, Alex Lefaivre is a bassist known for his unique artistic voice, virtuosic skill, passionate work ethic and easy going personality. Equally proficient on both the upright and electric bass, he enjoys a busy schedule as a freelancer in a wide variety of musical styles. Alex is also composes to picture, having recently contributed to the score of Tony Speed, a French-Canadian comedy premiering in select theatres and festivals in Quebec this summer. He is mostly know for his work in Parc X Trio, one of Canada's premier jazz groups, which he co-founded in 2007. Parc X Trio have released 7 recordings, the latest of which, Dream, is released through Challenge Records International. They have toured across Canada, Mexico, the USA and Europe and continue to maintain a rigorous performance schedule. Alex is also the founder of Multiple Chord Music (MCM), an independent jazz record label that currently holds 20 artists on its roster and has released over 30 recordings. Alex Lefaivre will release YUL, his first album under his own name, on August 3rd 2018.

Your sound and approach to music.

As a bassist, I love a deep, fat sound that also has a lot of clarity and punch.

As an improvisor, I really try to pay attention to what's going on around me, and hopefully I'll react in an organic way that makes everything else sound good. I'm quite lucky that very early on, I connected with some friends where the quality of listening was very high, and it's marked me ever since. It's very similar to when I have a conversation; I'm not really thinking so much about what I'm going to say, I just pay attention to what the other person is talking about and I respond accordingly, in that moment. Also, I want every single note that I play to have a deep emotional connection to my soul, I don't want to just wiggle my fingers around. I try to be as present as possible in the music and give it everything I can. It's almost a holistic experience for me. I feel like it's a privilege every time I get to play.

Compositionally, for my latest record, I wanted to explore something different than my previous work. Over the last decade with Parc X Trio, the material became more progressive and complex, with long, multi-sectional forms and a lot of through-composed arrangements. For YUL, I wanted something looser and also closer to the jazz tradition. I wanted it to be based on leadsheets without set arrangements, that gave the musicians a lot of room to improvise, even while playing the head. I wanted the melodies to be memorable and strong while also presenting a form and chord sequence that would be fun and interesting to blow on as well, in the vain of John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" or Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance." I studied a lot of music by Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter's '60s Blue Note era. I wanted those kind of tunes, but with a modern rhythm section with electric bass. I was also hugely inspired by Pat Metheny's Bright Size Life, which to me is a perfect album. The writing is so personal and strong, and as groundbreaking as it was sonically, it retains an almost "classical" quality that's aged very well, compared to a lot of other electric/fusion stuff.

Teachers and/or influences?

A lot! I definitely took the scenic route when it came to studying music. My first real bass teacher was Laureat Cormier, a super heavy fusion cat with a twin brother who played the drums. He also performed on a lot of local TV gigs in Montreal at the time. He was the first guy to teach me all of the basics; the notes on the bass, scales, chords, reading and jazz. A lot of it was way above my head at the time, but he really opened up the flood gates. He had to stop teaching due to health problems, so I decided to switch to upright bass. I tried one year at the Conservatory here in Montreal, studying classical music. It was great as a foundation for technique, and it also put the bar very high, but ultimately I didn't want to commit to being an orchestral musician, I loved jazz. I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Montreal with Michel Donato, a local legend. Back in the day, he would play with heavyweights like Miles Davis and Bill Evans when they came to town. He was the first jazz teacher that showed me the importance of practicing in 12 keys and learning tunes. He also had a strong emphasis on rhythm. He'd have me do three choruses of solo bass exclusively playing half-note triplets with metronome on 2 and 4 and stuff like that.

I just recently completed my Master's degree in Jazz Performance and Composition at the University of Montreal, ten years after my Bachelor's degree. I got to study quite a bit with John Roney. He's a fabulous pianist and wonderful composer, so that was a transformative experience. I really got to pick his brain on all sorts of topics. As a bassist, it was game-changing to have one of my favourite pianists explain in great detail how he comps, plays lines and approaches harmony. He's also pretty well versed in classical music as well and hipped me to Bela Bartok's Mikrokosmos and Chopin's Nocturnes. He also knows a ton of jazz tunes, so we'd just play, a lot. For example, I'd show up at 9am and right away he'd have me play about 40 choruses of a tune I didn't know, like George Shearing's Conception, while he shreds on top. He'd just always put the bar higher and higher, pushing me learn new things and always move forward. I also got to study composition with Christine Jensen. I love how she blends raw scientific compositional concepts with a visceral and vulnerable melodic voice. She also writes a ton of music and it taught me to not wait around for inspiration, just get to work and write.

I've also had the privilege a taking private lessons with a few other great musicians. A few years ago, I took one lesson from electric bassist Rich Brown in Toronto. He really got me thinking about exploring different colours on chords and really hearing them in my mind's ear. For example, being able to target the 9th and 13th of a minor chord. As a bassist, it can be quite challenging to stray away from the root or the triad, so this was kind of a game changer. He was also the first guy to get me into transcribing, or basically just learning stuff by ear. While doing my Master's degree, I also took a few lesson with Remi Bolduc and Jean-Michel Pilc from McGill University. Remi Bolduc is one of my heroes. His work ethic is remarkable and he's a great pedagogue. He's probably one of the greatest saxophone players out there. He's been very involved in the development of the jazz department at McGill University over the last decade. He has transcribed an immense amount of music over the years, and he keeps on doing it. He's also incredibly nice and humble, and leads a happy life while balancing a huge career. One of the great things I got out of my studies with him is getting to see how he practices. He's very methodical, so he gets solid results quickly. I found his efficiency really inspiring and it changed my routine. As for Jean-Michel Pilc, his recording, Live at Sweet Basil, with Francois Moutin and Ari Hoenig is a huge influence of mine, so getting to meet him and ask all sorts of questions about his approach was incredible. That trio has its own thing and it has influenced a whole school of playing. He was really generous and explained a lot of what they do as a group and he also gave me insight into how he practices different concepts over standards. His time and sense of pulse are quite scary. He's always 100% in control of what he's doing and is incredibly present in the music at every moment. One of the first exercises he gave me was to play a basic jazz ride drum pattern while holding a conversation. It's still really hard for me. I still work on a lot of his stuff on a daily basis.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

I think jazz is alive and well, probably the best shape it's ever been in. There are more and more musicians, and they are getting better and better. I find that there are so many talented composers and improvisors that have unique identities and mind-blowing musicianship, it's insane! We're also finding buried treasures like Coltrane's Both Directions at Once. And with streaming, you can listen to anything you can think of, you're no longer limited to your local record store. Also, with the internet, there's a whole indie culture that bypasses the traditional system of labels. You can discover people from all over the world, that you certainly never would have heard of before. I'm very inspired by the music that I hear all around me.

What are your favorite jazz albums?

Here's my top 10. Generally, I listen to a lot of new music. I try to keep an ear to the ground and stay current, while also digging deeper into the past. These are the jazz albums that I seem to always go back too, especially if I want to get into a "comfort zone" kind of mindset and am looking for something familiar. I still discover new things every time I listen to these recordings.

  • Thelonious Monk, Plays Duke Ellington
  • Hank Mobley, Soul Station
  • Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
  • Bill Evans Trio, Live At The Village Vanguard
  • Pat Metheny, Bright Size Life
  • Jean-Michel Pilc, Live At Sweet Basil
  • Kurt Rosenwinkel, East-Coast Love Affair
  • Wayne Shorter, Footprints Live
  • Aaron Parks, Invisible Cinema
  • Gilad Hekselman, Split Life
What is in the near future?

I'm releasing my new album, YUL, in a couple of weeks, so that's pretty exciting. I have a few gigs in Montreal to celebrate and promote the record. There will be other Canadian concert dates in the fall as well. I plan on bringing the band to the USA and Europe in 2019. I'd also love to record an album of acoustic standards with the same band within the next year. I
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