March 30th 2010 By Raul d’Gama Rose

Departure Michel Berthiaume | XXI-21 Productions (2010)

Michel Berthiaume is clearly one of the most classically-molded percussionists around. Drummers are supposed to keep time, to find the pulse of the song, and create the rhythmic content of composed and improvised pieces. Inspired percussionists feel, hear, and play melodies. The truly inspired ones can even provide harmonic lift to music from the skins they brush and call to life and the cymbals they tickle and clash. Berthiaume is one of those musicians and he provides a fine display of his abilities on Departure, for XXI-21 a Montreal-based label. As a composer he is also willing to take chances with time signatures and being a percussionist of course helps enormously.

Berthiaume is a very active participant in the music scene in Montreal and appears to be favored by instrumentalists—especially trombone players—and vocalists as well. This says a great deal about his ability to be a lead voice and a sensitive accompanist. And the fact that he is a wonderful bedfellow of the trombone, which is an instrument close to the human voice, speaks volumes with an ability to converse musically with deep expression, subtle inflection, and sometimes as the “other” singing voice in the harmony of the song. This is heard throughout Departure, but especially on “Stupide et Chanceux” and “Perfect Solitude.” The first of these tracks describes the naiveté of youth and employs very subtle shifts in rhythmic coloration that is beautifully executed—first with superb introduction and then with gentle changes in tempo up and down the choruses. On the second track the drummer plays in 7/4 rhythm, but it is the clever shading and timbre of his playing that is so attractive.

Another striking aspect of this album is the relationship between the instruments. It is rather rare to find piano and guitar both exchanging somewhat prominent roles in music. But here, there’s no clash or argumentative chatter in the rhythm section of the ensemble. In fact, pianist Josh Rager and guitarist Kenny Bibace appear to find room to breathe and express themselves with wonderful dynamics adding more color to enrich the music. On “Departure” this is fresh and expansive, and with the light and sonorous aspect of an electric piano, the brightness is considerable when the two get together on “Complementary.”

But the most striking relationship is between brass and percussion. It seems that Bill Mahar and Berthiaume can read each others’ mind and emotions; tiptoeing and dancing around in a sanguine manner. It truly feels like the music sings in harmony, with Mahar’s trumpet or flugelhorn leading Berthiaume’s varied and colorful percussion down melodic paths. “Bic Forest” and “Complementary” are two extraordinary examples of this—the latter takes a superb turn when Sage Reynolds joins in on bass.

Taken as a whole, Departure marks a strong debut by Berthiaume.

Track listing: Stupide et Chanceux; Perfect Solitude; Departure; Different Paths; Bic Forest; Complementary; Let’s See.

Personnel: Bill Mahar: trumpet; Josh Rager: piano; Kenny Bibace: guitar; Sage Reynolds: double bass; Michel Berthiaume: drums.

See the original review here.

By Peter Hum Wed, Dec 23 2009

Here are reviews of three discs by Montrealers who are part McGill University’s extended jazz family. Non-Montrealers: perhaps you’ll keep these folks in mind when the time to nominate musicians for the 2010 Canadian National Jazz Awards rolls around.

2) Departure (XXI/Universal), by Michel Berthiaume
The Montreal drummer’s disc is a quartet outing like Rager’s but it features a lean front line of Kenny Bibace’s guitar and Bill Mahar’s trumpet, along with Josh Rager on piano and Fender Rhodes and bassist Sage Reynolds. Here’s the group performing Berthiaume’s Perfect Solitude:

Berthiaume offers seven compositions that stress lyricism, structural complexity and taut rhythms. There’s variety to be heard in the progression from Stupide et Chanceux, which seems like two songs in one, combining a gentle bossa song and a more stirring waltz, to the speedy, swinging closer Let’s See.Complementary packs enough material for a mini-suite, featuring everyone in the quintet in under nine minutes, encompassing Reynold’s introduction and solo, a loping two-feel melody for the band, a shimmering, long-lined Fender Rhodes solo by Rager, a surging drum solo over punches and walking 7/4 solos for Mahar and Bibace.

Overall, Berthiaume laudably sets his sights on exploring new structures and fresh forms in a post-bop framework, and he’s smartly chosen like-minded peers to tackling his at times dense and challenging material.

See the original post here.

ARCHIVES: June 11 – June 17 2009
Vol. 24 No. 51

Michel Berthiaume Quintet Departure (XXI/Universal) The leader, an excellent drummer and composer, is heard in a successful first release, aided by a quartet of Montreal’s finest musicians. 9 (Len Dobbins)