The OFF JAZZ Festival spotlights the Montreal scene and then reaches out from there – much to our surprise

When Christine Jensen and Maggi Olin take the stage on Thursday night, L’OFF Montreal Jazz Festival will be going full throttle.

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When Christine Jensen and Maggi Olin take the stage at the Lion d’Or on Thursday evening with their Transatlantic Conversations project, the 17th edition of the Montreal Jazz Festival OFF (aka L’OFF JAZZ) will kick off at full speed.

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One of Montreal’s greatest jazz talents, saxophonist-composer Jensen is a two-time Juno winner, recently named a rising star in the arranger and big band categories (for his Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra) by Downbeat magazine, the authority of jazz. She is also director of the Orchester National de Jazz de Montréal. Transatlantic Conversations is another tangent in a career full of surprises.

“The OFF JAZZ festival breaks through a lot of hurdles in its programming, and that's what we do,” explains Christine Jensen.
“The OFF JAZZ festival breaks through a lot of hurdles in its programming, and that’s what we do,” explains Christine Jensen. Courtesy of L’OFF JAZZ festival

“A few years ago Maggi brought me to Sweden to write this music – not for a big band, not for a small band but for a medium band,” Jensen said of the collaboration with pianist Olin. “We toured Sweden. I wrote new music for it, and put in lyrics for the wonderful singer Sofie Norling, who works with Maggi’s electric ensemble, David’s Angels. Google that and you’ll hear how, in addition to strongly presenting the lyrics, she has a real improvisatory side to her voice. It really is a state-of-the-art Swedish novelty.

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“I thought he would come to Canada at some point. It took almost two years, but here we present it at Montreal’s premier jazz festival showcasing new music. The OFF JAZZ festival breaks down a lot of barriers in its programming, and that’s what we do.

Intercultural convergence is the raison d’être of L’OFF JAZZ, according to programming coordinator Lévy Bourbonnais. The festival first focuses on the local jazz scene and then expands from there.

“It’s (about) the musicians, in particular, and the community,” Bourbonnais said. “The musicians respect the festival, and the aim of the festival is to play original music, as authentic as possible. … This year, the program is particularly eclectic and adventurous. We have a lot of musicians visiting from the United States, among others.

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Bourbonnais highlighted the opening concert by Jensen and Olin as well as the closing concert by Roscoe Mitchell and the Montreal-Toronto Art Orchestra (October 15 at Salle Gesù, featuring 20 musicians – 10 from Montreal, 10 from Toronto – performing new compositions by saxophonist Mitchell, founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago).

Daily happy hour shows begin at 5 p.m. at Resonance Café, 5175A Parc Ave., with performances by Tevet Sela Quartet (Friday), Chaosmos (Saturday), the Isis Giraldo Poetry Project (Oct. 13), and the Trio Olivier Babaz (Oct. 14).

The closing concert of L'OFF JAZZ features Roscoe Mitchell with the Orchester d'art de Montréal-Toronto (Oct. 15 at Salle Gesù).
The closing concert of L’OFF JAZZ features Roscoe Mitchell with the Orchester d’art de Montréal-Toronto (Oct. 15 at Salle Gesù). Patrick JB Flynn

A late-night series at Dièse Onze, 4115 rue St-Denis, hosts shows starting at 10:30 p.m., including Montreal pianist Andres Vial and his trio teaming up with New York guitarist Peter Bernstein on Saturday.

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Bourbonnais’ favorite is the Claudia Quintet of New York, a post-jazz group created by drummer John Hollenbeck, who joined the faculty of McGill’s Schulich School of Music last year. They play October 12 at 9:30 p.m. at the Lion d’Or, preceded at 8 p.m. by Other Voices by Montreal drummer-composer Thom Gossage, featuring saxophonist Rémi Bolduc, saxophonist Frank Lozano, guitarist Steve Raegele and bassist Adrian Vedady.

For Jensen, who has performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival on an almost annual basis since 1999, the OFF JAZZ festival provides a platform to try new things and check out what others are up to.

“The program really shines a light on the work we’re all doing creatively right now,” she said. “His goal is to shine a light on the new scene of creative improvisation that’s going on all the time. When you look at the programming, wow, it’s a bit like POP Montreal; there are all these neat collaborative efforts of musicians creating together.

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“It’s not about the industry. It also really targets young musicians. There is good diversity at all levels. I think it’s because musicians really care about hearing new projects take off. We don’t really have that many anymore in Canada.

Jensen and Olin will be part of an 11-piece ensemble that includes Jensen’s husband, saxophonist Joel Miller; his sister, New York trumpeter Ingrid Jensen; and Steve Raegele, “a really good atmosphere-creating guitarist,” Jensen said.

“I think it’s going to be a really cool sounding night.”

Make it a week and a half.

IN ONE LOOK

Christine Jensen and Maggi Olin: Transatlantic Conversations opens the 17th L’OFF Festival de Jazz de Montréal, Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Lion d’Or. Tickets are $30, $20 for students and seniors. The festival continues until October 15. For more information visit lofffestivaldejazz.com

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