Jam at the End of Days

Trace Element Rejuvenates Modern Jazz

  • Photos by Jesse Polowin

It was well past six o’clock on Judgment day, and the groove was just getting started at Wakefield’s Black Sheep Inn. Nothing provided a better soundtrack to the end of days than the Toronto-based modern jazz quartet Trace Element.

Drummer and de-facto leader Shawn Rompre gathered artists, musicians and spoken word poets on May 21st to celebrate culture, art and the release of their debut record Blueprint.

Pianist Joel Visentin, tenor saxophonist Kristjan Bergey and Chris Virtue on stand-up bass make up the rest of the combo. All are graduates of Humber College’s music program, where they met and began jamming and living together about four years ago.

“It’s kind of your classic nerdy ‘we all just met at music school’ story,” said Rompre. “If anything, we’re this weird example of how deciding on the fly to start living together actually worked out amazingly well.”

Their music is a self-described blend of modern jazz and funk with some jam band spirit of the ‘60s and ‘70s, with all of the genre’s improvisational flare.

“What works about us is that before we all met we all had pretty different musical backgrounds and upbringings, but we all like the same things about music, like we play it for the same reasons,” said Visentin, who calls himself more of a traditionalist when it comes to music.

“Joel plays accordion, which I make fun of him for, that’s where we differ,” said Rompre. “It’s Old Man Visentin,” he joked.

Rompre’s goading, seems to fade away during their performance, where Visentin shines as the group’s lead composer. Joined by Bergey’s stirring lead work and the comprehensive rhythm section of Rompre and Virtue, the group thrives off the improvisational interchanges between one other.

The climactic “Unseen” showcased both the group’s ability to create tension and their knowledge of when to release it, getting people up and moving on the dance floor.

Virtue’s “New Orange” had bass and drums linked in clever rhythmic turnarounds, while Rompre proved to be no slouch on the kit on tracks like “First Stone” and “Back and Forth.”

Perhaps the most noticeable feature of this group, witnessed in one of Visentin’s extended solos, is the passion and emotion with which every note is played.

“Our main rallying point is emotion over anything else. We want to connect and sweep people up,” said Rompre. “We want jazz music to take people away.”

They are careful, however, about how they classify their music, and how to define the word “jazz.”

“I think the word actually does more harm than good,” said Visentin. “It’s gone in so many different directions that it doesn’t mean any one thing.”

Together, they are excited about where jazz is going, and hope it can gradually make its way back into mainstream consciousness.

“The groove factor is finally making its way back into the music,” said Rompre. “Rhythm and melody are really at the forefront.”

Saxophonist Bergey said music education has a lot do with how people approach jazz music.

“It’s only been the last 10-15 years that high schools have had jazz programs very commonly”, he said. “So as those people come through and age, it’ll be easier for them to become fans of jazz music.”

For Trace Element, this summer will be spent playing as many shows as they can while juggling various side projects. In the meantime, they encourage people to pick up some jazz music and re-evaluate what their idea of exactly the genre is.

Hear Trace Element here.

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