Turn Up the Afro and Spanish Jazz Rhythms

A Review of Rachel Therrien’s Pensamiento: Proyecto Colombia Concert.

Rachel Therrien performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival last Friday. Photo courtesy of Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Blending African and Caribbean rhythms with jazz is possible.

This past Friday at the Astral concert hall, nine musicians—including Rachel Therrien as the band leader and trumpeter—created polyrhythmic patterns by getting each song to sound different.

“It took us three years to find the opportunity to play this album and we are finally playing it for the first time, here at the Astral,” Therrien said in French. She explained in detail the long and winding road it took her to compose and find the right intonation for her latest album, Pensamiento: Proyecto Colombia.

Therrien’s tone intonation often varied, sounding either very bright or very mellow. More often than not, however, her volume was loud to the point where your ears would slightly ring as she painted the melodic notes onto a blank canvas using her flugelhorn or trumpet.

During the opening song “A Ver,” Therrien, along with saxophonist André Leroux, played a mellow chord progression, until the tempo changed into a fast-shuffling beat. In this song, Therrien was the first to play a loud solo, making herself present while still staying within the boundaries of the melody.

The background musicians blended different sound combinations by continuously switching their instruments to offer even more sound combinations that worked within the melody.

Interestingly, one of the percussionists would switch from playing the djembe drum to hitting the sides of a large empty wooden whiskey barrel with the backend of a drumstick, creating a rattling noise.

During the set, Therrien encouraged crowd participation. For instance, during the song “Mapale 2: Prende la Vela” she encouraged the crowd to clap along to the beat, making them feel as if they were a part of the band.

Each member of the background musicians communicated effectively, each easily understanding who’s part was coming up. Hardly any of the musicians looked at their musical scores, but often looked at each other, smiling, and knowing that they felt the rhythm, which got them to to drive the music in the right direction.

Therrien centered her attention on each musical solo that was played. She watched them joyfully, lifting up their spirits and encouraging them to improvise some of their chords.

She would sometimes close her eyes and try to absorb each melody, so when her time to perform a solo would arrive, she was ready to play any musical note off the top of her head.

One of the percussionists continuously changed his tempo as he played the marimba—a musical instrument that is part of the xylophone family—that contained a deep tone that was the main foundation for the melody since it began and ended the song.

The audience really enjoyed the song “Flamenquillo” that began with the sound from the hi hat on the drums and two fast paced djembe drums, followed by Therrien and Leroux playing a repetitive chord progression.

The electric guitar had a solo in a fuzzy clean tone with the use of the distortion effect pedal, followed by the double bassist and the keyboardist.

Therrien would often switch her trumpets for her flugelhorn. Both brass instruments would offer different tones, whereas the flugelhorn sounded warmer as opposed to the trumpet.

“Smoking,” Therrien said as she pointed out to one of the percussionists who ended the piece by quickly playing the djembe drum for a solid two minutes, getting the audience to cheer loudly with a standing ovation.

Rachel Therrien // Pensamiento: Proyecto Colombia // Montreal International Jazz Festival // montrealjazzfest.com