I know there are people—jazz fans—out there who turn and run when they hear that a band is going to be paying tribute to a long-dead artist whose work has been re-interpreted by dozens of other artists. Those who stayed away from saxophonist Jean Derome's homage to Billy Strayhorn last night—and Quebec City's Largo club was far from full—just don't know Derome, drummer Pierre Tanguay, bassist Normand Guilbeault and pianist François Bourassa. Joined by singer Karen Young on most of material, the band was anything but predictable. Not only did compositions like "Lush Life," "UMMG" and "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" not sound like interpretations by contemporaries like Joe Henderson, the players always maintained their individuality—particularly Derome and Tanguay, two of the most original improvisers I've encountered.
I haven't heard Young sing in person in about 25 years, and it was a treat to be reminded what a fine vocalist she is. Last night, she went deep inside the songs, mining the frustration, loneliness and occasional humour in Strayhorn's lyrics.
Just as Derome and Tanguay, in their Évidence trio, can find interesting ways to express Thelonious Monk's music, this project refracted light in new ways through Strayhorn's music, making you forget previous versions you might have heard. No small feat.