I really like this Montreal-based musical proposition, a cross between modern jazz, free jazz, learned contemporary music and American minimalism. Bellbird is made up of two couples in life (Claire Devlin, sax and Allison Burik, clarinet, as well as Eli Davidovici, double bass and Mili Hong, drums), and three gender identities (Allison Burik is non-binary). The ensemble formed two years ago, and its members, I hear, often like to play Dutch Blitz, a card game I wasn’t familiar with (perhaps I’m too limited to Joker Rummy!).
Here, then, is modern jazz punctuated here and there with Steve Reich-style minimalist phrases, which serve as the basis for the subsequent blossoming of a studious inventiveness that does not exclude a rhythmic energy sometimes tinged with rock, or its urban jazz version introduced by E.S.T.
The result is a resolutely symbiotic, multi-genre marriage that pushes the idea of modern jazz and the boundary between written and improvised music a little further, without turning it all on its head either. It’s a thoughtful, skilful achievement that balances its post-academic rigour (all these fine people have just graduated from McGill) with a sincere emotional investment and some great musical ideas.
The subjects covered are varied and unromantic (you won’t find any love stories). Instead, in an emotional rather than musical impressionism, they evoke psychological isolation (a consequence of the pandemic), a dreamlike plunge into a well of sensations and colours, the concepts of conflict and acceptance, playful allusions to tropical birds and pigeons unjustly denigrated, like Disco! etc.). The quartet’s name is also inspired by a bird: the bellbird, or white araponga in French.
It’s an excellent proposition that you’ll be able to enjoy live on Saturday 7 October at Dièse Onze, as part of the OFF Jazz Festival in Montreal. Can’t wait!