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The Unconventional Trombonist

September 20, 2009
The Unconventional Nick La Riviere

The Unconventional Nick La Riviere

Trombonist Nick La Riviere certainly can’t be called conventional or boring.

Take his most recent Trombone Mayhem show at Hermann’s in Victoria. At the beginning of the second set, he called up a special guest guitarist/vocalist who’d been pretending to be an audience member, and the group promptly launched into the “Trombone Mayhem Ultimate Dance Party,” complete with Kool and the Gang, and Earth, Wind and Fire tunes La Riviere had arranged, along with disco lights and a smoke machine that he’d cleverly set up before the show.

Then there’s his music education. These days most aspiring jazz players complete a four-year college program before embarking on a career. Not La Riviere. He did a year of what amounted to solo study with Hugh Fraser at the Victoria Conservatory, a year and a bit in the Capilano College (now University) jazz program, and then set his course for the world of the working musician.

“As I was starting my second year, I got an offer of a cruise ship gig. I thought that might be fun, and so I dropped out on tuition payment day and did three years.” Since that time he’s taken a few private lessons from the likes of Ian McDougall and Steve Turre, but for the most part has chosen to educate himself by arranging, transcribing and composing music and by working in a variety of bands.

He chooses to work in various genres, playing with, among others, The Bomb Squad , a dance cover band; Greenlaw, a soul/dub/r&b band; and very recently The Paperboys, a renowned group that somewhat tongue-in-cheek describes itself as “the only multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-lingual, multi-instrumental, genre bending, co-ed band you will hear today!!”

La Riviere’s unconventional approach is certainly apparent on his debut jazz album Too Much to Do launched at the end of August at a Butchart Gardens gig. The disk features three of the top jazz players in Canada – Ross Taggart on piano, Jodi Proznick on bass, and Jesse Cahill on drums – but La Riviere has also incorporated a string section in the septet (Cam Wilson and Julien Vitek on violins, and Peggy Lee on cello). La Riviere, of course, plays trombone, and for a little variety, conch shells, a trick he picked up from trombonist Steve Turre.

He conceived of the album while still on the cruise ships, wanting to create something that would generate interest because it was unique. He began writing and arranging with strings in mind, creating challenging parts for the violins and cello, at times even using them like a horn section to create a rich, thick chord-like sound. “I like that it does give the album more of a unique sound,” says La Riviere. “I like the way it’s turned out.”

The CD features covers of some not-so-common jazz standards, including a nod to a Miles Davis’ version of It Never Entered My Mind. La Riviere transcribed not only Davis’ complete solo but also his interpretation of the head (main melody), but then made it his own by playing the Davis part on trombone and adding the strings. Otherwise the five standards and four originals (all composed by La Riviere), are unique arrangements.

“I wanted to make it interesting both to people who are trained in what they are listening to and people who aren’t so that it can have wide appeal,” says La Riviere, noting that some jazz albums are simplified to the point that most musicians likely wouldn’t listen to them, while others are so intellectual and technical that only experienced jazz musicians can appreciate them.“I just wanted to make something that everybody can enjoy.”

You can judge for yourself by watching this You Tube video of the recording session at The Factory in Vancouver, or better yet, by purchasing the album (it’s available at Long and McQuade and should be up on the CD Baby website sometime soon). For more information go to La Riviere’s website here. And for a review of the album, read Jeremiah Sutherland’s comments here. Tonight (Monday, Sept. 21) on his CFUV radio show Rhythm-a-ning, Arnold van Klaveren will be featuring an interview with La Riviere. See the events calendar for details.

– Rick Gibbs

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