Simon Delage: Cahier

With jazz wunderkinds releasing their debut recordings younger and younger, it’s somewhat refreshing to hear an album by an up and coming musician who has taken a much needed gestation period before going into the recording studio. Enter Montreal drummer Simon Delage. In the time since graduating from the McGill University Jazz Program, Delage has amassed a slew of playing credits with mainstays on the Montreal jazz scene including the likes of Rémi Bolduc, Jeff Johnston and André White, among others. To this end, his debut release Cahier (Kai-Yeah), reveals a maturity and depth that can only be gained through associations with professional musicians and live band stand experiences.

Fittingly titled Cahier, the French term for notebook contains a cross-section of Delage’s compositions written over the last few years. The album opens with “Brew Day,” a traditional New Orleans-style shuffle paired with a more modern irregular phrase structure. The seamless juxtaposition is a testament to Delage’s compositional lexicon and versatility as a drummer.

Delage has also surrounded himself with musicians who are equal to the task. Saxophonist Erik Hove seems to just reel off the intricate lines at will as on “Rico’s Wrath” or “No Name Cereals,” the latter based on the serial technique of using all 12 chromatic pitches in sequence.

Of the two ballads on the record, the first, “Comme un Étranger,” is a more straight-ahead ballad that allows the band members to really play as a unit. Following a tender statement of the melody by Hove, bassist Rick Rosato (who cut his teeth in New York) takes the first solo, which is at once melodic and swinging.

The other ballad, “Il Fut un Temps,” begins like anything but with a three-minute free ensemble improvisation. Even when the melody begins it has enough twists and turns to break up a sense of balladic monotony. Pianist Paul Shrofel (who pulls double-duty on Rhodes) proves once again that he is equally at home providing a tasteful accompaniment or taking center stage as soloist shifting moods and textures at will.

The remaining compositions on the album run the gamut from “Aïna” (the composer’s niece), which evokes a sound reminiscent of the ECM label recordings of the ’80s and ’90s, to the Monk-inspired “Deep Friar (Intended),” replete with buoyant melody, chromatic shifts and jaunty bridge section.

In the wrong hands, an album with this diversity of styles might seem a bit haphazard. On the contrary, Cahier is a solid debut that displays his instrumental and compositional prowess across a broad spectrum of jazz genres.