Victoria Times Colonist, Review and Interview, Mike Devlin

Mike Rud’s Notes on Montreal fuses fiction with jazz

Writing original compositions for a jazz album inspired by giants of the book world is no easy feat, especially when a rock ’n’ roll influence is pulling at the seams of the entire project.

That was the task facing Montreal jazz guitarist Mike Rud, who ultimately succeeded in his quest to fuse a series of Montreal-centric literary inspirations — Gabrielle Roy’s The Tin Flute, Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals and Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version, among others — with provocative, often genre-jumping jazz.

By the time the album was written and recorded, Rud had scored a twofold triumph. Not only did the album, Notes on Montreal, earn the former Victoria resident a vocal jazz Juno Award earlier this year, it blurred the definition of traditional contemporary jazz.

“There are tunes on there where you could say they are not jazz,” Rud said recently from his home in Montreal, “and there are ones that can almost only be categorized as jazz.”

That was the plan from the outset. The rock ’n’ roll undertones came later, Rud said. You can take the jazz out of the rock player, so to speak, but you can’t take the rock out of the jazz player. “There is no escaping what formed you and what feels most authentic to you. The song forms on the record are either really simply organized, verse-chorus-verse affairs, or they are that with a slight twist. The songs all boil down really simply to that, which in my marrow of my bones is what a decent song is.

“It’s a story being told in verses, with the general point being summed up in a chorus. There’s all kinds of other ways to write songs, but that’s the one that resonates with me.”

Rud lived in Victoria for the better part of 1993, when he was 25. He moved here to play in Playground Hero, the local rock band featuring (at various points) two of his three older brothers, Jeff and Tim. He has fond memories of the city, in part because of the family influence. After all, it was his brothers who prompted him to pick up a guitar and start strumming at the age of 11, while living with the family in Toronto. “There were guitars sitting out all the time,” he said with a laugh. “I couldn’t help it.”

His was a peripatetic upbringing. Raised in a military family, he moved often. He lived in Texas, Manitoba and Ontario growing up, and has spent time in Vancouver, Victoria and Ottawa as an adult. “There’s a lot of places that really feel like home to me.”

Montreal is closest to his heart, however, and that comes through on Notes on Montreal. The album, with lyrics written by Rud and sung by Sienna Dahlen — who will join Rud and his ensemble tonight at Hermann’s Jazz Club — runs the gamut. Despite the many moving parts, from Rud’s ensemble and string quartet to the vocal anchors of Dahlen, Rud’s former music-studies classmate at McGill University, there is a symmetry to the album, Rud said.

He thought briefly about singing the songs himself. Once he brought Dahlen on board, he knew immediately it was the better move. Using Dahlen as a vocalist is like using a “baseball bat to kill a mosquito.” Though he was previously aware of her gifts as a singer, he didn’t foresee her shooting to the top of her field in Canada with her incredible authority and finesse, which earned her countless critical plaudits for her contributions to the record.

And to think, Rud said, that at one point, Notes on Montreal almost didn’t exist. His previous recordings were written to show his talent as a guitarist, not his abilities as a lyricist. Rud said he took a leap of faith in writing Notes on Montreal.

“The other ones, I felt like I was putting on my instrumental, jazz guitar hat. I wrote lyrics, but I wasn’t ready to share them yet. Finally, at a certain point I said to hell with that. Life is short.”

What: Mike Rud

When: Thursday, 8 p.m. (doors at 6:30)

Where: Hermann’s Jazz Club (753 View St.)

Tickets: $22 at the Victoria Jazz Society Office (202-345 Quebec St.), in the Harbour Towers Hotel, Lyle’s Place, the Royal McPherson Box Office and; $25 at the door

Information: 250-388-442

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