Musical mélange

Justin Brake
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Jazz artist Mary Barry to release first full-length French album

She may be a Newfoundlander in blood and spirit, but the essence of her musical artistry has roots in Quebec City's cultural epoch of the 1980s.

Throughout her career as one of the province's most versatile and talented jazz singers, Mary Barry has frequently drawn from the decade she spent in the belle cité, and her forthcoming fourth record, "Chansons Iriseés," should mark the pinnacle of the francophone tradition's influence on her musical creativity.

Mary Barry will release "Chansons Irisees" at D.F. Cook Recital Hall on the Memorial University campus in St. John's at 8 p.m. Saturday. - Submitted photo

She may be a Newfoundlander in blood and spirit, but the essence of her musical artistry has roots in Quebec City's cultural epoch of the 1980s.

Throughout her career as one of the province's most versatile and talented jazz singers, Mary Barry has frequently drawn from the decade she spent in the belle cité, and her forthcoming fourth record, "Chansons Iriseés," should mark the pinnacle of the francophone tradition's influence on her musical creativity.

"During that time there was this boîte à chansons culture ... real old-fashioned coffee houses with checkered tablecloths and old upright pianos and people smoking Gitanes and talking about René Lévesque," she recalls, sitting in a local coffee shop as a weekend snowstorm rages outside.

"It was a very exciting time and the place was just packed with artists."

Barry was fresh out of Vancouver Community College's jazz program when she landed in Quebec City for a three-day visit, but the city's aura and rich musical society lured her in for much longer. It would make its mark on the young chanteuse.

"My plan was to go back to St. John's but ... it was an auspicious time," she explains. "Sometimes in life things just start to flow and it's almost like you're not having to try so hard for things to connect. I think I really needed to explore my art itself."

Until last summer, she had not returned to her musical stomping grounds for nearly a decade, but when she arrived in July old relationships were quickly rekindled and, perhaps in some ironic dictum of fate, Barry extended her stay until an album was complete.

She first reconnected with former musical partner and friend Marie-Lili Cauchon, composer of the new album's first song, "La Fille de la Mer," then locally renowned but relatively obscure Québecois poet Christine Bernard, who is behind six of the album's 12 songs, and finally the man who would produce "Chansons Iriseés," Bruno Fecteau.

"Within an hour and a half, Bruno and I had decided we were going to do a record, what tunes we were going to do, and he said he had two weeks off," Barry explains.

Fecteau furtively invited members of famed Québécois poet and singer-songwriter Gilles Vigneault's band to play on the album and left Barry in the dark as to who her highly qualified session musicians actually were.

"Here I was not only with Vigneault's arranger, but with his entire band, and I didn't even know it," she says with a laugh.

In three days, the album was recorded.

With "Chansons Iriseés," Barry successfully brings back an era and infuses it, in the context of her fascination with stories of love, into a diverse collection of songs with an assemblage of influences.

"Iriseés" - French for iridescent or iridescence - is the word Barry recognized would best describe the "mélange of musical styles" on the album after she watched a double rainbow emerge on a rainy afternoon in Quebec last summer.

Added to the album's jazz substratum are sounds of tango, blues, swing, French "chanson," and even country ("La Gare").

Lead-off track "La Fille de la Mer" appeared on Barry's award-winning 2007 album, "Red Eye Tonight," but was re-recorded with violin and clarinet for "Chansons."

"There's just this real maritime colour to it," she says. "Whenever I sing it I feel like I'm on a boat, and it's kind of like my own little sea shanty. We just took it a little bit faster."

"Peine d'amour" is one of Bernard's songs and one of Barry's favourites.

"She writes these beautiful, sublime melodies," says Barry. "'Peine d'amour' I heard her perform 20 years ago and I never forgot the melody."

In the song, Bernard "takes heartbreak and personifies it."

"You listen to a writer and you just know," Barry explains. "You can hear where the music and the lyrics are just completely connected."

"La Vie En Rose," the Édith Piaf and Louis Gugliemi classic, showcases Barry's vocal dexterity.

"It's just the voice and the piano ... and I said to Bruno, 'Just by itself?' I thought we were going to have maybe some violin and a little bit of bass perhaps, maybe some guitar. And he said 'No, it's just you and the piano,' and I felt rather vulnerable doing it."

If you listen closely to "Ne me quitte pas," you can hear Barry's voice quaver during the last verse.

"I was all alone in the booth with my voice and those texts," she says. "In the last verse I had tears in my eyes ... I was so connected to the words. I came out of the booth and told Bruno I cracked ... and he said that's what recording's all about, capturing the truth in the emotions of the singer."

The release of "Chansons Iriseés" will coincide with a special concert on Saturday that Barry is calling the "Chansons d'Amour Concert" for Valentine's Day.

It will take place at D.F. Cook Recital Hall on the Memorial University campus at 8 p.m.

She will be joined on stage by Brian Way, Charlie Barfoot, Susan Evoy, Kate Bevan-Baker, Jack Daw and Rob Lee.

Tickets are $20 and available at Fred's Records, O'Brien's Music, and The Travel Bug.

Organizations: Vancouver Community College, Fred's

Geographic location: Quebec City, St. John's

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  • Tanya
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    They performed on channel 9 last night and were GREAT!

  • Tanya
    July 01, 2010 - 20:24

    They performed on channel 9 last night and were GREAT!