Jazz Fest review: The Bell Orchestre

Montreal chamber-pop band fills St. Matts with a wall of sound.

Lanky Richard Reed Parry (double bass) led bandmates Sarah Neufeld (violin), Stefan Schneider (drums), Pietro Amato (French horn), Colin Stetson (French horn, clarinet, bass and tenor saxes), Kaveh Nabatian (trumpet and melodica) and Mike Feuerstack (lap steel guitar) onstage at St Matt's United Church to waves of energetic applause from a large, astonishingly mixed-age throng. Earlier, the venue's ticket-seller said the band's previous night's performance left him "still tingling. I don't even smoke, " he remarked in a gush. "But after last night, I needed a cigarette." Hey. Can't get too much better than that for a testimonial. To a player the band looked chic. Young. Engaging. Hip. Very very top-tier Montreal. From the sounding of the first note to the frenetic pounding, driving encore finale that sparked a "desecration" of the church's sanctity with people dancing with unchecked abandon in the aisles, The Bell Orchestre pumped out a contemporary version of legendary music producer/convicted murderer Phil Spector's vaunted "wall of sound." Every instrument it seemed, was wired for electronic processing. Which, I surmised, accounted for the mainly languid, drawn-out melody lines issued by combos of trumpet, dual French horns or French horn, trumpet and reed instrument. To play fast or in flurries would cause the sound's echoes and looping to disastrously fumble together; thereby creating a claustrophobic, impenetrable aural mess. So each theme rolled out like stately lamentations. Sarah Neufeld took most of the instrumental flights--her rapid gusts of notes scarcely managing to stay nano-seconds ahead of the electronic chase team hot on her tail. Problem for me? The sameness of each number. Never playing "unplugged," I felt the "wall of sound" boxed the gifted musicians in. How they cleverly manage to "break out" will be intriguing. All said, a fascinating, very well-played show.

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