Options and intuitions
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 1996 Anil Prasad. All rights reserved.
Intensity, attitude and adrenaline are the hallmarks of bassist Alain Caron's 20-year career in the jazz-fusion world.
Those traits first emerged during his 15 years with Montreal's Uzeb—one of the most popular fusion acts of all time. Initially formed during the late '70s, Uzeb also featured guitarist Michel Cusson, drummer Paul Brochu and a revolving carousel of keyboardists. In 1988, the group shifted to a power trio formation, using an arsenal of MIDI gear to enhance its sound.
Uzeb released 10 albums and sold 500,000 records worldwide. The group chose to split up in 1992. To celebrate 15 years together, it performed one last time at an outdoor gig during that year's Montreal Jazz Festival. To say the group was popular in its hometown is a colossal understatement—the show was attended by 95,000 people.
Since Uzeb's break-up, Caron has explored varied territory. He put together an ambitious bass duo project with acoustic upright player Michel Donato. He also released a laid-back trio disc with violinist Didier Lockwood and guitarist Jean-Marie Ecay. Regular gigs with musicians as diverse as guitarists Mike and Leni Stern, trumpeter Tiger Okoshi and pianist Hilario Duran have also come his way.
Most importantly, Caron went on to form a new fusion group called Le Band featuring some of Quebec's best jazzmen. The act has two discs to its credit: a 1992 self-titled effort and 1995's Rhythm'n'Jazz.
This interview, captured in its original conversational tone, took place in the elegant confines of a café located in downtown Montreal's des Gouverners hotel. The youthful-looking 41-year-old was in a relaxed and easygoing frame of mind.
What combination of musicians were you looking for when you put Le Band together after Uzeb's break-up?
First of all, I started with the basic idea of keyboards, guitar, drums, myself. Obviously, that was after 15 years of playing in Uzeb and that was a group we formed. So that was not my band, that was no-one's band, that was our band. So everybody had input—put something into Uzeb. So, Le Band to me... in the first version of Le Band I wanted to take care of everything, because that was the main reason why I formed this group—to write my music, arrange it, produce it and direct it and record my ideas.That was the main thing—and to find the right musicians to play it. So in the first version of the band I had Jerry DeVilliers on guitar, Gerry Etkins on keyboards and Magella Cormier on drums. So that was a very strong band. So I did a lot of that. Before we recorded, I had a couple of different keyboard players. And we did tour with that band, so I experienced the band live, because when a band plays live, this is where it takes place, you realize what it is exactly. And to me it was a little bit too in the fusion vein. You know how this word "fusion" became, after the '60s, for the industry a disease. And I understand why. Because some of the fusion stuff in the '70s and the '80s especially became cold and only about chops and very rock-oriented loud music.
A very mechanical enterprise.
Very mechanical. So I didn't want to have that. Definitely, I didn't want to have this label. So that's why I switched a little because anyway, this is after two years with the first version of Le Band and I realized a lot of things as a writer and as a director. My basic roots are a lot more from R&B and bebop than rock. And I realized another thing too—when you do a record it is a project. It's better to focus on one thing in terms of a concept, to have a concept. So the second album which is Rhythm'n'Jazz, the title describes what it is. And I brought a saxophone in here, so it's less rock, less fusion and the whole record has a concept, in terms of harmony and rhythm. There are few Cuban rhythms compared to the first one. There are a couple of tunes with Cuban influences, a couple of tunes are a little bit more romantic. The new record is really rhythm and jazz. This is my experience so far with Le Band. I'm gonna do another one but probably not the next record. I'm gonna do a different project which will be Alain Caron but something different. That's why I had the idea in the beginning of calling it Alain Caron Le Band, which is a label of one thing. So I'll do the second branch now.
Rhythm'n'Jazz is a much more focused record. It sounds like you were trying to do too many different things on the first one.
That's right. Exactly.
But it was your first time as a leader. The need to experiment is understandable.
So then you say "I'd like to do this! Oh sure, I can do that! I can play it!" So now, you need a little bit of maturity, a little bit more focus to say "This record is this. Let's get that sound, that type of harmony and do one record." I think Rhythm'n'Jazz has a lot more focus.
On the first Le Band disc, you were totally in control—producing, directing and composing. For Rhythm'n'Jazz, did you allow the players to influence the music a little more?
By their playing. Not by arrangement or writing. I'm pretty clear about what I want. I've learned how to express it though. It's hard being the leader and the producer. When you get in the studio you hire the right musicians because you heard them play—these guys can play the music I wrote. It's another thing to make them play. To communicate exactly what you want, if you write too much, it's too drastic, it's too much a pattern. You don't let the musicians play and that makes the result cold and you can hear that the guys are reading music and that is not the point. You want to let them play. It's a balance between what's written, the direction and the musician's input.
How would you describe how you relate to your musicians? Are you very dictatorial?
I used to be. [laughs] I think not anymore, but I know what I want.
There's a track called "Slam the Clown" on the new disc. Where did the title come from?
Gerry Etkins said that the first time. The first time I played that tune was with Gerry Etkins on keyboard. That tune is very slammy, it's a macho tune. It's very "boom" right in your face. He said it reminded him of those clown puppet punching bags. You kept punching at it but it was always in your face. So he said "Slam the Clown!" I like the image because the tune is like that.
Compare the overall musical approach of Le Band to Uzeb.
For me it's really hard because I was involved in the Uzeb production, but I was not the only writer. First of all, Michel Cusson used to write a lot more than me but I used to arrange, co-write and produce a lot. So there is at least a third of Uzeb in my band—at least. Less or more I don't know, I can't judge.
I'm hearing less and less of the Uzeb sound in your solo music as time passes.
It's totally possible, it would make sense because the last Uzeb concert was in 1992 and that was the only concert of that year, so that makes 5 years now. I played with a lot of different people, I produced a few records like the trio Caron, Ecay, Lockwood in France, which is totally different. I produced Basse Contre Basse with Michel Donato. And I produced Sortie.
Rhythm'n'Jazz is being released in the States shortly.
Yeah, it'll be released on Lipstick records.
How excited are you about the possibilities of an American release?
Very excited, of course. My records were distributed in the States as imports and through Dutch East Records. So, it's a different thing to have a record company involved directly. There will be someone there pushing my product, if I can call it my product. I was very afraid of that expression 15 years ago—someone calling my music a product, I felt like a bar of soap. But now, I'm used to it. It's a product when it's done and you have the record in your hand.
How long did it take you to come to terms with that?
A few minutes actually. I really got the concept right away. First I said "This is insulting." You know the concept of a young musician—the first time in the studio, it's not what you expect. The first time you meet a record company, it's a shock because it's not what you expected either. And, actually most of the things, I would say 99 percent of everything in life, when you grow up... you don't expect the things in your life to happen that way. It's always different so you always have to adjust to what's happening—new events that happen in your life. So, you've got to be able to adjust to the new parameters, new events, new things happening in your life real quick. Because if you get stuck, the train is gonna leave without you.
Have you ever been under any kind of commercial pressure to record a specific type of record?
No, with Uzeb and solo, I've always been with the same people and label [Avante-Garde]. That means total freedom—I'm artistically free.
That's a luxury a lot of people don't have.
That's right, I realize that. But it's something that is very important to me. I went to New York last week to meet a couple of record companies because now I'm not gonna be with Avante-Garde anymore. Daniel Lafrance is the main guy behind Avante-Garde and he doesn't want to do records anymore. He's just focusing on editing—he's an editor now—a publishing and sheet music editor. So he's no longer producing records. Now I'm shopping for a new deal, I have a couple of options and artistic freedom is the main thing I tell them I want. It makes sense to me. You know, I've done many records in my life. I know what I want. If you want to sign me, okay, if you don't, that's okay too. If I don't get a deal after three years from now, I have two options: to quit or to adjust to record companies.
Or go independent.
Or go independent. But I have at least four very serious offers from major labels.
Are you planning to tour the States with Le Band after Rhythm'n'Jazz is released there?
I hope so. That was part of my trip to New York, to meet people—booking agents. In the United States it's so tough, so tough. There are clubs to play, but think about it, who is touring in the States? In terms of jazz music? Mike Stern is having a hard time finding gigs. Joe Zawinul is having a hard time finding gigs. And you know what they get offered? Something like $600 to $700 dollars a night! I'm convinced—and other people say this too—there is a problem with jazz music in the States. Johnny Carson used to say on his show "It's a shame that the United States don't support their folk music." Jazz music is American. And most American jazzmen make their money in Europe and Asia. It's a shame.
A similar situation exists for Canada too.
I make a living in Europe. I have a problem getting gigs in Canada. You know? I'm a little pissed because I can't mount a Western Canadian tour and I don't know why. Maybe because they don't like my music? That's a reason.
I seriously doubt that. I think it has more to do with the fact that many Canadian jazz festivals play it totally safe—sticking to traditional jazz and little else.
I played out West a couple of years ago. All the places were filled, you know? They were full! Toronto was full. I didn't tour there for two years, and they refused to hire me this year. They totally refused, they didn't even return my calls. This business is very frustrating. You've got to be really strong these days, because there are so many products, so many CDs on the market. It seems like the booking agents, festivals, and the industry are having a hard time picking up the right people—the right artists. They don't know who's good and who's bad anymore. There's of course specialists who still know what's going on.
You know, I was on the jury at the Junos [Canada's version of the Grammy Awards] last year. I received a whole box of CDs—you'd be surprised at the amount of product from Canadian jazz artists—there is a lot of product. There are so many independent artists that produce their own CDs, but they don't necessarily have distribution. And you don't necessarily see them in the stores—this is exactly what the problem is. Because now you can make a CD, but you don't necessarily find distribution. A few years ago, back in the vinyl years, you weren't able to make a record on your own. You had to go through a record company that had distribution. So when you had a record, it meant something—you were at a different level in your career. So now, you can get a little bit of money and make a CD. And you have your CD in your hand and you can go knock on doors and say "I have a CD." But it doesn't mean your CDs are in the store. But in Quebec here, you can pretty easily get your CDs into Sam's, Archambault, Select, Fusion III, Analekta [major record stores and distributors]. They're very open for artists here, for Quebec artists.
To me, it seems Canada—with the exception of Quebec—has a real problem supporting jazz outside of festival season.
If you look at, for example, the Montreal Jazz Festival, DuMaurier Jazz Festival, Beaches Jazz Festival in Toronto, Ottawa Jazz Festival, people go there and enjoy the music. But outside of the festivals, for the rest of the year, it's tough because it costs money to promote and advertise. For example, if I want to book the Spectrum [Montreal] and play one night, I think I have the potential to fill up the room. But it will cost so much money to promote and advertise this concert that the profit will be more than gone. So a few years ago, the problem wasn't that bad, but now it's very, very tough. It's very tough to get an ad in a magazine, to get reviews and stuff like that. It's pretty tough to be out there, to be seen.
That's a music industry symptom that applies to any non-mainstream musician these days.
Yeah, I think so. And a few years ago we were able to go and play because there were bars and clubs that were interested. Promoters were a little bit open to take chances. Now, no-one takes one chance. If they have a two percent of chance of losing money, they won't produce the concert.
You've recently started your own production company to handle all of your business affairs.
Most of it. It's a lot of work... I realized that I know more about the business than a lot of people in the business. I've been doing that for a long time now, I started playing clubs when I was 9 years old. So, I've been through a lot of process, in terms of how to produce a concert, how to produce a record, how to make a tour, how much should we pay for the van, how much should we pay for that truck, how much for that PA system for a week. So, now I know what it costs and I can make a budget for touring in a half-hour, I know exactly what it will be. And I know the risks, plane tickets and stuff like that. Most people that I find—you know in terms of agents, or managers... the ones who know a lot are very booked. And they book big artists with big money. The other ones are the young ones—very talented, but they don't know exactly how things work. So, I have to teach and say a lot of things. And there is nothing in the middle. There are a few—I'm not saying there is nobody, but there is a lack in there. I think this is the main problem in the music industry and this is the problem in the States: There are very small clubs and big things, but there is nothing in the middle. This is not happening in Europe though.
In Europe, there's a market and talented people working in the middle class. Like cultural centers and jazz clubs that pay enough money. In Germany and Italy, there are lots of clubs—200-500 seat clubs that can pay a certain amount of money that's worth the trip. So if you can play in Europe for 4-5 weeks and do a tour, you can come back with a little bit of money and sell records. This is the problem in Canada. Canada is a big country, you have to travel very, very long distances to hit Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax. This is a big problem. So the only real time of the year we can play in Canada is the jazz festivals. But now, the Jazz festivals don't pay Canadian musicians. They pay very, very low money. They're offering ridiculous money compared to what they pay for American musicians because Canadian musicians can get tour support from the Canadian government. I'm very, very frustrated about it. I think it's unacceptable. I tour with American musicians and I know what they get. They should pay Canadian musicians the same amount of money.
You've received a great deal of acclaim as a bassist, but you don't have the profile of a Victor Wooten or Michael Manring. Do you ever feel underrated or undervalued?
It's because of the United States. If I would have moved to the USA, I would be in that category. I think so—a lot of people in the industry tell me that, and I've realized that. But Bass Player magazine is about to put me on the cover. I think this is the first time except for Paul McCartney and the bass player of Rush that a non-American is doing the cover. So, this is some kind of an answer to me. But for non-American musicians it's very tough, not impossible, but extremely tough if you don't live in the States. If you move to the States, you have an address in the States and hang with Americans and you're okay—you're part of the gang or the team. I did that. I went to New York and right away I got accepted. You gotta play, you gotta play. I know how to fight, I know how to play but I didn't make the move to New York permanently. Maybe when I'm 50 or 60 years old I will say "I should have." But I'm very stubborn, I know what to do and I hope I will get visible enough so I can play in the States. I hope so. But it's not the whole point—the whole point is to be able to make a living out of my music and play and travel which I've been able to do so far. If next year I can't get enough gigs to make a living, I'll do something that's for sure. I won't quit. If I have to move, I'll move. You see what I'm saying? It's a fact—few non-Americans play in the States. Not many... very, very few.
It's true. Outside of mainstream pop, yeah.
Yeah, with jazz and especially fusion, it's very, very tough. I think Europeans are getting a little pissed about it. They're getting a little upset about the fact that a lot of American musicians go to Europe to make their living and make a lot of money. Not many Europeans can go to the States. There are very good players in Europe—very many performers. American musicians are very, very good but it's not the only music... but Americans are running the world. It's a fact, so if you can't beat them join them. That's the rule.
How do you feel about the perpetual debate over whether or not the bass works as a soloing instrument?
The issue is flying about a hundred feet over the top of my head, I don't really care, I have my own conviction about it. When you play the bass, it means you play the root. I write music, I know what it means. But saxophone—the tenor saxophone—was built and designed as an accompaniment instrument, not a solo instrument. And the players changed the role of that instrument. So, an instrument is there to be used and it depends on the player, it depends on the musician. An instrument doesn't play by itself. I know many guys who play Steinway piano so bad man—so bad! And I mean terrible, just terrible! So the instrument itself has to be played by a good musician. It's that simple. I've heard many guitar players that should not play a solo and should let the bass player play the solo because it's a lot more musical. You know what I'm saying? But, If the bass player plays a solo all the time, he's not a good bass player. But Mike Manring, what he does with that instrument is incredible. I mean, I have no problem with that. You know, I just listen to the result. And if it's musical and tasty, it's fine with me—no problem.
What philosophies about the instrument do you pass on to your students when you teach?
Play the instrument right in the context you're in. If you're in a band and there is a piano solo, support the piano solo. If there's a place where there is a bass solo, you should be able to play a bass solo. Develop your musical ability, your musical knowledge to be able to fit into all kinds of situations. Find the style you want to play. Try to understand the music. After a moment it becomes so simple—the concept of playing music. It's just a matter of listening. It's like when you talk, it's the same thing. Say the right thing at the right time and understand what you're saying. Talk about something and really know what you're talking about. It's the same thing when we play—we have a chart of music and it's a good piece but you may find it boring. There are two possibilities: you don't like the style or you don't understand it. And you play it wrong. So it's just a matter of being aware of what is going on. If you understand that and the music is asking you to play a whole note and the tonic, you will play it and really enjoy it—if you're the bass player.
What sort of balance between raw technique and finding a personal voice do you believe new players should aim for?
This is something I always say when I do a clinic or teach my students. I tell them to try to compare that to when they talk. A person can learn the whole dictionary and know every word that has been written, have perfect diction. You know, when you talk, your voice is incredible, the tone, the pronunciation is perfect, you have unbelievable technique with your voice and you know the words. But every time you open your mouth, you say stupid things—you're stupid. So it's exactly the same thing with an instrument—you can have an incredible technique and know all the scales, you can play anything but it's always awful. You always play at the wrong time, at the wrong place, you don't fit the music right, you make the band sound terrible 'cause you're playing all over the fucking place, you know? I compare that to people who talk. Some people use just a few words, even make mistakes with verbs like I do in English—I make lots of mistakes when I speak English. But what I'm trying to do is to say something. The main goal is to be a poet and possess the language and have perfect diction and say poetry. This is the main goal.
What were some of the challenges you faced in putting together the bass duo project with Michel Donato?
That was a challenge—to not make a bass contest, a bass war, a bass thing. We tried to make music out of it—to use those instruments to really make music, make it pleasant to listen to. And to hear a piece, to hear a tune—not two bass players just playing basslines. So now you have to switch from your role. Most of the time in the bass duet, I'm not playing bass, I'm singing or I'm playing piano or I don't know. When Michel plays a solo, I play a little bit of the bass, so we have to switch the roles. You have to understand the music to be able to do that. I don't know if we did that, but this is what we had in mind.
Are you happy with the resulting album?
Some of it. Some of the material we recorded on that I think is well done. But with every record that I have done, I would have liked to re-record the next day. It's normal. But overall, I think it's a very good record. And now, we realize that the challenge was very tough because of two fretless instruments—very tough with the tuning. Most of the time, I was playing three-to-four notes at a time. The technical challenge was very tough. But we will do another one at some point.
I haven't seen you play the upright for many years. Have you given up on it?
Yeah, kind of. But now, I'm working on a new instrument which is a six-string upright bass, with a little shorter scale. It's closer to electric bass in terms of technique—I can open up the technique, you know, like we do on the electric, but with an acoustic instrument. It looks exactly like an acoustic bass—it is an acoustic bass. I have it at home, I'm working on it.
Who built this instrument for you?
Two different builders in Montreal: Jean-Marc Forget and Mario Lamarre. Jean-Marc started the project, developing the concept. Then I switched to Mario because Jean-Marc is very busy and he said that he could not finish the project on time so we switched to Mario. So, he was very excited with that, because he likes to develop new things, that's his main interest. So this is very challenging, very promising actually.
Is this an instrument you hope others will adopt when finished?
I hope so, because it's right for electric bass players who want to have that acoustic sound.
I assume it's less challenging from a physical point of view.
Yeah. It's very tough to switch from electric to upright. It's possible but you need to adjust your technique. And to be able to get the right sound out of an upright bass, you gotta to be real strong. So when you go back to electric, you kill the instrument because your technique is too strong. That's why I don't play upright bass while I'm playing electric, because I'll lose technique on electric.
I remember some Uzeb gigs in which you switched between electric and upright.
Yeah, but it was very tough! Very tough—very, very tough! I had to practice all the time—I mean all the time. I still practice but I practice six-string electric fretless and six-string fretted which I'm trying to develop a technique on. So I don't have time anymore—I just don't have time.
You're one of very few bassists I can think of that are able to play beautiful, fluid lines on the fretless, yet still have the capacity to create jaw-dropping slap pieces. But there are many who argue the day of slap bass is over.
Yeah. I kind of agree, if it's done always the same way. People ask me: "Why did I slap 'Donna Lee?' Why do you want to do this?" At first, for me that was exactly for that reason—to change the concept of slap. Instead of always doing rhythm I'm trying to play melodies, trying to be a bit more lyrical, to play lines. So I'm still working on it. So, this is what I'm trying to do. I don't want to play typical fretted slap rhythm-funk-things. So, I'm a little sick of it too—the typical thing. Some guys do it so well that I don't necessarily want to do that. I'm trying to have my own way of doing things, to play lines, to play any type of lines with the slap technique. I'm gonna keep doing that for a while, until I find it's not going anywhere. But actually, I'm having fun slapping.
How do you look back at your time with Uzeb?
Oh man, what a great experience, what a treat! Oh man, we had a ball, we had a great time. This is a big chunk of my life—15 years. Wow! Some concerts, man, were just magic, pure magic. Remember, you know, that last concert we did in Montreal, 95,000 people, all applauding at the right place, after each solo. What a treat—it was incredible! Some other concerts—the first time we played at the Olympia in Paris... man, it's a temple of music and we were there. That was incredible.
If you knew the 1992 gig in Montreal was going to be the last Uzeb show, why didn't you guys bill it as such?
Yeah, but that was point. We didn't want to advertise it as the last show, or else we knew it would have been tough to do. We said: "Let's keep it for the Montreal fans who really supported us from the beginning and especially the Montreal Jazz Festival." I have to mention strongly that Andre Menard and Alain Simard [festival organizers] have always, from the very beginning, been very supportive of Uzeb until the end. They always gave us a good shot at the festival, videotaped the concerts and really gave us the opportunity for visibility. We can't say that about other festivals in the country.
You mentioned some high points. Are there any low points during your time with Uzeb that you care to discuss?
Of course, there are always some—15 years playing with the same guys, writing music together. It's not easy because you have done lots of compromise, lots of errors, lots of mistakes, lots of stupid things you say and do. But it's the same thing—it's life. But after all of that, the whole Uzeb thing is still so positive. The total thing. We sold 500,000 records! Uzeb is one of the major bands in the whole history of fusion, but not in the States. We sold very few records in the States, that's a shame. I think it's a shame. We deserved to have recognition there. We have never been able to really make it there. Man, that band was hot. Live, Uzeb was incredible. I've seen lots of bands live, I've seen Weather Report, but Uzeb live was something to see. Especially that trio, you listen to the world tour record, it's a trio playing all that shit—it's incredible. Now I can look back at it. You like Uzeb or not, you have to admit that band was pretty hot.
How did you react to critics who said Uzeb was a pop-jazz band?
[Caron gets very animated and emotional, and waves his hands up in the air.]
Stupid, it's totally stupid. I mean, listen to the chords, listen to the harmony! If it's pop, then I'd like pop music to be like that. It's so stupid. I mean people who write this I'd like to have in my face to tell them personally that they're fucking stupid! Because it is. And for those critics, anything that's electric is bad. I've seen it written and I read it in some magazine, some critic said: "If there's a synthesizer, it's got to be bad." I've read some critic in some article on really bad acoustic records and he said: "This is good. Only because it's acoustic." It's so stubborn, it's so narrow-minded. They would prefer to listen to a pretty ordinary piano player on acoustic than listen to Herbie Hancock on a Fender Rhodes, you know? It's so stupid.
Where did the name Uzeb come from?
Uzeb? Oh man! That name is so weird! It comes from a name like "Alain" or "Jean"—the name "Eusebe" is a very old name. So the band was called "Eusebe Jazz" at first, which is stupid. It could have been The Ketchup Bebop Band, you know? It was the most stupid thing.
Why did you guys initially go with the name Eusebe Jazz?
To have a nonsense name. Who wants to have a band called Men Without Hats? Or The Police or whatever? At a point we got sick of those names—the typical band name. Actually, I wasn't even there, 'cause Michel [Cusson] started this band Eusebe Jazz. When I joined, Michel had this name. So we started to play and get known by larger crowds and play Quebec City, Montreal and all those places. Then we had this offer for a record deal and we said: "Man, we can't keep that name, it's impossible, we can't." We knew we had to go outside of Quebec to make a living with this music—we had to export. That was the main reason to do this type of music. This music is exportable worldwide. So we said "We have to find a new name." A lot of people knew this group as Eusebe, so we took out the two "e"'s and put in a "z." So it kept the same sound. I think it's a pretty unique name actually [laughs]—Uzeb. The first time you see it you say" What the hell is this?" So that's it!
The rumor in musician circles here in Montreal is that Uzeb broke up simply because you and Michel Cusson couldn't stand working with each other anymore.
[laughs] We had our fights but before it went too far we decided to switch and do our own things. But not stand each other? That's a bit too much, because we still talk to each other. He was at my place two days ago. We had conflicts—that's for sure. Because Michel is a very strong musician—he knows where he is going and he likes the music to sound that way. It's the main problem of all bands after a while—a band is a fusion of different ideas and it works as long as you're ready to make the compromise. One day or another, one of the guys will be stronger and take his direction. If the others guys don't follow that direction, the band will break up. That's for sure in all bands that exist. So, that tension was too much for me—too much for him too. We didn't want to deal with that anymore. We said "We don't have time for that." That's what I felt too.
It's true, Michel and I had been fighting a lot. We're strong characters—strong. I'm stubborn. When I have something in mind, I can be a pain in the butt. And he can too, so we decided that it was time for us to do our own thing. I knew I was going into my forties and I knew I had possibilities as a producer and I could write music and wanted to check that out for myself. Michel knew he had the possibility to do that—the knowledge to do that, the skills to really do his own thing. And what he's doing he's really happy doing. He's writing his own music, you know, and I'm doing fine, so it's totally cool. It was a tough decision to break up because Uzeb was very successful in 1990. After the world tour, we could have done another record and probably had a major hit with lots of record sales. We decided to go for the music, to go for our lives and to go for happiness.
Another reason for the perceived animosity is that you and Paul Brochu still play together regularly. As well, Brochu is now a member of Cusson's Wild Unit band. Yet, you and Cusson never play together anymore.
That's true. But we don't feel it's time. We may do it at some point. I mean, we talk on the phone. Actually, we're gonna release a Uzeb record—a compilation of all the ballads. The record company in France had this idea because Uzeb definitely has two aspects: a very fusion-ish, strong, heavy and right in-your-face sound. On the other hand we have lots of very romantic ballads. And some people really don't see the really musical aspect of Uzeb—the very deep harmony and very smooth thing, very musical. I think it's a very good idea to put the whole thing on one record and you listen to it from the beginning to the end and you say: "Man, this is a great band for ECM records." Who would think that Uzeb could have been on ECM records? The disc is gonna be called Entre Ciel et Terre—between heaven and earth. That's also the name of one of the pieces.
What do you think of the albums Cusson has done with the Wild Unit?
They are great records. It's great, I have no problem with that. But now you see how different we are. You start to see the difference between the two. Maybe at some we'll say: Hey! Let's do a project together though. Actually, we played together last year in Cannes, in France. Actually we went to eat together and we hung together all the time at the NAMM show last year.
One thing that's surprised me is you and Cusson don't play any Uzeb material during your solo shows.
That's an agreement we have—never play any Uzeb tunes.
Because we didn't want anybody to take advantage of this material. If I would play Uzeb tunes, lots of Uzeb fans would come and would relate to me as being Uzeb, which would not be fair for Paul [Brochu] and Michel.
That seems a bit strange—after all, you did compose some of that material.
Maybe at some point we will allow ourselves to perform the music, but right after the band I think it would have wrong and unfair for the other guys. We still have our companies together and we still do business because of the royalties and stuff like that. We're just gonna release the new compilation and it's fine. So that's why—that's an answer right there. We can deal and respect each other, we have no problem with that. I won't break my word.
When playing live after the band's break-up, was it difficult to perform entirely new music to an audience predominantly weaned on Uzeb?
No, that was easy, because we played the Uzeb material a whole lot. Personally, some of these tunes I'm really happy to not play anymore because we played them so much. "60 rue des Lombards"—I've played it quite a bit—and "Brass Licks" and "Slinky"—I've played them enough. So it's very good for me to not play that for a while. Maybe at some point, I'll be interested in doing an arrangement of one of those pieces but there is no plan.
Is there any possibility of Uzeb getting back together in the future?
Who knows? I can't say no, but there's no plan to bring that band together again. You never know, but definitely no plans in the near future—we did that for 15 years, we did lots of records. What else could we do?
Tell me about the album you're planning to record later this year.
I think it's gonna be a very small formation—a trio or something like that. And a lot more in the jazz direction. Maybe some standards—a lot more open in terms of improvisation, less arrangement, something like that I think. I'll probably use a piano player—acoustic piano. But it's hard to find the right piano player, since Lyle Mays is not available. Le Band will continue, but I definitely want to also explore another branch of music which is a lot more jazz—a little bit more intellectual.
Are there any other sessions coming up for you?
Morty Forber—Tiger Okoshi's guitarist—asked me to play on his new album. Mike Brecker will be on that too. And Mike Stern, we still talk—we're still talking on the phone about doing things. I've also been talking with Wayne Krantz for a long time to record something together—maybe a duet record. I have lots of plans, but not enough time.