“Is Helen Gillet the most creative musician on the scene right now?”

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Published on: March 24th, 2010
While it may be a pointless notion to try and debate I definitely heard that question asked during her performance last night with Gordon Grdina and Kenton Loewen upstairs at the Blue Nile. The impromptu trio performed a show that proved to be everything I could hope for from a “free jazz” show: daring, visceral, transcendent…an incredible display of creativity and musicianship. What struck me last night about Gillet’s cello playing is how amazing it is that someone can be such a perfectionist on an instrument while still exhibiting such an endless flow of creative ideas…and always so tasteful: at times atmospheric, other times serving the function of a bass player with metronomic rhythm and clear harmonic leadership, and then, when the moment calls for it, being able to step up and really shred. What a joy to hear her play in a group improvisation setting with other musicians on the same level as her! Grdina, who plays guitar and oud, and Loewen, a drummer, are both in town this week from Vancouver, B.C. thanks to Andy Durta and Scatterjazz Productions. On the oud (a Middle-Eastern predecessor to the guitar) Grdina plays meditatively with a subdued fire. This is in contrast to the trio’s guitar set, where Grdina and company were not afraid to crank up the volume and really rock out. If you missed the show last night you can still check out Grdina and Loewen playing tonight (March 24) at the All-Ways Lounge (2240 St. Claude) with Simon Lott’s Renwicke Ensemble. With 2 drummers, 2 saxophonists, trumpet and guitar this promises to be a very intense experience that should not be missed! I try to at least pop in upstairs at the Blue Nile every Tuesday to see what’s on tap for the weekly Open Ears Series. There’s always something unique going on, but on certain nights, such as last night, its pure magic.


I only caught the last half hour/45 minutes of the Blue Nile show, and it was...lordy, it was just deliciously incredible. I love gettin picked up off the floor by sonic waves of spontaneous creation.

MichaelDominici's picture


MichaelDominici's picture

Helen Gillet, is indeed one of the most creative musicians currently on the scene in New Orleans. Like many of our greatest artists, Gillet pushes the boundaries until there seems to be none left and then returns to the essence and majesty of her instrument, the cello. She's having a conversation with her musical ancestors, her audience, her 'self' and the elements at different times throughout any given performance. She embraces the classical tradition, beautifully sings folk songs, and in turn freely incorporates technology at every turn. Loops, effects, beats,'noise' and even a taste for the low-tech and low-brow also find there way into her repertoire. Whether she's performing solo, in intimate new 'chamber music' settings, or going full throttle with various jazz-driven ensembles Helen Gillet displays a Mingus like passion both as a player and as a band leader, often coaxing energy and lifting the spirits into dynamic and dazzling displays of artistry. She fits in the lineage of musicians such as Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, George Lewis, Baby Dodds, Harold Battiste, Earl Turbinton, Johnny Vidacovich, Kidd Jordan, Jonathan Freilich, Rob Cambre, and James Singleton to name a few. When Gillet closes her eyes and lets her hair fall into her face she opens our ears and unlocks our souls.
~Michael Dominici

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