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Ariane Racicot brings rock energy to modern jazz piano

A woman plays a piano in front of a wood background and out of focus lights.
Bruno Guérin
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Ariane Racicot
Montreal pianist Ariane Racicot gives it all she's got.

When you see a beat up piano in a public place, you might sit down and play it. If you're lucky, you might hear a professional display their talent. In Québec City's Mount Royal Park in 2013, an unsuspecting audience witnessed the breakout performance by one of Canada's most promising modern jazz pianists.

Ariane Racicot was barely old enough to drive a car when she put that public performance of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" on YouTube. It's now garnered well over 18 million views. Racicot has just released her debut album Envolée, and she's bringing more rock energy to the piano trio format.

The album's centerpiece is "Bicycle Ride", a careening trip with Racicot developing a riff with both hands that any hard rock band would envy. Antoine Rochefort lifts the groove on electric bass while drummer Guillaume Picard mixes powerful swing and rock punctuation.

Racicot thrills with a solo that imagines the joy of wind in a bicyclist's hair on a Summer's afternoon. Her playing has a powerful drive but never forgets the catchy melody. There's an epic quality to the music, that anthemic feeling that gets rock fans' heads banging.

Envolée's opening song "Vertige" establishes a dark mood with melodic connections to heavy metal's minor chord brooding. Racicot's bandmates provide muscular support and team up without piano briefly.

Not all Racicot's songs are thunderous. "Crépuscule" is a relaxed ballad, a melancholy melody, still anchored by the low note buzzing of Rochefort's electric bass. Racicot finds plenty of hopeful notes to lend promise to this lovely song's underlying unease.

The midtempo waltz of "Coffee and Cigarettes" hints at Racicot's piano heroes like Hiromi, Tigran Hamasyan, and Chick Corea. Followers of modern pianists Rachel Z and Kait Dunton will find a familiar musical sensibility in Racicot's music.

Closing her five original songs with "À ciel ouvert" — Racicot rocks out. The pounding opening finds Racicot's trio amplified by guest drummer Martin Plante's crashing display. As with "Bohemian Rhapsody," the song moves from thrashing sea to calmer waters and back again. The triumphant conclusion brings a satisfying end to this young artist's auspicious beginning.

The ecstasy of music is found in all styles. Pianist Ariane Racicot's Envolée is an ecstatic trip and an exciting first effort for this bold talent. YouTube stardom was just the beginning.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a 3rd generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.
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