Brishen's Quinn Bachand has youthful vigour

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Quinn Bachand is one of those musicians so precociously talented it doesn’t seem fair to others. The 17-year-old started playing classical violin at four, picked up guitar at 10, and quickly mastered a range of styles, from Django Reinhardt’s manouche jazz to traditional Scottish and Irish reels. When barely in his teens Bachand toured with both Ashley MacIsaac and Nathalie MacMaster—two very different Cape Breton experiences. Now he fronts his own Gypsy jazz band, Brishen.

While still in elementary school Bachand and his elder sister Qristina also formed a twin-fiddle duo, which is still going. “I’m working on a Celtic album with Qristina right now,” says Bachand from the family house in Victoria, where a band practice is under way. “It’s moving pretty slowly. We’ve been away from each other for a long time. She lives in Amsterdam now, but is back home to record.”

Bachand got together with MacIsaac after the free-spirited Cape Breton fiddler saw him performing on a YouTube video. “He sent a message to say, ‘If I’m in B.C. I’d like Quinn to play with me in one of my shows,’ ” he recalls. “We didn’t believe it was really him because it was under some fake name, and there were all these spelling mistakes. It was very sloppy-looking. But then his manager sent us an email that he was going to be at Vancouver’s Celtic festival. I met Ashley the night before we played and we rehearsed for 15 minutes. It was a lot of fun. He was very off-the-cuff, very spontaneous.”

MacIsaac hired Bachand to play at events such as the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, the Pride dinner gala in Toronto, and Nova Scotia’s Celtic Colours festival on Cape Breton Island. They also toured Australia, which included a trip to Tasmania. “Every morning I’d practise classical violin,” says Bachand. “I had an exam coming up, so I had to keep practising these weird caprices. I was playing really loud and fast, and he’d knock on the door and come in and listen. One time on-stage, he took my guitar to get me to play them, but I wasn’t ready and just played a fiddle tune. Ashley only does a few shows nowadays, not like before, but they’re all big.”

As for MacMaster, Bachand said it was like the opposite of what he’d do with MacIsaac. “Here was piano, bass, drums, and on one of the gigs Nat was playing cello. They were totally choreographed, and the band had all their own arrangements for the tunes. I was standing behind the piano player, checking out his fingers and trying to figure out where I was in the tune. I brought my electric guitar along, so every night we played a jazz tune.”

Brishen came together in the summer of 2012, when Bachand and fellow Victorians Oliver Swain and Richard Moody were touring Alberta and B.C. “We started out playing Ollie’s songs. Richard and I really hit it off because we both realized we loved Django’s music, and by the end we were doing more and more Gypsy-jazz tunes.”

The pair enlisted rhythm guitarist Reuben Wier and standup bassist Joey Smith from the Marc Atkinson Trio to form Brishen, and recorded a self-titled debut album earlier this year. “The name in English Romany means ‘child born out of the storm’, and also ‘bringers of the storm’,” says Bachand. “I play fiddle on some things, and there’s some western swing which is more fiddley than jazzy. We also play traditional Gypsy tunes. What we all really love is that straight-ahead Django stuff and bringing to it what we have—whether that’s Celtic or jazz.”

What is it about Reinhardt and his music that so inspires a young musician who started out wanting to be Jimmy Page? “I listen to other types of jazz and different types of swing—they all swing differently—and I love it all, but the one I never get tired of is Django. His playing is very melodic and harmonically rich. It’s insane that someone who probably had little idea what he was doing had the ear and mind to do what he did so fluidly, with just three fingers on his left hand. It was coming from somewhere else, which I think is cool—and it swings like crazy.”

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