When André Lachance named his quartet’s debut The Orange Challenge, he was not necessarily meditating on a certain citrus-skinned kleptocrat. But if that’s the first thing that comes to mind, he’s fine with that.
“That is a hell of a challenge we’ve got coming up,” Lachance says on the line from his Vancouver home, adding a brief, rueful laugh. “But there’s three or four different things that I was sort of thinking about. One is that it’s my favourite colour, orange. And on another level, in Hinduism the second chakra is the chakra of creativity and fertility. The colour associated with it is orange, and the musical pitch associated with it is D—and I have four tunes in D on the record.”
In a follow-up email, he elaborated further, saying that he prefers “the Jack Layton kind of orange” to other political hues. The record itself is far more concerned with sound than ideology, however, and for those who know Lachance as one of the most respected bass players on the Vancouver jazz scene, it’s also a bit of a curve ball. On The Orange Challenge, he’s featured on guitar, his first instrument, and not a single note of electric bass or its upright cousin can be heard.
The switch in focus, Lachance says, has to do with the music he’s been writing; otherwise, he’s as busy as ever holding down the bottom line for performers ranging from the Hard Rubber Orchestra to singer Kate Hammett-Vaughan.
“I was just hearing myself on guitar in my tunes,” he explains. “I think I just like hearing myself play the melodies. Also, it’s a nice change to not be constantly playing. Like, I can play a melody, play a solo, and then lay out and let everyone else play for a bit. It’s good to have that option. And it’s also nice to play a melody with a high, singing note and have the drums full-on behind me. Whereas for a double bass solo, everyone goes quiet. People lay out, and the drummer goes to brushes, and then the cappuccino machine in the restaurant goes off…”
He laughs again; Lachance may well be the only musician in town who’s less stressed about being a bandleader than a sideman. But that, of course, could have something to do with the people he’s surrounded himself with. In the Quatuor André Lachance, regular collaborator Brad Turner handles the keyboard duties, mostly on electric piano, while emerging star Joe Poole is behind the kit. And on bass—or, more precisely, Moog synthesizer—is Chris Gestrin, very much the X factor in why The Orange Challenge is such a subtle but satisfying departure from electric-jazz norms.
“The Moog thing on the bass is so great,” Lachance enthuses. “There’s times when Chris really just goes ‘I’m a bass player,’ and tonewise he sticks more to that function. Then there’s other times where it’s much more of a synthesizer, and he takes solos in the upper range—and sometimes, in the improvs, he’ll go full-on sound-effects, and that’s an amazing thing. He’s a great Moog player, in the same way he’s a great piano player.”
Gestrin’s Moog mastery is an integral part of why The Orange Challenge offers such an enjoyable listening experience, but Lachance’s writing is just as impressive. The Quebec City–born musician cites progressive rock and the avant-soul icon Stevie Wonder—another accomplished Moog bassist—as among the influences that set his sound apart from more technical forms of fusion.
While his quartet has chops to spare, its primary emphasis is always on the song. And those songs are generally inspired by some real-life situation. The forceful “Claude”, for instance, is dedicated to the extraordinary and mysterious drummer Claude Ranger, who took Lachance under his wing when the younger musician first moved to Vancouver in the early 1990s. In turn, the aforementioned prog influences turn up on the atmospheric “Saint-Laurent”, inspired by visits to his aunt and uncle’s cottage on the pastoral Île d’Orléans.
In both instances, Lachance’s passionately humanistic and musically accomplished debut is more of an antidote to the orange terror than a reaction to it—and it’s all the more welcome for that.