It probably doesn’t hurt that he’s living in Britannia Beach, with a view of the sea and the mountains, but violinist Joshua Zubot is making an easy transition into West Coast life, after spending most of his adult existence in the very different climate and culture of Montreal. Granted, he’s still learning the ins and outs of his new locale, but so far he likes what he’s found.
“I knew a lot of the players here, and I’d played with them at little gigs here and there, but I still wasn’t sure about the whole scene here and what was happening,” explains the violinist, who’s quickly adopted the same sort of mix of solo projects, collaborative undertakings, session work, and international touring that has long sustained his equally gifted brother, Jesse Zubot. (It probably doesn’t hurt that he’s also picked up some of Jesse’s work, given that the older Zubot is so often on the road with Inuit phenomenon Tanya Tagaq.) “So when I did come here I was actually quite surprised at the energy that was happening. It seemed like I arrived at a good time for this city. There were all these people interested in doing new projects, and places to play, and an audience that comes out. Vancouver’s got a nice little thing happening right now.”
Our town, he believes, is also developing a distinctive musical ethos, and while he’s loath to define exactly what that might be, he thinks it bears comparison to the East Coast and West Coast jazz scenes of the 1950s and ’60s.
“It’s like in the East, people are squished together, and in the West, there’s just more space,” he notes. “And maybe that’s similar in the music. Even now, where I live, I can see forever.”
On the near horizon, however, are two high-profile gigs that will showcase Zubot’s versatility. Some of that, he explains, can be attributed to his having grown up in an atmosphere of family music—his grandfather played professionally in southwestern Saskatchewan dance bands, and his father and uncles continued that tradition—before lucking into some extraordinary classical teachers in Medicine Hat, Alberta.
The show closest to his heart is a rare appearance of his string quintet—which also features Jesse on viola, Meredith Bates on violin, Peggy Lee on cello, and James Meger on upright bass—as part of Granville Island’s annual free Winter Jazz festival. The group plays music that is hard to classify, but Zubot explains that it “incorporates different aspects: extended techniques, a little bit of jazz, a little bit of folk, a little bit of texture, noise, rhythm”.
“It’s not always easy to find string players who are very, very comfortable with reading and improvising in the moment, just going for it,” he adds. “So it was really nice for me to come to the city and find these great string players who I’m able to do this kind of music with. It’s quite special.”
Also special will be his Western Front appearance with American avant-trad singer, guitarist, and banjo player Sam Amidon, whose work puts a 21st-century spin on ancient mountain and murder ballads. This will find Zubot in more of an accompanist’s role, but in the context of another stellar band: also playing will be Lee on cello, local guitar god Paul Rigby, and New York bassist Shahzad Ismaily.
It’ll be a very different sound, but that doesn’t faze Zubot in the least.
“It’s kind of a normal thing for me to do abstract music and do nonabstract music,” he says. “For me, it’s just what I’ve always done.”
Joshua Zubot and Strings open for Peggy Lee’s Echo Painting at Performance Works on Friday (February 22), as part of the free Winter Jazz festival. Sam Amidon plays the Western Front on Monday (February 25).