Vanessa Rodrigues Soul Project
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Vanessa Rodrigues Soul Project

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Vanessa Rodrigues Soul Project @ Terrasse St. Ambroise

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Vanessa Rodrigues Soul Project @ Place des Arts

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

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This band has not uploaded any videos



"You know Blinky, the fish from The Simpsons with the three eyes? Well, they pulled a fish with two jaws out of Lake Athabasca, near the tar sands, a few years ago," say Montrealer Vanessa Rodrigues, funky jazz organist extraordinaire.

"I decided to name that fish Chompy and write a tune for him. It's kind of a creepy-sounding tune, kinda wonky, weird and edgy. I wanted people to feel a little uncomfortable listening to it. There's something wrong when you pull out a fish out with two jaws - and apparently somebody ate it too."

A cartoon of Chompy the two-jawed fish adorns the actual CD of Soul Food for Thought, the second of Rodrigues's Soul Project albums revitalizing the classic Hammond B3 jazz-funk trio format. It's "more unified, more cohesive" than the 2005 debut, she says, giving due credit to her collaborators, guitarist Olivier René-de-Cotret, drummer Jean-Pierre Lévesque, DJ Killa Jewel on the turntables and guest MC BluRum13.

"There was more input from the band - including the engineer, Karl de Serres, who had a lot to do with the final sound of it, the fact that it sounds a lot more hip hop and funky, rather than a jazz aesthetic."

Either way, the album has an agenda, addressing concerns about the food industry. Rodrigues and co. aren't didactic about such matters, but then, how could they be? Aside from a couple of clever raps from BluRum13, Soul Food for Thought is an instrumental album, so the aim is to get people thinking rather than tell them what to think. "Ode to Monsanto" is a good example.

"People consume their products every day and don't know who they are or what they do. They've got the market cornered on large agricultural production of staple items - corn, soy, they're getting into wheat. They were a chemical company, they made Agent Orange, DDT, all that stuff, and now they're making genetically modified food. They're a very powerful company - and nobody knows their name."

If some listeners furrow their brows and Google "Monsanto" out of curiosity, Rodrigues will have achieved her goal. "There are no lyrics, but I want people to think about why I chose those titles and why the songs make them uncomfortable. There"s a reason for that."

CD launch at Brutopia (1215 Crescent) on
Friday and Saturday, Dec. 18/19, 10:00 p.m., free

-Rupert Bottenberg - Montreal Mirror

One of the most pleasant surprises of the '04 Ottawa International Jazz Festival was organist Vanessa Rodrigues, who appeared as part of saxophonist Dave Turner's quartet. At a mere 26 years of age, she delivered accompaniment so empathic and solos so well constructed that the only disappointment was that her work had never been documented on record. Until now. With Soul Project Rodrigues steps out with infectious grooves and outstanding playing, paying homage to the established organ trio tradition while remaining completely modern.

While Rodrigues has a strong background in everything from classical piano to more spiritual works on church pipe organ, it's clearly the soul-drenched music of artists like Dr. Lonnie Smith, with whom Rodrigues spent a month as a live-in student, that is her main passion. On Soul Project Rodrigues is teamed with guitarist Donna Grantis, a player with a warm, Grant Green-esque tone and similarly blues-informed approach; and drummer Jean-Pierre Levesque, who is as comfortable with the New Orleans second line approach of 'Marble Rye' as he is the deeper funk of 'The Red Dirt Jam.' Turntablist DJ Killa-Jewel is featured on four of tracks, adding a taste of hip hop to the mix.

The album's vibe bears some precedence in guitarist John Scofield's collaboration with Medeski, Martin and Wood, A Go Go, in terms of its in-the-pocket approach, but it avoids the more idiosyncratic playing typical of Scofield and Medeski. That's not to say Rodrigues and her trio are without energy and edge. Rodrigues is a more inside player, but with a keen sense of development check out her playing on 'The Red Dirt Jam', where she fashions a solo that builds in intensity so gradually one is almost unaware that it's happening. Similarly, on 'Be Careful What You Wish For', Levesque takes DJ Killa-Jewel's solo and invisibly pulls up the dynamics. As much as everyone's playing reflects an intellectual bent, the inherent physicality of the group gives it much of its appeal.

While the programme consists mainly of originals penned by Rodrigues and Grantis, the trio's take on Thelonious Monk's classic 'Bemsha Swing' is notable for demonstrating just how one can take liberties without losing sight of a tune's essence. Building the music over a quasi-reggae feel, Rodrigues stretches and twists the recognizable theme so that it lives in a completely new context. Grantis' solo is so relaxed it sneaks up on you.

As democratic as things are, this is really Rodrigues' showcase. While her training, including attendance at the Banff Centre for the Arts and a degree in jazz piano from McGill University, gives her formidable technical ability, she never sacrifices feel for more cerebral concerns. Soul Project, as well-executed as it is, is an audacious debut all about heart and soul from an artist who will no doubt continue to be heard from in the future.

-John Kelman - All About Jazz


Soul Food for Thought - 2009
Soul Project - 2005

All tracks on both these albums are streaming on Rhapsody and other CD Baby partners.



Citing her main influences as heavy groove-infused groups Soulive and Medeski, Martin and Wood, Montreal organist Vanessa Rodrigues' Soul Project started in 2002 as a jazz organ trio (organ, guitar, drums) with a more funky, aggressive take on a traditional setting. After their first two performances at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in 2002 and 2003 (Montreal Jazz Festival), they were joined by hip-hop turntablist extraordinaire DJ Killa-Jewel for their third show at the Montreal Jazz Festival and then the Atlantic Jazz Festival in Halifax (2006). Later that year the group took part in the CBC Radio-Canada series at the Maison de la Culture Frontenac in Montreal. They have released 2 albums - Soul Project (2005) featuring performances and compositions by Toronto's queen of blues guitar Donna Grantis, and their latest release Soul Food For Thought (2009), a snarky jab at the food industry featuring rapper/lyricist MC BluRum 13 and their mascot Chompy the 2-jawed fish.
You can catch Vanessa Rodrigues Soul Project in Montreal at Brutopia and other venues specializing in good beer and good times!