Experimental not Just-ine English
By Sam Pane
"Experimental turns a lot of people off.
"[They think] it's just going to be [strange] and that's not what we're all about," says Diane Labrosse, vocalist and sampling keyboardist for Quebecois pseudo-jazz quartet Justine, trying to define the band's sound.
"What we do is very exploratory," she continues. "We experiment with sound but I don't like being called experimental."
As a matter of fact, trying to label Justine might be as tricky as tying your shoelaces. . . while hanging upside down. . . from the back of a speeding train. . . drunk.
To call Justine eclectic is not doing the act justice. It isn't as if you can pinpoint jazz in one of their songs and hold your thumb on it. Within the same tune, Justine eases into the traditional then explodes into improvisation.
Labrosse says the Justine personage draws influence from progressive rock, contemporary writing and the oral tradition. Each player brings her own morsel to the proverbial pot, stirring in divergent musical aims, yet still ending with a kind of unity. Lyrics are entirely in French and come in staccato bursts with an abbreviated quality almost like rap. Labrosse calls this style "enumerating poetry" and admits that circularity and the non-sensical are intrinsic parts of Justine's sound.
However, when asked about the problem of accessibility to non-French speaking audiences, Labrosse just chuckles. She reminisces about a recent trip to Germany, where no one in the audience seemed to know what the words meant, but obviously enjoyed themselves.
"People understand the music and people understand what we're trying to say," she notes. "We make introductions and the rest comes out in the music."
It is this inexpressible sense of energy that makes Justine's performances so lively. Labrosse says the band writes about domestic things like preparing meals, which on the surface may seem superficial, but reflect the importance of community.
The Quebecois community provides a home base for Justine, a band which sees itself as musicians better suited to a global context. Extensive touring in Europe has made Justine aware of the need to extend itself into western Canada, which the band previously had trouble covering due to "big distances." Labrosse recognizes that touring has to be done despite distance and the formality of Canadian jazz networks.
"In 1997 we decided to make an effort to be present in Canada because it's kind of crazy to be playing the world and not your own land," Labrosse admits.
Justine thrives in the search for new ears and fresh places. Sometimes this makes the music harsh and crude, but confronting hard things and making them into music somehow seems genuine.
Justine is organic and changing. If the group has a formula, it is best expressed by Labrosse as she says, "We don't like to feel boundaries or frontiers international, musical or otherwise."