UZEB—the legendary jazz fusion trio from Quebec that broke fusion limits from 1976 onward—is back together after 25 years. They’ve been to Israel once before, and are returning to Tel Aviv for a long awaited encore performance this July. We asked bassist Alain Caron and guitarist Michel Cusson about the band’s roots and much-anticipated reunion.
How did you all meet originally?
Cusson: I was a college student in Drummondville [Quebec] and had put together a weekly jam session that Alain Caron happened to walk into. He watched the jam, we talked, and then I met with him a few days later. We played together and immediately connected. The next week, he was at the jam session, and I consider that UZEB’s beginning. A few years later, Paul came in from Quebec City, and the main nucleus of the trio was secured.
Why did you scale back on keyboards/synth in the 80's?
Caron: Back in those days, Michel and I would play trio gigs from time to time—playing jazz standards and some originals as well. The more we played, the more we realized that we had something different in the trio format. It provided more space to improvise and a better interaction between the three of us. What are your proudest moments with the band?
Cusson: I’d have to say the last concert we played 25 years ago, which was the main event at the Montreal Jazz Festival. There were 96, 000 people there and it was a very emotional day because we knew that it would be one of our last concerts. People still talk to me about that concert. It was a very special moment.
Why did you break up?
Caron: During our World Tour in 1990, we played more than 100 concerts, which meant a lot of time was spent together, especially for a band that was over 10 years old. At that time, we felt that we had given everything we had and it was time for everyone to do something else. We decided to take a break that ended up lasting 25 years!
What have you been up to these past 25 years?
Cusson: Paul is probably the number one drummer as far as studio musicians go, while Alain is touring the world with his quartet and running clinics—he’s very active in the jazz world. I’m a composer for film and TV. I actually happened to work with the Israeli cinematographer, Dan Verete, on a film called, “Metallic Blues.”
After so many years, what made you decide to get back together?
Caron: For the past 10 years or so, we’ve kept up an annual dinner party and a couple of years ago, we realised that 2017 would be the 25thanniversary of our last concert. We said, “if we don’t do a comeback this year, we’d never do one.”
Is there a reason you chose not to release a new album with this reunion tour?
Caron: We felt that after 25 years, the fans would love to hear the music of UZEB they know, but of course we updated the arrangements and sounds with new technology. We also wanted to get back into the real UZEB vibe and the best way to do that was to play our music. What musicians inspired you back in the 70s-90s and have those inspirations changed over the years?
Cusson: As a band, we all loved Weather Report & Chick Corea, naturally.
Caron: Today, I really love Avishai Cohen!
What else do you find has changed about the genre over the years?
Caron: As for us, mainly the sounds of the drums, synths, and overall textures…also, the arrangements. As for the genre in general, the music we hear is still fusion, but with different ingredients and influences.
How do you keep fusion ‘fresh’?
Cusson: As far as UZEB is concerned, we have developed a very mature sound. We take advantage of the new technology, but when it all comes down to it, a good solo tells a story, so we try to do that. Whether you call it ‘jazz fusion’ or just ‘jazz,’ the story has to be interesting.
What are some differences in playing abroad vs. your home province?
Cusson: Obviously, we love to play in our home province; however, we also love to go abroad. You get to play for everybody when you go outside your country. It’s very interesting because you meet new people, and you might have a chance to hear other music, and so, you learn new things. It’s a source of inspiration for sure.
What inspired you to add Israel to the tour list?
Caron: Being invited [chuckles]. Seriously though, we played in Israel during the World Tour in 1990 and it was amazing to see that we had so many fans that knew our music. It was magical, so when we received the offer, we said yes right away.
What can your fans expect from this reunion?
Cusson: We’ve been rehearsing for months to bring back all of our best tunes, but with a 2017 sound injected into those tunes. People will recognize the songs, but also find surprises all over the repertoire.
You told the Montreal Gazette that UZEB's music is "smiley. It’s energetic. And I think people need that to (counterbalance) all those dark things that happen.” Now more than ever with so many horrible things happening in the world, do you think this statement holds true. Do you think music has the power to heal us as a human race?
Caron: I really hope so and it does at least for me. I believe music can be an emotional lifebuoy for many; it would be fantastic if our music does that for others.
Finally, what's next for UZEB? Is this a onetime reunion tour or is the trio getting back together officially?
Caron: Our primary plan is to do this summer reunion tour, after which we’ll go back to our solo careers and other engagements, then we’ll see…