Showcasing instrumental virtuosity and technical mastery from the outset, this Quebecois jazz fusion group really made its mark during the 1980s. When it comes to sound, UZEB has explored the sonic possibilities offered by new technologies to the fullest. After earning a reputation on the local scene, the band gained resounding success abroad, particularly in France. Then, at the height of its fame, the group dissolved after a memorable show at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Its members have continued to distinguish themselves in separate projects.
The group assembled in Drummondville in 1976. At first, it adopted the name Eusèbe-Jazz, which was later abbreviated to UZEB. Members include Michel Cusson on guitar, Alain Caron on bass and Jean St-Jacques on drums, who was replaced by Sylvain Coutu and then, Paul Brochu in 1980. Until 1987, the group also had a keyboardist: Stéphan Montanaro first held the position, then Jeff Fisher, followed by Michel Cyr and finally, former drummer Jean St-Jacques. Thereafter, UZEB worked as a trio.
At its inception, the then-quartet appeared on the cramped stages of local bars such as La Mezzanine in Drummondville, performing jazz fusion compositions with rare virtuosity. Thanks to UZEB, jazz, which was a less popular music genre in "La Belle Province" at the time, seemed to take on a new energy and attract a more receptive audience.
The group embodied the jazz rebirth in Quebec and, even if the critics were divided in their appreciation of the UZEB's unique stylings, audiences marvelled at the instrumentalists' technical prowess.
The musicians were soon in demand. They adeptly accompanied Diane Tell on her 1980 tour, which made the singer a star. And when François Cousineau was looking for a rhythm section to back Claude Dubois during his 1982 comeback, he appealed to UZEB.
Meanwhile, the group continued to develop its repertoire, perfecting its approach and further defining its musical goals, to attain a level of maturity rarely equalled in the world of Canadian instrumentalists.
In 1981, UZEB made its European debut at the Bracknell Jazz Festival, England. The group recorded its first disc before a live audience. That same year, it participated in the second edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and frequently returned, allowing the Quebec public to observe the group's musical progress.
Several Canadian tours later, UZEB'S regional success exploded on a national level. Its music was as modern as that of the best groups of its kind from around the world.
Breakthrough in Europe
In October, 1983, the rest of Europe discovered the band through its appearance at the Festival de Paris as well as a well-orchestrated spot in a television campaign. Back home, the group was awarded the Félix for Best Jazz Album of the year.
In 1984, UZEB inched toward world renown with the simultaneous release of an album in France, Canada and Germany, a record deal in Japan and Hong Kong and an homage in an issue of Downbeat magazine.
Sixty concerts in Europe, the cover of Jazz Hot and two more Félix awards confirmed the promise that UZEB first displayed during its early days at La Mezzanine.
In 1985, the group was eagerly awaited back home. That year, the Festival program offered an extensive portrait, declaring: "We have long predicted UZEB's rise to success, which is now a fact. Tours have led the group from one continent to another, and in France, it sells almost as many discs as Miles Davis. UZEB's music has evolved with vast range and inspired sources."
The Association québecoise de l'industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la video (ADISQ) deemed the trio "Best Jazz Group" in 1983 and 1985, inviting it to open the 1986 Gala. After two new albums, Between The Lines and UZEB à l'Olympia, the group appeared in the music video 60, rue des Lombards, then collaborated with jazz violin master Didier Lockwood for an album entitled Absolutely Live.
In 1987, UZEB (now a trio) opened the Festival once again along with Lockwood and l'Orchestre national de France. In 1989, it played at Place des Arts - another feather to add to an already well decorated cap.
Stopping at the top
In 1991, UZEB was the recipient of the Oscar Peterson Award. That summer, Michel Cusson, Alain Caron and Paul Brochu returned to Montreal for a single large scale show commemorating their 15 years in the profession and the tenth anniversary of their first recording.
The trio continued to delight audiences with mesmerizing rhythms and sleek and elegant compositions. During UZEB's last world tour, 11 000 fans swayed in unison in Jakarta. This same scene was repeated at concerts across the globe.
The group's swan song came the following year. For its last appearance at the Festival, UZEB headlined the largest outdoor happening, L'événement Labatt Bleue, as part of the city of Montreal's 350th anniversary celebrations.
For the occasion, Alain Caron, Michel Cusson and Paul Brochu invited their long time friends, violinist Didier Lockwood, trumpeter Tiger Okoshi and keyboardists Jean St-Jacques and Michel Cyr.
UZEB separated while at the height of its success. Each member has gone on to enjoy a fruitful and lasting solo career.