The artist Henri Matisse blended a variety of painting styles, from impressionism to abstraction, making him one of the most powerful artists of our time. But if a picture can convey a thousand words, music transcends vocabulary and creates movement. Much like the artist from whom he received his moniker, Toronto's Matisse, together with The Playground, blends music from a wide range of genres to create a sound that attempts to push the boundaries of his chosen art form.
Soul Shine sat down with Matisse (the musician, not the painter) and talked to him about music and the state of the world.
Born David Maurice Francois, the performer's name seemed like an obvious choice based on the musical expression that comes from him.
"I got the name 'Matisse' from one of the emcees that I used to produce for," Matisse remembers. "He said I had the ability to paint a picture with my music, like the artist Matisse does."
He performs regularly with his band, The Playground, who are "five black musicians who play r'n'b, hip hop, funk and soul. And we have a great time doing it." The Playground consists of Dean Andrews (bass, backing vocals), Montgomery Smalls (guitar, backing vocals), Ian Th»riault (saxophone, congas, backing vocals) and Adam Tune (drums).
When coming up with a name for the band, Matisse decided on The Playground because "we thought it would express what we were trying to do which is have a good time – (there's) experiment, innocence – but at the same time awareness of what's going on in society."
Matisse and The Playground take elements from the music of their predecessors and use those elements to create a musical palette quite unlike anything that has come before.
"We borrow elements of hip hop, r'n'b, soul, reggae, rock and we just blend it all up into a funked-up version of it. Trying to just keep finding a wicked blend of different styles," is how Matisse describes the music. "Trying not to lean into too much of one style, maybe take a hip hop drum line and put a reggae guitar riff over top of it, and sing it in a jazzy form. Just taking all the elements of styles that we grew up on and blending them into our own sound."
What has resulted is a blend of familiar styles into a new, more dynamic and more appropriate sound for our times. When Matisse talks about his influences, they're as diverse as expected, but the musical fusion that Matisse and The Playground have created seems like a logical evolutionary step in the development of urban music.
"I grew up in the hip hop age as much as anyone else did and I just try to use those influences to bring back music and bring back the live bands," Matisse says. "Coz before hip hop, they borrowed their stuff off of a lot of bands like Sly and the Family Stone and George Clinton and James Brown and I'm trying to recreate that now with the post-hip hop generation and bring it back to live music again."
Matisse, who's been playing the piano since the tender age of four, and songwriting since he was 15, tries to avoid the clich»s that fall upon most urban artists that do what he does.
"As someone coming out of song writing and r'n'b – I just find that with r'n'b right now, it's been put into this box where everyone just speaks about love and relationships and I have more going on in my life than just love and relationships. I mean, that's important to everyone, but I like to know what's going on with y'know politics and the condition of the world," he explains. "I would like to bring back the intelligence to r'n'b and soul. When I say that, I mean just bringing back the side when Marvin Gaye would do a wicked song and it was about love, but then he would do a song like "Mercy, Mercy Me" or "What's Going On?". I would like to bring that back to r'n'b and soul and funk and start putting some intelligent messages into the music nowadays."
Matisse has released an EP called "The Five Frame Interlude", and put it out with an underground tip, selling it at shows and through his website. One of the tracks, "The Weekend's Here", made it into the hands of the director at FLOW 93.5, and received considerable airplay over the summer. Matisse also recently undertook a tour in the UK, and together with The Playground, is looking to record their first full-length album sometime in the fall – look out for it soon.
You can catch Matisse and The Playground live at Irie Food Joint (745 Queen St. W.) on August 19th, and as part of the Distillery District's 99 Days of Summer (check www.purespirits.ca for dates).
For more information on Matisse and The Playground, visit the website at www.allmatisse.com.