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Quebec's circusy big band Fanfare Pourpour have their roots in a number of musical and artistic groupings dating back to the mid-'70s through the early '80s, including L'Enfant Fort, a Saturday-afternoon Montreal street band; the Pouet Pouet Band, which incorporated theatrical and cabaret elements into their mix; and Montréal Transport Limité, an underground cabaret and progressive pop group. The musicians all went their separate ways until the summer of 1995, when their love of playing and performing brought them together as the Fanfare Pourpour. Their street band attitude gives the Fanfare Pourpour a ramshackle charm, and their open and friendly embrace has seemingly welcomed to the fold any friend or family member who can toot on a horn or whack a caisse claire, as long as the proper spirit is maintained. Since the band's "formal" founding in 1995, however, the Fanfare have grown into a tight and formidable outfit, with no diminution of the raucous spirit that has always been central to their, well, raison d'être.
The band's first album, released in 1999 on their Monsieur Fauteux M'Entendez-Vous? label, was entitled Tout le Monde — the CD featured an 11-piece core ensemble, notably featuring Montreal singer/accordionist Lou Babin, supplemented by a handful of high-profile guest musicians from Quebec's jazz and musique actuelle scenes on selected tracks, including saxophonist Jean Derome and guitarist René Lussier. On follow-up CD Le Bal from 2004, the group's ranks had swelled to 15 with an additional six guest musicians scattered here and there; by now Derome had taken on musical direction responsibilities and penned five of the album's 16 tracks. On these two releases the ensemble members proved highly capable on practically any and every musical instrument imaginable, including accordion, clarinet, saxophones, violin, flute, guitar, banjo, trumpet, euphonium, sousaphone, harmonica, darbouka, bass, drums, and percussion, playing exuberant music that blended brass band and New Orleans classic jazz traditions with elements of Quebecois folk and avant-garde musics.
In 2004 Swedish composer, accordionist, and keyboardist Lars Hollmer (Samla Mammas Manna, Accordion Tribe) was invited to Quebec to appear with the Fanfare Pourpour at the Festival International de Musique Incroyable, and this successful encounter was followed up with additional rehearsals and a second festival appearance at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in 2005. The following year Hollmer was back in Quebec with the Fanfare yet again, this time to record the album Karusell Musik in a Montreal studio. By now it would appear that the distinction between full-fledged Fanfare bandmembers and invited guests had been erased, and the 19-piece ensemble supporting Hollmer included such notable Montreal and Quebec artists as Babin; other longstanding Fanfare members such as violinist Guido del Fabbro and trumpeter Némo Venba (also members of avant-proggers Rouge Ciel), guitarists Luc Proulx and Roy Hübler, saxophonists Claude Vendette and Stéphane Ménard, clarinetist Pierre Emmanuel Poizat, and euphonium player Christine Lajeunesse; musical director/orchestrator/multi-instrumentalist Derome, bassist Normand Guilbeault, and percussionist Pierre Tanguay from the swinging Trio DGT and numerous other jazz/musique actuelle projects; sousaphonist Jean Sabourin from the impossibly tight brass band L'Orkestre des Pas Perdus; and violinist Marie-Soleil Bélanger, former member of the long-lived and ever-challenging Miriodor. So when it came to negotiating Hollmer's sometimes tricky rhythms, emphatic backbeats, and multi-layered arrangements with the proper balance of roughness and precision, it would prove hard to top the Fanfare Pourpour.
Karusell Musik was released in March 2007, with a CD launch concert by Hollmer and the band held that month at Montreal's Lion d'Or. The following June, the band returned to the Lion d'Or to perform Hollmer repertoire at an opening-night performance of L'Off Festival de Jazz de Montreal. Meanwhile, Hollmer had been planning an ambitious fall tour in France and Sweden for himself and the Fanfare Pourpour; however, the Swedish composer, accordionist, and keyboardist became gravely ill that year and was unable to accompany the ensemble until the last concert of the tour, held at Katalin and All That Jazz in Hollmer's hometown of Uppsala on October 17, 2008. Hollmer died of cancer on Christmas Day, 2008. The Fanfare Pourpour grieved his loss and vowed to continue performing his music — and learning more of his repertoire — in the future.