The first few times I listened to LE CHAPEAU DE MA SOEUR, I fell into a kind of trance and missed the solos. But I didn’t care. Quebecois composer and pianist Gilles Bernard has created such hypnotic harmonies and textures, such fetching melodies that the solos seem almost an afterthought, a little something to extend the meditation.
Bernard starts with Alain Boies’s soft soprano on the title track, a folk melody set in a discreet 11/4 (5/4+6/4, mostly). The band floats over the odd meter, never stumbling on the extra beat. Bernard’s light touch at the piano descends from Nat Cole through Bud Powell and Keith Jarrett. He sews new language from the threads of bebop and beyond, making melodies with bop’s knotted chromaticism and harmony, but in new combinations. And he slips free of the chords when “Kafé’s” droning vamp gives him a base from which to seek darker sounds. “Kafé” also lets Boies stretch, this time on alto. Like Bernard, the saxophonist shuns the usual post-Coltrane card tricks when probing the freer harmony. He makes up substitute progressions as he goes, but not in mechanical groups.
“Sud’s” six/nine chords make for stable, relaxed harmony. The rhythm section ambles along with Drouin’s brushes and cymbals suggesting a slow street beat. In the B section, the pentatonic melody gives over to little pieces of “Laura,” the old standard a charming though perhaps unintended mix of old and new. Beat one exerts more than its usual gravity on “Sud,” as does the key center, C major; the musicians often settle on them, as if sinking into a cozy chair.
Each tune adds to the album’s serenity, but none more than the tender “Pour Moi C’est Toi.” Bernard starts alone and builds a pensive waltz with harmony that rests in unexpected places, letting the melody breathe. Bassist Pierre Côté wanders up the high part of the neck in his solo; he drifts around without landing anywhere, but it doesn’t matter. Drouin pushes the group forward so mildly, so subtly that the lines between head and solo get lost. I don’t miss them, though, here or anywhere on the record assuming I stir from my reverie long enough to notice.