Risk-taking is endemic to jazz; however what can appear to be a chancy approach, in the final analysis, can also be merely shtickthe much-hyped The Bad Plus being a prime example. Canadian pianist Jean Beaudet knows all about risk. With a recording career that now extends back twenty-five years, he has been touted as the torch-taker for two pianists who have been synonymous with musical adventure, Oscar Peterson and Paul Bley. The comparisons are not altogether untoward as he demonstrates virtuoso skill coupled with a sometimes off-kilter, freer rhythmic approach.
With his latest trio release, Les Danseurs, he proves what Canadian musicians in the know have known for years: that he is a highly personal composer and performer who manages to maintain a pure reverence to the jazz tradition while, at the same time, taking it in a different direction. While there are some familiar checkpoints along the way, there is much that is new, and nothing that is safe.
Backed by the sympathetic and empathic rhythm team of bassist Marc Lalonde and drummer Alain Bastien, Beaudet navigates his way through a programme of mostly original compositions that range from the upbeat and joyous "Les Borgeons" to the darker and abstrusely romantic "Le Souvenir." Beaudet's compositions take many twists and turns, staying largely away from the ever-prevalent AABA format.
As lyrical as Beaudet is, there is a strongly rhythmical component to his writing and playing. "Too Many Penguins" revolves around hammered chords, starts and stops and sudden shifts in tempo. Once the piece gets underway, however, it becomes a vehicle for an intense modal workout that features some of Beaudet's most impassioned playing of the set. "Don't Look Back" is a short interlude that draws a direct line between Beaudet and Bley as does "Down Here," which has Beaudet, Lalonde and Bastien exchanging loose ideas in a freer context.
Throughout the programme the trio demonstrates a fine allegiance to swing, albeit in a slightly skewed fashion. Beaudet's reading of Ellington's "Heaven" lends a more impressionistic approach to a more straight-ahead tune, but the rhythm section keeps things in focus throughout. "Victoire de la Paix" swings along at a more rapid tempo; Beaudet demonstrates both impressive left hand/right hand independence as well as the ability to execute staggering octave runs with both hands. Still, with technique to burn, it's all about the music and Beaudet never succumbs to sheer demonstration.
With a small but impressive body of work as a leader and band member, any new recording from Beaudet is worth celebrating. Les Danseurs should go a long way to rectifying a wrong by exposing Beaudet and his music to a wider audience.
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Personnel: Jean Beaudet: piano; Marc Lalonde: acoustic bass; Alain Bastien: drums.