Although unfamiliar to many Yankees, François Bourassa and his groups have been a staple on the Canadian jazz scene for the past 20 years. With a trio and now a quartet, Bourassa has toured from Moscow to Mexico, from Europe to East Asia. This is the group’s sixth album since 1986; its last, Live
from 2001, won a JUNO (Canada) and an OPUS (Québec) for best jazz album of 2002. Bourassa has degrees from McGill University and the New England Conservatory, where he studied with George Russell and Fred Hersch. Bourassa teaches at the University of Québec at Montréal (UQAM); Boisvert and Leroux teach at McGill, where Ritchie graduated with high distinction, so the quartet has solid academic underpinnings. There’s a lot of cerebration on this CD, although you will not find it lacking in emotion, either. All compositions are Bourassa’s except for Ornette Coleman’s “Check Out Time (Loose Take).”
This album is not for the faint-hearted. Much of the music is prickly, intense, and exploratory, despite the humorous titles. There’s lots of free blowing, although if that’s not your cuppa, its periods of swinging are well worth the wait. This is obviously serious jazz, and it deserves to be taken seriously. It has taken more than a little acquaintance for me to warm to the album, but you can believe me when I say the effort has been worth it.
The album opens with delicate, pensive piano musings, but ominous chords hint of coming unrest. Rhythmically, the selection is rubato; emotionally, the band ranges widely, with bluesy interludes, even approaching a poignant tenderness at one point. Leroux introduces us to his tone on saxophone, dry, acrid and astringent; I could use it to clean plaque off my teeth. The group transitions without a pause into a second rubato selection, “Transit.” Bourassa obtains interesting effects, plucking the strings of the piano while Ritchie and Koné coax a remarkable range of color from their percussion instruments. “WS Part I” begins with more haunting, dissonant chords on piano that become a fascinating dialogue with soprano sax; “Part II” reintegrates the rhythm section and is harmonically enchanting. To my ear, this is the high point of the album.
“Check Out Time” fairly chortles with Ornettian good humor; in fact, it is a tribute to this group to say that they have increased my appreciation of this bit of Colemaniana. In a pleasing contrast, “Nuit,” spinning a powerful midnight mood, is the closest thing to a traditional jazz ballad the album contains. “Won U Part I” is an exploration for flute and trio, contemporary, but swinging with a vengeance; “Part II” is mostly a free-form exercise for tenor and trio, but its ending ties it in with “Part I.” Finally, the album concludes with a selection with the tongue-in-cheek title “Could You Do the Dishes Please?” Part free, part rhythmical, it provides the perfect ending to this challenging but fascinating adventure.
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