Québec saxophonist Michel Coté's Lapon Balèze
may not be the best of the many excellent albums released by the Effendi label last year, but it is absolutely the most original
. Coté's been very interested in traditional African music of late and he realizes this interest in the polyrhythmic setting of Raynald Drouin on drum kit, percussion and steel drums, Christian Paré on percussion, and Alain Bédard on bass. The front line of Coté(on baritone sax, tenor sax and additional percussion) and trumpeter/flugelhorn player Aron Doyle plays straight, post-bop jazz over this churning, dense, rhythmic bed, and the results arewell, the results are decidedly mixed.
Coté's a laid-back, relaxed player with a rich tone on either horn; his tenor playing has a sort of warm openness to it that recalls Texas tenors like Booker Ervin, but with the tartness of a Warne Marsh. Indeed, it's not just his tone that evokes Marsh, because there's a strong cool jazz flavor to Coté's compositions, especially with the equally detached, unaffected sound of Doyle added. "Zurca" exemplifies what Coté's doing on this session, with the leader and Doyle playing an urbane, cool unison head over roiling African percussion of nines versus fives. Coté sounds great on his solo but these are, really, two different groups playing.
If there is anything that holds these elements together throughout the CD, it's Bédard's astonishing, thick-toned bass, and he nearly succeeds in making the parts into a whole through sheer musicality and willpower. Bédard does the work of an entire rhythm section on the terrific "Noaaide," which has no drumming or percussion at all: just Coté and Doyle playing a snaky, Henry-Mancini-flavored theme over Bédard 's strong walking bass.
The most successful songs, interestingly, are the ones with Drouin on tuned steel drums. Here, the strata of overlaid polyrhythmic percussion simplify as Drouin becomes part of the melodic structure: not quite a piano, but much more than drums, comping over Coté's soloingas well as playing tuneful solos in ringing stereoon "Soleil de Minuit" and "Dame Jeanne." And if these tunes work best, it's because despite the exoticism of the steel drums, they are a step back towards jazz; they swing. Coté is attempting something new with the more polyrhythmic material, and if it does not always succeed, the leader's ambitions are to be admired.
There is at least one percussion-heavy number where everything does succeed: "Bigoudi," which features Doyle's muted, Milesy trumpet alone over dizzying triple percussion: an expecially forceful Drouin with Paré and Coté (Bédard lays out), and it's very good. And, really, if a musician is trying something different, and it goes as hoped even one song per album, then that album should be considered a successeven if a qualified one. That pretty much sums up Lapon Balèze.