Let me preface any commentary about this record by first saying this; it's hard. Hard as nails. Excuse the reviewer for indulgence in hype but I will venture to say this is one of the most intense jazz records these ears have heard in some time. It's that hot.
It all starts with the opening track "30 Octobre 85". If that sounds like the date a revolution went off, that's all well and good because there is definitely a minor revolution here. Francois Bourassa and his longtime trio manage to build up the most simmering groove over a bass vamp. Bassist Boisvert then gets into a most manic arco solo, and the missing ingredient then is special guest Andre Leroux, who bursts in for a collective essayance of this vamp theme. It is an explosion of blustery modal soloing over this hardcore vamp then all the way out. Furthermore, "hardcore" is apt in that this vamp is so hard, it would not be out of place on a gangsta rap album. It's tough stuff folks. Back to the soloing though- Bourassa kills with his modal athleticism, and Leroux likewise digs into the groove like he's never coming home. In fact, Leroux is so gutsy he takes the tune to that modal guru named John Coltrane directly, as the tune morphs into "Afro Blue" for a chorus under his watch. This doesn't sound "derived" though- more like a respectful homage as Leroux and the band otherwise conduct modal electricity by their own currents- no cheesy burnout or fakin' it here, just raw intensity.
"Arico-Afab" is another cut in which this band's intense approach is so unapologetically unveiled. And while this cut has every bit as intense a groove as the blistering opening cut, but it has an MO of staying at the simmering level for longer, before then letting Trane-like intensity boil over like it can no longer contain itself (and what else?!). Leroux is noted for his creative soloing on soprano for this cut- he is all over the register of his horn, and he ain't apin' Trane, even as it would be so easy for someone in his position to do so. Actually, he opts for a more consciously Eastern sound and he achieves some very visceral as well as pithy sounds on his horn. Yes, pithy- there is playfulness here even as the material may be in the realm of "heavy sounds." Bourassa's focus on developing the theme thoroughly means that there is room for diversity in expression. But there is still the focus- and that is building climatic intensity, without doubt. Call this "streaming" jazz if you will.
While most of the program here is modal post-bop, it should be noted that there are free passages, and there are moreover extensive cadenzas given to either Bourassa or Leroux. They take full advantage of this freedom and craft intriguing, dramatic passages which give additional layers of meaning unto the song. "13" is perhaps the best example of the Bourassa band's in/out approach, showing Bourassa at his impressionistic heights and unfolding a song of complex emotions. There is also a time here where the rhythm section drops out, and we get an intimate look at a saxophonist who will probably never achieve much notoriety but is, in three words- baad as hell. Leroux's cadenza reveals him to be somewhat like Michael Brecker, but one can discern there's more inventiveness and emotive power here. He leads the band into Bourassa's ocean of rolling chords brilliantly to close the song.
Finally, a wild card- on this program Bourassa selected in two suites for piano-composers he particularly admires. There are two sections played in honor of the Herbie Nichols, and there is a suite dedicated to the one and only Thelonious Monk. The Nichols tribute is very "free" in the first section, and then bouncy in a typically-Nichols way for the second section. Whereas, the Monk suite is full of imagination and renders tunes like "Four in One" and "Trinkle Trinkle." with unique feels and healthy irreverence; most of all though, they really dig in. Epistrophy gets hip- hopped- (don't stop.) This band is very open rhythmically to play some of the feels they do, truly.
So then, who are these cats who have unleashed this unseemly beast of an intense jazz record? They are all musicians based out of Montreal. And they have been playing together for nearly 20 years! Bourassa, who should be given much credit as the leader even as this reviewer has drawn a lot of attention to Andre Leroux on horns, went through the New England Conservatory and studied with Fred Hersch. And Hersch actually, was kind enough to share his sentiment about this record: "This is interesting, exploratory, and passionate music that is well worth spending time with." My sentiments exactly- this a baad record. Get it before everyone north of the border realizes how un-hip we are to it. Montreal was a hot town on the night of this recording, outside temperature be damned.
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