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The Bernard Primeau Jazz Ensemble: Virage / Un Souffl

Jack Bowers By

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Two high–powered studio sessions (from 1997 and last November) presided over by Canadian drummer Bernard Primeau, the first of which is enhanced by the prolific talents of American trombonist Ray Anderson. The second, Un Soufflé Latin (whose name speaks for itself, even in French), represents a comeback of sorts, as Primeau was diagnosed in 1998 with thyroid cancer. Has his brush with death slowed him down? Listen for yourself. To these ears, Primeau seems every ounce as earnest, aggressive and focused on Soufflé as he is on Virage, if not more so. On each of them, he draws his creative power from role model Art Blakey, as does his ensemble. While the music often hearkens back to the hard–bop era it never sounds dated, as Primeau and his companions lend every number a contemporary veneer whose contours are consistently fresh and exciting. Percussionists Alain Labrosse and Normand Bock give the Soufflé an extra kick, while trumpeter Bill Mahar and pianist Eric Harding form a bridge between the two sessions. Kelly Jefferson plays soprano or tenor sax on the first one, André Leroux on the second. Tastes will not doubt vary, but I prefer Jefferson (who’s especially persuasive on his tenor feature, Monk’s “Ruby My Dear”). And even though I sometimes find Anderson’s growls and screeches unlistenable, I do appreciate his virtuosity. Mahar (a splendid improviser, as is Harding) wrote “Southend Stomp,” “Numbly” and “Clouds” for Virage, “BTZ” for Soufflé, and another of his compositions, “Traffic Jamm’n,” appears on both albums, as do Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” John Coltrane’s “Naima” and Primeau’s “Solo pour Elaine” (which is exactly that, an unaccompanied drum solo). The earlier session also includes “Dizzy–nest,” written by Primeau’s former band mate, pianist Oliver Jones, and Anderson’s bluesy vehicle for his “talking” trombone, “Pheromonical.” Completing Soufflé are Gillespie / Chano Pozo’s fiery “Manteca,” Penfold’s ballad “So Near, So Far” and Mahar’s arrangement of “Martinique Douce.” With so much overlap between the two albums, prospective buyers may be inclined to choose one above the other. If forced to make such a choice I would lean, ever so slightly, toward Soufflé — even though the playing time is nearly fifteen minutes shorter — as its Latin rhythms are, to me, more colorful and exciting, Mahar’s “BTZ” makes an excellent curtain–raiser, Labrosse and Bock help raise the intensity, and Primeau’s drumming is inspired throughout.

Contact:Distribution Fusion III, 5455 rue Paré, bureau 101, Montreal, Quebec H4P 1P7, Canada. www.bernardprimeau.com

Track Listing: Virage

Personnel: Virage

| Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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