State-side jazz fans seeking another hotbed of great music need look no further than our neighbor to the north. Rémi Bolduc is an alto saxman hot on Montreal's thriving jazz scene. Having proven himself locally in Vic Vogel's Big Band and other diverse live acts and recordings, Bolduc is a seasoned journeyman with ever-increasing international attention. In 1991, he traveled to New York City to study under Steve Coleman (a Miles Davis veteran). A later tutelage under American pianist Kenny Wheeler evolved into collaboration on Bolduc's record, Tchat. A firm believer in the continuation of jazz legacy through education, Bolduc teaches saxophone and composition at McGill University, Concordia University and the Banff School of Fine Arts Summer Jazz program. Bolduc is now signed to Effendi Records, a fast-growing artist consortium committed to advancing the Québécois jazz scene. Cote D’écoute is his latest outing as leader.
Like many important composers before him, Rémi Bolduc had reached a point in his career where he started looking to the native folk-music of his childhood for inspiration. His source and starting point for extravagant improvisation turned out to be TV theme songs from French-Canadian children's shows. Several generations of Québécois connect instantly to the nostalgia present on Cote D’écoute. The title, roughly translated Dimension Of Listening, eludes to that deliriously happy Saturday morning cartoon experience and those memorable sounds through a little mono speaker. Specific references are lost on listeners of other nationalities, but the music's mood is nonetheless universal.
Cote D’écoute is painted with an unusual trio of colors: Rémi Bolduc on alto saxophone, John Roney on piano (Chet Doxas, Bernard Primeau, many Montreal locals), and Sheila Hannigan on cello (studied under Yuli Turovsky, played with Harry Connick, Jr and countless other leaders - also an active freelancer on classical, tango, Arabic and soundtrack sessions).
As you might expect, the songs are mostly of a light-hearted jubilant nature. Some tunes are upbeat and playful, like "Bobino" and "Sol et Gobelet." Some are cool ballads, almost nursery-jazz, such as "Terre Humaine" and "Rue des Pignons." "Le Temps d'une Paix" is an absorbing alto a cappella. Do not, however, approach Cote D’écoute expecting easy-listening or immature musicianship. There are deft, inspired moments within the compositional structure and improvisational performances of every song. The rhythmic interplay between Roney and Hannigan (frequently playing pizzicato) makes the lack of drums and bass negligible, especially on breakdown passages like that of " Grujot et Délicat." At other times, Hannigan's melancholic bowed cello is somehow reminiscent of the late Astor Piazolla's Tango Zero Hour period. Conversely, the sweet bouncy sounds and off-kilter swing of "Picotine" is comparable to Dave Brubeck or Vince Guaraldi's best loved works.
Rémi Bolduc's grand experiment is a success. These compositions are at once familiar and foreign, laced with both joyful and love-lorn childhood memories. You don't need to share Bolduc's folk heritage to appreciate this music, anymore than you would with Liszt, Bartok, Chopin, or Coltrane. Highly recommended to jazz fans everywhere.
David Seymour is a freelance jazz journalist in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA.