Rémi Bolduc, saxophoniste de la constance

Alto saxophonist Rémi Bolduc has always been appreciated for his concern for consistency. “De-que-cé de la constance de quoi, par rapport à quoi?” asked old La Palice, troublemaker in chief. With him or in him, it’s up to you, consistency has always been combined with exacting standards. In terms of himself, his art and, of course, his companions.

These days, Bolduc is releasing a new album entitled Les Esprits oubliés. An enormous sign of the high standards he has set himself is that, to bring this latest adventure to fruition, he has called on a crack team of musicians who are the twins of the big guns: Ira Coleman has come all the way from New York with his double bass in his arms, Jim Doxas is on drumsticks, an unknown pianist with an astonishing touch called Marie-Fatima Rudolf and, last but not least, Jerry Bergonzi, who on tenor is the direct object complement of Sax Colossus, a.k.a. Sonny Rollins in civilian life. Nothing less!

Before we go any further, let’s tickle the historical waters a little, so as to highlight what sets this album apart. Quite simply, recordings featuring two saxophonists are as rare as an oil slick on the plateau of Machu Picchu. Well, that’s fine.

But what else, asked Zazie? Dexter Gordon has lent himself to this exercise more frequently than others. First with Teddy Edwards and Wardell Gray, then Johnny Griffin and Booker Ervin. In Griffin’s case, he had founded a successful quintet with the other tenor of tenors, Eddie Lockjaw Davis. That’s about it.

Earlier, we pointed out that Bergonzi was Rollins’ direct heir, for there’s that combination of velocity and tension in him that goes a long way to making these Esprits oubliés such a dense album. Perhaps we should confess that Bergonzi is what we call a “Musician’s Musician”. Many of his colleagues in Boston, where he is a highly regarded teacher, and in New York and Chicago, consider Bergonzi a tenor master. Quite simply.

On double bass, Ira Coleman’s playing is reminiscent of a chameleon. In every genre and style, he proves to be an advocate of fluidity. Perhaps this is because his citizenship is particularly… fluid. Born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and an American father, he grew up in France and Germany before studying in the States.

On drums, Doxas is what he always is: as solid as rock. Not the rock of Marseille’s creeks, but the rock of Gibraltar. Imposing, imperial. As for pianist Marie-Fatima Rudolf, she is the great discovery of this album. Her touch, her fingering, her sense of rhythm, reminded us more than once of the most underrated of modern pianists: Don Pullen.

And as Pullen was the last of the great pianists to accompany THE jazz giant, Charles Mingus of course, we’d like to say how much the piece entitled Game Over reminded us of the albums Change One and Change Two. There’s an intensity to this piece, chiselled more precisely by Bolduc and Bergonzi, that reminded us of that of trumpeter Jack Walrath and saxophonist George Adams when Mingus recorded.

And while we’re on the subject of references, the title track, a ballad entitled Les Esprits oubliés, reminded us in two spoonfuls of notes of the sensibility Art Pepper displayed after his return to the scene in the 1970s. Bolduc’s playing is as poignant as Pepper’s on Today, The Trip or September Song.

What applies to these two pieces applies to all the others. All, we insist, composed by mister Bolduc. Esprit is a damn fine album, with none of the two flaws that distinguish so many of today’s productions. Which are? Conservatory jazz. And one. And two: sycophancy. De-que-cé? Bolduc demands a little of us, and so much the better, because in doing so he’s not paving the way for a race to the bottom. Bras veau et ave!

PS: Les Esprits oubliés is available on iTunes, Spotify and other platforms. ~ by Serge Truffaut (translated from french)