On Peterson’s Shoulders: The Remi Bolduc Jazz Ensemble

A year after their last concert at Salle Bourgie, the Rémi Bolduc Jazz Ensemble brought us their own arrangements of compositions by the famous Montreal pianist Oscar Peterson.

Far from a simple imitation, Rémi Bolduc and his saxophone, accompanied this time by Fraser Hollins on double bass, Dave Laing on drums and guest pianist Taurey Butler, brought to life for the third time the music of a great man we no longer have the chance to hear play.

A transformation, or perhaps more accurately, a liberation: tonight, Rémi Bolduc took up neither the score of a saxophonist (Charlie Parker), nor that of an instrument accompanied by a saxophone (Dave Brubeck), but that of a pianist without the shadow of a brass sound in the initial interpretations.

Indeed, Oscar Peterson, who began his musical apprenticeship on the trumpet, soon devoted his life and work to the piano. This pianist and composer, particularly appreciated for his management of rhythm, as well as for the speed and accuracy of his playing, is today defined by some as “the best jazz pianist in the world”. In any case, he has greatly contributed to the renown of Canadian jazz, well beyond the continent.

Rémi Bolduc and his ensemble more than lived up to the critics’ description of the pianist’s playing.

Happy to be playing in this magnificent hall, the audience had the chance to discover, in addition to their musical interpretation, the sincerity of the smiles on the musicians’ lips, so beautifully accompanied by the pleasure and concentration that mingled in each of their glances. The four musicians performed, with great complicity and for the first time in public, a dozen pieces created by Peterson. The latter, mainly from the Canadian Suite album, including Place Saint Henri and Laurentide Waltz, gave a discreet nod to Oscar Peterson’s past, as well as to Bolduc’s links with this great jazzman, and to Montreal’s pride in having seen him born in its neighborhoods.

The presence of the saxophone, which remains a traditional jazz instrument, has taken nothing away from the pianist’s original compositions. Quite the contrary, in fact! Rémi Bolduc’s arrangements have necessarily freed themselves even more from the original score thanks to this constraint. In this way, he was able to stand on Oscar Peterson’s shoulders without fear of imitation or flat interpretation, making his world his own and transforming it with his playing and his instrument.

The quartet, led by the saxophonist, also gave the impression of feeling increasingly free as the concert progressed. The musicians seemed to give themselves over more and more entirely to their own interpretation.

The audience, who also seemed to enter more and more into the music as the concert progressed, welcomed the quartet very warmly. In fact, they seemed to be won over even before the four musicians took to the stage. The hall and its occupants shared their emotions, creating a warm atmosphere fuelled by repeated applause, particularly for Rémi Bolduc’s playing.

The traditional encore allowed this jazz ensemble to end on a fittingly cheerful note, with one of the Montreal pianist’s signature melodies. Rémi Bolduc then offered to chat with his audience outside the concert hall, with much appreciated simplicity and humility.

As a follow-up to this tribute to Oscar Peterson, we’d love to see the quartet play on the very site of his childhood, in the streets of Saint-Henri. It’s a gesture to a neighborhood that wasn’t fortunate enough to follow in the footsteps of the great pianist who grew up there, and a tribute to the father of the family. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that Oscar Peterson’s father played a major role in his son’s career, as well as that of each of his children. This family man, a railroad worker, encouraged his children to concentrate passionately and entirely on music, so that they would each have a chance to escape the misery of their social conditions. Music as a way out of the poverty in which they were trapped: a fine lesson that would be well worth spreading to encourage young people, as well as ourselves, in creation as an escape from fatality.

While we wait for our little hopes to come true, Rémi Bolduc hinted at the possibility of a recording project of his arrangements, which could give you all the opportunity to discover the quartet’s interpretation, without going through my words! _ The Art & Opera Review, by Raphaelle Occhietti, Octobre 18, 2015