Source material can, on the surface, come from the strangest of places. In addition to seemingly endless reworkings of the Great American Songbook, contemporary jazzers are now looking farther afield, with artists like the Bad Plus bringing an improvisational approach to material by groups like Blondie and Black Sabbath. Brad Mehldau has been mining the repertoire of Radiohead and Nick Drake, and Rachel Z has re-imagined songs by groups including Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden.
So when Rémi Bolduc, a French Canadian alto saxophonist who has been garnering some significant attention in Canada over the past few years, went in search of inspiration for a new project, he found himself remembering all the children’s television shows he not only watched as a child, but listened to as well—all with such memorable theme songs that they remain with him to this day. The result, Cote D’écoute, may strike a very specific chord with Quebecois listeners who are old enough to remember the shows themselves, but will ultimately appeal to anyone who remembers their own childhood shows. Bolduc and his trio, featuring cellist Sheila Hannigan and pianist John Roney, elevate the material—which almost qualifies as folk songs of his childhood—into the realm of standards. One may not specifically recognize all the material, but it all feels somehow familiar and comforting.
A departure from Bolduc’s normal work as a more outward-reaching free thinker, Cote D’écoute is his most eminently accessible recording to date. The lineup suggests a certain chamber music vibe, and some arrangements unquestionably fit that definition. “Terre Humaine, with its counterpoint between the alto/piano unison line and Harrington’s cello, as well as its more introspective nature, feels as inspired by classical composition as it does the jazz tradition. On the other hand, “Grujot et Délicat, with its sometimes implicit/sometimes explicit swing, clearly comes from a jazz space. Roney, heard in Ottawa to great effect as part of the Magic of Miles Davis performance in February of ’05, demonstrates the kind of stylistic breadth here—and on all pieces, for that matter—that one wonders when his name will emerge on the larger radar of the Canadian jazz scene.
While the program is approachable for the most part, there are moments where Bolduc’s more extreme qualities are in evidence. “Sol et Gobelet, with tongue firmly in cheek for the theme, breaks down into periods of absurd chaos and free exchange. Bolduc’s a capella rendition of “Le Temps d’une Paix highlights his ability to begin with a simple theme and extend it into a four-minute alto tour-de-force. Hannigan ranges from almost Baroque counterpoint to walking bass lines, showing that a classically-trained cellist can indeed swing.
Cote D’écoute is already a popular success in Quebec, but its charms should not be restricted to those who are familiar with Bolduc’s sources. Clever, compelling, at times humorous, at other times poignant, Cote D’écoute should strike a similar chord in the child in all of us. ~ All About Jazz, By