Award-winning, critically-acclaimed pianist/composer Francois Bourassa's new album - Number 9, his ninth album of all original music, dropping on October 27, 2017 on Effendi Records (distributed worldwide by Naxos), features his Quartet of longtime collaborators, saxophonist, clarinetist, and flutist André Leroux, bassist Guy Boisvert and drummer Greg Ritchie. This elite squad of musicians, and their singular telepathy and esprit de corps, was first revealed to the world on their album, Indefinite Time (2002). Since that time Bourassa has built significantly on the power, agility and emotional range that garnered him a JUNO award in 2001 (for his recording, Live). With the release of Number 9 The Francois Bourassa Quartet stake a claim as one of the most compelling groups active on the global jazz/improvised music scene today.
In the album's liner notes, esteemed journalist Howard Mandel describes Number 9 as offering, "sensuous imagination supported by sterling technique." Indeed, the compositions crafted by the Montreal-born Bourassa, empower the members of his Quartet to express themselves to the fullest extent on this collective journey. Together they explore pure lyricism, open sonic landscapes, swing, free improvisation, and more - all played with empathy, and big ears! The members of this ensemble are so dialed in to one another's instincts and mannerisms that they offer the listener a plethora of moods, settings and styles that are all indispensable elements of the glorious entity that is Number 9.
More on the music on Number 9 with Francois Bourassa (excerpted in part from the album's liner notes by Howard Mandel): Given the album's title, we of a certain age must wonder if it's a nod to another four-man band that celebrated variety while maintaining its singular identity. Does Number 9 refer to the haunting musique concrete collage on the Beatles' White Album?
"I love 'Revolution 9" by John Lennon," acknowledges Bourassa, who is of that age (b. 1959). "It was influenced by Stockhausen's electronic music." Then are the other names of the opening track, "Carla and Karlheinz" referring to Bley and Stockhausen? "I love Carla Bley's music of the early '60s like 'Ictus' and 'Barrage,' played by Paul Bley," he says. "I also love 'Mantra for two pianos and electronics' by Karlheinz, among many of his early pieces."
So yes, the first track's jaunty yet oblique line (try humming it!), as improbable yet inevitable as Eric Dolphy's angular melodies, or Ornette Coleman's, achieves its affect purposefully, linking two 20th-21st Century innovators, never mind the gulfs between their worlds or "styles." They may even conflict - the parts of "Carla and Karlheinz" fit together unpredictably yet organically. Bourassa's deft, initially dry touch may imply that of Paul Bley (another Montreal native), but he claims many other piano modernists, bluesmen and prog rockers, too, as inspirations, and clearly is steeped in Western European classicism. Consequently, the composer-pianist's position is not bound or limited, and this Quartet achieves something beyond genre: Collaborate as only its four members can. No justification necessary for such an approach - we listen, accept, enjoy and are deepened.
The pleasures provided by this group make it easy. Applying himself to Bourassa's themes and concepts, Leroux wields his tenor saxophone masterfully; he's especially sensitive to attack and dynamics, floating the theme of "5 and Less" (in 5/4, explains Bourassa, " with bars of 3 and 2") gently, but builds to blasting on the darkly epic "Frozen" (which Bourassa says was titled by "a six-year-old little girl who was playing with my son when she heard me run through it; maybe for her it had something to do with the Disney animated movie, but if so I don't know").
On "C & K," Leroux's flute has the urgency of a jungle bird, and he uses the clarinet on "11 Beignes" (in 11/4 time) as an instrument of deliberation. He isn't troubled by the odd time signatures, nor need you be, because Boisvert phrases firmly and gracefully on his bass, and in flowing concert with drummer Ritchie, who never lets on there's anything to count, merely rhythms to discern and enhance. He's a talented, restrained colorist, barely touching his cymbals on the languid "Past Ich" ("an old melody which I've never used before," Bourassa mentions), offsetting the subdued piano vamp and Leroux on soprano sax.
"Lostage" is a word Bourassa invented, as he says, "half-English, half-French, meaning loss of control," a state the quartet depicts but doesn't venture - the lines connecting the four are too strong. "18 Rue De L'Hotel de Ville" is the address of the Studio du Quebec in Paris where Bourassa resided for six months in 2015. In this perhaps most ruminative episode of Number 9, we are privy the strongest, most personal emotions - the music evokes doubts, regrets, disappointments, fears, sadness, and also puts them to rest. After that, "11 Beignes" is like a cat-and-mouse hide-and-seek game set in a maze. Bass clarinet and piano tag each other, slip off, and return, while bass and drums keep them from straying far off track.
Ultimately, the songs on Number 9 speak for themselves. The quartet covers a lot of ground from a complex of perspectives, new details unveiled with each turn of the ear. Hear Bourassa, Leroux, Boisvert and Ritchie commune. Return, repeat, replay, dig in . . . a world of remarkable music awaits you.