François Bourassa Quartet - Number 9

Label/Year: Effendi Records, 2017

Lineup – François Bourassa: piano; André Leroux: tenor sax, flute, clarinets; Guy Boisvert: bass; Greg Ritchie: drums.


Underrated Quebecois pianist François Bourassa, an inveterate experimenter with wide-ranging technique, truly deserves more international recognition than he has been receiving.

To sculpt his rhythmically explosive, harmonically advanced ninth album of originals, Number 9, he gathered his elastic quartet whose members consist of multi-reedist André Leroux, bassist Guy Boisvert, and drummer Greg Ritchie, longtime collaborators who first recorded together in 2003 on the pianist’s album Indefinite Time.

Exerting cutting-edge rhythmic variations and enticing angular movements, “Carla and Karlheinz”, the spellbinding opening piece, shows the well-oiled band in its full force, hitting their stride with telepathic powers. For this particular tune, Bourassa imagined an unlikely musical encounter between the jazz pianist/bandleader Carla Bley and the electronic virtuoso Karlheinz Stockhausen. Curiously, the outcome revealed an exciting appeal, also due to other salient influences like Monk (dissonant intervallic charm), E.S.T. (refined harmonic movements and rhythmic flow), and Berne/Mitchell (textural/timbral work for the duration of the saxophone solo). Switching from flute to tenor, Leroux cooks up a blistering improvisation, occupying a prominent position throughout this piece.

Plodding along with a 5/4 tempo, “5 and Less” is made of light and darkness in equal parts, flourishing with an artistic sumptuousness akin to Andrew Hill.

The early, quiet reflections on “Frozen”, delivered with an intensified chamber feel due to Boisvert's spacious arco work, quickly deviates toward a dark harmonic corner, perfect for the fiery timbral explorations of Leroux.

While both “Past Ich” and “18, Rue de L’Hotel de Ville” showcase the lyrical side of the bandleader, “11 Beignes” starts as a controlled avant-garde exercise, beautifully sculpted with relentless shrilling piano notes and the rich tones of the clarinets. It made me think of an experimental crossing between Muhal Richard Abrams and Don Byron. However, it all leads to an enchanting 11/4 groove worthy of Chick Corea.
Number 9 refrains from swinging in a typical way. Instead, it wittily uses rhythmic and harmonic twists and turns to defy our expectations. Possible categorizations are lyrical avant-jazz, progressive post-bop, or modern free. However, what's important is that you can have fun while absorbing one of the boldest and most gratifying records of the year.

       Grade  A

       Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Carla and Karlheinz ► 03 - Frozen ► 07 - 11 Beignes