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Happy birthday – with saxophones (review)

Rémi Bolduc 50th Anniversaire, avec invités
Montreal Jazz Festival, L'Astral
Thursday, July 5, 2012 – 6 p.m.

View photos of this concert

The stage was black. Then a single light just barely outlined the figure of a man. He lifted an alto saxophone to his lips and started playing – a short, up-tempo improvised melody.

Another saxophonist joined him, then a third, then a fourth, each playing a brief piece, And then the lights came up and there they were: Rémi Bolduc, Chet Doxas, Alexandre Côté, and Jean-Pierre Zanella.

Four prominent Montreal saxophonists (two alto, two tenor), all there to celebrate Bolduc's 50th birthday – along with further well-known area musicians: three pianists (André White, François Bourassa, and Rafael Zalvidar), bassist Fraser Hollins, and drummer Dave Laing. Definitely “ses amis”, although by no means anywhere near all the Quebec musicians Bolduc has regularly played with or featured on his albums.

The Montreal Jazz Festival had given Bolduc carte blanche for a concert to commemorate this milestone (his actual birthday was June 17) and he chose to celebrate it with the music he loved and musicians he loved to play with – and the saxophone in particular. While he was on stage throughout the 90-minute concert, he gave lots of room for the other musicians as well.

Bolduc's most recent album is Hommage à Charlie Parker [Effendi, 2011], and at least one Parker number was featured in the line-up. And there was an overall Parker feel in many of the pieces: up-tempo, fast, and lots of saxophone, often two or three in collaboration – sometimes in unison, sometimes alternating.

The numbers were primarily standards, with the addition of Bolduc's “Ha Ha Ha” (from 4 + 1 [Effendi, 2008]) in which Bolduc and Zanella split the alto sax duties, each with a fast, clear solo, but also playing together at the beginning and end. Hollins provided an extended, syncopated bass solo, and White swung emphatically up and down the piano keyboard.

Bourassa added a muscular piano solo to the fast-paced “In Love Like Someone”, which Bolduc had featured on Tchat, the album he did with American pianist Kenny Werner, as well as filling in with full chords under Doxas's smooth, slightly understated tenor. They followed up on the next song, an intense blues, almost competing how hard and fast they could play.

Particularly memorable were the next two numbers: sax-piano duets that paired Bolduc with Cuban-Canadian pianist Zalvidar. They slowed down for “You and the Night and the Music”, also from Tchat, in a finely-tuned format that allowed both to play with variations, and then speeded up again with Billy Strayhorn's “Take the A Train”, both bending notes and appearing to have a great deal of fun together.

Bolduc provided a consistent rapidfire French explanations of the music to the audience, and received enthusiastic laughter and applause in return, increasing as the concert continued. L'Astral (Festival International de Jazz de Montreal's own club-style performance space) was packed, both upstairs and downstairs, and it was clear the audience was familiar with Bolduc: at the end, they spontaneously burst into song: “Bon Fête, Rémi!” [to the tune of Happy Birthday to You]

There was a standing ovation – long and loud – at the end when all nine musicians appeared back on stage – plus one more nascent musician, as Bourassa brought his young baby with him in a chest sling.

It was followed by an unusual encore: “We'll Meet Again” (the WW2 chestnut), a quiet, romantic ending that featured three saxophones (Côté, Zanella, and Bolduc) alternating and playing the melody in unison.

It was a remarkable night: both for the music, and for showing how well the Montreal jazz community: musicians, fans, and the festival, could celebrate and support one of their own.

    – Alayne McGregor

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All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2012
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