I walked into Spectrum as Israeli-French pianist Yoron Herman, framed in an often angelic lighting scheme, was in the middle of an exploration of Monk’s “Bemsha Swing.” He played with a strong, insistent left hand pattern and marvelous invention in the right. His hand position was almost Jarrett-esque, not to mention his posture and intermittent vocalizations. He continued with a rendition of Bill Frisell’s “Throughout,” a piece that is far too dear to my heart for me to comment further. Suffice it to say that if I were to play it solo piano, I’d want it to be done the way Herman did it. He started his version of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” inside the piano, strumming and plucking the strings with great precision, knocking the lid and playing the soundboard much like a conga drum. After an unknown ballad, he played Sting’s “Fragile” with a sing-song quality over highly powerful bass, which evolved into a vibrant montuno towards the end. He closed his set with the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” over an incredibly powerful D minor drone. It was transcendent and delivered with massive amounts of emotion. Herman had said earlier in the night it was his first visit to Quebec and, ill at ease on the mic, he’d much rather play. His sentiment and pride of performance came through in those moments.
It is always fascinating to hear an instrumentalist whose playing is inextricably tied to his writing to play other people’s music. This describes both local pianist François Bourassa and alto saxophonist David Binney who joined forces for a tour de force set. Bourassa started with his usual quartet of saxophonist André Leroux, bassist Guy Boisvert and drummer Greg Ritchie. They started with a Monk-ish original of Bourassa. It was my first time hearing the huge tenor tone of Leroux, a gruff post-Trane tenor who was also impressive on flute and soprano throughout the night. The first guest Bourassa welcomed, before Binney, was an African percussionist who contributed well on djembe and talking drum. The constant dialogue between all the members of the band brought to mind Wayne Shorter’s current quartet, though Bourassa’s band was more beholden to his compositional forms. Bourassa’s tunes were immensely energetic, getting a rise out of the Spectrum crowd unlike any reaction I’ve heard for a local artist at Jazz Fest. Boisvert switched to 5-string electric for the funky “Fa Do Do.”
It’s easy to hear what unites Bourassa and Binney – a penchant for driving, odd metered, ostinato driven pieces. But what’s more fascinating are the differences – Bourassa’s penchant for swinging melodies with large intervallic ranges and leaps and a sense of off-kilter phrasing; Binney’s space and airiness inherent to his chord voicings and melodies. There’s a sense of atmosphere around Binney’s music; a sense of space even in his densest moments. Binney really dug into Bourassa’s music, and the bass-heavy ostinati served as launching pads for highly creative solos.
(An abridged version of this review appears at Panpot. Tickets provided by FIJM.)