Sunday, January 9, 2022

Philippe Côté with Marc Copland: “Bell Tolls Variations/Fleur Revisited” (2021) CD Review

The new release from saxophone player Philippe Côté and pianist Marc Copland is actually two albums on one disc. The first, Bell Tolls Variations, is based on a piece that Marc Copland composed titled “The Bell Tolls.” That piece was included on the 2009 album New York Trio Recordings Vol. 3: Night Whispers, an album Marc Copland recorded with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Bill Stewart. The second, Fleur Revisited, is based on Philippe Côté’s “La Fleur Et La Roche,” from his 2016 release Lungta. On this new release, Philippe Côté plays both soprano saxophone and bass clarinet, and he and Marc Copland are joined by Quatuor Saguenay, a string quartet composed of Laura Andriani on violin, Nathalie Camus on violin, Luc Beauchemin on viola, and David Ellis on cello.

Bell Tolls Variations

The first half of this disc is titled Bell Toll Variations, based on Marc Copland’s “The Bell Tolls.” On Marc Copland’s original recording of it, the piece is approximately eight and a half minutes. Here it is just under a half hour. Immediately, as the first track begins, we hear the differences, for “The Phase” starts with some haunting work on strings, instruments that were not present on the original recording. There is something ominous here, coupled with an air of melancholy, even  a sense of loneliness and despair. And because it puts us on the edge of something from its start, we are completely drawn into the world of this music, compelled to learn where it will go, where it will take us. Strings also begin the second track, “Oracle,” feeling like a longing from the past, or perhaps a warning, at least at first. The music is beautiful and moving. As Marc Copland’s piano becomes another voice, there is a sense of mourning. But is it for a person, a place, a time, or for ourselves as we listen? Something has been lost, but there is also a belief in its possible recovery.

Marc Copland then begins “La Baume Au Coeur,” which at first is haunting in its simple beauty, and then becomes warm, inviting, kind, even light. That is followed by “Lethe’s Song.” Here there is a sense of passing, but also a curiosity about whatever it is that lies beyond, heard especially in the strings, and the feeling that it is not horrid or painful, as the music swells as if to embrace and welcome, opening a door to a new place, and possibly shutting the door to the old. Then Philippe Côté begins “Alchemy I,” his instrument a lone voice. At one point early on, there is a short pause, as if this voice expects to be answered or joined. Not getting that, it continues, relying on its own strength, its own thoughts, its own experiences. After a time, the strings do join him, and the tone changes. There is something darker, more serious about the piece then, and yet it also somehow soothes us. We feel oddly protected as we move forward. Philippe Côté also begins “Alchemy II,” and in a similar place emotionally, but after a rather playful interruption of his own thoughts, is quickly is joined by Marc Copland. And the two take us to a magical realm where there are both somber and joyous elements.

“Hallowed Skies” has a beautiful, but eerie vibe, this short piece taking us to a different place. It is followed by “Elysian,” Marc Copland’s work on piano at first showing is a sense of curiosity, of being unsure. But there are warm elements which come into his playing, and it is those that make us feel comfortable, that put us at ease as we begin to explore our new surroundings. Bell Tolls Variations concludes with “The Bond,” which starts with some steady work on strings. Soon both Marc Copland and Philippe Côté add their voices, and it is not long before a beauty emerges, though there is not a complete letting go at first as we feel waves of warmth and light above, but still the ground beneath our feet. Then at a certain point, these two realms seem to merge, and there is a joy. Surprisingly, this comes to a sudden halt approximately a minute before the end. And what follows is darker, more somber.

Fleur Revisited

The second half of this disc is Fleur Revisited, based on “La Fleur Et La Roche” from Lungta, where it included vocals as well an orchestra. Last year, a section of this piece, titled “Fleur Variation 3,” was included on the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra release Twisted Ways: The Music Of David Braid & Philippe Côté. Interestingly, this portion of the album also opens in a dark, somewhat frightening and uncertain place. Each step taken during the opening track, “The Gathering,” is hesitant, fearful, as if waiting to see what effect it will have on whatever it is that surrounds us in the darkness before taking the next. For certainly something is out there. We can sense it, hear it. That track it leads straight into “Dances & Laments (Nature’s Cries),” and here is where we are met by the denizens of the darkness, where the creatures reveal themselves and quickly prove themselves to be less dangerous than we’d thought, more playful, and engaged in their own activity, which we are now privy to. As the music grows, it is as if we too are taking part. And then things turn more somber again, as concern takes hold.

Some pretty and solemn work on piano begins “Mystery Of The Seed.” Soon the piece grows, moving steadily, as if reaching up toward something important, something necessary. And then it sways, engaging in its own dance of sorts, taking its time, before ending gently. “Stems” grows too, as if waking, stretching at the morning’s first light. Then, after that initial action, there is a brief pause, perhaps as we become aware of our surroundings, and the piece takes on a light beauty, the work on strings like rays from the sun caught in their motion so that their movement is visible, discernible.

“Circadia” is the section that was earlier explored under the title “Fleur Variation 3,” in a different form. It is an interesting piece, with percussive elements. There is something playful about this one, at least for a time, like it is teasing. Then the strings take on a more serious expression and tone, in turn leading to a pretty section, like light dancing upon a field, nature enjoying itself without human interference. That’s followed by “Interlude: The Shades,” where darker tones on the piano are played simultaneously with the lightest to create an eerie effect. That gives way to “Blooms,” the album’s final track. This one has a light and hopeful air as it begins. Yet even as it grows, there is the sense of its own decline and death hidden within. After all, everything passes. Strangely, there is some comfort in that, and this music makes us feel connected to the larger process.

CD Track List

  1. The Phase
  2. Oracle
  3. Le Baume Au Coeur
  4. Lethe’s Song
  5. Alchemy I
  6. Alchemy II
  7. Hallowed Skies
  8. Elysian
  9. The Bond
  10. The Gathering
  11. Dances & Laments (Nature’s Cries)
  12. Mystery Of The Seed
  13. Stems
  14. Circadia
  15. Interlude: The Shades
  16. Blooms

Bell Tolls Variations/Fleur Revisited was released on November 5, 2021 on Odd Sound.

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