RIEU: Qui Qu’en Grogne. Song Sisters. Riff Droite. Time is, Life Was. Le Philosophe. Prétexte. Pharaon. Porta di Cinese / Yannick Rieu, t-sax/s-sax; Gentiane Michaud-Gagnon, pno; Guy Boisvert, bs; Louis-Vincent Hamel, dm / Yari Productions YARICD2022
This unusual album, scheduled for release April 29, features Canadian saxophonist Yannick Rieu, who down beat ranked in 1988 as one of the 20 most promising in the world. He plays in a mainstream style that seems to channel both Ben Webster and Sonny Rollins—Webster for his rich melodic ideas and Rollins for his somewhat less warm, “tubular” tone.
As a composer, Rieu is a melodist. Nowadays that’s a dirty word in the jazz field; everything is supposed to be edgy and modern, with moving lines and nothing resembling a melody, but Rieu bucks this trend immediately in his opening piece, Qui Qu’en Grogne. This moves to a snappy 4 beat, and although the tune is rather short, it is catchy and the quartet really swings, particularly pianist Michaud-Gaignon. Song Sisters is a ballad, and as Rieu gets deeper into the piece and expands his improvisation, he sounds a bit like a cross between Coleman Hawkins and Rollins, using a vertical method of stringing his notes together.
Riff Droite uses a less memorable line as Rieu switches from tenor to soprano sax, and here his playing, though angular, uses a few more extended chords, which adds more interest to the proceedings, though he will never be confused with Eric Dolphy. Here, too, pianist Michaud-Gagnon gets into the act, and her playing, too, is rather angular, spinning out interesting and quite involved single-note lines.
What I didn’t care for in this album, however, was Rieu’s heavy reliance on ballads. I’m not a big fan of jazz ballads. They’re not nearly as well written as classical ballads, and in fact lean too heavily in the direction of pop ballads, so I just skipped through Le Philosophe which bored me to tears. Prétexte was more my speed, and I do mean speed: this is the fastest piece on the album, and Rieu and company play it brilliantly. In his second go-round, Rieu uses fast-paced, rising scalar figures, later employing some fast circular ones after a piano romp interrupts his train of thought. He even uses an old Charlie Parker lick at one point, a nice reference. With Pharaon we’re back to slow music time, but this is a moodier piece with an impressionistic into on cymbals. Its problem is that it goes on for too long and says very little beyond its opening mood.
Porta di Chinese starts out as a ballad, but moves, thankfully, into a nice medium tempo, and eventually Rieu gets really involved as the tempo increases even further, his rhythm section burning behind him. This ends up being a very interesting track despite the slow start.
Bottom line, Rieu is a talented saxist but loves his ballads too much, which is a shame because the livelier numbers on this CD reveal an interesting improviser. Not every jazz soloist can pull off what Miles Davis or Chet Baker did for such a long time. Playing ballads interestingly is difficult, and to my ears, Rieu gets too mired in clichés when he plays them. A mixed review, then.
—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley
Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)