By Dan McClenaghan
November 16, 2023
Confluence, on its surface, may come off as a minor work of
art. It is the juxtaposition of just two instruments—saxophone and
piano—braiding sounds together in what seems an improvisational mode. Francois Bourassa stays in the piano chair. Philippe Cote's
seating arrangement shifts between tenor and soprano saxophones, piano
and prepared piano. But the limitation of instrumentation in the hands
of these Montreal-based artists contains mysterious depths—intricate
swirls of silts appearing beneath the surface of crystalline water.
Influences of modern classical music emerge.
The five-part "Confluence Suite," penned by Cote, serves as the centerpiece. All instrumental possibilities are visited—two pianos, soprano and tenor saxophones and prepared piano. It is about water. "The Forks" pays tribute to Fork in Winnipeg, the meeting place of two rivers; "When Blue Meets White" speaks of the junction of the Blue and White Niles; "Ganges: Purification" pays tribute to India's ritual bathing practice.
Bourassa's "Tour 1" kicks off the album. "Tour 2" closes it. Both showcase the modern classical influence on the composer.
The music displays haunting beauty and subdued eloquence, full of liquid kaleidoscopes in a limited color range—brown, blue, and green. The tunes are melodically malleable, magically understated and deeply searching. The addition of prepared piano on "Muted Song, "Confluence" and "On Duty"' adds an exotic, flattened, marimba-like percussive flavor to the proceedings, while "Chire" is by turns playful and serious, featuring soprano sax and piano in a nod to minimalist composer Steve Reich. Cote's "Hushed Song" is another tenor sax/piano rumination that plays out as a statement of minimalist majesty.
Confluence proves itself not a minor work at all, but rather a major one, a profound tale told in an unpretentious and beautiful way.