Chansons de la belle espérance is Pierre Cartier’s third song cycle, his second with this line-up and his most achieved work to date. The bassist’s intention was to produce a set of love songs in continuity with the French jazz standards. But Cartier being the unique artist that he is, the resulting music outgrows its original concept. What Cartier offers here is a delightful set of moving songs anchored in jazz ballad, Baroque counterpoint, (extremely well controlled) avant-jazz dissonances, and improbable melodies. Yes, improbable, because the man has a very personal sense of melody favoring unusual intervals and a certain solemnity that inscribes this album in direct filiation with «Dis, Blaise…», his previous effort. Supporting Cartier is the equivalent of an Ambiances Magnétiques All-Star band, with Jean Derome (sax and flutes), Jean René (viola), Bernard Falaise (guitar) and Pierre Tanguay (drums), all brilliantly executing and extrapolating on Cartier’s scores. Highlights include Dédicace de la belle espérance and its striking melody that immediately sets the tone for the whole album; the lament La chanson de Marie, the song coming closest to the plain chant stylings of «Dis, Blaise…»; and the devastatingly beautiful Mirabeau, the pinnacle of Cartier’s songwriting to this date. Portrait, more overtly jazzy, is the only weaker track on the album, and only because it sticks too close to the artist’s original idea. Cartier had based his previous two projects on the works of French poets (Yves Bonnefoy for Chansons de Douve, Blaise Cendrars for «Dis, Blaise…» chanson du Transsibérien). This time, he selected poems from a number of Québécois poets (Michel Garneau, Gaston Miron, Pierre Perrault, Paul-Marie Lapointe), plus one by Apollinaire and another by himself — a first. English-speaking listeners can rely on Cartier’s short analysis of each poem to get the gist of it. But in the end, and even though these poems rank among the best in Quebec literature, these songs will move you, whether you understand them or not. Cartier’s soft, fragile tone and Gregorian solemnity probably make him a case of love-him-or-hate-him; honestly, this reviewer would not know. Highly recommended.