DANIEL HUMAIR

Liberté Surveillée
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Astute, inventive and tasteful, Swiss-born percussionist Daniel Humair, 63, has long been one of the revered patriarchs of mature European jazz. A resident of Paris since the late 1950s, he was an integral part of French pianist Martial Solal’s trio in the 1960s and altoist Phil Woods’ European Rhythm Machine in the 1970s. Recordings have seen him seconding stylists as different as Swing trumpeter Bill Coleman and cerebral saxophonist Lee Konitz, and working in a variety of original settings with other Europeans like French bassist Henri Texier and German keyboardist Joachim Kühn.

Still, if there has been a better monument to the fully developed accomplishments of Humair as a player and composer than this two CD set, it’s hard to imagine. Recorded live in front of a respectful audience at Paris’ Swiss Cultural Centre, the drummer and his band members express themselves on eight extended tunes, mostly written by Humair or his long time associates. With “Mutinerie”, the shortest piece, clocking in at a little more than 9½ minutes, and the longest — “Urgence” — nearly 19½, there’s obviously plenty of space for band members to exercise their chops.

What chops they are as well. Featured throughout are loose-limbed American tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, who usually plays with his own trio as well on discs with bassist Mark Helias; and French, rock-inflected guitarist Marc Ducret, who has had a decade-long association with the bands of American saxophonist Tim Berne and French clarinetist Louis Sclavis. Rounding out the quartet is unobtrusive bassist Bruno Chevillon who has been in Sclavis’ band as well as Ducret’s trio.

Those who fear that so-called free players like Ducret and Eskelin would have to mute their more exhibitionistic tendencies to play with Humair, or that his mainstream timekeeping would be compromised by the young avant gardists, obviously don’t realize the versatility of all concerned.

For a start, in the past, Eskelin has recorded an album honoring soul/bop tenor icon Gene Ammons, while Ducret’s rock guitar appropriations involve texture and velocity rather than volume and effects. While he may fire out passages, as on “Amalgame”, which sound as if a moderated Jeff Beck has joined the band for a few minutes, most of his solos are fully in the modern jazz guitar tradition. Plus his loose, swinging pulse on his own “Urgence” show that his allegiance lies as much with Jimmy Raney as Jimi Hendrix.

Furthermore, considering that over the years, while staying true to himself, Humair has played classic jazz and hard bop with their originators, as well as Kühn’s EuroFusion and folklore-aligned themes with long-time associate Texier, he’s not suddenly going to be disoriented by freer sounds.

Complementary drum breaks, rather than ponderous solos are his stock in trade anyhow. When he does let loose as at the beginning of Kühn’s “Missing A Page”; it’s for solos that can be measured in minutes, not millennia, as with some self-obsessed percussionists. Relaxed, Humair knows which parts of his kit to emphasis at which times, but he’s more likely to appear to be caressing them, then doing them damage.

Tempo-wise the tunes range from straightforward swingers like the drummer’s “Triple Hip Trip” to more languid, impressionistic manifestations such as “IRA Song”, also from Humair’s pen. The tenor saxist builds up to hurricane force then moves into some freak note experimentation on the former, matched by swift finger picking, followed by fret board exploration on the guitarist’s part. The later, emphasized with some military style percussion from its composer and a fusillade of pinpointed notes from Ducret, slows down midway into a bottom of the strings solo from the bassist, but without losing its prickly edge. It suggest what could happen if someone fore fed caffeine to musicians wandering in the ECM mountains.

Drummers like Max Roach and Art Blakey kept going into their seventies and we would hope the same for Humair. As it stands now, though, this session seems a monumental autumnal achievement.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. Give Me the Eleven 2. Urgence 3. IRA Song 4. Missing A Page Disc 2: 1. Triple Hip Trip 2. Salinas 3. Mutinerie 4. Amalgame

Personnel: Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone); Marc Ducret (guitar); Bruno Chevillon (bass); Daniel Humair (drums)