GAËL MAEVEL TRIO

Danses Parallèles
Leo LE-376-CD

BRUNO ANGELINI
Empreintes
Sketch SKE 333037

Core sounds that are so deliberate as to verge on stasis and so subdued that they’re nearly soundless, French pianists Gaël Mevel and Bruno Angelini helm two trio sessions that are technically impressive, but cry out for variations in time and tempo.

One book written on Britain’s New Romantic Movement in pop music is entitled “As if Punk Never Happened”, and you can create a similar slogan for the piano music here. Mevel and Angelini seem to exist in a world where Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk and even Oscar Peterson never happened. It’s a polite world where clean, to the point playing is produced without telltale sweat stains and nothing is ever askew or out of place. But it creates output that’s so laid back and low key that it makes some of Bill Evans’ or Keith Jarrett’s more restrained efforts sound like the boogie woogie output of Albert Ammons or Pete Johnson.

Unsurprisingly both pianists are about the same age — in their late thirties — have classical grounding and prefer similar prim and gentle sounds. One of Blanc-Mesnil-based Angelini’s sideman gigs was accompanying singer Thierry Peala interpreting the moody timbres of Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s music. Mevel’s introduction to improvisation came from studies with American pianist Eric Watson, who in his work with Steve Lacy and others has shown an excessively formal approach to improvisation. Mevel, who has also improvised scores for classic silent films, seems to draw on the fragile, legit branch of French improv.

Luckily both DANSES PARALLÈLES and EMPREINTES do have a few saving graces. Mevel plays a wheezy, German-style button accordion called the bandoneon on one track, and throughout has the invaluable aid of bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel, who has worked in Lacy ‘s band for more than 20 years. Angelini features a bassist, Roman-born Riccardo Del Fra, who recorded 12 albums with trumpeter Chet Baker, and thus should know a thing or do about delicate sounds. Del Fra helps vary the textures on some tracks. Drummers Ichiro Onde (Angelini) and Thierry Waziniak (Mevel), are similarly unprepossessing to the extent that it appears that they’re often MIA here.

In fact, on tracks like “Le pencheur de balance” and elsewhere, Waziniak almost appears to be hitting a toy drum with modest clink clanks rather than challenging a real kit. With the pianist building up cadences of high intensity crossed lines only to subside into hesitant single notes, it’s up to Avenel’s ringing, full-bodied bass line to guide the tune at an adagio pace without losing momentum. Accompanying piano stylists like Mal Waldron and Bobby Few probably helped the bassist with this concept.

Just as Mevel conceives of the rest of the CD made up of waltzes that “seem at times to vanish”, his methodical bandoneon playing on “La valse naturelle”, (“the natural waltz”) brings with it no joyous echoes of tarantellas, czardas or freylach melodies. Neither do his low-intensity harmonic vibrations when he moves back to piano. The only time he seems to forget himself enough to pile on soundboard-altering octaves is after Avenel’s spectacular bass solo. Although per the occasion, it too resembles a showpiece at a legato classical bass recital than anything more jazzy, at points he creates simultaneous treble and bass lines, resonating double stopping and speedy octave jumps up the scale almost into viola territory.

On “Autour de Sammy” on the other disc however, Del Fra’s accompaniment doesn’t move much past restrained single stopping, with Onde’s cymbal smacks and continuos ratamacues as circumscribed as Jack DeJohnette’s work with Jarrett. Also, listening to the disconnected piano finger glisses and low frequency vibrations from the pianist it’s obvious that the “Sammy” of the composition isn’t the late blues piano specialist Sammy Price. Price, who was a masterful swinger, knew all about silence, but unlike this one his tunes never moved on a soft single note touch that gets quieter and quieter until it fades into silence.

EMPREINTES’ stand out track is “(Bokhyo)”, which is also titled with some unreproducible Oriental characters. Using a bright, Far Eastern-styled tone, the pianist gets more intense and varies his touch as he plays. De Fra contributes scraping, aviary arco lines and Onde snare drum pressure and a final ceremonial cymbal crash.

Most of the other tunes sound like ballads performed at half-speed. If a piece like “K Particular” begins with what seems to be a forearm smash across the keyboard, split-second build ups of flashing arpeggios quickly give way to late night harmonies. Finally the performance builds up to a climax, but subsides before resolution, sort of keyboardus interruptus.

Proficient enough in realizing their desires on the piano, it’s evident that the ideas of both Angelini and Mevel could be more in evidence if their CDs were a little warmer in execution. Perhaps a strategically placed alarm clock or a handful of wake-up pills could get both of them to put a little more “oomph” in their output.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Danses: 1. Un oiseau sur l’épaule 2. Le pencheur de balance 3. La marchande speculoos 4. Valse soudaine 5. Judex 6. La valse naturelle 7. Perlude 8. Le temps est à l’orange 10. Un autre oiseau

Personnel: Danses: Gaël Mevel (piano, bandoneon); Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass); Thierry Waziniak (drums)

Track Listing: Empreintes: 1. Aurores 2. Autour de Sammy 3. Confidences 4. (Bokhyo) 5. Morceau de Sable 6. Une Longue Traversée 7. Caprices 8. K Particular 9. Valentin Danse

Personnel: Empreintes: Bruno Angelini (piano); Riccardo Del Fra (bass); Ichiro Onoe (drums)