Louis Sclavis

L’imparfait des langues
ECM 1954

French clarinetist Louis Sclavis’ innate lyricism is intact, yet his musical language unexpectedly adapts a new syntax on this notable release.

Esteemed for developing folklore imaginaire, which frames improvisation within both the European classical tradition and Mediterranean airs, the reedist’s supple sounds are usually reminiscent of what you’d find at a recital. But the newly composed L’imparfait des langues is interpreted by sidemen in their twenties and thirties whose allegiance encompasses rock music and electronics as well as improvised and notated music.

Drummer François Merville frequently hammers chunky backbeats; the distortions and reverb from Maxime Delpierre’s guitars connect to Hendrix (Jimi) not Hall (Jim); while Paul Brousseau’s keyboard sampling gives the 14 tracks an undertow of vocalized counterpoint. Meanwhile alto saxophonist Marc Baron plays edgy, extended vamps that grate against Sclavis’ parlando output, creating maximum fissure.

With cumulative textural variations providing a larger-than-quintet sound, tracks like “Announce” announce themselves with inflections ranging from rococo to rock. Here sampled, auctioneer-like vocal calls unfold beside the reeds’ muezzin–like wails that open up the tune for Swing era-style drum rebounds and stacked vamping horn lines. Before keyboard distortions and note spraying from the saxophones signal the climax, Sclavis’ boppy glissandi compromises Merville into playing Elvin Jones to his John Coltrane.

Elsewhere, as on the consecutive “Convocation” and “Palabre”, polyphony predominate. Scene-setting guitar flat-picking and quivering cymbals underline Sclavis’ North African-tinged lyricism plus Baron’s Dolphyian split tones. Eventually languendo overcomes frenzy and the double-tonguing reeds reach rapprochement as mellow tones are echoed by string licks.

Despite the title, it’s apparent here that clarinetist’s language is both complete and conclusive.

— Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 335