Hélène Labarrière

Les Temps Changent
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Enlightening for improvised music followers who live outside France, it turns out that as well as Joëlle Léandre, there is another notable female French bassist – Hélène Labarrière. Although oriented much more towards modern mainstream jazz than the trenchant Léandre, on the evidence of this CD, Labarrière shouldn’t be overlooked.

Labarrière is enough of a technician that her driving strokes can easily direct the band’s performance. A composer as well as a performer most of the compositions on this disc are hers. And while Labarrière’s soloing isn’t as abstract – or indeed as transcendent – as Léandre’s, she can surely hold her own in many situations. Furthermore, and most importantly, since gender is as unimportant as skin color and religion when discussing improvised music, these are the only comparisons to be made between the two bassists who merely share the same instrument and nationality.

Together since the early part of this century, this quartet is a definite group project which takes advantage of the alternatively nimble and hefty tones available from the combination of baritone saxophone, guitar, drums and Labarrière’s bass. Made up of top European soloists – who each lead other bands as well – credentials range from Labarrière’s, who is also associated with prominent French improvisers such as saxophonist Sylvain Kassap guitarist Marc Ducret, trombonist Yves Robert and clarinetist Louis Sclavis; the last three of whom have also worked with the group’s two other French natives, saxophonist François Corneloup and drummer Christophe Marguet. Copenhagen-born, Paris-resident guitarist Hasse Poulsen, works with Sclavis as well as with younger players like drummer Edward Perraud and cornetist Méderic Collignon.

Breaking things down on the disc, Poulsen’s sonic contributions are the most distinctive, if also sometimes the most unsettling. Playing the world’s most popular instrument, the Dane at points introduces folksy finger-picking or highly electronic, fuzz-laden licks as part of his improvisation, at which point the others have to decide whether to follow his unexpected lead or create cross purposeful lines on their own. At points the solution is cohesion; elsewhere unexpected dissonance is obvious.

Poulsen’s schizoid output creates equivalent Jekyll-and-Hyde personality shifts in Corneloup as well. Most of the time the saxman seems most comfortable expelling mid-range vibrations that are almost Gerry Mulligan-like mellow – with Poulsen in the Jim Hall role – until the guitarist’s alternative folksy Ramblin’ Jack Elliott or rocky Jeff Beck personality rises to the fore.

On “Regard suspendu” and “September the bass”, for instance, which run right into each other with an imperceptible break, the guitarist’s distorted rock-style runs bring out altissimo writhing and screaming plus intense glossolalia from the saxophonist. By the finale both men are creating frenzied, diffuse and skyscraping runs. This is in sharp contrast to the tune’s head, where the guitarist and Labarrière collaborate on a folksy, near-flamenco duet with resonations coming as much from slaps on the instruments’ wood as the strings.

Similar connective guitar runs and echoing thumps from the bass, subtly complemented by unobtrusive drumming, define “Une femme sous influence”, whose sentiments one supposes are perfectly poetic. As Poulsen chromatically picks and Corneloup vibrates slow-pitched rubato tones, the bassist’s arco sweeps blend with Marguet’s ratamacues and bull’s eye-centred snare notes. Although an episode of near-electronic guitar reverb subsequently erupts, Labarrière’s four-square string plucking and the drummer’s time-keeping keep the piece solidly swinging without being earth-bound.

Nicely contrasting with the solid walking she exhibits elsewhere, Labarrière sensitively and singularly limns the melody of “La complainte de la butte”, the set’s one standard. Composed by Georges Van Parys for Jean Renoir’s 1954 film French Cancan, the bassist’s double- and triple-stopping plus winnowing string sashays maintain the balladic mood without dipping into sentimentality. Later, Marguet’s airy cymbal and wood block beats accelerate the theme even as it’s splintered among silences, Corneloup’s pedal point and Labarrière’s bowed ostinato.

Memorable without being innovative or earth-shattering, Les Temps Changent won’t fundamentally change the shape of music in any way. Except, that is, to confirm that well-played jazz can be created by any sympathetic formation, no matter what instruments, genders and nationalities are involved.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: 1. Soizig 2. Un jour plus tôt 3. Regard suspendu 4. September the bass 5. Good boy 6. Un cure d’inefficacité 7. Histoire de collection 8. Une femme sous influence 9. La complainte de la butte 10. Donde est ustedes

Personnel: François Corneloup (baritone saxophone); Hasse Poulsen (guitars); Héléne Labarrière (bass) and Christophe Marguet (drums)