La Grande Perezade

Urban Bush
Circum Disc CIDI 803

Certain segments of the French improvising music scene evidently disagree with the maxim that music is a universal language. Peculiarly, a fondness for recitations, poems and songs – usually in English as often as French – seems to pervade Gallic sessions. In the majority of cases this serves to weaken the overall presentation.

Take Urban Bush for instance. Mixing arrangements that take their shape from an admixture of jazz, improvised music and rock, La Grande Perezade, a 10-piece band from France’s Basse-Normandie region, has created a CD that’s lively and listenable. Yet while instrumentally the group is the equivalent of similarly constituted aggregations from elsewhere – without really standing out – it falls down non-instrumentally.

Firstly the title tune is nearly sabotaged by an extended mid-section featuring the blues-rock posturing and silly lyrics of a standard love song, histrionically performed by vocalist Deborah Lennie-Bisson. Earlier, on “Buck et Neluji Part I”, she and Patrick Tréol, whose echoing ostinato work on tuba can’t be faulted, combine for a recitation in English and French, rife with the sort of overriding angst that seems to infect the French character.

The culpability for these missteps, as well as commendation for the instrumental smarts on the other tracks must be attributed to Jean-Baptiste Perez. The saxophonist and clarinetist leads the group, composes its material and saddles it with a band name that’s a variation of his own. Luckily his direction doesn’t include hogging the solo space. Someone who has written music for theatre, dance and to accompany short films, he has played in the rock-oriented Altersonic Orchestra of Camel Zekri as well as improvised music with the likes of British bassist Barry Guy.

On this, his band’s debut disc, the theatrical and rock elements predominate. Longer tracks such as “Ou Crève” or “Urban Bush” include portions that exist in that netherworld between jazz and soundtracks. And there are point where the smoothly trilling alto saxophone solos and cross-pulsed simmering keyboard smears on the first tune and the rock-hard percussion backbeat plus screeching tenor saxophone riffs on the second seem to have wandered in from a Hollywood pop-R&B studio session

More impressive timbres on “Ou Crève” include Tréol and trombonist Thomas Rémondière contrapuntally pushing choked colored air at one another, then performing an adagio minuet of tongue slaps and stops; and on “Urban Bush”, percussionist Emmanuel Penfeunteun’s rim-shot pinging. Although too much of his distortion and fuzz-tone riffing add to the general rock-orientation of some other numbers, guitarist Sylvain Choinier is still able to produce some BB King-styled licks on “Le Tic-Tac de La Bombe” and laid-back flat-picking on “Fêtide?”

Overall, the composition which most clearly manages to successfully intertwine all the musical strands is “Grosse Fatigue”, which is anything but a large fatigue. Exploding from a cacophonous introduction of Aylerian reed squeals, honks and overblowing multiphonics, the polyphonic variations alternate these massed reed tones with stinging, single-string guitar licks until plush tuba pedal-point introduces conclusive big-band styled horn riffs.

Perez and his band are obviously talented and Urban Bush is a notable – if flawed – introduction to the group. Next time out though, concentrating on fewer stylistic jumps and more heart-felt improvisation would better serve all concerned.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Le Tic-Tac de La Bombe 2. Fêtide? 3. Buck and Neluji Part I 4. Buck and Neluji Part II 5. Grosse Fatigue 6. Ou Crève –Intro 7. Ou Crève 8. Urban Bush 9. Fête de Trop 10. In Sea 11. La Sorcière Roussse/Fête des Mères

Personnel: Samuel Belhomme (trumpet and flugelhorn); Thomas Rémondière (trombone); Patrick Tréol (tuba); Ludivine Issambourg (flute); Remy Garçon (alto and tenor saxophones); Jean-Baptise Perez (soprano and tenor saxophones and clarinet); Sylvain Choinier (guitar); Emmanuel Piquery (keyboards); Nicolas Talbot (bass); Emmanuel Penfeunteun (drums) and Déborah Lennie-Bisson (voice)