Drouet/Frith/Sclavis

contretemps etc…
In Situ IS 244

Just because Jazz introduced improvisation to the modern era – an approach rediscovered by so-called Classical music, and latterly adopted by Rock – it doesn’t means that notable sonic creations won’t arise from representatives of all three genres. At least that’s what happens on this CD.

Recorded in Besançon, during that city’s festival of Jazz and Improvised Music, contretemps etc… combines the talents of a trio of veteran players for a six-movement suite of unique sounds. Oldest of the three participants is Bordeaux-born percussionist Jean Pierre Drouet, 76, who besides composing for dance and theatre companies, works both with experimental musicians from the Legit – composers Luciano Berio and Karlheinz Stockhausen – and Jazz fields. Guitarist Fred Frith, 63, who now teaches at California’s Mills College, has collaborated with Improv stylists such as saxophonist Larry Ochs, and yet is also known for his membership in Rock bands like the Art Bears. Meanwhile Lyon-based bass clarinettist and soprano saxophonist Louis Sclavis, 59, plays folkloric-inspired Improv, often in the company of guitarist Jean-Marc Montera.

Drouet and Sclavis use distinct techniques, such as the reedist’s split tones and glottal punctuation or the percussionist’s rubbing of his kit’s top and sides plus ratchets and ruffs, to define their soloistic and stylistic parameters. Frith’s often slurred fingering, encompassing throbbing organ-like riffs provides the backdrop. Occasionally though he slips into guitar-hero mode with shaking reverb and fortissimo single-string phrasing. Meanwhile the two Frenchmen contribute vocally to the performance. On aural evidence alone, it appears that true to his faux-folk roots Sclavis verbalizes a narrative of non-attributable words, while in Fluxus-like fashion Drouet sputters, mumbles and swallows a series of nonsense syllables.

Such parlando arrives during the fifth movement, where Sclavis’ fortissimo and pitch-stretching glissandi extend the realm of multiphonics and Drouet’s bumps and clatters become more intense and paradoxically more muffled, suggesting that the studio walls and floor have become percussion surfaces. Earlier bell pealing-like patterns and crunching guitar frails introduce Sclavis’ chalumeau obbligatos or fortissimo split tones which narrow into tongue stops and snorts. All-embracing sustain pedal patterns from Frith continue to create a distorted accordion-like undercurrent, infrequently breached by Drouet’s percussive ratchets, squeals and smacks.

A fourth movement, built from descending dulcimer-like pings and strokes mixed with reed slurs resembling those of a medieval bass recorder, lasts only until guitar twangs and squeezed contralto clarinet vibrations make the sequence more aggressive. It’s just a short jump to vocal and instrumental multiphonics and finally the conclusive “Sixième mouvement”.

It’s here that then percussionist’s strokes also become folkloric, taking on tambour and naker qualities and intermittently producing military-styled bangs. Sclavis responds contrapuntally in the form of snarling growls, unearthly cries and crackling tongue slaps, while bent and crying lead guitar intensity comes from Frith. Eventually the suite climaxes as Drouet mutes his strokes to metallic rim pressure; Sclavis’ soprano saxophone trills in a pastoral fashion; and Frith’s grinding flanges are transformed into blurry, acoustic fills.

Proving once again that improvisation is a pervasive concept that can be applied to measures from any sort of music, Drouet, Frith and Sclavis combined showcase an exemplary set no matter how you define the sounds.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Premier mouvement 2. Deuxième movement 3, Troisème movement 4. Quartrième movement 5. Cinquième movement 6, Sixième movement

Personnel: Louis Sclavis (bass clarinet, soprano saxophone and voice); Fred Frith (guitars) and Jean Pierre Drouet(percussion and voice)