Live at Total Meeting
No Business Records NBCD 48

Constantly changing and challenging, this extended three-part sequence by four of Europe’s most accomplished improvisers ebbs and flows enough to create a perfectly framed soundscape, but leaves enough ellipses for individual expression.

Recorded at the Total Meeting in Tours, the almost 52 minutes of music were put together with no pre-conceptions. But as the interaction evolved, the players found themselves melding and separating their extended and expected narratives into spontaneous solos, duos and trios. This sort of ad hoc organization is second nature to the participants, all of whom have extensive experience in straight and experimental sounds. A former military bugler, trumpeter and flugelhornist Jean-Luc Cappozzo now frequently works with bassist Joëlle Léandre. Flautist and bass clarinetist Jérôme Bourdellon has recorded with reedist Joe McPhee among others, while the least known of the quartet, percussionist Nicolas Lelievre, has faced musical challenges from, among others, no-input-mixing-board specialist Toshimaru Nakamura and French hornist Arkady Shilklopper. The preceding players are all French, while veteran violinist Carlos Alves “Zingaro” is Portuguese. Practically a school unto himself and one of the first Iberian Free Music specialists, Zingaro has matched wits with everyone from Léandre to trombonist George Lewis.

From the first notes heard, the fiddler’s doubled sawing and juddering strokes dynamically define the rhythmic shape of the piece, aided by Lelievre’s vibrating cymbals and thunder-sheet-like resounds. For his part Bourdellon adds emotional impetus with his flute, defining a sympathetic melody that is then decorated by understated grace notes from Cappozzo. Often, as well, buzzing snorts from Bourdellon’s bass clarinet signal a shift in emphasis, as the hithertofore legato exposition turns both weighty and agitated. At these junctures, sul ponticello jumps from Zingaro’s strings plus galloping ruffs and upturned rumbles from Lelievre’s kit follow Bourdellon’s staccato lead.

These sorts of amoeba-like coalescing and splintering characterizing the improvisation’s extended middle section, as for instance, warbled bird call puffs from the trumpeter are matched by angled multiphonics from the fiddler; or in reverse, a lyrical sub melody is constructed out of carefully balanced bugle-like notes from Cappozzo and spiccato strokes from Zingaro. On his own the percussionist keeps the theme from being stretched too thin, by beefing it up with a series of ruffs, clanks and rhythm-defining pumps.

By the climatic final minutes of “Total 3” the quartet has introduced so many lyrical or coarse variations on the theme that a slide into swing-like rhythm appears unexpected yet inevitable. Although earlier attempts to prettify the proceedings with conventional flute tropes by Bourdellon seemed to be mocked by the trumpeter’s off-centre blowing and the violinist’s equivalent timbre-stretching, those reed sounds are now revealed as presages not negations. Before reaching the finale, each players gets solo space to celebrate his dexterous instrument command. In Bourdellon’s case it involves stuttering bass clarinet snorts; in Cappozzo’s shrill and tremolo triplets; in Zingaro’s higher-pitched and narrower multiple string pressure; and in Lelievre’s stentorian thumps on the bass drum, gong reverberations and rolls.

Finally these narrative excursions end, and the Live at Total Meeting set is wrapped up satisfactorily, as if there had been a plan from a beginning. Perhaps so, perhaps not. But with sophisticated musical experimenters such as these involved, the journey has been as exciting as its conclusion.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Total 1 2. Total 2 3. Total 3

Personnel: Jean-Luc Cappozzo (trumpet and flugelhorn); Jérôme Bourdellon (flutes and bass clarinet); met); Carlos Alves “Zingaro” (violin) and Nicolas Lelievre (percussion)