Monniot/Ithursarry/Roy +Saki

Station MIR
Le Triton TRI-12520

Daniel Humair

Sweet & Sour

Laborie Jazz Records LJ 19

Perhaps it’s the romance associated with bal musette and the popular dancing of their youth, but advanced French-speaking improvisers appear to have a particular affinity for accordion-based undertakings. While these focused sessions here have about as much in common with the storied squeeze box-based schmaltz of the 1950s as John Coltrane does with Kenny G., a strain of populism is still apparent in the performances

Drummer Daniel Humair for instance, who moved from his native Geneva to France more than 50 years ago, has built his newest quartet around the accordion skills of Vincent Peirani, whose CV reveals chanson, world music and classical gigs as well as Jazz ones. Further to that, Sweet & Sour ends with an alchemist-like attempt to de-sweeten “Road to Perdition”, Hollywood composer Thomas Newman’s theme for the film of the same name. Throughout, Humair’s brisk and subtle percussion strategies are joined by the soprano and alto saxophones of Emile Parisien, whose reed pizzazz includes a Rock as well as Jazz orientation, plus the steady double bassist Jérôme Regard, member of the Paris Big Band and coordinator of the Jazz department at Lyon’s conservatory.

In a similar fashion, mixed in among the originals on Station MIR are “Amazing Grace” and a version of chansonnier Georges Brassens’ “Les amoureux des bancs publics”. A sopranino, alto and baritone saxophonist, Caen-native, Christophe Monniot is more than 30 years younger than 75-year-old Humair, though he did spend some time in the drummer’s Baby Boom formation. A continuation of Monniot’s own chamber music-like projects dealing with Vivaldi’s music, MIR, which is Russian for world peace, is oriented around the accordion playing of Basque stylist Didier Ithursarry. Violist Guillaume Roy, founder of the Ixi Quartet, who moves between notated and improvised sounds, is also featured on all tracks, while Japanese cellist Atsushi Sakaï brings his chamber music expertise to five of the disc’s 11 tracks.

Instructively instead of introducing sonata-styled comeliness to the tracks, Sakai often slips into the role of double bassist, walking and thumping an ostinato beneath the others’ playing. This is particularly noticeable on “Back Train”, a straightforward swing tune which divides the exposition among angled strings, tremolo organ quivers and snorting baritone saxophone. Before the ebullient summation, Monniot’s tongue slapping and tone bouncing nicely contrasts with Roy’s romance-oriented sweeps. “Heureux”, featuring the cellist, and “Lettre à Marie W” without him, are both moderato, jocular lines. “Heureux” showcases Roy’s string strategy mixing expansive whorls, double stops and intense pressure with pedal point backing from Sakai. When the two finally harmonize it’s as if an entire string section is present. “Lettre à Marie W” on the other hand intelligently plays on the similar sounds arising from Monniot’s alto saxophone and Ithursarry’s squeeze box, only to contrast that blend with the aggressive crescendo the saxophonist and fiddler reach as they trade staccato comments on each other’s soloing.

Station MIR’s key track may be “Mécanique Samovar” however. With all the players present, it shows the transformative talents of skilled musicians. Beginning as almost a recital for Roy’s expressive string stretches it extends the suggestion as Sakaï poignantly picks his cello in a faux-classical style and Monniot’s sopranino replicates delicate flute trills. After the accordionist literally squeezes himself into the sound picture however, his tremolo ostinato plus Sakaï’s thumping bass line join with the saxophonist’s double tonguing to create breezy swing.

During a storied career which have included gigs with everyone from organist Eddy Louis and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty to pianist Joachim Kühn and saxophonist Phil Woods, Humair has certainly internalized the essence of Jazz-Swing as well as string-centred music and even accordion-based café music. Top his credit however he’s still trying out different strategies. So while the Peirani-composed ditty “7A3” may sound as if it slipped in from the soundtrack of a 1950s Paris-based Hollywood soundtrack with its waltz time and smooth parallel contributions from all concerned, other pieces are more challenging.

Stop-time “Shubertauster” for instance ricochets from so-called Jazz time to freer rhythms with broken line curves from Parisien and stentorian vibrations from Peirani giving way to pure legato pumping from the squeeze box and a nearly vocalized line from the saxman. Meanwhile the drummer keeps the ever-shifting piece together with careful accents placed inside a clattering beat. Parisien’s split tones bring to mind another EP – Evan Parker – on “Care 4”, with the accordionist’s jerky staccato treatment and Humair irregular drum patterning adding to the free-form narrative. As the piece unrolls at an arduous pace, the saxophonist’s stretched lines vibrate uneasily on top of Humair’s thumping bass drum and rim shots.

Newman’s theme from “Road to Perdition”, a 2002 mobster film, showcases another overcome challenge. Regard is upfront here with a steadying bass line, leaving the accordionist to outline the exposition as the drummer and saxophonist to add contrapuntal comments. Eventually Regard’s feather-light plucks and Humair’s equally buoyant drumming toughen stabilize the theme which is completed by soprano saxophone puffs, bass string slaps and pops that could be produced by an electrified drum kit.

Substantially different in conception and presentation, these CDs provide irrefutable proof that sounds incorporating accordion and string textures can be both serene and challenging.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Sweet: 1. A Unicorn In Captivity 2. Ground Zero 3. Care 4 4. 7A3 5. T2T3 6. Oppression 7. Shubertauster 8. Debsh 9. Ground One 10. Road to Perdition

Personnel: Sweet: Emile Parisien (soprano and alto saxophones); Vincent Peirani (accordion); Jérôme Regard (bass) and (Daniel Humair (drums)

Track Listing: Station: 1. Amazing Grace* 2. Spanish, Ouiz et Money Hot 3. Heureux* 4. L’épingle du jeu 5. Mécanique Samovar* 6. Le sommeil de l’ange 7. Lettre à Marie W 8. Valse pour Alex 9. Avant Back* 10. Back Train* 11. Les amoureux des bancs publics

Personnel: Station: Christophe Monniot (alto baritone and sopranino saxophones); Guillaume Roy (viola); Atsushi Sakaï (cello)* and Didier Ithursarry (accordion)