Alban Darche

L’OrphiCube
Pepin & Plume Records P&P 001

Polar opposite of the whey-faced, hushed and grim improv session, saxophonist Alban Darche and the members of his nine-piece L’OrphiCube band go out of their way to make the eight selections here playful and animated. Unfortunately frolicsome sounds can become frivolous if taken to the extreme. And while some tracks live up to Darche’s concept of creating foretastes of an imaginary film soundtrack, others get awfully close to frivolous background music.

Darche’s background includes collaborations with singers, choreographer and directors as well as jazzers such as guitarist Marc Ducret and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. But here at least, his greatest challenge is evidently keeping his pop sensibility under control. The final “Abécédaire”, with its harmonized vocals, for instance, bears an unfortunate resemblance to a Christmas round sung by a children’s choir. Excessively high pitches are heard from the strings; plus Christophe Lavergne’s concluding drum solo, which seems to have wandered off of a Gene Krupa disc, doesn’t help either. Descriptively titled, “Miramas Reggae” which links the Jamaican music style with France’s Bouches-du-Rhône department, suffers from similar misdirection. Sort of a Claude-Luter-Orchestra-meets-The-Wailers program, adding Rock-styled drumming to the melody advanced by Basque accordionist Didier Ithursarry doesn’t help either. Conversely it emphasizes the misdirected contrasts between one style and the other. Only some wide tongue flutters from some of the four saxophonists present add some oomph to the piece.

On the other hand the nonet highlights appropriate capriciousness in the opening “Paso Doble”, with joyous tremolo slurs and cascading oom pah pahs from the horns bringing out the nuances as well as the jollity of the Spanish double-step melody. Furthermore the low-frequency splintering of the theme from Darche puts a different cast than expected on “La Bouguenaisienne”. In that fashion, sonically portraying a Hollywood-style of exotica via the blending of squeeze box, piano and fiddle is subverted if not downright mocked.

Pleasant overall, L’OrphiCube still seems to lack a steely core. With his populist impulses one wouldn’t expected Darche to turn into Charles Gayle overnight. But if his band(s) continue to skate across the music’s surface, he is in danger of heading towards David Sanborn if not Fausto Papetti territory.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Paso Doble 2. La Pascoalaise 3. La Bouguenaisienne 4, Les Silhouettes

5. Miramas Reggae 6. Mon Tribut A Tim Burton 7. C’baff 8. Abécédaire

Personnel: Alban Darche (alto saxophone); François Ripoche and Matthieu Donarier (tenor saxophone); Sylvain Rifflet (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Marie-Violaine Cadoret (violin); Didier Ithursarry (accordion); Nathalie Darche (piano); Sébastien Boisseau (bass) and Christophe Lavergne (drums)