Grand Laps
Songlines SGL 1605-2

By Ken Waxman

Having established an international reputation, pianist Benoît Delbecq now turns up in North America as frequently as in his native France. However this session reunites him with the Paris-based Kartet quartet with which he has been playing for 25 years. Grand Laps, the band’s seventh CD, is its first in seven years. But listening to its controlled and cooperative work you’d figure the band members hadn’t been apart for a nanosecond.

There is one change. While the pianist, saxophonist Guillaume Orti, and bassist Hubert Dupont are originals, Belgian drummer Stéphane Galland is a newer recruit. Still his contributions don’t upset the group ethos any more than Joe Morello did when he joined the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Brubeck’s foursome is an apt comparison, for even dividing his skills among alto, soprano and C-melody saxophones, Orti possess an unflappable lyrical style, reminiscent of Paul Desmond.

Kartet’s watchwords are melodic interactions, and since each of the original members contributes compositions, there’s a recognizable sound philosophy. In a program beginning with Orti’s tricky and comprehensive “XY” and “X” and ending with his “XYZ” , compositional linkage is underlined by four-square stops from the bassist plus the pianist’s high intensity chording. Agitation reaches a point of tension-release at the end of “XYZ” as Dekbecq’s staccato pacing meets Galland’s cymbal clanks. Nevertheless the pianist’s clipping frails in the tune’s penultimate moments suggest a motif related to his plucked internal strings on “XY”

Just as each composition touches on tropes from the exotic to the everyday, ample solo space exists alongside theme elaboration. Often part of a sonic snakes-and-ladders exercise, the four follow one another throughout the pieces’ twists and turns, avoiding dead ends and repositioning for proper connections. Depending on the horn, Orti can work his way up the scale with a tone that is gracefully smooth as on “Gazzell”; or narrow his soprano sax tone to sourness on “Corps Chromé” – perhaps as a jibe at Delbecq’s stylized glissandi. Mostly the program confirms its straightforward concentricity. A confirmation of this is how Kartet handles “Red House in Nola”. No pseudo-New Orleans-Louisiana-romp, the tune is taken formally, with emphasis on the melody line played by the piano and drums, until Dupont breaks ranks with a slippery bass solo.

This CD’s appearance after a gap of seven years makes it Lucky Seven for both the band and the listener.

Tracks: XY; X; You Dig; Gazzell; Binoculars; Corps Chromé; Pass Pass; Red House in Nola; I.E.S.; Never Rain; Tayls; XYZ

Personnel: Guillaume Orti: (soprano, alto, C-melody saxophones; Benoît Delbecq: piano; Hubert Dupont: bass; Stéphane Galland: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record October 2014