Walabix

Invite Maris
BeCoq 09

Cuir

Chez Ackenbush

Fou Records FR-CD 08

Despite easing into the 21st Century, the Jazz business still operates in a similar fashion to Hollywood with Americentrism paramount. Foreign musicians exist, but only if they play with Americans or have moved to the United States. Meanwhile like unique wild flowers that only spout in native soils, improvisers are coming to maturity in their own countries. Take France for instance. Although Cuir and Walabix are ensembles staffed with young French musicians, both are little known outside the Gallic borders.

Walabix, a quartet made up of players who frequently move among other local ad-hoc groups, up the ante here by doing just what the title says on Invite Maris. The new ingredient is Belgian trumpeter Bart Maris, who associates have range from Dutch bassist Wilbert de Joode to French pianist Benôit Delbecq. Walabix, whose members are also affiliated with the Tri Collectif ensemble, consists of reedists Quentin Biardeau and Gabriel Lemaire, cellist Valentin Ceccecaldi and drummer Adrien Chennebault. Meantime the members of Cuir are all French, but as well integrated in background as many posh Parisian neighborhoods. With only one woodwind player, clarinetist Jean-Brice Godet; a bassist (Yoram Rosilio) instead of a cellist; a pianist (John Cuny) instead of the drummer, plus two trumpeters, the quintet’s sound is considerably different than Walabix’s, although still in the same Free Music stadium.

Walabix’s Ceccaldi, also a member of ensembles with his brother, violinist Théo, as well as the Marcel & Solange trio, usually takes on the double-bass role on this CD to the extent that a track such as “Astrol” could be mistaken for Hardish Bop with the horns vamping in unison like marching sentries on a watch and Maris slurring his lines from’ muted trumpet. On the chromatically emphasized “Legram” in contrast Ceccaldi’s cello-strokes are at their most chamber-music-like when harmonized with the recorder-like peeping of Gabriel Lemaire’s clarinet sib. Keeping the skein of Free Music excitedly viable Ceccaldi dons the identity of a picking Spanish guitarist later on, as he duets with Maris’ breathy trumpeting.

Many of the other improvisations are characterized by brassy gracefulness or end-of-the-world bugling that mix with altissimo squeaks and aviary contortions from the sax players, who play as if they have separated mouthpieces from ligatures. “Mat” – all track title meanings unknown – is probably the CD’s most provocative track. With as many near-climaxes noted as in a sex manual, the sonic spectrum of all the instruments are flashed through. Introduced by drum rolls leading into an Aylerian blow out, the respective horn tones harden to an integrated consistency that sounds as if it could cut through slate. Even though Ascension-like textures squall and sputter the cellist and drummer ensure the basic shape of the com position remains.

Moving northwards from Tours to a suburb of Paris, Cuir’s live performance is one of those showcases that starts off tentatively like a herd of stallions investigating a new trail, then accelerates to a free-for-all near stampeded by the final track. With each tune slightly lengthier than the one preceding it, there’s enough stop-start crackle and clunks from the bassist and Cuny’s prepared piano that the lack of drums is hardly noticed. By the time “Satch Ko” and “Peau de Chagrin” roll around, the quintet’s dynamics have been established. Double bass throbs underscore the others’ improvisations as equivalent piano strings appear to be plucked and pulled until they almost reach the breaking point. Meanwhile as the performances gel into themes of almost immitigable enthusiasm, Godet’s clarinet growls harshly bite into the themes from both the coloratura and chalumeau registers, with one trumpet blasting open-horned roars and the other stretching out agitated tremolo tones until he runs out of air. Cecil Taylor-like forceful piano progressions signal the climax and presage the imminent timbre-exploding conclusion.

Clocking in at 19-minutes plus, the tremolo melee continues the division of the dual trumpet textures popping from fortissimo to pianissimo, with Godet’s top-of-range hiccupping leading to a stop-time exploration of reed pitches even as one brass player hand mutes and the other unleashes the equivalent of a drunken bugle call. At the same time, Rosilio’s massive bowing cadenzas operate like crazy glue, cementing the narrative together each time a soloist threatens to shatter it into pieces. By the final one-third of “Tartare”, the raw and meaty theme has bonded enough so that reed gasps and half-valve brass effects give way to a fanciful ritual-dance of intersecting patterns and a palpable tension release.

Think of these bands as the Alain Delon or Gérard Depardieu or French improv as opposed to other musicians who have moved stateside to become as Yank-recognizable as Charles Boyer or Maurice Chevalier. As this discs demonstrate however, just like tasting wine and cheese in natural settings rather than as imports can be a more pleasurable experience, so hearing young improvises play at home is just as, if not more, flavorful.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Invite: 1. Ingram 2. Iciba 3. Hotclu 4. Astrol 5. Legram 6. Anve 7. Mat

Personnel: Invite: Bart Maris (trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet); Quentin Biardeau (soprano, tenor saxophones); Gabriel Lemaire (alto, baritone saxophones, clarinet sib); Valentin Ceccecaldi (cello) and Adrien Chennebault (drums)

Track Listing: Chez: 1. Épidermiologie 2. Écharnage 3. Satch Ko 4. Peau de Chagrin 5. Tartare

Personnel: Chez: Jérôme Fouquet and Nicolas Souchal (trumpets); Jean-Brice Godet (clarinets); John Cuny (prepared piano) and Yoram Rosilio (bass)