Michel Edelin’s Flute Fever Orchestra

RogueArt ROG-0070

Disdained and denigrated for its aviary-like peeping after becoming common in Jazz circles during the 1950s, the flute’s Clark Kent-reputation still lingers even after outliers like Rahsaaan Roland Kirk and James Newton demonstrated that it was also capable of Superman-like feats of strength. But a more profound manifestation of the traverse instrument’s adaptability comes from flautist’s Michel Edelin’s Paris-based Flute Fever Orchestra (FFO). Besides the leader, bassist Peter Giron and drummer John Betsch, the regular members are two more flutists: Sylvaine Hélary and Ludivine Issambourg with American flutist Nicole Mitchell making a special guest appearance on this two-CD set. Augmented to Justice League of America-like capacity, the FFO uses instruments of various sizes, shapes and pitches alone or in groups to provide a blockbuster-like run-through of flute powers on The Song of the Mad Faun. Like a spin off from a popular superhero epic, Domus, the affiliated other CD, has Edelin performing superhero-like solo flute feats.

In truth the instrument’s profound expression comes from revealing both its everyday and secret identity. Forcing it to become a Dr. Doom-like gritty villain at all time is as fallacious as pretending its only function is to express Lana Lane-like fragility without its own fortitude. The four flutists on the CD know this and proceed to express both roles throughout its nine tracks. Consistency is maintained since Edelin composed every tune but one on both discs. Everyone gets to solo as well, although some of the most moving passages arise when the flutists harmonize like a spiritual choir. At the same time, sprawling pealing and percussive interludes and sandpaper-like scratching from the rhythm section members, who have backed figures as disparate as Luther Allison and Steve Lacy, ensure that sylvan vapidity is avoided. Cushioned by rococo-like puffs from the others, Edelin and Giron bring out the nuances of the theme on “Joyful Struggle”; or with a tightrope walker’s poise demonstrates multi-positional mouth acrobatics on “Marche Solennelle des Aquaziques”. Able to effortlessly affect a groove with the confidence of a Frank Wess or Sam Most, Issambourg and especially Hélary offer a classical-Gallic melodiousness when they verbalize and vocalize certain passages, even adding a snatch of scat to “Le Chant du Faune Fou”. But like the position of birds in a diorama, the instrumental decorations – cutting or calm – are as notable, here and elsewhere, with Giron and Betsch maintain consistent swing as if confirming ancestral DNA that can’t be negated. “Flying Drum” conjures up images of a fife-and-drum corps marching in step until Mitchell as an imaginary drum majorette takes off on a staccato solo. The climatic “Totem” is like a North American aboriginal tree sculpture; rooted by the rhythm section and decorated with all manner of designs and color from legit to atonal as the flutists extend the improvisations aurally higher than the monumental wooden sculpture.

Applying his improvisations among a magpie-like instrumental collection including flute, alto flute, bass flute, vocal, piccolo, deconstructed bass flute, bass flute with octave effect, digital percussion on mouthpiece and keys and overdubs, Edelin goes it alone on the second CD’s 17 selections. Immersing himself in a variety of roles, timbres and tones, at times it seems the tracks, which are mostly in the two-to-three minute range would be best appreciated by flute students as pedagogical examples. He certainly tests the flute(s)’ limits, with tropes that suggest Paul Horn’s experiments with timbre and echo inside the pyramids as much as the easy swing of massed flute ensembles advanced by Herbie Mann and others. “Red” is an instance of the former, while a tune such as “Breath of Salomon Island” has the bass flute supplying the continuum as a higher-pitched one advances the sprightly theme. Less a gimmick than a literal extension of his ideas, judicious overdubbing serves its purpose throughout. On “Alpha” for instance Edelin figuratively takes on the role of every soloist in those multi-flute blowing sessions of the 1950s. His playing is much more experimental though, sounding staccato spits and breathy interludes at the same time, ruffling the rhythm like the back fur of a dog while managing to keep the tune flowing horizontally. “Pannonica”, the one non-original, is played straight and singular, while “This Way Please “, which follow it, is a contrafact of the former, using three flute tones to face-off and cross-over with a chorus of peeps and blusters, decorating the piece with swirling multi layers at the same time as the outside is deconstructed to reach the figurative pastry’s sweet essence.

Confirmation, if any more is needed, of the chameleon-like creativity of flutes and the skill that characterizes Edelin’s composing, arranging and soloing, the two CDs’ divergence in presentation may have been better served by releasing each separately.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. Five O’Clock Tea 2. Joyful Struggle 3. Obsession 4. Marche Solennelle des Aquaziques 5. Le Chant du Faune Fou 6. Somewhere About Here 7. Flying Drum 8. Granville Island 9. Totem CD 2: 1. Miss Terry 2. Red 3. Roots 4. Black 5. The Breath of Salomon Island 6. Emerald Green 7. Alpha 8. Grey 9. Elephant Cha Cha 10. Yellow 11. Pannonica 12. This Way Please 13. Blue 14. Mad Mouse 15. Carmine 16. Hush! 17. The Best Time

Personnel: Michel Edelin (flute, alto flute, bass flute, vocal, piccolo, deconstructed bass flute, bass flute with octave effect, digital percussion on mouthpiece and keys, overdubs); Nicole Mitchell (flute, alto flute, piccolo, vocal); Sylvaine Hélary (flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo, vocal); Ludivine Issambourg (flute, alto flute, vocal); Peter Giron (bass, vocal); John Betsch (drums, vocal)