TOC & the Compulsive Brass

Air Bump
Circum Disc CID 1601

Like researchers whose experiments with specific formulations serendipitously creates another useful compound, the septet on Air Bump seem to have set out with one result in mind, but ended up with another equally legitimate one. Initially the players, members of the Lille, France-based Muzzix Collective, had decided to salute the sound and energy of pioneering New Orleans musicians like Jelly Roll Morton or Kid Ory. Except for some brassy gutbucket slurs and two-beat rhythms on the concluding “Kat Kid”, Trad Jazz styled references seem to be as distanced from this disc as Lille is from Lafayette, La. Instead the tracks are a mixture of Improv, Rock, Jazz and other influences.

Despite their name, the bands also have no relationship to New Orleans outfits like the Olympia Brass band either. No Dixieland playing outfit, the Compulsive Brass is made up of trombone/tubaist Maxime Morel, saxophonists Sakina Abdou and Jean-Baptiste Rubin and led by trumpeter Christian Pruvost, known for his membership in the French-Japanese Kaze quartet. Also self-contained is TOC, featuring Jérémie Ternoy on Fender Rhodes, guitarist Ivann Cruz and drummer Peter Orins. Besides working in various genres as a trio, each has recorded solo discs, while Orins is Kaze’s other Gaul.

With the opening track given over to electronic buzzing, squeaking horn amplifications and variable rhythms the septet doesn’t hit its stride until “Stomp Out from Jelly”, the more than 18-minute second track. While as modern as the internet, possibly Ory and Morton would have recognized the part-homage/part-parody effects on the tune, especially when Morel lets loose with some tailgate plunger tones, Orins slaps a cow bell and Pruvost’s moderated grace notes soar over the accompaniment as if he was Louis Armstrong with the Hot Seven. Contrapuntally challenging the brass stimulation are flanges from Cruz, and harder drum beats from Orins. Appropriately enough the delicate balance among the elements-shaking crescendo are accompanied by sonorous ostinato timbres from tuba and baritone sax.

With the sinister styled output on “No Rag for K” looming in such a way that circling vultures rather than jolly songbirds are suggested, that track proves that the band can express itself at tortoise speed as well as rapidly. More distinctive is “Kat Kid”, especially after its New Orleans Revival trappings fall away. As if the Preservation Hall Jazz Band suddenly morphed into the Art Ensemble of Chicago, slurred guitar fingering and electric keyboard glissandi take centrestage. With lingering Dixieland tropes pushed to one side as if walking through fog from the Mississippi river, the trumpet is emboldened enough to snark out a solo that sound as if he’s vibrating a metal sheet in front of his horn’s bell. Perhaps any New Orleans references should have been left unsaid. For on the strength of conception and performance, Air Bump stands on its own as a stylish exemplar of contemporary improvised music.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Air Bump 2. Stomp Out from Jelly 3. No Rag for K. 4. Kat Kid

Personnel: Christian Pruvost (trumpet); Maxime Morel (trombone and tuba); Sakina Abdou (soprano and alto saxophones); Jean-Baptiste Rubin (tenor and baritone saxophones); Jérémie Ternoy (Fender Rhodes, piano bass); Ivann Cruz (guitar) and Peter Orins (drums)