Third Coast Ensemble

RogueArt ROG-0077

Conceived of as program music with back story and dialogue in English and/or French to go along with it, the strength of Wrecks, performed by a 16-piece Gallic-American ensemble lies in the compositions and orchestration of cornetist Rob Mazurek. Unlike some of the Chicago Underground linchpin’s other projects which gain shape from South American or electronic-Rock cadences, this CD is firmly in the Jazz tradition and the 10 selections highlight the solos as well as commanding affiliation from the players, who are either from Chicago or Brest, France.

Loosely based on that French city’s maritime history, rife with shipwrecks and capricious weather conditions, the situation is expressed with brass splashes, reed elaborations, swirling string asides and ambulatory beats from the rhythm section. Oscillating wave forms and field recording of sea-faring situations, created by electronics experts Vincent Raude and Lou Malozzi add unexpected contours to the performance, but like the somewhat breathless French recitation and the English language texts, which seem somewhat poetically obscure, the CD’s true strength is instrumental.

From the beginning, the nautical undercurrent is established with exaggerated trumpet swirls, windy string pulls, the hint of ship-to-shore radio transmissions via programming, although all this is moderated by clarinetist Christophe Rocher’s spidery theme advancement. By the time “The Blue Oblivion” is heard the voiced-in-French description unfolds on top of Christofer Bjurström’s keyboard comping, while the watery billowing in the form of trombonist Steve Berry’s and tenor saxophonist Irvin Pierce’s balanced breaks link with seafarer-like chanting. This introduces vamps from the massed horns, which soon turn from sailor’s jig to swinging Jazz diffused by drummers Nicolas Pointard and Avreeayl Ra.

From that point on, contrapuntal theme elaborations bounce among distinctive solo and multiple sounds from the ensemble, with vocalized poetics expressing secondary concepts. Meanwhile electronically patched-in briny echoes and mariner lore keep the program sufficiently aquatic. As part of the voyage, orchestral crew members contribute to the diffusion with notable additions such as Hawaiian-like vibrating from guitarist Jeff Parker, flutter-tongued continuum from flutist Nicole Mitchell and a fiddle solo from Mazz Swift on “On the Trapeze of Minds Ferns” that speaks to Brittany’s Celtic roots. Crucially too, the choppy storm that is “Cobalt of Chance” finally reaches a crescendo, then as the tempo doubles, the narrative breaks like a nautical vessel buffeted by a storm with the resulting polyrhythmic and polyphonic tones almost reorienting the course. Subsequent intersections among more poetics plus showcases involving guitar, flute, drums and slurping saxophones climax in “The Island beneath the Sea and Spirits' Bean”, the final track. With Rocher’s clarinet joining with string resonations and guitar pops to create a slinky soundtrack-like exposition, the piece soon enough becomes a joyous, two-beat, near Dixieland romp, that as the theme gradually intensifies in pitch moves to a finale that’s both chromatic and climatic, including a hint of gurgling water.

A launch rather than a wreck, the CD confirms Mazurek’s bandleading and composition powers and the Third Coast Ensemble’s interpretative skills.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. This is the Atoll 2. Drinkable Gold With Shadows’ Liquor 3. The Blue Oblivion 4.The Saying Ship 5. Cobalt of Chance 6. Wild Gale 7. On the Trapeze of Minds Ferns 8. Under the Hearts Snow 9. The Game Circle 10. The Island Beneath the Sea and Spirits' Bean

Personnel: Rob Mazurek (cornet); Philippe Champion (trumpet); Steve Berry (trombone); Christophe Rocher (clarinet, bass clarinet); Nicole Mitchell (flutes); Nicolas Peoc’h (alto, soprano saxophones); Irvin Pierce (tenor saxophone); Christofer Bjurström (piano); Mazz Swift (violin); Jeff Parker (guitar); Tomeka Reid (cello); Frédéric B. Briet (bass); Nicolas Pointard, Avreeayl Ra (drums); Vincent Raude (electronics); Lou Malozzi (electronics, voice); Yannick Leblay (background voice); Alexandre Pierrepont (texts)