Agustì Fernández/Barry Guy/Ramón López

February 3, 2007

Maya MCD 0601

Cristal Records CRCD 06 21

Two exceptional European trio sessions illustrate the variety of emotions that can be expressed within the limitations of the conventional configuration of piano, bass and drums. At the same time, while Aurora and DAG both appear to be standard sessions in the Bill Evans-Keith Jarrett mold, careful monitoring of the all original compositions reveal more profound extrapolations underneath.

To be honest, the surface conventionality of Aurora is more of a surprise, since Catalan pianist Augustì Fernández is one of the few Spanish players to make common cause with advanced improvisers such as British saxophonist Evan Parker and American bassist William Parker. Another affiliation of the pianist is with bands featuring or led by British bassist Barry Guy. Guy, whose inimitable improvisation and compositional skills have been on display since almost the dawn of BritImprov, doesn’t usually work in these sorts of traditional trio circumstances either. On this CD, however, he comfortably plays Gary Peacock to Fernández’s Evans or Jarrett. Third side of the triangle is Paris-based, Spanish drummer Ramón López, whose playing partners have ranged from energetic Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman to American Free Bop pianist Mal Waldron.

López is also the point of congruence between the two discs, since a recent CD featured him in trio with one-third of DAG: impressive Paris-based pianist Sophia Domancich. Domancich, who was also in l’Orchestre National de Jazz with López, has led many sessions herself and developed a close relationship with improvisers from the United Kingdom such as saxophonist Elton Dean and bassist Paul Rogers. She has also worked with drummer Simon Goubert – the “G” in DAG – in different bands for years. Some of these formations include the DAG trio’s bassist Jean Jacques Avenel, best-known for his long tenure with saxophonist Steve Lacy, one of whose tunes is the only non group line on DAG.

To deal with Aurora first, this nine-track nocturne only rarely departs from expected instrumental outlets and techniques. However, this does happen on the two versions of the title tune, where the pianist’s clusters of impressionistic grace notes conspicuously contrast with the drummer’s ruffling, ratcheting and scraping gamelan-like percussion strokes.

Additionally, a sort of atonal schizophrenia is evident on “Umaneta”. Built on a display of Guy’s tremolo multiphonics and use of sul ponticello lines in the cello range, it also encompasses Fernández’s track-long evolution from using open pedal pressure and stopped strings at the beginning to limning a romantic melody with echoes of “Autumn Leaves” by the finale.

Elsewhere on the disc, the pianist moves from broken chords and low-frequency note clusters to merely brushing the keys. Often he’s accompanied by bongo-like percussive patterning from López and floating bass lines from Guy.

Climatically, the CD reaches its zenith on the bassist’s composition “Odyssey”, also recorded by a Guy orchestra featuring Fernández. Reduced to trio form and taken adagio, the hints of grisaille turn multihued as each trio part is illustrated. Guy vibrates his strings and concentrates on pizzicato movements, López pats and pops his drum tops and the pianist’s variations include a processional theme with sympathetic ceremonial overtones.

Aurora’s three-prong architectural make up is similar to DAG’s interaction, since the members of the French threesome are also perfectly matched in their interlocked creation.

Conversant with many piano styles, Domancich’s most frequent references, as expressed in her work on Goubert’s lively “Pourquoi pas?”, is Thelonious Monk. Cross handed and widely spaced cadences flash by along with echoing doubled notes as she produces hyper-kinetic variations on both the keys and internal strings. Goubert rumbles and pops his snares, accents her glissandi with bass drum whacks and makes his cymbals hiss. Meanwhile, Avenel’s steadfast walking fragments enough at points to subtly echo the pianist’s low-frequency patterning. Resolution on this tune appears after her pan-tonal key sprinkles have gradually slowed to near stasis. Then suddenly and conclusively, she recaps the head.

Besides highly rhythmic pieces, the pianist is just as impressive on ballads, such as Avenel’s “Canoë” and her own “Rêve de Singe”. The former is almost weightless without being fluffy, a subtle swinger that shows off her proverbial iron fist within the velvet glove. It features a melody that evokes South American rhythms from Goubert and an undertow of tremolo bass notes from the composer. This accelerates to a call-and-response section involving the bassist and the pianist. Avenel then adds a sprinkling of higher-pitched, almost guitar-like plucked bass notes at the conclusion.

“Reve…” or “the monkey’s dream” is sweetly pastoral, yet lucid at the same time. Constructed from the crystalline murmur of the drummer’s cymbals, and featuring perfect note formation from the bassist, it evolves to double counterpoint with Avenel’s lines complementing Domancich’s fantasia which vibrates most subsets of the keys.Finally there’s Lacy’s “As Usual”, which is anything but. Unrolling at an unhurried pace, the pianist proffers quick, high-frequency jabs and concussive rhythms with one hand, as the other thumps elevated key tones, creating an echoing layered melody.

In spite of her masterful display on this track, there’s no doubt DAG is a cooperative effort rather than a disc by a Domancich trio. This ego subordination for the greater musical good is what makes both DAG and Aurora so memorable – as well as being near-mainstream anomalies in six advanced musicians’ extensive discographies.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: DAG: 1. Pour Vous 2. Pourquoi pas ? 3. Éclaircie 4. 4. As Usual 5. Rêve de Singe 6. Somewhere We Were 7. Soliloques 8. Surface de Réparation 9. Canoë

Personnel: DAG: Sophia Domancich (piano); Jean Jacques Avenel (bass) and Simon Goubert (drums)

Track Listing: Aurora: 1. Can Ram 2. David M. 3. Aurora 1 4. Don Miquel 5. Rosalia 6. Please, let me sleep 7. Odyssey 8. Aurora 2 9. Umaneta

Personnel: Aurora: Agustì Fernández (piano); Barry Guy (bass) and Ramón López (drums and percussion)