nu jazz, innovant and improvised musics
Libre(s) Ensemble Libre(s) Ensemble IMR 003
Musikverein Hellijewald Call Me Cake Gligg Records 003
Molding a seven-piece group to possess the flexibility of a small band while utilizing supplementary timbres available from a bigger ensemble is the aim of these discs. Each follows a different path to reach its goals which determines how much these sessions can be appreciated.
The mostly German Musikverein Hellijewald situates itself in the channel where Jazz improvising overlaps with Free Music on seven compositions by trombonist Christof Thewes, known for his work with pianist Ulrich Gumpert. Besides his flutter-tongued yet unobtrusive brass work, his sound vehicle here is divided among two reeds, three strings and a drummer. Libre Ensemble’s main man, drummer Bruno Tocanne leads his mostly French band through 10 tunes that ingests the percussive flavors of Rock music and ethnic percussion, while keeping Free Jazz and Swing as main courses. Tocanne, whose earlier discs have included a salute to Syd Barrett, as well as straight-ahead Jazz with Canadian bassist Michael Bates, is also as self-effacing as Thewes. While he may be Libre(s) Ensemble’s artistic director, he only co-wrote one of the CD’s 10 tracks. Four were composed by trumpeter Rémi Gaudillat; three by guitarist Philippe Gordiani; one by a non-band member and one is a group improv.
Similarly, although Gaudillat and Gordiani are long-time Tocanne associates, the CD only contains so many guitar and brass solos because each man has a doppelganger – trumpeter and flugelhornist Fred Roudet and guitarist Fred Meyer. To emphasize further liberation, the first two tracks on the CD swell the band to an octet, adding and featuring bass clarinetist Elodie Pasquier, who is in another Lyon-based trio with percussionist Arnaud Laprêt. This material also depends on flutter tonguing from the trumpets, thick guitar riffs and layered reed counterpoint with bass clarinet lines and snorting saxophone vibratos from Damien Sabatier. Especially notable is “Bruno Rubato”, composed by the drummer plus pianist Sophia Domancich. Here slanted guitar chords avoid Jazz textures to contrast with Tocanne’s Boppish paradiddles. Overall the piece is humorous and high spirited; Sabatier’s alto lines are suitably intense, while Pasquier’s moderato, woody textures are simultaneously chalumeau and fortissimo.
Another stand out for the septet formation is Gordiani’s “Dans la coupe de Tiresias”. With the guitarists producing a rasgueado ostinato and the percussionists’ rhythm that could come from batás and dumbeks, the horn-harmonized theme is further decorated with baroque touches from the trumpets. Standing out is a vamp that squirms beneath fleet-fingered guitar licks. In the meantime the session’s centrepiece is the four-part Suite for Libre Ensemble, with three of the four sections composed by Gaudillat and the remaining one – “Free for Ornette” – a group improv. Among the overlapping capillary cries, nasal split tones from the saxophonist and continuous rumbles, pops and ruffs from the percussionists is a simple folksy narrative. Sounding at times like “Red River Valley”, string interpretations run from slurred fingering to vibrated fuzztones.
Without a guitar, fuzztones and splayed licks are at a minimum on Call Me Cake, although the skills of German mandolinist Martini Schmidt and New York-based cellist Tomas Ulrich are such that inferences from many members of the string family make their way into the compositions. More common strategies are emphasized on pieces such as “Stranger In A Strange Land”, where gruff plunger trombone lines mix it up with underlying slurps from Hartmut Osswald’s baritone saxophone until the cello adds a more lyrical construct to the previous broken-octave interface. Later mandolin strums and a walking line from bassist Jan Oestreich plus distinctive press rolls from drummer Dirk-Peter Kölsch provide enough momentum to allow Schmidt to express himself with clunking, clawhammer strokes, mated with similar descending slurs from Thewes and intercut with staccato tongue stops from Osswald.
Individualistic expression doesn’t end there however. With Berlin-based bass clarinettist Rudi Mahall in the front line, Thewes and the band have a reed chameleon who can invest his every appearance with the same fervor, whether he’s turning out polyphonic swoops that bring Eric Dolphy to mind on the first track, or seemingly channeling the dancing trills that one would expect from a Barney Bigard when melodic fare such as “Eine Problematische, Weil Eingebildete Taube Auf Dem Dach” or “Medium Me Up, Bebobby” arrive. The former with its walloping melody that seems to want to be “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” is advanced with contralto tonguing from Mahall, with Thewes’ contrapuntally sputtering in the trombone’s highest range, and is wrapped with a folksy fiddle-like run from the cellist. The latter features the front-line stuttering the choruses as if it was part of an updated Dixieland jam session. Schmidt’s strong plectrum rhythms could relate to Freddy Guy’s banjo-playing with Duke Ellington’s Jungle Band, while Thewes’ tailgate slurring and capillary guffaws exposes his inner Kid Ory. Bouncing along and recapping simple sequences over and over again. Mahall brings sophisticated sweeping clarinet trills to the arrangement.
Using all the colors available from an expanded – but not bloated – line-up, plus fusing slices of other musics onto a Jazz-Improv base, both these Continental ensembles create noteworthy discs.