Louis Sclavis/Dominique Pifarély: Acoustic Quartet (ECM 1526)

Louis Sclavis
Dominique Pifarély
Acoustic Quartet

Louis Sclavis clarinet, bass clarinet
Dominique Pifarély violin
Marc Ducret 6- and 12-string guitars
Bruno Chevillon double-bass
Recorded September 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After debuting with his quintet on Rouge, reedist Louis Sclavis returned to ECM with French jazz violin phenom Dominique Pifarély to front this trend-setting session. Joined by guitarist Marc Ducret and bassist Bruno Chevillon, the so-called Acoustic Quartet snaps right into action with “Sensible,” the first of four pieces by Sclavis. It is, like every track that follows, an astute blend of composed and improvisatory elements that pairs instruments cleverly and with panache. Pifarély and Chevillon work particularly well together here, and Ducret’s jangly asides make a nice match for Sclavis’s clarinet. Ducret provides notable glue in “Elke,” in which bass harmonics cut through the darkness like a whale song, and elicits some oud-like tones in the playful “Rhinoceros.”

Pifarély delights with a handful of his own compositions. Of these, the guitar-propelled romp of “Abrupto” speaks loudest. The violinist strings a Christmas tree’s worth of ornaments across its conical surface, practically toppling it into the cutting lead of “Hop!” where he lays out the album’s most astonishing solo against a crunchy bass. Not to be outdone, Sclavis dots his every i and lends brilliant inflection to a substantial monologue in “Seconde.” The group also shines in its cinematic rendition of Alain Gibert’s “Bafouée.” Its nods range from Django Reinhardt to klezmer, each stretched and refracted behind a veil of sparkling melancholy.

Pifarély boggles the mind with his rhythm and slide in a group overflowing with virtuosity. Yet it is Sclavis who seems most comfortable in his skin, weaving in and out of narrow spaces with the grace of an eel. The composed material, while on the surface pedantic, provides a frame to see the fullness of every picture. The resulting Sturm und Drang atmosphere when the musicians discard prewritten material in favor of all-out storytelling makes for some intriguing music-making. All in all, a real gem.

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