Louis Sclavis Quintet
L’affrontement des prétendants
Louis Sclavis clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Jean-Luc Cappozzo trumpet
Vincent Courtois cello
Bruno Chevillon double-bass
François Merville drums
Recorded September 1999, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Assistant engineer: Sylvain Thevenard
Produced by Louis Sclavis
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Multi-reedist Louis Sclavis unveils a new quintet with L’affrontement des prétendants, retaining only bassist Bruno Chevillon from his previous ECM sessions. Along for the ride are newcomers Jean-Luc Cappozzo on trumpet, Vincent Courtois on cello, and François Merville on drums. With them, he forges a distinctive jazz that never fails to titillate with its artful blend of composed and free elements. Like the wonderful Acoustic Quartet disc before it, this date immerses the listener in a refreshing, driven sound.
Despite the album’s title (one might translate it as “The clash of contenders”), the dynamics within the band are anything but contentious. Sclavis’s staid formula of spiraling, precisely notated bookends only serves to foil the brilliant unraveling occurring between them. Take the 17-minute “Hommage à Lounès Matoub,” for example. The masterpiece of the set, it honors its eponymous protest singer through an epic development of mourning into celebration. Bass shadows the solo cello that begins the piece before trumpet threads an alluring stretch of politics. Merville takes an indulgent look at the landscape before paving the way for Sclavis’s soprano. Like Dalí’s famous moustache, which the artist is said to have reserved for only the minutest detail, that pliant reed renders individual leaves, glints of sunlight, and footprints in the sand. Also indicative of the band’s unity is the opening title track, in which Cappozzo is the glue that binds. From growling catharsis to klezmer touches, its idiomatic merry-go-round hinges an exemplary doorway.
Despite the sometimes-dire associations, Sclavis surrounds himself with an eminently joyful milieu. The listener may feel this especially in brightness of “Possibles” and “Contre contre.” The latter’s groove-laden vista is a particularly fluid feature for Sclavis, who over a light percussive backdrop sparks a noteworthy exchange between cello and bass. Even more memorable is that between Sclavis and Courtois in “Distances,” as outgoing as it is crumpled to a pliant core. Yet another duet, this of clarinet and bass, develops full-bodied dances from merest whispers in “Le temps d’après.” Chevillon goes rogue in “Hors les murs,” a packed solo that stomps and pirouettes in turns, and links chains of forward-thinking energy into the stratosphere. Sclavis offers his own monologue via soprano, introducing the swinging “Maputo,” for which he switches to bass clarinet, running along a distinctly swinging backbone with fortitude and oddly graceful sibilance. Last is “La mémoire des mains,” a freely improvised spate he shares with Merville and Courtois: three birds in a cage chattering themselves to sleep.