Louis Sclavis: Lost on the Way (ECM 2098)

Lost on the Way

Louis Sclavis
Lost on the Way

Louis Sclavis clarinets, soprano saxophone
Matthias Metzger soprano and alto saxophones
Maxime Delpierre guitar
Olivier Lété bass
François Merville drums
Recorded September 2008 , Théâtre de Saint Quentin-en-Yvelines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Assistant: Mireille Faure
Mixed at Studio La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines by Gérard de Haro and Louis Sclavis
Assistant: Nicolas Baillard
Recording producer: Louis Sclavis
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

“Beauty of music you must hear twice.”
–James Joyce, Ulysses

Lost on the Way brings together another fine ensemble from French reedman and improviser extraordinaire Louis Sclavis. Always game for a reshuffling, he surrounds himself this time with saxophonist Matthias Metzger, guitarist Maxime Delpierre, bassist Olivier Lété, and drummer François Merville. Sclavis fans will recognize Delpierre and Merville from L’imparfait des langues, and shouldn’t be surprised that the iconoclastic bandleader now turns his attention to Homer as a conceptual baseline. Each of Sclavis’s cohorts is well versed in both classical and jazz idioms, and all share a fervent interest in the possibilities of free improvisation.

It is Merville who sets the bar of the album in “De Charybde en Scylla” with his forthright drumming, by means of which he lights a fuse. Sclavis on bass clarinet is a revelation: gorgeous, engaging, and perfectly chaotic he is amid webs of electric guitar. Sclavis wanders intact into a duet with bass in “La première île” before getting caught up in the title track, which like the first balances intensities with a magician’s eye for detail. The furious altoism from Metzger spits further fury, nonetheless inviting.

Lost on the Way is one of Sclavis’s most meticulous outings, spanning the gamut from straight-laced soundings (“Bain d’or”) to joyful noise (“Le sommeil des sirens” and “Des bruits à tisser”). Because of this constant push and pull, moments of regularity from Merville stand out for their sweetness. Overall, rhythmic structures are pliant, ebbing and flowing through gut-wrenching solos (take, for instance, Sclavis’s in “L’Heure des songes”) and cinematic turns (“Aboard Ulysses’s Boat,” with its whimsical surf guitar touches). Like bodies softening from hard slumber, each track stands at the edge of sleeping and waking and tries to hold on to both realities. Such tensions abound in the rhythm section, which combines ritual beats with fluid bassing in “Les Doutes du cyclope” for a focused vision indeed. After many comings and goings, we lose ourselves at sea on a vessel named “L’Absence.” This droning piece shakes off the need for skin and drifts instead toward the next horizon.

Exciting about this album is the obvious evolution in Sclavis’s compositional language, which grows more intuitive with time. Like a dance, it takes over the body before the mind is aware and leaves us as spellbound as a brush with the Sirens.

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