Louis Sclavis Quartet: Silk And Salt Melodies (ECM 2402)

Silk And Salt Melodies

Louis Sclavis Quartet
Silk And Salt Melodies

Louis Sclavis clarinet
Gilles Coronado guitar
Benjamin Moussay piano, keyboard
Keyvan Chemirani percussion
Recorded March 2014, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Romain Castera
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Silk And Salt Melodies draws on the well of Louis Sclavis’s Sources. The latter trio album showed the French multi-reedist and composer channeling the spirit of invention with guitarist Gilles Coronado and keyboardist Benjamin Moussay. To that band he now welcomes Iranian-French percussionist and goblet drum master Keyvan Chemirani in a characteristically recalibrated project of musical nomadism. Sclavis’s writing, of which this album is entirely composed, is obviously enlivened by the reinvention.

Louis Sclavis Quartet
(Photo credit: Olivier Degen)

The year 2014, when this album was released, was something of a golden one for the electric guitar on ECM, which found ambassadorship in the artistries of Wolfgang Muthspiel, Jacob Young, and Per Steinar Lie of Lumen Drones. Coronado is no exception, and adds his gold-leaf appliqué with more aplomb than ever. Like each of this band’s musicians, he cares less for soloing than solitude and accordingly explores the methods by which one can travel alone while still being in the company of others. The modal harmonies Coronado shares with Sclavis’s bass clarinet in “L’homme sud,” for example, would seem to indicate a total fusion of interests but, like a deck of cards fanned in anticipation of a spectator’s selection, his guitar waits for just the right moment to be plucked. Then there is his knife-edged interjection into “L’autre rive,” by which he pares a pianistic reverie down to a bite-sized blues. And one must also remark on Coronado’s geometric approach to “Cortège,” in which he takes his playing to a third dimension along a percussive z-axis.

And speaking of percussive axes, Chemirani draws them wherever he happens to be. His opening duet with Coronado in “Dance For Horses” shows a natural virtuoso at work and establishes the pulse by which piano and bass clarinet must reach their apex at the precise moment of abandonment. Chemirani connects his biggest constellations in “Dust And Dogs,” making it the album’s highlight for its ripple effect. From the groovy electric piano, twanging guitar, and beautiful reed work, one can sense a new door opening by the end of its 10 venerable minutes.

Sclavis, for his part, gives back that same inspiration with interest in “Sel et soie.” In his hands, the bass clarinet becomes an emotional portal, and it is all we can do not to get sucked in. Moussay is a suitable partner for that darker reed, as in the duo track “Des feux lointains,” which like a Jenga tower at the hands of skillful players maintains its structural integrity no matter how many pieces are removed. This same combination opens the album’s introductory “Le parfum de l’éxil” before giving way to the full quartet in all of its distorted integrity. From the beginning we jump to “Prato plage,” which caps off the album with a brief, minute-long field recording of amphibious night that suddenly leaves us suspended, grasping for the melodies that brought us here.

Louis Sclavis is like a sun that whips planetary bodies into harmonious dances of orbits. Or, better yet, a moon that draws melodies from the waves at any hour. Over the years he has narrowed his focus, unpacking the multifaceted implications of liner melodies rather than the linear implications of multifaceted arrangements. Leaning toward the former with experience and age has made his music at once edgier and more accessible. Because the improvising among these musicians is so well matured, the material along this Silk Road feels arranged right out of the box and awaits the manipulation of our listening to make it so.

(To hear samples of Silk And Salt Melodies, click here.)

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