Andy Emler MegaOctet
Andy Emler piano
Laurent Blondiau trumpet, flugelhorn
Laurent Dehors tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinets
Thomas de Pourquery alto saxophone and vocal
Philippe Sellam alto saxophone
François Thuillier tuba
Claude Tchamitchian bass
Eric Echampard drums
François Verly marimbas, tabla, percussion
Elise Caron voice
Recorded and mixed November 2011 and January 2012 at Studios La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Steinway piano prepared and tuned by Alain Massonneau
Release date: May 2, 2012
Andy Emler presents an ambitious recording with his aptly named MegaOctet. E total is more than an aesthetic choice; it’s a mission statement for the wandering pianist and composer, whose every step activates a melody to be lived under its own name.
The set list is divided in two. Part A takes a mosaic approach to its crafting of themes and variations. And despite the massive breadth of experience and ability represented by the full ensemble, there’s an astonishing tendency toward ambient quietude at key intervals. The opening “Good games,” for instance, begins with a ghostly piano and voice before the musicians throw everything they have into the mix across a chain of associations. Tuba virtuoso François Thuillier has a star solo, one that unleashes a vortex of overtones. The title track opens in kindred intimacy, this time with bassist Claude Tchamitchian’s arco cries, later joined by the tabla of percussionist François Verly, Eric Echampard’s drums, and a wonderfully geometric horn section. Emler, for his part, directs the flow of energies from his keyboard around a solo from tenor saxophonist Laurent Dehors. Among the other pre-intermission notables is “Father Tom,” another rhapsody from stillness that showcases Dehors’s discursive skills, now drawing a thread of clarinet through eclectic modes and ever-higher climbs. “Shit happens” is another dose of bright-eyed humor with muscular reed work and guttural vocals, ending in a drum free-for-all.
Part B consists of only two tracks, but offers the most substantial moments of the album. “Superfrigo” is its deepest groove, made clear and present by Thuillier’s uplift over Emler’s fantastic traction, and “Mirrors” (dedicated to Joe Zawinul) spins a web of breath and beat under the banner of vocalist Elise Caron. Subtle percussion and exquisite detailing make this a ride to remember.
If forced to compare (and for those that care), I might describe this as Carla Bley Big Band meets Tim Berne. Such is its combination of whimsy and angular virtuosity, its balance of left and right, and its ability to answer its own questions.