Pascale Berthelot: Saison Sècrete (RJAL 397037)

Pascale Berthelot
Saison Secrète

Pascale Berthelot piano
Recorded November 29, 2018
Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at La Buissonne Mastering Studio
Steinway grand piano prepared and tuned by Alain Massonneau
Release date: October 26, 2020

Pianist Pascale Berthelot, a remarkable interpreter of (and favorite among) living composers, becomes one herself—in a sense—throughout this program of five extended improvisations. Liberated at the behest of Gérard de Haro, engineer and head of Studios La Buissonne in France, these unabashedly visual evocations of in-the-moment imaginings constitute one of the most multidimensional piano recordings I’ve heard in years. While its impressionism lays its head as much on the shoulder of Poulenc as Jarrett, it shapes itself one body part at a time without the ultimate need for such comparative garments. Regardless of the lines of reckoning we might connect from Earth to its distant galaxy, it validates the listener’s imagination, and in that spirit I offer mine in return.

“Balance des étoiles” opens the curtains as if in expectation of morning but instead finds the moon masquerading as the sun, rising in mimicry of dawn. The toes become restless for the feel of soil between them, the heart for a lamp to light the way. What began as a reverie ends as a descent into ocean, where prose and poetry comingle until the difference is impossible to make out. In “Ciel s’illune,” the sky and earth are flipped, so that another distinction—that between inhalation and exhalation—is rendered mythological. When we at last get to the center of this genetic spiral, “Nuits, chères” abandons the lie of tranquility for the truth of its unsettling, thus evoking the bliss and deeper love that a relationship conflict can yield. Even in “Chambre sans langage,” in which the intonations of dampened piano strings resound like a knock at the door, spiritual tendencies move beyond prayer into communion. And so, when the dream of “Clair éclat de l’M” lights a ponderous candle with its tongue, it adds one last link to the chain we’ve been extending all along, dragging behind us a memory box whose contents we have already forgotten.

And yet, we mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking that the world Berthelot describes existed before these utterances. Rather, we experience it as she does, unfolding in real time at the touch of flesh and key until something inevitable arises. Thus, the recording itself is a song made up by a child lost in the woods, holding on to lullabies as the only answers to her questions of fear and emerging all the stronger for it.

La Buissonne Label – Hors-Série (RJAL HS002)


Though La Buissonne may be familiar to ECM listeners as a relatively recent hub of recording excellence, the French studio has also been putting out releases under its own name since 1994. Originally distributed by Harmonia Mundi, since 2019 they have been handled by ECM itself. This double compilation album, a promotional freebie earned by buying more than two CDs from La Buissonne’s official Bandcamp store, gives us a broad cross-section of their commitment to variety, atmospheric integrity, and personal expression.

At the heart of it all is the piano. That most perennial of modern instruments is represented in a slew of distinct yet integrated solo recordings by Andy Emler, Stéphan Oliva, Jean-Sébastien Simonoviez, and Bruno Ruder. Each is an evocative postcard mailed from soul to soul. The most indelible are those by Oliva, whose “La traverse” reflects the passage of time without compromise, and Emler, whose “There is only one piano left in this world” opens the collection in multitracked brilliance, banging and plucking its way through an array of modes. Emler is, in fact, a defining voice of the label and finds himself well-represented here. Highlights of his oeuvre include two selections from the so-called MegaOctet project (including the tuba- and tabla-rich “Doctor Solo”) and his magical ETE Trio with bassist Claude Tchamitchian and drummer Eric Echampard. An excerpt from the latter’s “Elegances” follows every emotion to its logical end. A trio of a slightly different feather, led by Oliva with the same bassist and Jean-Pierre Jullian on drums, yields one of my favorite tracks from La Buissonne’s entire output: the title cut off 2009’s Stéréoscope. Another I would encourage you not to gloss over is that of Jean-Marc Foltz (clarinet, bass clarinet, percussion), Oliva (piano, percussion) and Bruno Chevillon (bass, percussion). Their 2007 album Soffio di Scelsi is an understated tour through rain-kissed foliage and haunting dreams. Neither can we ignore the Trio Zéphyr: three string players whose voices walk like compasses across maps of their own making. Of the two pieces represented, “Sauve tes ailes” evokes distant travel with minimal brushstrokes and titles one of La Buissonne’s finest hours.

Solo artists beyond the keyboard bring equally delectable flavor profiles to the proverbial table. Among them are those of guitarist Carlos Maza (his “Altas y bajas” is a mechanical wonder), late bassist Jean-François Jenny-Clark, and cellist Vincent Courtois, whose “Skins” and “So much water so close to home” are poems written on the backs of slow-moving mountains. Courtois, like Emler, is a touchstone presence in this ever-expanding catalog and has made deepest impressions in his trio with tenor saxophonists Robin Fincker and Daniel Erdmann. Their “Rita and the Mediums” is a segue into wider territories.

Upgrading to quartets brings us to the nocturnal cinematography of Jeremy Lirola’s “Art the last belief” (featuring the remarkable subtlety of drummer Nicolas Larmignat), the “Junction point” of Jean-Christophe Cholet (a sonic train that turns 90-degree corners with ease), the skronk-leaning vibe of Gilles Coronado’s “Wasted & Whirling,” Bruno Angelini’s rendition of the Paul Motian classic “Folk song for Rosie,” and the phenomenal techno-sphere of Caravaggio’s “Dennis Hopper Platz” (its tangle of streets crumbling beneath the weight of progress). Other moments to watch out for are “Breath,” which represents the collaboration between pianist Jean-Marie Machado and saxophonist Dave Liebman (a failproof combination, to be sure); “Leonor Theme,” which places Simonoviez alongside bassist Riccardo Del Fra; and “Three coins in the fountain,” a Kurt Weil-ish song performed by Bill Carrothers at the piano. An unreleased outtake of “Que sera sera” from that same session further illuminates his gift for harmony.

In addition to the broad variety of music, this collection is a tribute to La Buissonne’s unique sonic fingerprints, which forensically matches those of engineer Gérard de Haro. His vision is their vision, and our fortune by extension to be privy to its growth over the past quarter of a century.

Andy Emler/François Thuillier: Tubafest (RJAL HS001)


Andy Emler
François Thuillier

Andy Emler compositions
The “Cactus” Quartet
Théo Ceccaldi
Anne le Pape violin
Séverine Morfin viola
Valentin Ceccaldi violoncello
Duo Fact
Anthony Caillet
François Thuillier tuba
Evolutiv Brass
Anthony Caillet
Gilles Mercier trumpet
Nicolas Vallade trombone
François Thuillier tuba
Recorded live at Le Triton, Les Lilas on October 24/25, 2014 by Gérard de Haro et Jacques Vivante
Mixed and mastered at Studios La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard at Studios La Buissonne
Produced by Andy Emler and François Thuillier
Release date: March 1, 2015

Unlike strings, which tend to feel darker and more brooding the deeper they become, there’s something lively and invigorating about brass at its lowest registers. This is certainly true of tuba virtuoso François Thuillier, whose prodigious talents have graced some of La Buissonne’s finest recordings under its own label. After playing the role of bassist in Amly Emler’s outfits for years, Emler decided to put together some new pieces and performances in late October of 2014 as a way of throwing the spotlight on Thuillier and his métier. Thus, “Tubafest” was born, of which three of the five compositions on the program are presented for our enjoyment.

“Tubastone 12023” is the result of an offhanded remark by Thuillier, who once expressed a desire to play with a string quartet. Emler happily obliged by producing this piece for that very combination of instruments. After the strings prime a verdant canvas, the tuba plants its feet firmly to unravel a patient song. With whistles of appreciation (and even a “Yeah, baby” for encouragement), the quintet handles exuberant changes of scenery without skipping a beat. Over the course nearly 22 minutes, they tell the story of something at once urban and rural, an emotional transference of proportions that speak not only to the heart but also the mind.

Emler’s frameworks always leave plenty of room for improvisation, but especially in “Art et Fact 1.” This duet between Thuillier on tuba and Anthony Caillet on euphonium grooves with the energy of a band four times their number, and finds both playing their hearts out throughout this joyful segue into “Un Printemps dans l’assiette.” Here Thuillier and Caillet are joined by trumpeter Gilles Mercier and trombonist Nicolas Vallade. The mood is altogether whimsical yet rigorous, showcasing the musicians’ freedom of expression and the rock-solid foundations of their craft, as well as the fullness of Thuillier’s narrative power. It ends with kisses, as if bidding us farewell.

Each world Emler creates can be counted on for being vivaciously resolute, but in this case he has written for a soloist who understands that inner drive in a most focused way. A dose of joy when we need it most.

Vincent Courtois: Love of Life (RJAL 397034)


Vincent Courtois
Love of Life

Vincent Courtois cello
Robin Fincker clarinet, tenor saxophone
Daniel Erdmann tenor saxophone
Recorded June 26/27, 2019 in Oakland, 25th Street Recording Studio by Gérard de Haro, assisted by Gabriel Shepard
Mixed by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at La Buissonne Mastering Studios
Produced by La Compagnie de l’imprévu and Gérard de Haro & RJAL for La Buissonne
Release date: January 31, 2020

The appropriately titled Love of Life is cellist-composer Vincent Courtois’s wordless tribute to writer Jack London. London is a fairly recent discovery for Courtois, who cites the semiautobiographical Martin Eden as a constant companion while on tour with reed players Robin Fincker and Daniel Erdmann. The trio began their travels on the East Coast and ended them in California, where they met with London’s great-granddaughter, improvised under the towering trees near his gravesite (as pictured on the album’s cover), and recorded this session on the author’s Oakland, California homestead. The result is music that brims with agency and verve and explores London’s empathy for the underrepresented, the spat upon, and the voiceless.

Each track title pays respect to a short story or novel from London’s oeuvre. His empathy for divided selves is reflected in two diptychs: one for Martin Eden and the other for “To Build a Fire.” Ranging from the former’s jaunty charisma (indicative of a fumbling naivety) to the latter’s crackling flames, Courtois leverages an emotionally naked tone in the contexts at hand. Before these deeply psychological forays, the title track sets the pace with its gentle procession of horns, as if to remind us that everything will be okay in spite of the struggles faced by all. This in contrast the fact that hope seems so far away in the period song “Am I Blue” (Grant Clarke/Harry Akst), which captures the angst of being a working-class subject in a bourgeois world. That same disgruntlement carries over into “The Dream of Debs” and “South of the Slot,” wherein wars are waged internally.

“The Road” is a marvelous highlight. Here the tenors provide a harmonious framework, almost like another cello playing double stops, while Courtois cries out with guttural fortitude by means of his own. Fincker and Erdmann throw their own shining coins into the compositional fountain with “The Sea-Wolf” and “Goliah,” respectively. Where one is stormy and dire, the other is delightfully sardonic. Courtois caps off with a solo “Epilogue” to restore credence to remembrance as the only viable coping mechanism in a world hijacked by self-interested materialists.

Jean-Marie Machado/Orchestre Danzas: Pictures for Orchestra (RJAL 397033)


Jean-Marie Machado
Orchestre Danzas
Pictures for Orchestra

Jean-Marie Machado piano
Didier Ithursarry accordion
François Thuillier tuba
Stéphane Guillaume flutes
Jean-Charles Richard saxophones
Cecile Grenier viola
Severine Morfin viola
Guillaume Martigne cello
Elodie Pasquier clarinets
Artistic direction by Jean-Marie Machado and Gérard de Haro
Recording, mixing, mastering, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines, France
Recorded October 2-5 and mixed November 12/13, 2018 by Gérard de Haro
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at La Buissonne Mastering Studios
Piano preparation and tuning by Alain Massonneau
Release date: March 8, 2019

After making his La Buissonne label debut with saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianist and composer Jean-Marie Machado returns with his most personal project to date. Though leading a nine-member ensemble of two violas, cello, winds, accordion, and tuba, he leaves off the roster an important tenth member: improvisation itself.

The set is held intimately aloft by three piano solos, each sweeping and painterly in its own way. The opening “Minhas três almas” is the most nostalgic among them. Like a child taking its first steps, it sparkles with unadulterated delight even as it foreshadows the hardships life is sure to put in one’s path. While some of what comes after is in an exuberant mode—including the Egberto Gismonti-esque greenery of “A água do céu,” the tuba-centric dance of “Trompeta Grande,” and the invigorating encore, “Oriental jig”—the heartbeat of this musical body runs on the electrical impulses of something far more introverted. The space within, it turns out, is grander than any without, for only the mind and soul are equipped to imagine infinity.

Dust and ashes float in the air of “Nebbia,” throughout which a viola sings in its highest registers as a mercy of chronological salvation. Kindred voices extend their loving arms across other terrains. Like the cello drawing moonlight between the quivering branches of “As ondas da vida” or the soprano saxophone grazing cloud in “Circles around,” every gesture has an echo, and every echo is the start of another.

The cumulative effect is an emotionally resilient biography of a life known by no other name than our collective own. Even (if not especially) when Machado arranges the work of Astor Piazzolla (“Vuelvo al sur”) and Robert Schumann (“FW.1855”), we hear our own experiences reflected in every dialogue. All of which accounts for another gem in the La Buissonne catalog.

Andy Emler MegaOctet: A moment for… (RJAL 397032)


Andy Emler MegaOctet
A moment for…

Andy Emler piano, conductor
Claude Tchamitchian double bass
Eric Echampard drums
François Thuillier tuba
François Verly marimba, percussion
Laurent Dehors tenor saxophone
Guillaume Orti alto saxophone
Philippe Sellam alto saxophone
Laurent Blondiau trumpet
Recording, mixing and mastering, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-fontaines, France
Recorded December 21/22, 2017 and mixed February 28 & March 1, 2018 by Gérard de Haro, assisted by Anaëlle Marsollier
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at La Buissonne Mastering Studio
Steinway grand piano tuned and prepared by Alain Massonneau
Drums technician: David Grail
Produced by Gérard de Haro and RJAL for La Buissonne and La Compagnie aime l ‘air
Release date: October 5, 2018

Andy Emler returns to both the pianist and composer’s chair with his MegaOctet for a session of fresh, awesome material. Those who’ve followed Emler and his aptly named ensemble’s journey thus far will know that expectations are only made to be surpassed. A moment for… delivers, and then some.

One look at the set list and you’ll notice grammatical particles orphaned after many of the titles. While some, like “5 Series… of,” may seem like incomplete thoughts, there’s nothing incomplete in the album’s balance of airy grammar and deep punctuation. “Move out… if” serves up a smorgasbord of what Emler and friends are capable of at their collective best: rhythmically and melodically satisfying music that grabs us by the hands and swings until left and right become indistinguishable. Percussionist François Verly steps lithely across the marimba like feet over hot coals and sets up the seedier atmosphere of “Dirty Mood… so.” This tune meshes well with Emler’s ability to craft forward-moving vehicles and includes a choice solo by the one and only François Thuillier. The tuba master engages in hi-res expositions in “Move in… or”’ and “Flight Back… and,” the latter noteworthy for its punch of theatrical voices.

The rhythm section of bassist Claude Tchamitchian and drummer Eric Echampard shores up the tide of “Stand-Up and… blow,” the watery feel of which spurs along the vessel of Laurent Dehors’s soulful tenor saxophone. That tides reaches neap status in the title track, where patience and honesty rule the day. This leaves us to devices of “By the Way,” a caravan ride across a desert of horns who build (as they always do) to peak performance.

A moment for… is both music of and about the moment. It’s also significant for showing the MegaOctet at its most synergistic. Working as one body, Emler and his crew do nothing without consideration of the family. This is their mission statement.

Bruno Angelini: Open Land (RJAL 397031)


Bruno Angelini
Open Land

Bruno Angelini piano
Régis Huby violin, tenor violin, electronics
Claude Tchamitchian double bass
Edward Perraud drums, percussion
Recording, mixing and mastering, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-fontaines, France
Recorded June 19-21 and mixed October 5/6, 2017 by Gérard de Haro, assisted by Annaëlle Marsollier
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Steinway grand piano tuned and prepared by Alain Massonneau
Produced by Gérard de Haro and RJAL for La Buissonne Label, and by Solange Association
Release date: March 23, 2018

Continuing where they left off on Instant Sharings, pianist Bruno Angelini, violinist Régis Huby, bassist Claude Tchamitchian, and drummer-percussionist Edward Perraud examine even deeper territory of quiet lyrical intensity. Angelini is the sole composer here, his trifecta of melody, tempo, and dynamics sensitively attuned to every face of this translucent gem.

The album begins and ends with two dedications. The first, “Tree song,” was written in honor of late pianist John Taylor, with whom Angelini shares an affinity for the unpretentious power of lyricism. Trailing half-tone harmonies across the night, it rakes its formless hand across an ether it cannot touch in hopes it will nevertheless be heard. The bassing reminds us that we are still here on solid ground, and that music can still be our bridge into light. The second homage is the three-part “You left and you stay” for Max Suffrin. This cinematic suite unearths its ore in an unrefined state to show us the beauty of that which has been untouched by hands of commerce.

“Perfumes of quietness” is an apt descriptor not only of this tender tune, but also of the quartet’s M.O. (as is “Both sides of a dream” of an innate ability to tell a story with light and dark faces). Angelini’s pianism is airy yet holds on to roots, even as a current of brushed drums threatens to wash it away. The variegated journey for violin that is “Jardin perdu” traverses the same territory over and over yet notices stark differences every time, leaving us unsure of whether it is the landscape or the traveler who changes. Such ambiguity is part of the band’s ability to suspend us over a chasm of uncertainty without fear of falling in. From the continental drift of “Indian imaginary song” to the oceanic motions of “Inner blue,” ambient suspensions serve as inhalations to wordless exhalations. They, like the album as a whole, are indicative of a masterful progression toward humility, a fluid orthography written on paper of the soul.

Courtois/Erdmann/Fincker: Bandes originales (RJAL 397030)


Bandes originales

Vincent Courtois cello
Robin Fincker tenor saxophone, clarinet
Daniel Erdmann tenor saxophone
Recorded live on October 17/18, 2016 at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-fontaines and mixed on November 21/22 by Gérard de Haro, assisted by Anaëlle Marsollier
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at La Buissonne Mastering Studio
Produced by Gérard de Haro & RJAL for La Buissonne and 22D Music
Release date: October 6, 2017

On Bandes originales, cellist Vincent Courtois, in his imaginative band with reedmen Robin Fincker and Daniel Erdmann, reimagines cinema as a purely sonic art form, wherein characters are instruments and their scripts are woven from notes in real time. The trio’s selections span a range of eras, genres, and geographical locations. Setting the stage is a selection from one of my favorites (and the very first subtitled film I ever saw), Tous Les Matins Du Monde. Director Alain Corneau’s 1991 biopic of Marin Marais comes alive in the composer and viola da gamba virtuoso’s “Le Badinage.” Courtois threads the needle of this forlorn tale, almost unrecognizable as tenor saxophone and clarinet extend it far beyond the time of its construction. This is the beauty and joy of the album at hand: an ability to treat each story, whether based on fact or fiction, as the seed for a hedge that continues to be tended in the present. Most of the allusions that follow reference other pillars of French cinema, including Giovanni Fusco’s theme to Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959, dir. Alain Resnais) and Maurice Leroux’s to Le Ballon Rouge (1956, Albert Lamorisse). These two pair particularly well, as the latter’s reversion to childhood eases the traumas described in the former’s intermingling of love and darkest inhumanity. Nino Rota’s soundtrack to Plein Soleil (1960, dir. René Clément) gets two nods, including the unchained “Tarentelle Meurtrière,” as does Courtois’s own retroactive scoring of the 1924 silent film Paris Qui Dort, directed by René Clair. The twisted retrograde of Eric Rohmer’s 1986 touch-and-go love story, Le Rayon Vert, adds further insight via Jean-Louis Valero’s sunlit melody.

Marvin Hamlisch’s motif for Take The Money And Run (1969, dir. Woody Allen) takes the album’s most surreal (if understated) turns, while Michel Legrand’s The Thomas Crown Affair (from the 1968 Norman Jewison original) ripples lyrically through the trio. The program closes with the nostalgia of John Williams’s timeless E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982, dir. Steven Spielberg). From unassuming beginnings, it pulls a veritable bouquet of multitracked cellos for a lush and dramatic denouement—a reminder that even when film reels stop, the images continue to animate themselves on the projection screens of our minds, as immortal as they are lodged in history.

Trio Zéphyr: Travelling (RJAL 397029)


Trio Zéphyr

Delphine Chomel violin, vocals
Marion Diaques viola, vocals
Claire Menguy cello, vocals
Piers Faccini lyrics and voice on “I Saw the Time”
Recorded between Spring 2016 and Spring 2017 at Studios La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro, assisted by Anaëlle Marsollier
Mixed April 10-12, 2017 at Studios La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at La Buissonne Mastering Studios
Produced by Gérard de Haro & RJAL for La Buissonne
Release date: November 3, 2017

After what I felt was a tragic misstep in their La Buissonne debut, followed by the triumph of its follow-up, Trio Zéphyr returns with a travel diary in both the physical and metaphysical sense. “Eleï” takes immediate control of this precious journey, as if you have been dreaming for a long time, only to awake and find yourself in a train car headed to an unknown destination. This combination of mystery and anxiety feeds your memories of a life that may or may not have been yours. Melodic and textural details assure you, however, that hope will be waiting on the next platform. In light of this development, “Colline” feels like a photograph kept in your shirt pocket: a portrait of someone familiar yet whose name has left a rectangular blank in the photo album of your mind. Does it belong to your childhood or to that of another? Is it your mother or someone without one?

The lyrics of “I saw the time,” as sung by Piers Faccini, remind you of when watches used to mark more than the passing of hours and days. By their gentle force of suggestion you feel the blood of this music flowing through your veins. Backed by the trio’s own voices, its songcraft turns still images into moving ones, as if unpausing a family movie. Those voices continue in “Kourgane,” plowing through snow and debris, while “Soleil disparu” extends that feeling at a more harmonic level, turning outer movement into inner. Even when taking “Refuge,” you find your soul aching with the need for a shoulder to cry on. Once purged of your grief (for whom you do not know), you bid farewell in “Oumano,” the singing of which writes on the fogged window a letter you read over and over until the temperatures on both sides of the glass equalize. Like the tender interludes that wave at you along the way, it speaks of times past to inspire faith in the future.