ETE Trio: Sad And Beautiful (RJAL 397018)

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ETE Trio
Sad and Beautiful

Andy Emler piano
Claude Tchamitchian double bass
Eric Echampard drums
Recorded July 1/2 and mixed August 14/15, 2013 at Studios La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro, assisted by Romain Castéra
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at Studios La Buissonne
Piano prepared and tuned by Alain Massonneau
Produced by Gérard de Haro and RJAL for La Buissonne Label
Release date: January 28, 2014

The ETE Trio—whose acronym stands for pianist Andy Emler, bassist Claude Tchamitchian, and drummer Eric Echampard—spins of its most fragrant fields on record with Sad and Beautiful. “A journey through hope” takes its first steps by gliding rather than walking, speaking through arco bass as if it were an amplifier of the soul. Cycling between ambient stretches out of time and heavy grooves steeped within it, the 11-minute opener actualizes a philosophy built on the permanent spaces between things rather than the ephemeral accomplishments linked to said things themselves.

This balance between the material and immaterial is what distinguishes ETE’s musical acts from their traditional counterparts and is reflected in a tendency to change things up from track to track. Note, for example, the brief and pliant train ride through memories on the verge of fading completely that is “Last chance,” yet which despite those grand implications sits up against “Elegances,” in which a more cellular approach to thematic development lets in the light of spontaneous interaction shine through panes of glass to a trifold interior.

A chain of topographical associations ensues. “Second chance” dips the piano in a dark green lake of bass and rippling cymbals before setting up a campfire near it in “Tee time” and planting a spray of delicate underbrush in “By the way.” Last, we are led into the melodic ellipses of “Try home,” cast into the night like a fishing line from the heart.

While each musician is fantastically talented in his own right, in the present formation I feel like any attempts at separation would do them a disservice. And so, the instinct to shorten their names to a single palindrome makes perfect sense. Such is the nature of their collective spirit.

Bill Carrothers: Love and Longing (RJAL 397017)

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Bill Carrothers
Love and Longing

Bill Carrothers piano, voice
Recorded and mixed by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines from 2005 to 2013
Release date: June 18, 2013

Despite having recorded pianist Bill Carrothers many times at La Buissonne, producer Gérard de Haro had never known Carrothers as a singer until he heard him hum a tune during some post-session downtime. Unable to let the opportunity pass, he set up a microphone and recorded this album of piano solos and songs, each performed in a distinctly personal style. As de Haro recalls: “We were no longer in the studio, nor were we in a normal time frame either—we were all in a state of absolute grace, love and peace.”

Though not a vocalist by trade, Carrothers has a natural delivery that pairs well enough with the material at hand and makes for an endearing program. Truly striking, however, is his bold harmonization and pianistic unraveling. Across a terrain of carefully chosen standards, his neighborly diction brings ease and comfort to the fore. In “Mexicali Rose” (Helen Stone/Hack Tenney) and “Moonlight Becomes You” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke), we find the words in lush yet never overblown settings as he unfolds gorgeous midsections for improvisational outpouring. From “The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” (Jean Ritchie), a bluegrass song from 1965 about coal miners (its steady pulse recalls the steam engines of old), to “Three Coins In The Fountain” (Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn), he sheds one expansive layer after another. A standout is “A Cottage For Sale” (Larry Conley/Willard Robinson), in which a clockwork intro and sweeping arrangement give legs.

Interspersed throughout these is a veritable pinwheel of originals. Though mostly for piano alone, they find him singing more than ever. With a restlessness not unlike that of a lover’s heart, Carrothers pulls us through balladry, a splash of dissonance, and brightly lit expanses all the same. As a film reel come to its close, it winds down to stillness—a slow-motion sequence fading to black. To give the ending credits a soundtrack, he offers his most optimistic setting: that of “Skylark” (Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer), which features his birdlike whistling.

Despite the piano’s drape of reverb, Carrothers plays as if giving a home concert for close friends and family. And to this we are privy for, as one Cole Porter lyric puts it, “a night mysterious.” About as organic as it gets.

Caravaggio: #2 (RJAL 397016)

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Caravaggio
#2

Bruno Chevillon bass, double bass, electronics
Benjamin de la Fuente violin, Mandocaster, electric tenor guitar, electronics
Eric Echampard drums, percussion, electronics
Samuel Sighicelli Hammond organ, sampler, synthesizers (Korg and Minimoog)
Recorded at Studios La Buissonne by Nicolas Baillard and Gérard de Haro
Mixed by Nicolas Baillard, Gérard de Haro, Samuel Sighicelli and Benjamin de la Fuente
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at Studios La Buissonne
Release date: November 20, 2012

This blending of jazz, rock, and electronic idioms wraps its eclectic arms around bassist Bruno Chevillon, guitarist Benjamin de la Fuente, drummer Eric Echampard, and keyboardist Samuel Sighicelli. As Caravaggio, they elicit a sound not like the paintings of their namesake: boldly portraitive, making use of deep contrast, and vibrantly expressive. Opener “Polaroid” builds to slow fruition over an eight-minute span, pulling from the electric guitar an entire film’s worth of scenography. The cleverly titled “Dennis Hopper Platz” digs further into the muck of postmodern angst but eschews the ennui in favor of a hip, bass-driven embrace of sound bites from Easy Rider before finishing in a hush of data. As if drawing from that same font of digital wisdom, “Aguirre” spins an open-ended projection of bygone fantasies across alluring electronic doctrine.

“When will you be angelic” pays tribute to the Hammond organ. Its old-school Jan Hammer vibe reads like a jazz performance attended only by androids. “Anybody here?” is an even more explosive catapult through gigabytes of information. Riding in a vessel of light, it zooms at speeds unimaginable to the physical body into the industrial ambience of “Beth’s variation.” Following this, “Medusa” drops its heavy dose of outro prog rock, replete with skittering violin for contrast. If the aforementioned were measured in gigabytes, “Profundo” is a veritable terabyte. As drums, guitar, and synth combine to show us the way to transformation, we leave ourselves behind, one cell at a time, until only impulse remains, shot in countless directions.

Like the soundtrack to a lost Philip K. Dick novel, #2 breathes in tune with synthetic animals, black boxes, and panoptical realities. A rage against the machine, by the machine.

Vincent Courtois: Mediums (RJAL 397015)

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Vincent Courtois
Mediums

Vincent Courtois cello
Daniel Erdmann tenor saxophone
Robin Fincker tenor saxophone
Recording and mixing at Studio La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro
Mastering at Studio La Buissonne by Nicolas Baillard
Release date: October 23, 2012

Mediums brings together an unprecedented trio of two tenor saxophonists (Daniel Erdmann and Robin Fincker) and cellist Vincent Courtois. Described by the latter as “the story of music I’ve conceived then written, out of my childhood memories and the happiness I experienced in the fantastic world of fairgrounds and the people who work there,” it accordingly welcomes us into a fantastical world replete with colors, lights, and sounds as tensions and harmonies come together like a storm of forces. Though it takes a little time to get settled in, once the parameters are clear, we are taken on an epic childhood tour.

The pizzicato arpeggios of “Mediums” speak of a lyrical core, while the reeds unleash a guttural filigree around them. “Une inquiétante disparition” is in two split parts. From the insistent pulse of the first to the muscular bowing of the second, it turns cries into songs and back again. Between them are the whispering haunt of “Regards” (the album’s most graceful) and the locomotive exuberance of “Jackson’s Catch.” Virtuosity is applied sparingly throughout, and only for the effect of underscoring a primary sentiment.

The tender “Rita and the mediums” and “La nuit des monstres” share studio space with the programmatic (the three-part “Bengal”) and the abstract (“Entresort”). Like “The removal” that wakes us from this dream, we can take each as the beginning of another until rest seems like the memory of a life no longer lived.

If Courtois can be counted on for anything, it’s the integrity of his sonic scripts, wherein most characters are played by himself. New faces shine like the sun—melodies without any other purpose than to cast the listener’s shadow.

Andy Emler MegaOctet: E total (RJAL 397014)

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Andy Emler MegaOctet
E total

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
With guest
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.

Carlos Maza: Descanso del Saltimbanqui (RJAL 397013)

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Carlos Maza
Descanso del Saltimbanqui

Carlos Maza 10-string guitar, piano
Recorded on March 14-16, 2011 and mixed on January 3, 2012 at Studios La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at Studios La Buissonne
Steinway preparation and tuning by Alain Massonneau
Produced by Gérard de Haro, RJAL and Lautaro for La Buissonne
Release date: April 17, 2012

Ten-string guitarist and pianist Carlos Maza makes his La Buissonne debut in a session imbued with as many influences as there are melodies to contain them. Louis Sclavis describes his music as follows: “It’s Latin America having fun with Europe, it’s a Spanish guitar in an Indian’s hands, an Inca flute that’s slipped into a sonata by Liszt.” If anything can be gleaned from this assessment, beyond an obvious eclecticism, it’s that Maza adapts his shape and gestures to suit whatever waters in which he happens to find himself swimming at any given moment.

In his hands, the guitar serves as both pigment and paper. Between the zoetrope of “El tren de Hershey” and the Polaroid of “Magia y ascenso,” a nostalgic chain of imagery sways in time with the ways things were. Every strum sweeps away the dirt of maturation so that children may re-inscribe it with the signatures of their play. Personal favorites include “Levántate negrita” for its melodic purity and “Altas y bajas” for its roughly hewn unfolding, as if distant mountains were a score to be deciphered. Wordless singing gives voice to the longing that permeates this music.

Maza’s piano is not only a different instrument but also its own continent altogether. Whether in the bipolar “Remando hacia el Sol” (brooding one moment, sparkling the next) or the virtuosic “Rosacolis,” the contradictory language of love is paramount, shifting phases like the moon across a calendar month. The five-part “El Amor en tiempos de crisis” is everything that came before and more. Joy and exuberance share the field with melancholy and heartache, finishing with a dance through sunlit pastures.

This is duly intimate music making, never a challenge (unless you have perfect pitch, as the guitar has some tuning issues) but always a comfort, as if the very sky were pulled over us for a blanket of stars.

Trio Zéphyr with Steve Shehan: Sauve tes Ailes (RJAL 397012)

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Trio Zéphyr
Steve Shehan
Sauve tes Ailes

Delphine Chomel violin and vocal
Marion Diaques viola and vocal
Claire Menguy cello and vocal
Steve Shehan percussion
Recorded on August 9-11, 2010 and March 7-9, 2011 at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Mixed and mastered on September 8, 2011 by Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard at Studios La Buissonne
Release date: June 12, 2012

Trio Zéphyr returns for its second La Buissonne collaboration, now joined by percussionist Steve Shehan. Their previous effort for the label sadly left me feeling high and dry, but in this instance I am happy to say the trio has achieved something magical. From the first notes of the title track, we are transported to sound-world of personal integrity, organic landscaping, and locomotive transport. The sense of purpose is palpable in the playing, the writing, and the recording. And while before the singing felt strangely disjointed from its surroundings, now it is fully integrated. The gentle chant, for example, that threads “Taladjinata” is alive like the very earth, and Shehan’s clay drum adds just the right amount of ether to remind us of the sky above.

The focus, however, is on the trio’s evocative sense of structure. In the framed cello of “La Barque” and “L’Euphrate” we encounter portraits of time personified. The latter’s churning currents and sostenuto denouement pictures our lives as the moon reflects upon water. The mournful singing of “3 Cycles” weaves a song for all humanity, rising and falling in tune with the sun. The most dreamlike passages are reserved for “Perle,” in which sand and storm are calmed by the touch of peace-loving hands. From “Indella” to “Grenade,” the trio examines trauma under a melodic microscope, so that by the time we lay our heads down in “Luna,” we can be sure of having come full circle, laden with the burdens of those who have no voice to be heard.

Cholet Trio et al.: Hymne à la nuit (RJAL 397011)

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Hymne à la nuit

Jean-Christophe Chloet piano
Heiri Känzig double bass
Marcel Papaux drums
Elise Caron vocal
Chœur Arsys Bourgogne
Recorded November 9-11, 2009 by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne
Assistants: Nicolas Baillard and Nicolas Sournac
Mixed February 24-26, 2010 by Gérard de Haro and Jean-Christophe Cholet at Studios La Buissonne
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard and Jean-Christophe Cholet at Studios La Buissonne
Piano prepared and tuned by Alain Massonneau
Release date: April 18, 2011

Hymne à la nuit is the brainchild of composer-pianist Jean-Christophe Cholet, who folds his trio with bassist Heiri Känzig and drummer Marcel Papaux into the creative batter of actress-singer Elise Caron and the Arsys Choir from Burgundy. Setting the poetry of Novalis and Rainer Maria Rilke, these song settings blend classical, folk, and jazz elements to capture (and set free) the nuances of every word.

Cholet and company twist jazzy improvisations around hymnal verses, both spoken and sung. The “Introduction,” at 13 minutes, is the longest and most encompassing of the piece’s nine parts, and sets a mood that changes throughout. This could be either an enhancement or a detriment, depending on your preferences. While normally La Buissonne can be counted on for its aesthetic consistency, in this case the voices are recorded in a way that doesn’t feel quite integrated to me. Caron’s vocals are creatively applied, but the choir (with the exception of “Mondnacht”) is more of an afterthought. As for the music itself, it works best when each stream of consciousness is allowed to travel its own route. The a capella opening of “Ostinato,” for instance, is artfully sung and arranged, but loses integrity once it tries to mesh with the instruments at hand.

The most successful integrations are those between Caron and the trio, as in the first halves of “Visage” and “Bluuz.” The bygone cast of “Groove” achieves fullest traction for the ensemble, but due to the vibrant showings of Cholet, Känzig, and Papaux makes me wish this was purely a trio effort.

Vincent Courtois: L’imprévu (RJAL 397010)

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Vincent Courtois
L’imprévu

Vincent Courtois cello
Recorded and mixed April 1-3, 2010 at Studios La Buissonne by Gérard de Haro
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard at Studios La Buissonne
Produced by Gérard de Haro and RJAL for La Buissonne
Release date: January 20, 2011

L’imprévu (The unexpected) is an album of unaccompanied short stories written and performed by Vincent Courtois. ECM listeners will know the French cellist from his work with Louis Sclavis. After toying with the idea of a solo album for more than 15 years, he and producer Gérard de Haro at last found a coincidence of schedules that brought them into the studio together. From the opening title piece, we can hear not only that Courtois is a player of sensitivity and poise but also that de Haro is a most suitable engineer to emphasize the nature of his sound.

The comfortable vibe established by such intimate borders as “Alone with G” (a pizzicato gem that treats the cello as a horizontal rather than vertical instrument) is occasionally broken, as by the scraping arpeggios of “Amnésique tarentelle” and “Skins” or the freely improvised strains of “Suburbs kiosk” and “No smoking,” so that no single mood never dominates. Neither is Courtois afraid to play with the idea of a solo project by multitracking himself into an orchestra. Such instincts feel not like additions from without but extensions from within. In the stretched-out chords of “Colonne sans fin,” “Sensuel et perdu,” and “Regards” (the latter two sounding nearly like lost tracks from David Darling’s Dark Wood), his experience as a composer for film bears deepest fruit. The one compositional outlier is “La visite” by Sclavis, a highlight for its thoughtful reading and tenderness, and its ability to say so much with so little. This is music for those who want nothing but.