Louis Sclavis Sextet: Les Violences de Rameau (ECM 1588)

Louis Sclavis Sextet
Les Violences de Rameau

Louis Sclavis clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Yves Robert trombone
Dominique Pifarély acoustic and electric violins
François Raulin piano, keyboards
Bruno Chevillon double-bass
Francis Lassus drums
Recorded September 1995 and January 1996 at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Assisted by Roger Amoros
Produced by the Louis Sclavis Sextet

The result of a 1994 French Ministry of Culture commission, Les Violences de Rameau is Louis Sclavis’s incisive study of its eponymous French galantist, drawing mostly from the operas Les Boréades, Les Indes Galantes, and Dardanus. The assembled sextet spins a web of textures, due in no small part to Sclavis mainstays Dominique Pifarély (violin) and Bruno Chevillon (bass). Trombonist Yves Robert, last heard on Heiner Goebbels’s Ou bien le débarquement désastreux, also joins the fray, adding a pliant undercurrent to the jagged oratories of the aforementioned. It is Pifarély who throws us into the swing of things, contorting his instrument with gymnastic variations in “le diable et son train,” a harrumphing romp of glee and fortitude that puts flaming tongue in cheek in anticipation of the jester’s soprano in “de ce trait enchanté.” The exhilarating bass work and gypsy violin twists make this one the joy that it is. “«venez punir son injustice»” is a dance at court and acts as a frame tale for the rhythm section’s unbridled enthusiasms, though one can hardly ignore Sclavis’s enchanting clarinet and the cosmic circular breathing that speaks through it. A few spins of the wheel, by turns lethargic and blasting, land us in the electric violin’s flailing purview as “réponses à Gavotte” whirls with the eclecticism of a John Zorn collaboration. The glittering murmurs thereafter incapacitate us with secrets, each a sketch bolder than the last, only to get lost in a “post-mésotonique” world. This sonic equivalent of a half-developed photograph stumbles into some of the band’s most evocative conjurations and ends in paroxysm, psychedelic and granular.

The dear listener can ignore the title. The only violence to be found in this treatment walks a sarcastic path, alone and laughing to itself. A blast and a half!

Louis Sclavis/Dominique Pifarély: Acoustic Quartet (ECM 1526)

Louis Sclavis
Dominique Pifarély
Acoustic Quartet

Louis Sclavis clarinet, bass clarinet
Dominique Pifarély violin
Marc Ducret 6- and 12-string guitars
Bruno Chevillon double-bass
Recorded September 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After debuting with his quintet on Rouge, reedist Louis Sclavis returned to ECM with French jazz violin phenom Dominique Pifarély to front this trend-setting session. Joined by guitarist Marc Ducret and bassist Bruno Chevillon, the so-called Acoustic Quartet snaps right into action with “Sensible,” the first of four pieces by Sclavis. It is, like every track that follows, an astute blend of composed and improvisatory elements that pairs instruments cleverly and with panache. Pifarély and Chevillon work particularly well together here, and Ducret’s jangly asides make a nice match for Sclavis’s clarinet. Ducret provides notable glue in “Elke,” in which bass harmonics cut through the darkness like a whale song, and elicits some oud-like tones in the playful “Rhinoceros.”

Pifarély delights with a handful of his own compositions. Of these, the guitar-propelled romp of “Abrupto” speaks loudest. The violinist strings a Christmas tree’s worth of ornaments across its conical surface, practically toppling it into the cutting lead of “Hop!” where he lays out the album’s most astonishing solo against a crunchy bass. Not to be outdone, Sclavis dots his every i and lends brilliant inflection to a substantial monologue in “Seconde.” The group also shines in its cinematic rendition of Alain Gibert’s “Bafouée.” Its nods range from Django Reinhardt to klezmer, each stretched and refracted behind a veil of sparkling melancholy.

Pifarély boggles the mind with his rhythm and slide in a group overflowing with virtuosity. Yet it is Sclavis who seems most comfortable in his skin, weaving in and out of narrow spaces with the grace of an eel. The composed material, while on the surface pedantic, provides a frame to see the fullness of every picture. The resulting Sturm und Drang atmosphere when the musicians discard prewritten material in favor of all-out storytelling makes for some intriguing music-making. All in all, a real gem.

Louis Sclavis Quintet: Rouge (ECM 1458)

 

Louis Sclavis Quintet
Rouge

Louis Sclavis clarinets, soprano saxophone
Dominique Pifarély violin
Bruno Chevillon bass
François Raulin piano, synthesizer
Christian Ville drums
Recorded September 1991 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Rouge is the magical label debut from clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Louis Sclavis, fronting here a group whose unity betrays an innocence honed to a galactic edge.

The album is an organically connected unit, a suit of sights and sounds working in concert toward a vastness that outstrips them all. I cannot help, from the vantage point of retrospection, draw certain musical connections throughout this hour-long journey. First are the Edward Vasala-like touches of “Kali la nuit,” which like the enigmatic drummer paints a veritable field whose constellations are marked by the hoof-prints of wild horses. Tales of war and tradition intermingle until they become one unbreakable braid, contrasting visceral screams with old-school togetherness. One then encounters the specter of minimalism in “Reeves,” which seems fed through a kaleidoscope filled with shards of Philip Glass. These are merely an exploratory introduction to the intense electric violin of Dominique Pifarély, who stirs the drink until there’s only ice left in the glass. A heady piano trio fills out the backdrop all the while with a glittering appliqué of finely wrought support. “Les bouteilles” is perhaps the most eclectic. With head nods ranging from John Surman (in its exquisite attention to melodic and technical detail), Steve Reich (in the string playing), and Pat Metheney (in the exuberant close), it’s a fantastic ride.

These comparisons do nothing to rob Sclavis of his originality, for he casts a shadow from a distinct angle of mind and experience. As in the dawn-drenched threads of “One,” he draws his craft through varicolored needles. His flair for the programmatic is also notable, as in “Nacht,” in which bassist Bruno Chevillon folds his alchemy into the batter of the evening sky, baked to a crisp by distant stars and glazed with a sugary free jazz concoction courtesy of drummer Christian Ville. “Reflet” is an even starrier affair, one of many celestial moments in the album’s remainder, all of which find rest in “Face Nord.” Like a rewound VHS tape, this highly cinematic track spools back through climax, tragedy, romance, and into an innocent beginning. This we find fleshed forward in “Yes love,” the album’s last, stringing us across pianist François Raulin’s web of emotional power, innocence, and honesty—the tenets by which this groups lives, breathes, and plays.

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