Matthieu Bordenave: La Traversée (ECM 2683)

Matthieu Bordenave
La traversée

Matthieu Bordenave tenor saxophone
Patrice Moret double bass
Florian Weber piano
Recorded October 2019, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Cover photo: Thomas Wunsch
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 25, 2020

La traversée offers the ECM leader debut of French tenor saxophonist Matthieu Bordenave, who first appeared thereon as part of Shinya Fukumori’s 2018 masterpiece, For 2 Akis. This time, he is joined by German pianist Florian Weber and Swiss bassist Patrice Moret. Clearly born for the label, onetime host to his hero Jimmy Giuffre’s band with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, he allows those early influences to take residence in current practice, each a shade letting in different amounts of light through the windows of his musical soul. The present trio holds its own in the presence of such expectations, ever open to the possibilities of space and unstructured play. Other influences include classical chamber music, especially of the modern French persuasion (think Messiaen and Dutilleux). Classical training indeed comes to the fore in his technical control while his love of jazz spreads across eight originals in the fashion of a spilled glass of water—inching ever closer to the edge of the table but prevented from falling by delicate surface tension.

When the darkening of “River,” a duet between the bandleader and Weber, makes its gradations known, we find the saxophonist sitting alone in a place of seeming childhood significance. His breathy register is a ghost—not of the past but of the future. At the same time, his sound is antique in that one can taste the patina of his horn. When the character of the bass is introduced in the second scene, “Archipel,” an underlying cinematic implication is consummated. Thus, Bordenave recalls Giuffre but also Charles Lloyd’s muggy charm, cherishing the potential of a dying note as might a sitar virtuoso. All the while, Weber’s forthright pointillism meshes lovingly with Moret’s rounded spacing.

“Le temps divisé” assembles notes as an archaeologist does a skeleton, for great care is required amid the excitement of discovery to fashion a coherent simulacrum of the body it once inhabited. In the wake of that exacting labor, “Dans mon pays” speaks of home as the piano and saxophone nourish each other in the bass’s soil. “The Path” follows with the album’s deepest passage, rewarding the patient listener (like the set as a whole) with moments of sheer lucidity.

Although Bordenave is powerful and direct in his gentility, he understands the preciousness of space. “Ventoux” and “Incendie blanc” are special cases in point. Both are hopeful fascinations, treating yearning as an instructive force. Moret’s bass monologue in the former tune is superb, giving way to galactic light from Weber, whose delicate flames dance across the latter’s terrain. From the ashes of those reactions arises “Chaleur grise,” of which the meticulous fray wavers in reflection. Hence our return to “River,” now in trio form and willingly shed of its skin. A stepwise unison leads to the final note, free yet bound by just enough grit to make the dream feel actual.

La traversée is a diurnal experience, tracking heavenly bodies in a climate all its own. To listen to it is to watch your shadow marking the hours from dawn until dusk.