Chronique par Richard Pinnell sur The Watchful Ear (27 octobre 2011)
Tonight’s CD is an album of free improvisation by a French baritone sax / double bass / percussion trio. Its a tense, sometimes aggressive affair and I suspect that at least some of the musicians involved have their roots in jazz. So some readers might like to leave it there for tonight… This is though, a rather nice, varied set of four tracks with a real bite to it and I have enjoyed listening to it a great deal over the past few days. The album in question is the first on a new French label named Dark Tree and is named Pourtant les cimes des arbres, by Daunik Lazro, (baritone sax) Benjamin Duboc (bass) and Didier Lasserre (snare drum and cymbals). The title of the CD, and each of the track titles come from a Matsuo Basho haiku, which is always a good start for any album. With the exception of a few plucked bass notes here and there, and the odd stray sax line, nothing else much on this album sounds like jazz. The final track Retiennent la pluie leans the most in that direction, with more than a hint of loose melody creeping in, but for the most part the sounds produced by the trio impress through their textural and timbal qualities rather than tonal or tuneful, and there is a constant sense of attack here, even in the album’s frequent quieter moments, as the playing feels constantly on a knife edge, and frequently exudes an odd sensation of (in the absence of a better word) nastiness, a kind of dark, menacing edge as rolled cymbals brood into heavy clouds, fierce sax lines roar out of the speakers and bowed bass strings make everything vibrate. The playing is intense, but very much together, subtle and thoughtful- this isn’t an adrenalin fuelled free for all- the structure that holds it all together is quite simple and delicate, but the playing has a real confidence and bite to it that grabs you.

I played this CD in the car a couple of times over recent days. Listening to the music I write about in these pages in the car is very often a fruitless exercise, but this album really worked in that environment, turned up loud and allowed to fill the car’s tight space. When it really kicks off, such as the when the sustained, fierce single sax notes blast through the second track Pourtant, the adrenalin in the music really lifts things in a basic, primal, physical manner. There are plenty of lulls though, little pools of calm between the jagged rocks. The music doesn’t so much build slowly to crescendoes as it suddenly lurches one way or the other, the sense of danger in the album an ever present.

So this isn’t a straight-up jazz album, though it owes its debts in that direction, but it also hasn’t a clue what reductionism might mean, and yet doesn’t sound like your standard improv fair either. Don’t get me wrong, the presence of the acoustic instruments is always obvious, there is no attempt to disguise them or head off into extended technique abstraction, and this is obviously an improvised set, but somehow the energy here feels a little different to the improv I usually come across, with intensity being the word that keeps springing to mind. Its not an album that is going to appeal to everyone. If you like a degree of electronics in your improv, well there isn’t even a sniff here, and if you don’t want to hear the spectre of jazz in there (as I must say I usually don’t) then this disc may not be to your taste, but despite the fact that on paper, this release may not press all the right buttons for me, I found it a very enjoyable listen, a nice introduction (for me at least) to three interesting musical characters and an interesting and captivating diversion from what I normally might be found listening to. Well worth a listen.


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