European Scene by Peter Margasak (DownBeat, January 2018)

Homegrown Intimacy

In December 2009, Parisian free-jazz enthusiast Bertrand Gastaut organized an intimate concert at the home of his sister with some of his favorite musicians—bassist Benjamin Duboc, drummer Didier Lasserre and the American poet and spoken-word artist Steve Dalachinsky. As with many such endeavors, the event was presented as a spontaneous outgrowth of a formal festival Gastaut was involved with at the time. The performance was a hit and local fans encouraged him to do it again. He took the suggestions to heart and imagined pairing the same rhythm section with the great French saxophonist Daunik Lazro. All three musicians were excited by the prospect; however, travel expenses and a lack of funding made it unfeasible.

Rather than give up on bringing these musicians together, Gastaut went all-in. “I said, ‘I like the idea of this trio, and you like it, too, so let’s do a recording session and I’ll start a label to release it.’” During a single session in August 2010, the trio cut the music that would be released a year later as Pourtant les Cimes Des Arbres. Dark Tree Records (, a name taken from a composition by pianist Horace Tapscott, was born. Yet Gastaut wasn’t new to the music business.

The Marseille native moved to Paris in 2001 to study architecture but “was more often in jazz venues and clubs than at the university,” he recalled. He spent a year working for Bleu Regard, the label started by expat American saxophonist Charles Tyler, and he worked for Universal France, overseeing a reissue project focused on French pop singers. He also programmed concerts at the Parisian venue Espace Jemmapes and worked for the music distributor Orkhestra. As with Dark Tree, all of those pursuits were part-time; to make ends meet for his family, Gastaut works as an evening receptionist at a local hotel.

The concert series he began in 2009 carries on as jazz@home, with events presented at his sister’s apartment in the Montmartre neighborhood, often featur- ing French artists, but also musicians from the U.S. and all over Europe, such as Oliver Lake, Joe McPhee and Marilyn Crispell.

Through connections made by presenting an international array of artists, Gastaut has built up a roster that’s dropped powerful records by several French trios, including En Corps, a superb group with Duboc, drummer Edward Perraud and pianist Eve Risser that recently released Generation, its second album for the label. Last year Dark Tree issued the eponymous debut of the trio Tournesol with Duboc, drummer Julien Loutelier and the aggressive, idiosyncratic guitarist Julien Desprez.

Although Dark Tree has focused primarily on music from France, Gastaut has also shone a spotlight on vintage creative music from Los Angeles—an area he’s been fascinated by since hearing Tapscott perform in France back in 1995. In 2015 his label released NoUTurn, a superb, previ- ously unissued live recording by the Bobby Bradford-John Carter Quintet from 1975. He’s also just released the second title in the label’s “roots series,” Live At The Century City Playhouse—Los Angeles, 1979, by Vinny Golia’s wind quartet, which features both Carter and Bradford along with trombonist Glenn Ferris. In January he’ll release his first title by an active American group, the trio Stomiidae with cellist Daniel Levin, saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos and guitarist Brandon Seabrook. And next spring he’ll release a new duo recording by Desprez and saxophonist Mette Rasmussen.

For Gastaut, geographic origin is less important than how the music makes him feel. “The records have to be singular, to touch my soul, to give me goosebumps,” he said. “When I listened to [the second Lazro-Duboc-Lasserre album] Sens Radiants for the first time, I had tears in my eyes, so I had no doubt.”

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