Recorded April 2005 at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Saxophonist/clarinetist and composer Louis Sclavis has displayed a relentless pursuit of the unknown in his recordings for ECM in particular and in his long career in general. Take L'Imparfait des Langues, for instance, his 2007 outing for ECM. While he's never used two bands that were exactly the same on his recordings for the label, this one is easily his most adventurous. The only remaining member of his past ensembles is drummer par excellence Francois Merville. The other bandmembers - alto saxophonist Marc Baron; keyboardist, guitarist, and electronician Paul Brousseau; and guitarist Maxime Delpierre - are all younger musicians who have very diverse musical backgrounds (not all of them in jazz per se). Sclavis assembled and rehearsed this group for a festival in Monaco, using a new compositional method, where perhaps only eight or 16 bars were structured, allowing for maximum improvisation. When the festival was unexpectedly canceled due to the death of the country's monarch, Prince Rainier, the day before, Sclavis took the band into a Paris studio and recorded the album in a single day. The spontaneity and fresh crackle of interaction and interplay are unmistakable. Sclavis led the band but used instinct instead of control to get the job done. The textures and colors created on tracks such as "La Verbe," built around a single, repetitive melodic fragment, bring the band closer to the sound of Soft Machine in their later period than any contemporary jazz group. The horns work against one another in the middle, playing short contrapuntal tones and phrases, while the guitars and keyboards color everything around them in a gauzy darkness as only Merville's drums hold the entire tune together, accentuating the beautiful strummed trills by Delpierre.
Elsewhere, as on "Palabre," a guitar riff creates the basis for the horn players to exchange and challenge one another once the head has been constructed atop the guitar. Here, the skeletal funky beginning offers shades of Eastern modality and melody, Ornette Coleman-style harmonics, and an improvisation between Sclavis and Baron so symbiotic that it is mind-blowing. There are ideas closer to what listeners expect from European jazz these days as well, such as on the wonderfully ethereal and knottily aggressive "L'Idee du Dialecte," where different musical languages are held - however loosely - inside the Euro jazz idiom. "Story of a Phrase" is wonderfully abrasive and slow as Delpierre uses a mild distortion pedal to play an angular - if slightly restrained - metal riff and both Baron and Merville find ways of creating both a melodic language and polyrhythmic counterpoint to the pulsing guitar lines. Sclavis takes his solo on the soprano and delves deep into the space between, using the guitar line to bounce off several others, all counter to the rhythms being laid down. Throughout, ambient sounds, small drones, and found samples are littered, layered, and slotted between the various players - and this happens on virtually every track. Yes, this is most certainly a European jazz album, and a brave step for Sclavis, who probably considers this the next logical step in creating his encyclopedia of sound. But given the young ages of the players, he is stretched as well. L'Imparfait des Langues is a welcome and utterly fascinating surprise that will no doubt bring his fans closer, and hopefully extend to those who find themselves drawn to progressive music in general.
All Music Guide
Confronted with the new generation, master of ceremonies Sclavis gave of his very best. We await, impatiently, this group's ECM disc." Philippe Robert, Jazz Magazine, November 2006
Louis Sclavis's newest album has an unusual history. The French reedman/composer/ improviser had received a commission to premiere a new project at Monaco's Festival Le Printemps des Arts in Monte Carlo, in April 2005. Wanting to challenge his own working habits as a composer, to bring unpredictable elements into play in the improvising, and "a new syntax" into his musical language, Sclavis decided to build a new ensemble with young players. Firebrand altoist Marc Baron for instance, a mere 23 years old at the time, came into the project as a hot tip from cellist Vincent Courtois, who had just begun working with the sax player. Keyboardist Paul Brousseau had, barely weeks before, been added to another Sclavis group, Big Napoli, (the expanded edition of the Napoli's Walls ensemble which has recorded for ECM) and was still feeling his way into the Sclavis soundworld. With Maxim Delpierre, Sclavis had jammed just once, as a guest of the guitarist's trio. "It was precisely because I wasn't sure if I would be able to incorporate his way of playing that I wanted to try. He has a very unusual approach to the guitar..." As French magazine Jazzman observed: "Delpierre has certainly heard Sonny Sharrock, Glenn Branca and Sonic Youth" - overdriven, saturated guitar sounds are part of his palette.
Sclavis: "So, with the exception of (drummer) Francois Merville, who I've worked with often, these were not only players quite new to me, but musicians who did not know my work in detail either. They are all of them working in all kinds of different contexts, including experimental music and rock. None of them is a 'pure' jazz musician - but then, neither am I." Sclavis sketched his compositions for "L'imparfait des langues" in ten days, leaving plenty of space for improvising, and began rehearsing his new crew in earnest. "Some of the basic musical ideas were very simple, sometimes as little as an eight- bar or sixteen bar phrase for two instrumental voices... In preparing music for this group I am definitely interested as much in sound and texture as in the melodies... Anyway: it was soon quite clear to us that we had something special with this group of players."
Then, the day before the concert, Prince Rainier of Monaco, longest-reigning European monarch, died at the age of 81, the nation was plunged into mourning and the Sclavis performance cancelled! Primed to play and abruptly deprived of an outlet, Louis took his musicians instead into Studios la Buissonne in Pernes-les-Fontaines and recorded the music in a single day. The freshness of the results is unmistakable.
The Monte Carlo festival appearance was rescheduled for April 2006. Since then the group has been playing widely, and Sclavis is steadily writing new material for the ensemble. "The level of enthusiasm in the ensemble is very high: I think you can hear that on the CD. These are guys who really want to play. Small clubs, concerts, festivals - we don't care - we'll play anywhere! And the music is changing... Paul Brousseau is bringing in new colours all the time with his sounds and samples, and there is more improvising. I see a lot of development possible with this quintet, and the potential to work with these players for several years."
Marc Baron was born in Paris in 1981 and has been playing saxophone and improvising from the age of 10. Currently in two of Vincent Courtois's bands, the quartet What DoYou Mean By Silence and the sextet Rose Minvelle, Baron's experience ranges from free improvising to playing contemporary composition; he has collaborated regularly with composer Bernard Cavana - as well as multi-disciplinary performances with dancers, video artists, theatre groups... In recent years he has also worked with, amongst others, Sylvain Kassap, Sylvie Courvoisier, Seijiro Murayama, Thierry Madiot...
Maxime Delpierre was born in Nantes "in the mid 1970s" and was first inspired by the electric guitar sounds of rock and pop in groups including the Ventures, the Pink Floyd and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. After a brief detour into classical piano he proceeded to study jazz guitar, at the same time immersing himself in the music of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman. In Paris from '93 he absorbed bebop and standards. At the decade's end he met and played with Mederic Collignon, Sunny Murray, Mark Turner and many others. Currently leads two bands of his own, Trio Mutatis Mutandis and Trio Limousine.
Paul Brousseau was born in 1976 in Poitiers. A self-taught multi instrumentalist, he plays piano and prepared piano, synthesizers, various keyboards, guitar, basses and percussion, and moves easily between genres. A creator of sounds, ambiences, ideas, he played with guitarist Marc Ducret before joining Sclavis's groups.
Drummer Francois Merville studied classical percussion and piano and has worked with the Ensemble Intercontemporain under Pierre Boulez. Since 1993, however, he has devoted himself exclusively to jazz. He has played in many of Sclavis's groups over the last 12 years and has worked, furthermore with Ray Anderson, Michel Portal, Martial Solal, Dave Douglas, Django Bates and many others. Also leads his own quartet.