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Monday, July 20, 2009

Louis Sclavis - Lost On The Way (ECM, 2009) ****

On his new album, French clarinet virtuoso Louis Sclavis gives his impression of Odysseus' travels. This theme makes the album epic in nature, trying to evoke the sentiments and experiences of the ancient hero's ten year travels on the Mediterranean before his return home in Greece. Not exactly the topic for a jazz album, but then Sclavis has always had his own vision, with jazz being just one kind of material out of which to sculpt music, often used in combination with other materials, such as classical or folk. On this album, influences from European folk and rock music abound, without making fusion per se. The music is in the same vein as the his very good "L'Imparfait Des Langues", with some of the same musicians: Maxime Delpierre on guitar, and François Merville on drums. Matthias Metzger plays soprano and alto and Olivier Lété bass. Some of the compositions are truly excellent, including the opening track "De Charybde en Scylla", or "Le Bain D'Or", on which great themes define the overall mood of the piece. Homer's story defines the nature of the music, which is more cinematic in scope, theatrical, dramatic, as the soundtrack for a non-existent movie. The strong compositions and even tighter arrangements lead to very dense and rich music. The downside of the approach is that it creates a distance between the players and the audience (you, me, the listeners). The musicians become the intermediaries, rather than expressing their own feelings, which is to me still one of the strongest elements in jazz. This is probably why I enjoyed the duo and trio pieces on the album most. The texture is more open, the delivery more direct and improvisational. But to be sure: the musicianship is strong, and the compositions are of a high level. Yet it lacks that direct emotional impact that makes jazz so compelling.

© stef