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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sax, piano, drums ... free expressions from around the world

By Stef    

Sax, piano and drums. Why no bass player? You could wonder about this. Based on these examples below, there are clear similarities in the overall sound. A bass would have added a more solid foundation, a deeper sound, maybe a warmer sound, some rhythmic aspects and surely an anchor point. Without a base, the sound is harsher, more fluid, somehow more free to roam, maybe also more abstract, without roots.

The first trio -  the Canadians François Carrier (alto) and Michel Lambert (drums), accompanied by Russia's Alexey Lapin (piano) - we already now. "Inner Spire", reviewed last year, was recorded in Moscow on December 19th 2010. But they kept recording the concerts of the following days, and they are now also released, one on FMR, the other one again on Leo.

François Carrier, Michel Lambert, Alexey Lapin - All Out (FMR, 2011) ***

"All Out", recorded in St-Petersburg on December 20th, 2010, adds no substantial difference to the previous evening. The playing is as good, open and exploratory. The sound quality is a little bit less, as if recorded from a distance. Despite the fact that it's a live performance, the audience is totally absent, which gives a strange feeling.

François Carrier, Michel Lambert, Alexey Lapin - In Motion (Leo, 2012) ****

"In Motion" was recorded on December 21st 2010, also in St. Petersburg and is clearly my favorite of the three performances. Possibly because it's the third night in a row that the trio has played. In any case, the trio starts with full power on the opening track "This Grand?", with a fierce breaking rhythm propulsing the musicians forward, yet halfway the piece the tempo slows down for some incredibly incantational playing by Carrier, repeating the same phrase, turning it, changing it, screaming it, whispering it, coming back to it, like a musical prayer to the universe only to be followed by Lapin's strange language on the piano, a wonderful mixture of classical and jazz, percussive and fluent at the same time, a great background for Carrier to then use his Coltrane legacy for some expansive jubilating phrases. Just beautiful.

"Is He?", the second track has a title fitting the hesitating and less dense mood of the piece, which is quite nebulous and eery, with light touches and higher tones and lower volume. "About To Go" is more playful, joyous even, and the last track "Love In Space", adds more drama, with Lambert being instrumental in the mixed percussive approach of hard hits and subtle cymbal work.

In short, a real treat : balanced, powerful, with three exceptional musicians at work.

Alexey Kruglov, Alexey Lapin, Oleg Yudanov - Impulse (Leo, 2012) ****½

We find Alexey Lapin back with two of his compatriots, Alexey Kruglov on saxes and Oleg Yudanov in percussion, for this incredible performance.

The trio's approach offers raw, direct, percussive, abrasive, in-the-moment outbursts of sound, often relentless but then with an incredible sense of authenticity and beauty. They really compose together, creating unexpected and fascinating changes of aspect and mood, from panic to gentle resignation, from absolute anger to sweet surprise or silent admiration. You just can't tell, you can't predict, you're drawn into it like in a great and captivating story, with plots and subplots and a whole lot of suspense and real sentiments. Despite the variation on each track, it still has its specific character and unity, a real feat.

The trio's approach is equally gentle, soft-spoken and cautious, with carefully developed evolutions of previously rehearsed sounds and effects, full of empathy and compassion, with the three musicians lifting their instrumental skills well over and above the banal or the usual, with sounds created to be special, with sequences carefully balanced and paced so as to be captivating.

It really is something different, and I hesitated a while to give it a five-star rating. The reason I didn't is because the consistency and the inherent drama of the album are a little broken by two duets, one between Kruglov and Yudanov, one between Kruglov and Lapin, and however good they may be by themselves, for the listener the duets break the momentum of the album, only to end with the rich sound of the trio on the last track, with the saxophonist playing both his alto and tenor at the same time, in the style of Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

What makes this different from a lot of other music is that, despite the adventurousness, it has this kind of natural flow, mainly driven by Lapin's great piano-playing, with repetitive phrases leading to hypnotic effects or his muted strings sounding percussive and fresh, with Kruglov's sax among the most emotionally expressive I have heard in a while, without needing to shout the whole time, and Yudanov offering the kind of drama that moves up the entire sound a few levels higher. 

Incredibly intense. 

If you're interested in creative new voices, this one is a must.

Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, Gerald Cleaver - The Foreign Legion (Leo, 2012)****½

Another album full of ferocious lyricism is this great trio with Ivo Perelman on tenor, Matthew Shipp on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Perelman has this great sense of expressionist expansive passion, full of emotional delivery and broad brushes, very Latin American in a sense.

Shipp's piano playing is as we know it, rhythmic, percussive and full of unexpected changes into romantic lyricism, juxtaposed with harsher abstract explorations, while being extremely attentive to his band-mates. Cleaver is as you may know one of my favorite drummers, subtle, adding depth and emphasis on the right moments, a real presence in the music without taking center stage.

The result is fantastic. The music flows forward full of intensity and sonic freedom. As Perelman describes Shipp's playing in the liner notes : "Since the piano is the harmonic instrument, you would think that would limit the choices, but with Matthew it does not. Even when he plays chords, the way he follows the harmonic sequence, it doesn't sound like the usual piano thing. And when I do venture out of tonal Western music, into noises and microtones, this doesn't scare him, he takes it as an opportunity to expand the music. In these moments, he's not a 'piano player': he goes with me wherever I want, and is always showing me new windows to open. And when I go there, he shows me new colors".

It is exactly this which makes the music exceptional, great musicians together on a journey, shaping things, open-ended, interacting on a deeply emotional level at the same time as creating the music. Shipp and Cleaver push Perelman forward into states of mind that result in some of his best playing on CD, deep, spiritual, expansive, stubborn, sensitive, heartrending and beautiful. On some of the calmer moments, he weeps quietly, or he offers us beautiful meditative sounds, and then before you know, he's screaming his heart out, blowing shrill and bone-chilling sounds, and back within in the silent weeping mode within seconds, as on "Sketch Of A Wardrobe", and it all fits, the trio moves the listening experience together, full of focus, full of drama.

Again, a highly recommended album.

© stef