By Dan Sorrells
Gary Peters has an interesting theory of improvisation: he claims it’s actually a tragic undertaking, as the moment with the most “freedom” and potential is that right before the musicians actually begin playing. A freely improvised performance then becomes a exercise in chasing after that original fleeting ideal, which gets farther and farther out of reach until a performance ends, and some permanent, determined, very un-free construct remains. Tragic, in the sense that the original notion of total freedom can never be attained, but beautiful in its impassioned attempts to capture such a worthy ideal.
I can hear this epic struggle more in some improvisations than others. Not desperation and failure, mind you, but amazing reaches of musicianship and determination, a palpable desire to just play and leave everything established at the door, to court the expanse of possibility that marks the beginning of all great art for as long as one is able. It’s a quality I associate with every last member of Sudo Quartet: bass legend Joëlle Léandre, violinist Carlos Zingaro, trombonist Sebi Tramontana, and drummer Paul Lovens. Live at Banlieue Bleue captures an early 2011 performance in Bobigny, a slate of improvisations that seem to defy logic, somehow both airy and dense.
“Sudo 1,” the longest track, starts with slithering bass, slowly adding one musician at a time, each building upon the momentum of the others until a complex, buzzing swarm of an improvisation in born, easily carrying itself (and us) for the next 20 minutes. The remaining four tracks are shorter, ranging from blasts of start-and-stop interplay to plodding, bluesy runs of bass and woozy trombone (like the superb finale of “Sudo 2”). At all times, there’s a playful devotion to keeping that ideal of freedom afloat; a sort of joyous, blind grab for handfuls of whatever musical goodness is there for the taking.
Live at Banlieue Bleue is a particularly strong showing for these European masters. Maybe it won’t ever attain some philosophically-pure notion of total freedom, but it’s really not all that tragic. I say damn rationalism, we’ll take free jazz on faith!
And on that note, I’ll gladly take what Sudo Quartet’s preaching any day.
Available at Instantjazz.