Louis Sclavis is one of the premier French jazz musicians over the past thirty years. From his initial work with the Brotherhood of Breath and the Henri Texier Quartet, to the outstanding African Trio and his quartet, Sclavis consistently has composed and performed at a high level, with musicians both known and unknown. On "Silk and Salt Memories," he has expanded from his Atlas Trio (with Gilles Coronado on guitar and Benjamin Moussay on piano) with the addition of percussionist Keyvan Chemirani. This is a tightly knit group where the interactions and reactions are fluid and almost telepathic.
The opening track, "Le parfum de l'éxil," has a strong Middle Eastern feel with gothic overtures, a hypnotic, driving tune pushed by Chemirani, Moussay holding a firm ground with the piano, and Sclavis and Coronado pushing forth with almost synchronized melodies. "L'himme sud" provides a small showcase for Coronado's guitar work, followed by Moussay, whose playing is reminiscent of Daniel Perez when playing with Wayne Shorter. It's playing that pushes outside a comfort zone, intelligent risk taking that is clean and elegant. "L'autre rive" is a somber, meditative piece led by Moussay with a long piano solo, followed by Sclavis. It has one foot planted in the 1930's French nightclub scene, the other in contemporary improvised music. "Sel et soie" features some gorgeous clarinet work by Sclavis, a hybrid of Guiffre and Dolphy, and is a high point on the album.
There is a mood established on the album that inhabits old Europe and Middle Eastern worlds, that allows for the group to perform a variety of sounds yet remain consistent in tone and feel, with few exceptions, they stay in a certain range of contemplative expression. An exception would be "Dance for Horses," where they are surprisingly jubilant, energetic and wildly complex. Moussay unleashes sheets of sound, Coronado aggressive jangly metallic strumming, Chemirani pounding away. Frenetic and fantastic. "Cortege" is equally brilliant, part jazz, part prog rock. "Dust and Dogs" also combines the fusion feel with Moussay providing a mid 70's rock mellotron like sound, Sclavis and Coronado weaving a complex middle eastern texture, tightly woven, and Chemirani on congos.
"Silk and Salt Melodies" is yet another fine album by Sclavis and his group, an elder musician and his younger collaborators pushing each other in ways unexpected and quietly brilliant. Recommended.