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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sylvain Guérineau, Kent Carter, Itaru Oki, Makoto Sato - D’Une Rive A L’Autre (Improvising Beings, 2016) *****


By Nicola Negri

Sylvain Guérineau – tenor saxophone
Itaru Oki – trumpet, flugelhorn, flutes
Kent Carter – double bass
Makoto Sato – drums

This recent release on the always excellent Improvising Beings label features four masters of improvised music, gathered together in a quartet specifically created for this project. The most widely known in the group is Kent Carter, a member of Steve Lacy’s bands of the 1970s and a true jazz giant that returns to improvisation after a long absence. By contrast, the main originator of the album, Sylvain Guérineau, is virtually unknown outside France, and probably more famous as a painter there (his delicate yet incisive abstract art adorns the CD package), even if he is a long-time collaborator of French free jazz pioneer François Tusques. The group is completed by two Japanese musicians who both moved to Paris in the early 1970s: Itaru Oki, a key figure of the Japanese free jazz scene who continues to play in strikingly different contexts, and Makoto Sato, former assistant of percussionist Masahiko Togashi and a constant presence in the French jazz community.

The album is dedicated to sailors from all over the world, their often rough living conditions and the adventurousness of life at sea. The opening “Terre Neuvas” effectively illustrates the exploratory character of the album and its thematic subtext: Carter and Sato cast a wide net of different impulses, with long arco bass lines and sparse percussive accents patiently building an increasingly intense free form piece that highlights Guérinaeu’s huge tone and Oki’s lively phrasing. The following “Bateau Phare” follows the same steps, but keeps the music on a more restrained ground, with Guérineau, Carter and Sato creating a richly layered textural soundscape, until Oki’s muted trumpet brings some fresh melodic material to the collective dialogue. With “Récif” the mood changes drastically: a bouncy bass and cymbals rhythm pushes trumpet and sax into a light, humorous melodic exchange, but frequent changes of tempo challenge the soloists to continually reinvent their respective roles, with the whole band finally converging on a well structured coda. “Le Rideau De Mer” returns to a suspended atmosphere, until Carter lays down a dark ostinato that channels trumpet and sax towards a long abstract finale framed by Sato’s busy brush work.

The closing “D’Une Rive A L’Autre” underlines the continuous tension, present throughout the album, between structurally defined and open form sections. The musicians navigate these different scenarios with confidence, moving from a tight interplay to simultaneous digressions with a captivating sense of discovery. Guérineau and Oki promptly pick up each other’s ideas and develop thematic cues that are further expanded in different directions, eventually converging on beautifully crafted melodies or dense contrapuntal exchanges, while Carter and Sato are particularly effective in balancing their activity between a solid supporting role for the soloists and a completely independent voice, equally contributing to the improvisational dialogue.

Carefully conceived and beautifully played, D’Une Rive A L’Autre is a passionate, powerful example of creative music expression, bringing the excitement of early free jazz into a flexible and ultimately timeless musical dimension that highlights the unique personalities of these extraordinary improvisers.

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