Two for two, Dark Tree. Last year’s Pourtant les Cimes des Arbres was a challenging, powerful piece of music, a perfect snapshot of the bold, demanding improvisation currently being produced on the French scene. It was also a hell of a way to launch a record label. So, even after multiple listenings, it’s still a little hard to digest the fact that their follow-up—En Corps, with Eve Risser on piano, Benjamin Duboc on bass and Edward Perraud on drums—is even more challenging and jaw-dropping. I’m utterly consumed by En Corps. Lately, I have little desire to listen to anything else. There isn’t anything else that sounds like it.
Duboc’s a large part of the label’s success—he features on both albums, and is one of the most interesting, idiosyncratic bassists in the improvising world. “In his works, he intends to shape time,” proclaims his bio. A seemingly nebulous statement, but upon reflection, one that actually captures Duboc’s sound with striking accuracy. He comes across more as a fearsome sonic omni-presence than a single voice in a trio. His colossal drones and hypnotic figures compose the very medium his band mates move through. The end result is a positively monolithic slab of sound. There’s an eternal quality to En Corps, like being suspended in some temporal void in which you have always been listening to these sounds, sounds that will continue on with no conceivable end. Even with music so intense and alien, it’s an awe-inspiring feeling; the raw “power of music” without any of its cliché connotations.
Don’t get me wrong—this isn’t all about Mr. Duboc. Perraud is a talented drummer, a blur of limbs who brings a nuanced ear along with all his free jazz fury. Risser, who headlines the bill, is a less familiar name, but a stunning musical presence. She works in stabbing chords, small repetitive motifs, currents of dark, muted sound. She never disguises the fact that she’s playing piano, and yet she doesn’t sound like a piano player. En Corps sounds nothing like a piano trio. Risser brings density and delicacy, strong rhythm and looseness, freedom.
And so I’m both consumed and confounded. I’m left to listen again and again, trying to puzzle out what it is that makes En Corps so thoroughly different from so much of what I’ve heard before. When it’s not on, I find myself yearning for its ambiguous rhythmic undertow, for the tiny details of piano that must surely be played by Risser’s third or fourth hands. So I pop it in the player again, and it’s always just as good. Best album of 2012.
Listen to an excerpt from “Chant D’Entre”: