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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

L'Étau (Keith Tippett, Michel Pilz, Paul Rogers, Jean-Noël Cognard) – Script Original (Disques Bloc Thyristors / trAce Label, 2021) ****

By Colin Green

Releases on drummer Jean-Noël Cognard’s vinyl-only Disques Bloc Thyristors label have been of high quality, albeit sporadic. Over the last decade three substantial box sets have stood out featuring some notable groupings: two quartets – La Fièvre De L'Indépendance (2013) and Choses Clandestines (2013) – and a quintet, Aux Antipodes De La Froideur (2018). On each occasion the recording process consisted of two days spent in Studio Pierre Schaeffer at the Conservatory of Châtenay-Malabry, and a concert during the evening of the second day at Instants Chavirés. It’s an approach that’s been adopted from time to time by a number of musicians, including Evan Parker and Barry Guy, and documents the often-different facets of studio exploration – sometimes a getting-to-know-you exercise utilising subdivisions of the ensemble – together with the more embracing, collective creativity of a public performance which builds on the studio rapport to round-off the project. All three box sets can still be had on LP, but happily they’ve now also been made available as downloads through the trAce Label’s Bandcamp site. Each collection is strongly recommended.

In addition, there’s this new release consisting of studio material that didn’t make it onto Choses Clandestines, recorded by the quartet of Keith Tippett (piano, maracas), Michel Pilz (bass clarinet), Paul Rogers (7 string A.L.L. Bass), and Cognard (drums, percussion), going under the name “L'Étau”. Tippett remarked at the time that everything played must be recorded and released, which suggests the album is not merely an assortment of outtakes, and it provides a fitting memorial to the pianist who passed away last June and whose achievements are the subject of Philippe Renaud’s liner notes. These pieces are a reminder of Tippett’s artistry: his quicksilver virtuosity and prodigious colouristic resources, both at the keyboard and within the body of the piano. His playing ranged from diamantine precision to dreamy, radiant washes, balancing gesture and poetry, the impish with the rhapsodic, his shifts linked using a rich associative logic which encompassed an affinity for diverse genres, while remaining inimitably himself.

As is often the case in improvisation, this enterprise was a combination of elements familiar and new. Tippett and Rogers had played together regularly for more than two decades as one-half of Mujician, which disbanded after the death of drummer Tony Levin in 2011, and Pilz and Cognard had formed part of the Resuage group and played as a duo on Binôme, recorded in 1994 but not released until some years later. It would seem that the recordings from March 2013 were the first (and only) occasion each pair’s paths crossed. The album is made up of duos and trios as well as the full quartet and a short solo contribution from Pilz, displaying his fruity tone and characteristic voicings, at times as a dialogue between contrasting registers.

Over the course of these performances, we can hear the musicians probing idioms, fusing sonorities, and finding available spaces to collaborate. The opening ‘Premiers rôles’ features piano and bass clarinet and highlights what might be considered typically idiomatic music for each instrument – Tippett’s angular, Bartók-like phrasing and rhythmic patterns intersecting with Pilz’s wonderfully liquid lines, though both ultimately converge into a gentle flow to close. ‘Les châtiments corporels’ consists almost entirely of a commingled group texture, music as a force of nature, woven out of overlapping figurations, shivering bass, boisterous clarinet runs and clattering percussion, in which Tippett’s treated piano resembles a harpsichord, its repeating notes like flickering light. The trio of ‘Le sens du drame’ brings out similarities in the woody hue of thickly bowed bass strings and the lacquered undulations of the bass clarinet, illuminated here and there by bright flurries at the piano. ‘Une vie dissipée’ is a piano trio marked by a static four-note figure set against spectral refractions on arco bass.

By the time of the second quartet track, ‘Ne jamais gâcher l’espace’, all four are working with a broad mixture of components, gritty and diaphanous. There’s the sandy distortion of what sounds like maracas resonating on the piano strings, edgy plucking from Rogers and his constantly slithering bow, Pilz’s swirling reed over a motorised rhythm, and arpeggiated tendrils unfurled across the piano that eventually morph into the Township swagger of the melody with which the piece resolves: ‘You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me’, written by the Blue Notes’ Mongesi Feza. The album concludes with a duo, as it opened, this time Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ – a tune whose melancholic beauty never seems to fade – set in an ample acoustic and given a sonorous reading by Pilz and Cognard.

Script Original is a welcome release, whether considered as an addendum to the already impressive Choses Clandestines or in its own right. The album is available on vinyl and as a download.


Captain Hate said...

the Township swagger of the melody with which the piece resolves: ‘You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me’, written by the Blue Notes’ Mongesi Feza

The universal appeal of that song is impossible to overstate. After Tippett's death I linked the piece from Moholo's Spirits Rejoice release on a non music blog as an example of his playing. The response was almost unprecedented by the inexperienced (Dogon A. D. was a pleasant surprise; usually they just ignore me) with one person strongly urging others to listen.