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Monday, June 28, 2021

Ayler Records is Back (Part II)

This is part two in a two-part series. The first installment ran here .

Ayler Records is back. After an encomium here on FJB and a year of inactivity, the label returned in 2020 and, since then, has released six albums (with a couple more in various stages of production) that, simply put, pick up right where the label left off, almost as if there were no hiatus at all. Much of this is not jazz by any stretch, though it is all avant-garde in some sense. Taken together, these releases point to interesting and unpredictable things to come for a label that has become increasingly dedicated to documenting a truly eclectic French scene, with, in Jan Ström fashion, the occasional American release to keep things fresh, rooted, and trans-Atlantic.

Here we go again, from the top.

Nicholas Souchal, Michael Nick. Daunik Lazro, Jean-Luc Cappozzo – Neigen (Ayler, 2021)

Neigen, as the liner notes make clear, is German for “to tend towards.” It can also mean lean, slant, and bend. Neigen tends toward gently strained and breathy abstractions. However, this is only a proclivity. It may lean in this direction, but it is compelling because it is so elastic. It leans and bends, but also balances the extreme end of disembodied huff and puff with an infectiously obtuse (or obtusely infectious) slanted melodicism that seems to have become a sine qua non of the Parisian scene that these musicians inhabit and labels such as Ayler, Fou and Dark Tree have been documenting over the last few years.

Daunik Lazro (here on baritone and tenor sax) and Jean-Luc Cappozzo (trumpet, flugelhorn, and objects) are widely known entities in certain circles, Nicholas Souchal (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Michael Nick (various violins) maybe less so. As the opening track Neigen shows, however, they came to these sessions with like minds. The breathy malleability of the sound is a perfect open to an album that continues along these lines of windy expressionistic abstraction. (Think thick and tactic, like Joan Mitchell, rather than dense and striated like later Jackson Pollock.) The music is quite abstract. When the musicians clique, they sometimes construct thorny, ascending vines, sparsely placed rosebuds and all. Or they evoke an electrified and glitched out bagpipe, meticulously rent apart. In pieces such as Narcisse Watered and Siper Spell, Souchal and Cappozzo conjoin in ways evocative of Peter Evans and Nate Wooley duos, though with less abandon. Indeed, Nick and Lazro are there to moderate any fierce attack with their own extended technique contortions and lyric yelps. The reverse is true as well. This music simmers, but rarely boils. And even when it boils, it never boils over.

In short, Neigen, is very much in line with what I was expecting. It is less melodic than Garden(s), the last Lazro/Cappozzo collaboration on Ayler. Instead, it showcases the viscosity that can come with drags, draws, gasps, and breath. At its core, Neigen sounds spacious but coherent, like a layer by layer deconstruction of some piece that once was whole and still maintains some of that initial integrity, even if its pieces are dispersed.

Baptiste Boiron, Bruno Chevillon, Frédéric Gastard – Là (Ayler, 2021)

resulted from a several month residency that saxophonist Baptiste Boiron spent at the Domaine de Kerguéhennec in Brittany, where he composed the album. On this recording, Boiron is joined by Bruno Chevillon on double bass and Frédéric Gastard on bass saxophone.

There is a lot to two this double release. In a sense, it fits into the bunch covered here, though largely because it is a far step from the spiritual free jazz and free improv that made Ayler such a formidable label in its early days. Traces of that inspiration remains in the syncopation, the periodic tortured elements, and some of the phrasing. , however, sounds more like an opus out of the conservatory. It balances neoromantic melodies with post-jazz extended technique, yet it combines these poles rather than pushes them to their extremes. One can hear this already on the first track, MAlin né délivré, which offers a lively study of sweet and spirited phasing. The alternately honking and wispy second track, Là, and the racing Trace de Fard Gris and hAt noyant Bronx, show that Boiron, Chevillon, and Gastard have their textural sound painting chops. Then come some of the more airy and probing compositions like the J’etais cet homme, the fluttering Trace de Fard Gris, and more intimate statements such as avec StyLe and Prayer (Keith Jarrett). Mixed among these are the utterly serene Fleurette Africaine (Ellington), the shorn abstraction of Lonnie’s Lament (Coltrane), and the damp, sweltering noir piece, Le sourire à travers les larmes, which is a fitting tribute to Charlie Chaplin and Tom Waits. (I hear the Waits influence, though whether it’s from his pre-Swordfishtrombones ballad days or his early millennium Kurt Weil/postindustrial blues I cannot say. And, now that the idea is in my head, I can certainly picture Chaplin expertly stumbling around on a flickering black and white screen to this music at some contemporary live-accompaniment retrospective.)

This brings me to another fun peculiarity of this release. If you were curious about the odd track names and unconventional capitalization, join the club. Most of the titles are anagrams of artists who have inspired Boiron in the construction of the album. Sometimes, these anagrams help unlock a musical puzzle. Other times, it seems these pieces are less odes to an individual than delicate amalgamations of disparate influences. Many will be familiar, even if they are worked into in bits, pieces, deconstructions and, sometimes, full pieces: Anthony Braxton (hAt noyant Bronx), Roscoe Mitchell, Thelonious Monk (nus, MonoliThe ok), Stravinksy, Reich. The musicianship is clearly here. The meticulous conceptualization is, as well. As much as those features, however, it is the wide breadth of musical territory traversed over these two discs, and the compelling reconciliation of the contemporary classical, contemporary jazz, and other experimental acoustic worlds that make this album such a success. A true standout among a string of strong releases and currently among my favorites of 2021.

Dennis González Ataraxia Trio + 2 – Nights Enter (Ayler, 2021)

This release has a notable provenance. Apparently, Stéphane Berland, who runs Ayler Records, encouraged Dennis González to compose music to accompany a piece of art Dennis had created with his granddaughter. (See the cover for the artwork.) Dennis obliged, pulled together a group of collaborators (bassist Drew Phelps and percussionist Jagath Lakpriya of González’s Ataraxia Trio, moog-man Derek Rogers, and harpist Jess Garland) and created this wonderfully ethereal and probing release.

Nights Enter is somewhat of a departure for González’s work on Ayler, though it certainly evokes the meditative fusion of Ataraxia’s first release, Ts'iibil Chaaltun. Much as on the previous release, Phelps’ bass and Lakpriya’s table and djembe keep the music grounded and speak to an atavistic ritualism. Roger’s moog, Garland’s harp (especially on the wistfully brittle Approaching Dawn), and González’s distant and sometimes echoed trumpet, however, lift Nights Enter into a different realm that touches on ECM ambience, but maintains a warmth, roughness, and oddity (Göbelki Tape) that keep this release a thing apart. For his part, González’s playing is impeccable, and stylistically more evocative of Markus Stockhausen than his choppy downtown free jazz work. Even for those who are already steeped in González’s catalogue, this one is a real treat.

Catherine Jauniaux, Xavier Charles, Jean-Sébastien Mariage – L’amour (Ayler, 2021)

L’amour begins softly, with lone and softly layered tones, decays, ringing, and other noises. It builds in intensity, still quietly. The extended tones fluctuate and stretch. A hiss comes into the left ear, coy squeaks into the center and a bowed(?) guitar persists in the right. The track shimmers and crackles. It heaves at points, before crumbling into a few phrases of carefully articulated French, then ceases.

Each of the eleven tracks on L’amour follows a different course, but the basic contours and certain elements – the hushed guitar of Jean-Sébastien Mariage, the extended clarinet of Xavier Charles, and the dynamics between the lyrics, all in French, and the experimental vocalizations of Catherine Jauniaux – bind them, as does the text that inspired this project. I do not know French, so the lyrics, all excerpts from Marguerite Duras’ 1971 cinematic novel L’amour, are lost on me. Catherina Jauniaux’s powerful delivery, however, is not. Indeed, I might even hear more of the inflections, the drags and stops, and the sonority than I would were the lyrics in a language I understood. This album, moreover, was recorded after the trio toured Moscow, Berlin, Saint Petersburg, and Paris, reconnecting these major cities in which French once dominated as a literal lingua franca potentially to audiences who, like me, were able to bask in the vocals as estranged and beautiful sound. I am not sure how far the point about reasserting French as a regional language of culture should be taken, but, if not the language itself, Jauniaux, Charles, and Mariage are certainly elevating the French experimental scene in some of the experimental hubs of Europe, and without watering it down with Anglicism.

The musicians of L’amour form an unconventional trio based on what seems to be an unconventional text. At times, its quiet dynamics remind me of some of the more variegated releases of Creative Sources and Insub. (In fact, it sounds to me like a more developed take on a spoken word, gurgly improv style that the Guez Trio, released years ago by Insub’s predecessor netlabel, had experimented with.) That, of course, is not to detract from its distinctiveness. Indeed, although I recognize a lot of the elements on L’amour, I have not heard them combined and staged quite like this. If you know French, I imagine there are layers of meaning accessible to you that I simply cannot speak to. And if you do not, it is certainly enough to let the sounds speak for themselves.