Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Bruno Tocanne, Libre(s)ensemble

European jazz seems to be on a roll, with veteran players like Peter Brotzmann and Han Bennink counted among the music's most revered figures, and Lisbon-based label Clean Feed emerging as this decade's Blue Note. Musos like Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado and Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser even run their own labels. Now you can add French drummer Bruno Tocanne to the list.

Tocanne's a jazzman with one foot in rock; one of his projects is the I. Overdrive Trio, a Syd Barrett tribute outfit. He's served as artistic director of the imuZZic collective for over a decade, and launched the Instant Music Records label in 2010. On 4 New Dreams!, he leads a quartet where Blaser intertwines contrapuntal lines and swaps solos with trumpeter Remi Gaudillat. The leader never rushes the proceedings, always ensuring that there's plenty of space for the groove to breathe and the listener to cogitate. The music's mood is somber and reflective, and the performances are beautifully recorded, so that every intimate detail and nuance is clearly audible.

Libre(s)ensemble is a whole 'nother kettle of fish: a big band that covers a whole spectrum of moods and influences with two trumpets (including Gaudillat), two guitars, and one or two woodwinds atop bass, Tocanne's drums, and percussion. The opening "La Foley" juxtaposes a pulsing guitar chord against an abstract melody before the horns break out in collectively improvised polyphony. "Bruno Rubato" commences with a slice of sprung rhythm freeblow, with hints of surf and Jim Hall in the guitars, before settling into a winding, horn-led dirge that's reminiscent to these feedback-scorched ears of Bill Frisell's reimagining of Burt Bacharach's work with Elvis Costello. Then Elodie Pasquier takes a woody bass clarinet solo over more sprung rhythm and the melody returns, this time with Damien Sabatier soloing on alto.

"Suite for Libre Ensemble" winds its way through four different movements, which are alternately Spanish-tinged, Henry Cow-like, freewheeling, and folkloric-but-_out_. "Le chant des marais" starts out with a jangling rhythm guitar like something out of Lighthouse or one of those other early '70s "jazz rock" bands. Elsewhere, there are echoes of Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society (back when he still had the scream trumpet), Jack DeJohnette's Directions, and even the ethereal, spacey side of Ornette's Prime Time. Overall, though, Libre(s)ensemble is most evocative of Carla Bley's work with Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra and her own bands. It's not just the eclecticism, it's the way the horns are voiced. The soloists are uniformly strong, but it's the compositions and the way the constituent parts interact as a whole that are the focus here. Together, these two discs form an auspicious debut release for Instant Musics.


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