Monday, June 16, 2008
François Carrier – Jean-Jacques Avenel – Michel Lambert
Within (Leo Records, 2007) **** 1/2
The reason why François Carrier is a great musician is simple : he has a kind of total approach to authenticity, in the sense that he always tries to bring a deep emotional and spiritual experience. The focus of all his albums seem to be pointed at that one thing, to create a moment in which this experience becomes real and felt by the audience. And whether he does that with a strange mixture of instruments as on Happening, or by having a straight duo CD with just sax and drums, as on Kathmandu, the overall effect is the same. His music has changed over the years to achieve this level of refined directness. His first albums were still encapsulated in the mainstream, with clear melodic lines, themes and structures. In the last years he has moved away from that, playing fully improvised music, but with focus and with lots of technical skills, both on the instrument and on the interaction with the other musicians. His tone is warm and buttery, very sensitive, welcoming the audience into the music, inviting them to share the musical journey (in contrast to many of today’s musicians who find interesting ways of creating a distance with the audience, alienating them). Michel Lambert is the perfect partner for his music, adding polyrhythms and creative drumming, often with lots of energy, adding intensity to Carrier’s carefully built lyrical sax phrases. Having French bass-player Jean-Jacques Avenel join is a great idea. His skills on the instrument are excellent and he finds the right tone to enrich the trio. The CD constists of three pieces, one clocking even over forty minutes, but that should not deter you. Despite the small line-up, the trio has sufficient ideas for variation to keep the attention going. There is a long bass solo with powerfull percussion from Lambert to create depth, there is a short kalimba piece somewhere in the middle, meditative moments alernate with fierce and intense interplay. Adventurous and welcoming : that is a rare combination. Later this year Ayler Records will bring even more live recordings by him. Enjoy this one and look forward to what’s coming!
POSTED BY STEF AT 4:59 PM
François Carrier has a delicious goose-down saxophone tone, but what’s intriguing about him isn’t simply the soft-edged delivery, rare in free jazz, but the sense that his grasp of freedom has been earned with effort, taken on with due care, and evolved with due seriousness rather than merely adopted as a new party line. There’s nothing lulling about his playing, however. Carrier grabs and holds one’s attention, his background in more structured forms coming through again and again in these three improvisations.
The Canadian has been around for long enough to amass an impressive discography. He and drummer Michel Lambert aren’t quite joined at the hip, but their musical chemistry is increasingly evident. The previous Kathmandu (FMR) was a stirring duo performance which clearly derived some of its presence and authority from the unusual setting and provenance. Last year’s Open Spaces (Spool) was a collaboration with Dewey Redman, who died shortly afterward. On that set, Lambert reminded me strongly of Billy Higgins, not so much in terms of timbre and sonority as in his relationship with the horns, supportive but independent, creating time rather than keeping it. In the same way, Carrier always seems to be pushing for new tonal arrangements rather than seeming to dispense them altogether. His and Lambert’s first appearance on Leo was the double set Happening, which also featured the between-the-tones probing of Mat Maneri in – no accident, I think – one of the violist’s most effective ensemble performances. Guitarist Reg Schwager (a former pupil of Cecil Taylor) takes on a similar role on Noh, a live quartet date out on Ayler. Though Carrier might seem to work most comfortably within the intimacies of the sax and drum duo, he also invests these larger groups with very considerable personality.
That’s the case here, though the instrumentation is betwixt and between and Carrier the only horn. Jean-Jacques Avenel, still best known for his work with Steve Lacy but a formidable player within his own musical language, creates some of the record’s most striking moments, including one of the best contemporary bass solos I’ve heard, but it’s Carrier – who cheekily interrupts Avenel’s long feature – who seems to be shaping the music. It is difficult to tell without known in advance whether the very long central improv develops from a predetermined tonal idea, or whether its informing logic emerged in the course of playing. With Carrier such questions are nearly always an issue and nearly always unanswerable, so not really an issue at all. What one hears is a musician whose grasp of ‘free’ procedures has no aspect of avoidance about it. Carrier is unafraid of metrical patterns – sometimes quite strict ones – which unfold during performance, and doesn’t shy like a pony whenever a harmonic resolution presents itself. A tiresome number of free players still react to beauty and structure in much the same way pre-teen boys react to the prospect of kissing or other slush, with violent tousling and disgusted cries. Carrier simply plays through it and beyond.
I don’t hear an obvious influence on his tone, though he has something of Art Pepper’s feathered edge and attractively blurry delivery. His diction is clear but sophisticated. He listens, but doesn’t feel obliged to react to every one of his partners’ actions, another vice of a kind of free playing that makes ‘responsiveness’ the only mark of authenticity. This will not be, I suspect, the most meteoric of careers – Carrier’s too modest and self-possessed a fellow for that – but it already has terrific substance. Within’s an excellent place to start, but it might be worth catching up first.