John Hébert's Byzantine Monkey begins with a loop of the traditional "La Reine de la Salle" sung by Odile Falcon in an ancient reedy voice, Hébert's improvised bass joining in, his lines at once swift and empathetic, lyrical and microtonal, his sound deeply resonant and every metallic buzz of string and finger captured. It's an arresting moment, Hébert's Louisiana roots as palpable as his bass. Those roots are just as apparent when loop and bass cede the foreground to Tony Malaby
, Hébert enjoys developing turbulence at slow tempos as well as fast and there's real intensity in a performance like "Blind Pig" that comes from the sheer accumulation of voices, Attias' keening alto and the leader's bass complemented by the rattling drums and percussion of Nasheet Waits
and Satoshi Takeishi. Malaby's multiphonic roar initially gives a dirge-like sound to "Ciao Monkey" and there's often a gravity here that comes from the sheer power of low frequencies, Attias sometimes doubling on baritone and Adam Kolker, present on half of the ten tracks, adding bass clarinet to his flutes.
Hébert has recorded a couple of these tunes before (in duo with pianist Russ Lossing
, take on a new power here while retaining much of their intimacy. While he has already distinguished himself as a bassist, this is a striking debut as a bandleader for Hébert, the group's sound, empathy and collective identity all testifying to his focused originality.
Track Listing: La Reine de la Salle; Acrid Landscape; Run For The Hills; Blind Pig; Ciao Monkey; Cajun Christmas; Fez; For A.H.; Fez II; New Belly.
Personnel: John Hébert: bass; Michael Attias: alto sax, baritone sax; Tony Malaby: tenor sax, soprano sax; Nasheet Waits: drums; Satoshi Takeishi: percussion; Adam Kolker: flute, alto flute, bass clarinet (2-4, 6, 8).