With Crouch, Touch, Engage
, Andy Elmer is back. He is one of the most influential pianist/composers to have appeared on the French scene in the last 15 years, having explored all the possible links between jazz and rock. He has collaborated with some major jazz artists, including (Michel Portal
, François Jeanneau, Trilok Gurtu
and the late Woody Shaw
), but it is his work with large orchestrasboth at the beginning of his career in 1986 with the National Jazz Orchestra and, more recently, at the heart of the WDRwhich gave him a taste for writing on a large scale.
Brimming with ideas, Emler created his Megaoctet in 1988, which has gone from strength to strength ever since, picking up a host of major awards including Django d'Or (1992) and the Victoires du Jazz (2005) album of the year award for Dreams in Tune (Nocturne Jazz, 2004). He has also garnered universal praise from the French press following the release of West in Peace (Nocturne, 2007), for which he was also awarded the Django d'Or and Jazz Academy prize. All this is proof that the Megaoctet is universally acknowledged as remarkable by those at the heart of the French jazz scene.
Emler has created a kind of jazz/rock opera, constructing and deconstructing his compositions accordingly. The Megaoctet excels in furious unison work, visceral exaltations and moments of sheer calm; a passionate, loving session. This effervescent fusion echoes a jungle of sound that Duke Ellington
and Charles Mingus
might have created with Frank Zappa
, had they had the opportunity to collaborate with each other. The music avoids sticking to rigid linear structure, instead written by Emler as a suite of movements, as on "Mail to Elise." Solos are equally distributed amongst group memberswho sound like a big band despite being only a nonet. Each player marries humor and self-deprecation, under the guidance of the ever-surprising cornetist Mederic Collignon or altoist Thomas de Pourquery, who sings like a crooner. The writing is both deep and extremely expressive.
A DVD released by Triton filmed in a little Parisian club in September 2008 provides a glimpse of this high energy group. Taken from many angles with some hot close-ups, the film demonstrates the demands of this inventive music, as it revisits the spirit of Ellington and Mingus.
Personnel: Andy Emler: piano; Mederic Collignon: cornet, bugle, vocals; Thomas de Pourquery: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, vocals; Philippe Selam: tenor saxophone; Adrien Amey: alto saxophone (DVD); Laurent Dehors: bass clarinet; Eric Echampard: drums; François Verly: percussion; Claude Tchamitchian: double-bass; François Thuillier: tuba.