Diversity of experience supplies a foundation for creative innovation. Belgian alto saxophonist Stephane Mercier confirms this axiom on his debut recording for the Fresh Sound/New Talent label.
Mercier entered the American jazz scene in 1992 when he moved from Brussels to Boston. Since then he’s straddled both sides of the Atlantic touring and residing in North America and Europe. This recording finds the saxophonist ensconced in the Big Apple and collaborating with an international cast of sidemen with whom he’s worked since his first days in America. Only his musical breadth supercedes this geographical sophistication. Mercier’s experience runs the gamut from rock to avant-garde and hip hop to Brazilian and African grooves. Flor De Luna reflects this wealth of influences and offers a diversity of sounds and formats that work well together.
The improvisation on the opening track, “Night Meanderings”, captures in one song the spectrum of styles on the rest of the album. Mercier initiates the proceedings with lines that ring familiar to ears tuned to a mainstream sound: fast angular runs; a flowing development of ideas; and dynamic rangehe drops occasionally from the mid-upper reaches of his horn to deliver a brief, low honk. In stark contrast, guitarist Gromaire cranks out what constitutes essentially a rock solo. Bourgeyx’s pulsating voice on Fender Rhodes adds yet anotherfunkylayer. The remaining tunes on the disc accentuate aspects of this microcosm. On a number like “Fits and Starts” the ensemble opts for a traditional arrangement with Mercier, Thomas and Butler comprising a three-horn frontline and blowing in the pocket solos. On “Half Moon” and its complement, “Fool Moon”, Mark Zubek’s heavy riff punctuated by Bourgeyx’s pumping accents pave the way for Gromaire’s protracted carpet bombing that recalls Hendrix or Page rather than Kenny Burrell or Wes Montgomery.
A lot transpires on Flor De Luna in less than 45 minutes. Some highlights include the all-horn trio format of the gorgeous title track that invokes a vaguely hymn-like sensation; the leader’s flute pulses on the “Moon” series that add subtlety to the grinding riff; and Darren Beckett’s insistent hammering that provides a heavy groove to the session. Check out also the brief exchanges on “WGZFM” among the horns and later drums that supplant extended extemporization and Philippe Thomas’ feature position on “Avenue A” where the trumpeter controls both the melody and solo spotlight. These touches distinguish Stephane Mercier as an emerging innovator in contemporary jazz. Give Flor De Luna a spin and you’ll discover other gems for yourself.