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L'imparfait des langues represents an attempt by reedman Louis Sclavis to challenge himself compositionally by incorporating new features into his working musical vocabulary while increasing the level of unpredictability.
The resulting work is, perhaps surprisingly, the closest thing to a "jazz" album that he has produced. While encouraging change, Sclavis nevertheless has a style that is hard to define, but recognizable with familiarity.
A discernible Sclavis habit is to change instrumentation and musicians from record to record in his ECM catalogue, with only a few but noticeable overlapping players. However, the inclusion of a second reed instrument, alto saxophonist Marc Baron, is a first. The other new thing for this band is that the other musicians (except for drummer Francois Merville) are relatively new to Sclavis and vice versa. Furthermore, these musicians are all significantly younger than Sclavis, and this collision of generations produces the tension and energy that make the music so successful.
Guitarist Maxime Delpierre adds overdriven guitar much of the time, which brings in a progressive rock sound to the proceedings, while Baron adds a free, rough sound that contrasts nicely with Sclavis' mostly clean timbre. Merville plays some energetic drums when the music takes off, and keyboardist Paul Brousseau (listed also for electronics and sampling) adds to the mix in many subtle ways.
The feeling that the jazz quotient of L'imparfait des langues is high is fueled by the impression of a looseness to the structure of the pieces that allows for more improvisation. Many easily graspable themes present themselves as material for the ensuing improvisations, although Sclavis says that he was "definitely interested as much in sound and texture as in the melodies."
The excitement of the music is palpable as disparate styles and sounds flow into each other or are just mashed together. "Archeologie" is a particularly apt example as its boppish head is presented by reed and guitar in the traditional unison manner, followed by the group playing freely on the theme. Sclavis then solos against Merville's drums, again traditionally, but this leads to a jungle-rock beat pedal over which Delpierre plays a very interesting solo that edges into the outside while staying inside, leading back to the head, which is almost shocking in its normalcy.
The title can be translated as "The Imperfections of Language," but could also have more to do with ambiguity. Many of the track titles reference language and its use, and voices can often be heard saying something, especially in "Annonce," which consists solely of a processed voice, which could be offering a prayer.
What this all means is unclear, but one could surmise from the overall impact of the album that Sclavis views the language of music as infinitely malleable and that what matters are the emotions expressed rather than the structure or instrumentation.
L'imparfait des langues is a marvelous addition to the Sclavis discography and an accessible entry point for those new to his work.
Track Listing: Premier imparfait (a); L'idée du dialecte; Premier imparfait (b); Le verbe; Dialogue with a dream; Annonce; Archéologie; Deuxieme imparfait; Convocation; Palabre; Le longs du temps; L'écrit sacrifié; Story of a phrase; L'imparfait des langues.
Personnel: Louis Sclavis: clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone; Marc Baron: alto saxophone; Paul Brosseau: keyboards, sampling, electronics, guitar; Maxime Delpierre: guitars; François Merville: drums.