Daniel Humair, Marc Ducret, Bruno Chevillon and Ellery Eskelin: Liberte Surveillee (2002)
Here's one that has it all, including the package itself-so good here, I'll start the review with it. Fittingly recognized as part of the art presented, the case's brushstrokes on the cover are reflected on the discs inside. It features the best photos of musicians I've seen on an album this year, by Christian Ducasse, taken at Paris' Swiss Cultural Center during the run of shows that captured these beautifully recorded live performances. The back cover portrait of Humair makes known to us immediately that he is the leader, patriarch and all-knowing elder, shooting a glare that speaks of knowledge that only comes through depth of experience, while the inside cover shows the whole band, emphasizing contact-visual contact that speaks of collective communication- but also reveals a measure of humor and glee. A four-way foldout houses panels hosting a magnificent shot of every participant, each capturing and honoring their essence, with two bonus shots, one of Humair deliberating over his percussion arsenal like a field general presiding over his artillery, and the other showing you his view of the troops from the throne. Yes we notice these things-perfection in packaging right down to the font size and the color of the credits' background.
A fixture on the Paris scene since 50s, Humair is known for his work with Martial Solal in the 60s and no less than Phil Woods' European Rhythm Machine in the 70s. An array of dates have documented him with such diverse leaders as Chet Baker , Lee Konitz, Stephane Grapelli (but of course), Jean-Luc Ponty (mais oui), Steve Grossman, Jerry Bergonzi, Gary Burton, and Joachim Kuhn. He is also a fixture on recent, critically acclaimed, offerings by Piazzolite Richard Galliano.
"Give me the 11" begins as hauntingly beautiful head - the bass sways, the cymbals squeak-count the deliberate groove- a"123",a "123," a "123," a "12one23"-yeah! Guitar echoes sax echoing guitar, shadowing each other with fragments of the melody. Assuredly, Eskelin leads off, building in his way-organically, with commensurate value assigned to sound and the spaces between, overblowing occasionally, then coming with faster lines developing inside ideas over a swinging section until choosing to mine more outside, angular motifs.
Describe Eskelin's playing? I'm not taking the easy way out by comparing him to someone who has gone before, because as he'd say: "Players these days draw from so much language (jazz and otherwise) that lineages are increasingly obscured and broken. In my attempts to get as much sound and variety out of the horn as possible it's unavoidable that I'm going reflect other players to certain degrees simply by virtue of the fact that just about everything that's possible on the horn technically and sonically has been done already-I embrace all this past sound and try to use it in new ways and in a presentation of my own." He embraces it alright, with a range of technical/emotional/sonic vocabulary and a bounty of ideas equaling or exceeding anyone who's ever broken in a reed. He's just an exceptional musician to have on the bandstand in any context and to these ears, this one is particularly suited to him.
Now over to Marc Ducret-pause and go the search engine of your choice and find a relative paucity of information for a player this flat-out gifted. Such a battery of improvisational tools and resources are available to few guitarists. Legato fluidity, staccato flurries, clean octaves, chordal shards, slap rhythm guitar, chord solos in unison with the melodist, intevallic leaps and microtonal bendology are among just a few. Not just a thrill a minute, he's one every three seconds or so. Known primarily for his work with Tim Berne, he'ss another of the music's secrets deserving much more than a "sideman" label-how he has managed to fly under the radar of the worldwide community of guitar freaks, let alone the card carrying jazz fan, thoroughly escapes me. Like Eskelin, he recognizes the value and possibilities of toying with time, breaking it while the pulse stays steady, or, in the case of this solo turn, keeping lines an ideas flowing while Humair does the time-breaking. While contrabassiste Bruno Chevillon holds rock steady, Humair shows us that, while comfortable in the "free" idiom, his style eschews cacophony and ferocity in favor of caressing the groove and massaging the music in unexpected ways, always maintaining a pulse, even when straying from the collective one (and the collective "one"). Avoiding solos, Humair is more of a fill and flourish guy with an absolutely clinical touch on the kit, especially his particularly adroit finesse on crash and ride cymbal work
Although this project is Humair's baby, with one composition by Ducret and the rest by Humair or past associates, Kuhn and Portal, each player is given equal measure in the ensemble. The Ducret-penned "Urgence" is full of it, as sax and guitar again shadow each other in the melody, only to be broken by staccato patterns. As Eskelin solos, Ducret climbs the fretboard with single notes, puncturing here and there with 2 and 3 note fragments of harmony. He begins soloing underneath Eskelin, in dialogue, and as the music breaks down and becomes more spacious, each player begins soloing - at the same time. The tune is then revealed as a repeating vamp to be toyed with by each participant. Not surprisingly, the guy who wrote it gets the most inside it, changing up the rhythm combinations and then sparsing it out so longtime associate Chevillon may be given minutes rather than seconds to develop his ideas, which are untethered by technique. Besides being capable of running up one side of the bass and down the other, Chevillon displays elements of pizzicato architecture that seem to be characteristic to him alone. During the latter part of the solo, passages sound as they involve stopping the string up against the fretboard with the left hand in conjunction with an aggressive right hand technique, yielding sequencer-like pulsations. The band returns, with Ducret soloing in total ignorance of the pulse, in a highly effective way. While some of the bop-laced lines here remind you he is a mutant player grown firmly out of the tradition, others convince you that somewhere along the way, he has grown definitely out of his mind. This section reminds you that the distinguished Mr. Humair can rock, as can the rest of these guys when the music calls for it.
"IRA Song" begins in somber rubato, with the bass at a rolling boil. Eskelin blows a plaintive intro theme, as Ducret adds Frisellish embellishment. The chordal swells spread the drums and the harmony so Eskelin may in fact, create the middle of the song through his exploration, featuring lines so fleet they blur the existence and function of the instrument's key pads, moving into longer, higher overblown, then, lower, breathy blown tones, yielding to Chevillon's solo bass spot, which is nothing short of an improvised bass folksong, growing out of the piece yet capable of functioning separately from it.
This transitions in the drum segue/intro into "Missing a Page," wherein Humair fully establishes for the uninitiated that he is a true master-a very impressive, musical two minute clinic in time, touch and taste. This should be required listening for any young heavy hitters out there interested in exploring alternate ways to produce music from a drum set. That being said, the guns then come out, as Ducret blows fusion-free 32nd note bursts occasionally interrupted by double and triple stops, over classic, barn- burning, walking bass and drums. As good as Ducret's turn is, Eskelin simply knocks the thing out of the park, starting "outer" over a syncopated background then playing faster, more bop and more bop until it all unexpectedly breaks down to a drum outro emphasizing Humair's hummingbird-winged speed on the hihat and other metal parts of the kit.
That's disc one and disc two is just as killer. Now 64, Humair appears at the peak of his powers, not past it. These players all have other, major things going, but as a recent string of dates proves, they intend to keep this band a priority, as the sounds herein would indicate they should. Pick it up domestically from cadence , who are distributing releases from the small French music label/graphics studio/book editor sketch .
Track Listing: CD1 ? 1.Give Me The Eleven 2.Urgence 3.Ira song 4.Missing A Page CD2 ? 1.Triple Hip Trip 2.Salinas 3.Mutinerie 4.Amalgame
Personnel: Daniel Humair: drums ? Marc Ducret: guitars ? Bruno Chevillon: bass ? Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone