Michel Donato: Michel Donato et Ses Amis Européens (2005)
The mid-'60s Blue Note sound permeates Michel Donato et ses Amis européens, the veteran Québec bassist's new CD. True to the album's title, Donato's teamed with Polish trumpeter Piotr Wojtasik and three non-native Parisians (guitarist Michael Felberbaum, drummer Karl Jannuska and tenor saxman François Théberge). Every musician contributes at least one composition (there are three by the leader) and the result is unrevolutionary but profoundly engaging and rhythmically fascinating post-bop jazz.
I have waxed enthusiastic about Jannuska's brilliant, imaginative drumming many times previously. Let us then simply state that his playing elevates this session immeasurably. Indeed, the absence of a keyboard player on this session puts all the rhythmic responsibility on Jannuska and Donato. They discharge this responsibility wonderfully: despite the merits of the other three players, this is a CD where the real action is down below. Jannuska can always be accused of overplaying but there's a formal rigor, even an archness to his playing that suggests he's in charge of his techniquenot vice-versa. Donato's never as upfront as JannuskaFelberbaum's tune "Open Closer contains little more than Donato repeating a bass vampbut the impact of the leader and drummer interlocked is powerful indeed. Felberbaum does comp, usually under Théberge's solos, but his presence in this area is wisely understated; he stays out of Jannuska's and Donato's way.
The music's all pretty Blue-Notey. Wojtaskik's "Hope has some archetypal hard-bop harmonies in its head, but its asymmetric structure and shifting time is more Tony Williams than Art Blakey. Wojtasik contributes a fine solo that is reminiscent of Freddie Hubbard (he's said to be known as the Polish Marsalis, but his fondness for long, sustained, sighing notes, as in "Open Closer, calls to mind Miles Davis more than anyone elsedespite his equal love of more vehement, rapidfire phrasing).
Felberbaum's "Dog, with its Mingus-meets-Mancini theme, is a complete winner. Felberbaum's winking, insinuating solo dashes around Donato's walking bass and Jannuska's exquisite snare work. Jannuska builds and releases tension around Théberge's following solo, Théberge's notes seeming to dart up and above Jannuska's press rollslike a bright canary darting out of the paws of a cat.
Théberge's "Vin Neuf is an optimistic ballad with a moving, openhearted harmonized theme and a deeply knowing bass solo where Donato finally steps entirely to the front of the session, Felberbaum comping poignantly in support. If this music has any "European flavor, this tune embodies it: there's a sweetness and Old World melancholy in the playing despite the entirely American origin of the Blue Note template.
Another fine album from the Effendi label. It should be pointed out that this is not music whose excellence is immediately apparent; indeed, a much less favorable review was written and then scrapped when repeated listens revealed the CD's true quality. Skeptical first-time listeners of Michel Donato et ses Amis européens are therefore encouraged: keep playing it!
Track Listing: 1. Open Closer 2. Tremay 3. Hope 4. Bleu Sur le Vif 5. Dog 6. Have You Met Mr. Jones 7. Dolphy's Coming 8. Vin Neuf 9. Duet Now
Personnel: Michel Donato: acoustic bass; François Théberge: tenor saxophone; Piotr Wojtasik: trumpet; Michael Felberbaum: guitar; Karl Jannuska: drums