Henri Texier's Strada Sextet: Vive la Revolution!
Pavillion Theatre, Brighton, UK
17th March 2005
Tonight the air is full of revolt. Not just because of the fiery music on offer, or the defiant spirit of '68 embodied in the calmly radical physical presence of Henri Texier, the revolutionary elder statesman. No, tonight we almost witness another very English, middle-class, mild-mannered though slightly irritable revolution of a completely different kind.
This is the fourth date of a twelve night tour of England by this giant of contemporary French jazz, towering bassist and erstwhile collaborator with Don Cherry, Bud Powell and Dexter Gordon. The first set is billed as the Henri Texier Trio, featuring Texier with his son Sebastien on alto sax and clarinet and drummer Christophe Marguet, performing their live soundtrack to Jean-Louis Bertuccelli's semi-documentary film Remperts d'argile, which examines an isolated village in the Algerian Sahara as a metaphor for censorship and tyranny.
The trio take their places thirty minutes later than billed. House lights dim. Nothing happens. House lights go back up. Frowning technician gets up a ladder to examine the projector. Texier, stalling for time with a spoken preamble, discusses the revolutionary nature of the film, and how its political stance meant that it was never seen in Algeria. Some wit is heard to declare "it's never going to be seen here either. It's an hour since the gig was due to start. There are shouts: "Will we get a refund? "I came to see the film! "Can't we just have some music? Revolt is in the air!
By way of averting disaster, Texier skips the soundtrack and comes on blazing with the full might of the Strada Sextet, his new collective based around the nucleus of the trio, augmented by Francois Corneloup on saxophones, guitarist Manu Codja, and Bulgarian Gueorgui Kornazov on trombone. Texier says "you get less pictures, but more music. He's not kidding, either: the sextet plays for an hour and a half, largely showcasing tracks drawn from their critically acclaimed album Vivre, but in extended and wildly extemporised versions that journey to regions untouched by the recordings. It's obvious right away that Texier has quelled the mob. There will be no ugly scenes here tonight. From the outset, the audience is spellbound.
The set opens with "Work Revolt Song", mixing the North African rhythms that Texier absorbed in his youth on the cosmopolitan streets of Paris with freewheeling ensemble interplay and some muscular playing .The result is a powerful statement about choice and free-will, and an undeniably seductive call to arms. One can almost imagine Texier manning the barricades, facing down the pigs with nothing but his bass for a weapon.
It's followed by "Sacrifice", which Texier dedicates to the band itself, a daring group improvisation that establishes the concert as a kind of revelatory ritual with Texier as high priest, perched Buddha-like on a stool at the rear of centre-stage. The sense of danger is heightened as the sextet move through a series of pieces with inflammatory titles: "Too Late to be Passive", "Dance Revolt", "Silent Revolt", "Black March Revolt." Themes of freedom and dissent are thick in the air, and physically embodied through the anarchic disintegration and communistic re-emergence of group themes. There's some wild soloing here too. Manu Codja's guitar is on fire throughout, sounding like John McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix arguing over the effects pedals. Gueorgui Kornazov is garrulous and opinionated on trombone, looking like a bad-tempered classical musician with flowing conservatoire locks and a frown of concentration.
The pieces are presented in a breathtaking range of styles: a New Orleans funeral march; a slice of blistering, up-tempo, hardest-of-the-hard bop with drums, bass and guitar sending the energy levels sky-rocketing; there's even, on "Blues for L. Peltier" - dedicated to a Native American controversially accused of murdering two FBI agents - a decent go at jazz-rock, albeit one which is slightly weakened by a Western movie-style, faux-Amerindian refrain.
Texier ends this exhilarating tour of dissent with the more reflective "Decent Revolt." As he explains, "for people who can't have the grand revolt, this is just a little one. A small revolt? Like asking for your money back, for example? The thing is, no one seems to be complaining anymore.