Minnesota Sur Seine 2005: Intercommunal Music on the Mississippi
If the idea of 'regular group' seems foreign to the festival, the fourteen-year run of Denis Colin's trio with cellist Didier Petit and Pablo Cueco surely fits the bill. Adding Minneapolis vocalist Gwen Matthews to the ensemble (Colin and Matthews met at last year's sur Seine) provided an interesting detour from the usual Dakota Jazz Club fare, however. On the festival's fifth night, the set began with the trio's take on Eastern European and Iranian folk themes, Petit's cello droning as he let out banshee-like wails along with Colin's bass clarinet, creating a woody minor-key stew. Petit, in addition to wordless vocals, also used the body of his instrument to create percussion duos with Cueco's zarb.
By the third piece, Matthews entered the fray, for a stunning rendition of the Jeanne Lee-Archie Shepp classic "Blasé, Matthews adding not only scatting, but guttural throat singing in tandem with the multiphonics of Colin's bass-clarinet. It is a rarely-sung piece in the vocal jazz canon, and one could not have hoped for better treatment. Though a few of the numbers in the set seemed to try too hard on Matthews' end, "Blasé more than made up for any 'typical' fare.
Another of the projects Rochard has curated as producer is the collaboration of Shawnee poet Barney Bush and Tony Hymas, which has resulted in three albums, the most recent under the Left For Dead moniker. For the fifth night's main concert (the first of this music Stateside), Bush and Hymas were joined by Evan Parker, experimental guitarist Jean-Francois Pauvros and drummer JT Bates (depping for Englishman Mark Sanders, who was kept away by visa problems), in addition to two tribal singer-percussionists in ceremonial garb. Though for some Parker may have been top billing, his role was chiefly as a sideman in the ensemble, fleshing out with his tenor (and, in one lengthy instance, throat-singing) the orchestral aspirations of Hymas and the lyric weight of Bush's stark, meaty poems. Bush's words capture the alienation, confusion and rage that make up the psychology of contemporary Native experienceHymas' keyboard orchestrations and the power surges from Parker, Pauvros and Bates served as tasteful girding for these massive portraits. Of course, the weight in words was greater than hopeless sketches, brought forth through deft transitions between contemporary Native life and pre-cognitive, super-temporal spiritual experience, a hope that settles over all the pain, and is as much in Left For Dead as it is John Coltrane and Albert Ayler.
Tony Hymas as an acoustic pianist is in some ways heir apparent to the Paul Bley school of ambiguous tonal centers and tempi, and Minneapolitans had the rare chance to hear him unplugged on the next night of the festival, leading a quartet with Minneapolis-based tenor/alto powerhouse George Cartwright (late of Curlew and a force in his own trio) and the Bates-Linz rhythm section. Though it was hard to say how well-rehearsed the group was as Cartwright fumbled through a few of the theme statements, the improvisations were full of fire, Cartwright's screaming tenor glossolalia a thing to behold for sure.
The second set opener sounded for all the world like an outtake from Anthony Williams' Spring record (Hymas has a history with Sam Rivers, who was a mid-60s regular with Williams), a delicately convoluted theme that led into a post-bop/free tightrope pieceHymas' affinities for Herbie Hancock's 1965 pan-tonal explorations was not lost on this listener. Cartwright contributed an "untitled piece to the proceedings, an off-center yet funky reconciliation of his roots in the South and in vanguard jazz, and it offered him room to stretch his alto legs on a hot salvo of Braxton-inspired jubilant power. Unlike most gigs of the festival (the Colin-Matthews group being the only other exception), playing St. Paul's Artist's Quarter allowed the quartet two sets, letting them open up and peel a significant amount of paint over the course of an evening.
The next night, held at the Varsity Theater, offered the week's strongest shows, not to mention two of the rarest. Francois Tusques, a name synonymous with the nascent French free jazz movement in the late '60s (he recorded the first record of free jazz in France, the eponymous Free Jazz, in 1966 with Michel Portal) and whose ensembles and projects since then have ranged from Afro-Latin jazz to operatic suites, concluded his first visit to the US with a quintet performance that was nothing short of staggering.
Expanding upon the duo with Adam Linz that started off his proceedings two days earlier (including his gorgeous "Ellington Suite and a homage to Don Cherry), Tusques, Linz, Bates, Colin and Minneapolis/Chicago reedman Douglas Ewart stormed through the pianist's "Blues Suite and three other compositions, including the 1971 classic "Portrait of Erika Huggins (recorded on Tusques' Shandar LP Intercommunal Music, with Sunny Murray).
As a soloist, Tusques integrates Monk, Waldron and Satie into a highly rhythmic foundation; as a composer, this rhythmic-surrealistic mélange marks him as a member of the Monk school, though his pedigree obviously delves into further reaches. The opening section of the "Blues Suite, "Porcelain Cat in a Shop Window, offered pointillistic descending chords beneath a warm, woody Colin solo. "Coltrane and Dolphy presented a scorching duet for Ewart's soprano and Colin's bass clarinet, the theme a searching modal piece where Tusques' roiling lower-register chords garnered a bit of Waldron's insistent minimalism and Ewart's vicious soprano solo seemed to elevate and elevate above the rhythmic maelstrom, a hackle-raising high-volume slab of improvising that the Varsity has probably rarely seen.
The Lacy-esque 'palindrome' theme yielded a Tusques solo brimming with crepuscles of spatial interaction, consonance and dissonance, humor and gravitas, as he and Bates generated an empathy recalling Dave Burrell and Andrew Cyrille on Grachan Moncur III's New Africa (1969, Actuel)they are stylistic and perhaps conceptual kin. "Portrait of Erika Huggins, penned for the UCLA student-turned-martyr of the Black Panther Party, was given a much cleaner and more fully-realized run here than on record; the theme recalls Waldron's fist-raising "Right On! (another homage to the BPP), the B section using 'turning the beat around' to advantage, a skewed challenge for Colin and Ewart that they more than lived up to.
If Tusques' set was, as a fellow attendee waxed, "the best sounding jazz gig [he'd] ever heard, then the Breton folk-improv hybrid advanced by vocalist Erik Marchand, accordionist Janick Martin, violinist Jacky Molard and bassist Helene Labarriére which followed was one of the most brilliantly-conceived variants on traditional music I've experienced. Though the combination of voice, accordion and violin is the background of Breton music (and of course improvisation is central in this as any folk music), the addition of a free-improvising bassist and reevaluating tradition with the language of free music adds an entirely new dimensionthe closest thing I could think of was Barre Phillips and Carlos Zingaro sitting in at a café jam in Brittany.
The stately, droning minor-key themes culled from the Breton and Celtic archives perked these peripherally familiar ears from the outset (think Pentangle or Donovan's Moorish numbers), Marchand usually contributing a few verses before the trio of instrumentalists broke out into extraordinarily dense, fierce improvisations. One in particular began with a perverse pizzicato bass solo that would have made Reggie Workman eat his heart out; this moved into a fleet trio improvisation with Martin and Molard dancing atop Labarriére's masses. A Breton blues began with unaccompanied violin, a scrabbling, bent workout of harmonics and ponticello technique opening out into a surging ballad of harmonics over which Marchand projected his sea-song dirgeand indeed his is one of the most commanding voices in this sector of music that I've heard.
Labarriére returned the next afternoon to sit in with Minneapolis' young vanguard for a rousing free-bop performance with tenor man Chris Thompson, bassist Chris Bates and JT Batesa twin-engined thrum that reinforced the French bassist's status as one of the most versatile in contemporary music.