Francois Tusques et le Nouveau Jazz Francais
By the mid- to late-60s in France, improvisation took on a political edge not dissimilar to that which it had in the States. France's involvement in Vietnam at the start of the decade, not to mention governmental maltreatment across class lines of both workers and liberalist academics at the university level, led to the revolts of May 1968 and subsequent unrest, and the New Left found sympathetic ears among the jazz vanguard. Expatriate African-American and African artists, their struggle against racial oppression viewed by the Left with a similar lens to the proletarian struggle, led to a period of broader acceptance of free jazz in the liberal French public.
Tusques, though now looking at this period as "a reflection of the attitudes and ideas of the time, was nevertheless one of the most notoriously political of the new French jazzmentitles for his compositions like "L'Imperialisme est un Tigre un Papier, "Les Forces Progressistes, "Les Forces Reactionnaires, and Black Panther-themed works like "Portrait of Erika Huggins, "Right On! and "Power to the People belie a decidedly anti-establishment sensibility. The second volume of his Piano Dazibao series on Futura featured a cover with drawings of Mao, Lenin, and Arthur Ashe in addition to Tusques; the back of the third volume of the Intercommunal Free Dance Music Orchestra consists of drawings of the musicians interspersed with Chinese field workers.
Even if these concerns were "of the time and not something Tusques feels a reflection of his current work, his affinity for a resurging interest in the Vienna School (Webern, Berg, Schoenberg) of composers belies a continuing political sensibility"they were fighting fascism with their music, much as [improvisers] and artists do today.
The first ripples of American free players began to show up on the Parisian scene in 1968, primarily due to an extreme paucity of gigs in New York and unwillingness on the part of major record companies to seriously document the music. Drummer Sunny Murray, late of the groups of Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor, was one of the first to make his home in Paris (though saxophonists Marion Brown and Steve Lacy were making a stand as well), and that year formed his Acoustical Swing Unit with both French and visiting free players. Prophetically, its first European incarnation included Tusques, Guerin, Vitet, Portal, Jamaican tenor man Ken Terroade (previously based in London), itinerant West Indian trumpeter Ambrose Jackson, and later added expatriate Americans Alan Silva (cello), Frank Wright, Byard Lancaster, and Arthur Jones (saxophones) and Earl Freeman (bass). Tusques, with his balance of insistent left hand and pointillistic right, helped to reign in the first two official Swing Unit recording dates, two of his three with Murray. These include the eponymous 1968 ORTF concert recording released by Shandar (Sunny Murray) and its companion Big Chief (Pathé, 1969).
By 1969, as a result of offers from French labels like BYG, Musidisc-America and Pathé, a significant number of American free jazzmen had arrived in Paris for gigs and recording contracts; Tusques and his compatriots therefore had the opportunity to work with figures like Anthony Braxton, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Don Cherry and trumpeter/trombonist Clifford Thornton. These latter two were of particular importance in Tusques' development, for as a particularly good ear-learner he fit in perfectly with Cherry's process-based, ongoing and ear-taught approach to learning the seemingly unending and all-encompassing "Togetherness suite. Tusques was a frequent collaborator, even assisting Cherry with some of the piano parts on the famed Mu recordings (BYG, 1969)a series of duets with drummer Ed Blackwell. He also joined up with Thornton, resulting in what might be the valve trombonist's strongest recording, The Panther and the Lash (America, 1970), with Guerin and drummer Noel McGhie.
It didn't take long, however, for a significant number of gigs to dry up as the French musicians' unions began to frown on the large number of perpetually-visiting Americans in Paris. Some, like Murray and Silva, were able to stay on, however, and it was with those two in mind that Tusques assembled his third date as a leader, Intercommunal Music, for Shandar in 1971.
Originally planned as a quartet date for piano, cello, drums and the bass of Beb Guerin, on which a number of Tusques originals would be investigated, kismet and 'snafu' turned it into something quite different. "I booked several hours of studio time in advance, Beb and I waited and waited for hours and we were getting very nervous because Sunny didn't arrive. Finally, there was less than an hour of studio time left, and here come Sunny and Alan with four friends saying 'OK, here we are, let's go!' We only had 37 minutes left, and I couldn't even teach them the tunes, so what you hear on the record is exactly what happened in the studio with that time.