ECM at 40: Enjoy Jazz Festival: Days 3-6, October 22-25, 2009
In a time where mentoringteaching the art of improvisation through experience rather than a textbookis in increasing danger of extinction, it's always a pleasure to find established artists who are committed to passing along their own histories to younger players. American trumpeter Terence Blanchard is one such artist; Polish trumpeter (and ECM recording artist) Tomasz Stankois another. French saxophonist/clarinetist Louis Sclavis is yet another and, by bringing all but one member of the young group that recorded his latest album, Lost on the Way (2009), he demonstrated the real value of music's oral tradition.
Louis Sclavis and Oliver Lété
Opening with the first track off Lost on the Way, Sclavis' new quintet brought back guitarist Maxime Delpierre from his previous release, the equally fine L'imparfait des langues (2007). Looking like he's barely out of his teens, Delpierre played with a curious approach that was, in part, influenced by Bill Frisell at his most angular, but also by the more overdriven agro of Radiohead. As the only chordal accompanist in the group, he was an idiosyncratic player, ideal to support Sclavis' serpentine lines and remarkable solos, as well as some outstanding features for saxophonist Matthieu Metzger, who matched Sclavis for energy, imagination and sheer endurance during some of the set's more electrifying moments.
Like Delpierre, electric bassist Oliver Lété looked as though he'd be more at home in a rock band, and certainly some of the fire he brought to the group came from that space; Sclavis has, in fact, evolved a sound, in recent years, that appeals to fans of some of progressive rock's more compositionally ambitious groups, but his language is far deeper, his improvisational acumen far more acute. There were relative miniatures like "Bain D'or," with drummer Eric Groleau's mallet-driven pulse and a lithely melody that snaked in and around Delpierre's arpeggiated guitar and Lété's equally contrapuntal lines. The group occasionally coalesced around a unison phrase that acted as a rallying point and setup for Lété's oddly shaped solo.
Louis Sclavis Quintet (l:r): Louis Sclavis, Oliver Lété, Matthieu Metzger Eric Groleau, Maxime Delpierre
Capable of powerful forward motion, Groleaureplacing Lost on the Way's François Mervillewas a knotty player ideal for Sclavis' compositional twists and turns, and while he soloed rarely, a clearly unique approach that utilizes dark cymbals to color the more indigo shades of tunes like the temporally fixed but seemingly elastic "Le Sommeil Des Sirénes."
"Un Vent Noir" took the group into near-rock territory, with Delpierre's hypnotic strumming, Lét's persistent strumming and Sclaviswho played most of the set on bass clarinetlayering sinewy lines over the lengthy intro vamp, ultimately resolving into an attractive, mixed-meter melody. As much as Sclavis brought years of experience to his younger players, so, too, did they return the favor by providing the reedman with a context to allow the continued evolution his distinctive, modern-edged approach. It made for a thrilling performance that was one of the highlights of "The Blue Sound" festival.
Alexei Lubimov Trio
For the final performance to focus on ECM's New Series line, the last day of "The Blue Sound" began with a late morning performance by pianist Alexei Lubimov, violinist Alexander Trostiansky and clarinetist Kyrill Rybakov. It was the perfect combination of elegant simplicity, bold drama and instrumental virtuosity that brought deeper meaning to a repertoire that included pieces by Galina Ustwolskaja, Valentin Silvestrov, Meyer Kupferman, Igor Stravinsky and, perhaps ECM's most renowned composer, Arvo Pärt. Given Pärt's proclivity for larger orchestral/choral works, with the focus of this festival on smaller chamber ensembles, it was an opportunity to experience two of Pärt's most beautiful compositions"'Spiegel in Spiegel' für Klarinette und Klavier," and the sublime "Für Alina," both from the Estonian composer's Alina (1999), but "'Spiegel in Spiegel" also on this trio's more recent Misterioso, from which the Utwolskaja and Silvestrov were also culled.
Alexei Lubimov Trio (l:r): Alexander Trostiansky, Alexei Lubimov, Kyrill Rybakov
It was an intriguing way to start a Sunday morning, with Ustwolskaja's "trio für Violine, Klarinette und Klavier" a somewhat moody but appealing piece that highlighted the sensitivity of the trio to the finer details of the music. Beginning with Rybakov's obliquely lyrical melody, Lubmiov entered with emphasis on the lower register of the piano which, in the larger expanse of the Hall of Knights, sounded immense without being overwhelming. The piece gradually became more abstruse, a darkly evocative piece that, over the course of fifteen minutes, waxed and waned with unpredictability, for those unfamiliar with the composition.
Pärt's "Spiegel in Spiegel," driven by Lubimov's gentle piano arpeggios that, with additional notes gradually introduced above and below them, created unexpected and gorgeously simple harmony with Rybakov, whose melody created a lulling sense of tranquility. Both players demonstrated an acutely sensitive touch, with Lubimov's nuances creating a soft sense of power as the piece ebbed and flowed over the course of eight minutes. It was a fitting segue into the final piece of the performance's first half, Silvestrov's "Post Scriptum, für Violine und Klavier," where an initial sense of folkloric simplicity was gradually absorbed into an underlying tension, filled with implication.
The second half began with Kupferman's "Moonflowers, Baby, für Kalrinette solo," a spare entry by Rybakov that set the context for the second set, a piece that required the utmost control and nuance to perform, as the clarinetist gradually evolved a melody that was so compelling on its own that accompaniment simply wasn't necessary. Rybakov then left the stage, as Lubimov began a solo piano segment with Ustwolskaja's "Sonate f&252;r Klavier, leading into Silvestrov's "Zwei Postluden für Klavier," a piece dedicated to Pärt but which was ultimately the most boldly dramatic of the set, creating a powerful tension that was then released to great effect with Lubmivo's spare, spacious "Für Alina," where stasis created a calming effect and rapt attention from the audience.
Ending with Stravinsky's "Suite aus 'L'Histoire du soldat,'" the trio brought the transcendence back to earth with a brighter, more majestic closer, one movement of which was repeated as the encore; with a program this intense and this expansive, it's no surprise the trio didn't have any additional material to play. Still, the audience clearly didn't want the performance to end but, as ever, all good things must.