Thomas Savy: The French Suite (2009)
Frenchman Thomas Savy seems intent on making a statement with his bass clarinet, and he's doing so in a challenging format: a trio, accompanied only by bass and drums. He's out of the gate running with French Suite.
The bass clarinet is a terrific sounding instrument, with a big wooden resonance and dimensional texture, and it should be featured in jazz more frequently. There is a small, but significant body of work on the instrument, with Eric Dolphy probably its most notable employer. David Murray discs can usually be counted on to include it for a couple of tracks, and Herbie Mann cut a full album on the instrument, Great Ideas of Western Mann, on the Riverside label way back in 1957. However great these earlier efforts have been, the bass clarinet has never been widely embraced, often relegated to being a novelty for saxophone players who want to experiment a little.
In contrast to his forebears, Savy is a bass clarinetist first and foremost, and he uses every bit of the horn's capabilities to make modern, forward-thinking jazz. The French Suite comprises eight original compositions, with Duke Ellington's, "Come Sunday," and John Coltrane's, "Lonnie's Lament," included towards the end. Based on the track order, with part of the suite appearing after "Come Sunday," it appears that both of those tracks are intended to be an integral part of the piece.
Savy's compositions showcase his diverse melodies, which can be jagged, as on, "Ignition," and then become immediately lyrical on the very next track, "Atlantique Nord." Part six of the suite, "Stones," picks up a slow Arabic vibe for which the bass clarinet's woody timbres could have been invented. "Part IVb-L&E," pulses gently with an almost Lennie Tristano-like reserve.
All the compositions leave plenty of space for Savy's exceptional improvisational skills with skillfully executed runs, as he darts, jumps and rolls among his very capable collaborative rhythm section, composed of drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Scott Colley. He can be as aggressive as any downtown avant-garde burner, and as collected as any cool west coast swinger. He uses the full range of his clarinet, from the deepest, weightiest tones at the bottom, up through false high notes at the top.
An album like French Suite begs the question: why don't more jazz musicians embrace the bass clarinet? Thomas Savy makes a strong case for the instrument with this excellent release. Here's to hoping that he'll inspire some imitators.
Track Listing: Part I-Overture; Part II-Ignition; Part III-Atlantic Nord; Part IV-E&L; Part V-My Big Apple; Part VI-Stones; Part VII-Ballade De Stephen Edward; Come Sunday; Part IV b-L&E; Lonnie's Lament.
Personnel: Thomas Savy: bass clarinet; Bill Stewart: drums; Scott Colley: bass.
Record Label: Plus Loin Music