Louis Sclavis Atlas Trio: Sources (2012)
Multi-reedist, composer and improviser Louis Sclavis' ninth release for ECM sees this eternally restless seeker of new sounds and textures heading once more into personally unchartered territory; this is the first time Sclavis has led a trio of clarinet, guitar and piano. In guitarist Gilles Coronado and pianist Benjamin Mouassy, Sclavis has recruited open-minded musicians with the technique, discipline and imagination necessary to give life to his sketches of musical ideas, where formal structure and free rein co-exist in such close symbiosis that the two are not always easily distinguishable. Contemporary classical ruminations, pulsing funk, subtle European and North African folk airs, improvisation, and searching impressionism flow in fascinating juxtaposition.
Eschewing drums and bass, Sources isn't as sonically dense as the quintet outing Lost On The Way (ECM, 2009), nor as jazz-centric or urbane as the subtly sample/electronics-intoned L'Imparfait des Langues (ECM, 2007). Nevertheless, as its name suggests, Atlas Trio covers surprisingly diverse terrain, and, despite the lack of a rhythm team, is rhythmically engaging to boot. The trio raises a head of steam on the gritty funk workout "A Road to Karaganda"; Sclavis' clarinet infuses a yearning, quasi-Anatolian melodicism in a memorable tune which seems far shorter than its actual nearly nine minutes duration. On the dramatic guitar-driven "Pres d'Hagondange," darting, repeated unison lines of piano and clarinet explore a similar vein to that of pianist Nik Bartsch's Ronin.
There's urgency in "La Disparition," with Moussay's Rhodes providing a bass pulse, and Coronado, inventive rhythmic drive, while Sclavis constructs an arresting, unpredictable improvisation. The stripped down "Dresseur de nuages" is a moody, yet quietly powerful dialog between bass clarinet and piano, with a vaguely exotic hint of the Maghreb inhabiting the haunting melody. The title track is a sonic sketch whose brooding minimalism seems to chart a course drawing inspiration from Olivier Messiaen via electric-period Miles Davis. "Migration" is a contemporary classical composition where the clarinet and guitar's tightly woven unison lines are given relief by Moussay's dramatic counterpoint, which combines disciplined shadowing with freer embellishments. "Quai Sud" draws inspiration from a similar source, though blurs the lines a shade more between composed and improvised lines.
The impressionistic "Along the Niger" resonates with a host of familiar yet elusive melodic accents, where once again, mood and texture trump melodic development or virtuosity. Coronado's ghostly intro on this track has a distinctly Frisellian feel. The short trio composition "Outside of Maps" offers up an avant-garde, impressionist soundtrack devoid of rhythm. Coronado's "Sous Influence" begins with a clarinet soliloquy, before plying a smoldering funk-rock groove. Its brooding intensity born of collective discipline closes the CD on a high note.
Even on a label like ECM where individualism is championed, there are few artists who create new sounds recording after recording. Sclavis, however, is one such artist and Sources whets the appetite for further adventures from this fascinating trio.
Track Listing: Près d'Hagondange; Dresseur de nuages; La Disparition; A Road to Karaganda; Sources; Migration; Quai Sud; Along the Niger; Outside of Maps; Sous Influences.
Personnel: Louis Sclavis: clarinets; Benjamin Moussay: piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboard; Gilles Coronado: electric guitar.