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French tenorist Jean-Christophe Béney plays with invention, verve and deep confidence on Polychromy, his first release since 2002's Cassiopée. Béney's got a penchant for long, measure-spanning phrases of considerable complexitynot unlike Chris Potter, and there's some Lovano in his tone and style as well. He's also a songwriter of real quality and it is the strength of his material that gives Béney's playing much of its heft and impact. Stylistically, there is nothing terribly new here: it's swinging, small-group post-bop jazz.
Béney's surrounded himself with topnotch Parisian playersPierre de Bethmann on piano or Fender Rhodes, Vincent Artaud on bass, and former Québec resident Karl Jannuska on drums. Jannuska's starting to appear on a lot of Effendi sessions, and one can only be in favor of that trend. He's one of the best young drummers on any continent todaymuscular, imaginative, and swinging. (His chiming cymbal work under De Bethmann's Fender Rhodes solo on the Wayne Shortery "Choices is almost worth the price of the disc.) He and Artaud supply a buoyant yet solid rhythmic base that gives De Bethmann the freedom to play more as a co-leader than a third of the rhythm section.
Conga player Arnaud Frank guests on two tracks, "Freetown and "Song Hong, and his contributions do nothing whatsoever to enhance the music; his static rhythms interfere audibly with Jannuska, who cannot play as flexible a time with another percussionist. Therefore the tunes don't swing as much as they could, and should; they're still two of the best songs on the album. Béney's tenor work on "Freetown is as majestic as its theme is simple; his long lines weave imaginatively and melodically through the changes. While Béney's choruses are impossible to top, De Bethmann does pretty well in his ringing, singing and almost-as-linear solowhich takes a delicious, unexpectedly percussive turn towards its conclusion.
In a more ideal musical world, "Song Hong would be a big crossover hit. Its Antonio Carlos Jobim-sounding theme is gorgeous, sweet and unforgettably hookyfirst articulated by Artaud's bass against De Bethmann's static piano chords, then by Béney's tenor. And Béney's following solo! It's leisurely, yet completely authoritative and dancingly rhythmic: the Brazilian qualities of the number bring out the Getz in Béneybefore his own multisyllabic tendencies dig in. The rhythm section cooks throughout at a controlled slow-burn. It'd still be better without the congas, though.
The rest of the recording does not suffer by comparison to these tunes, however. There's a a bit of Coltrane in Béney's tenor keening over De Bethmann's McCoy Tyner-styled piano comping on "Orbit." "Easy Easily another piece with a Brazilian tingehas supple, multicolored guitar from guest Michael Felberbaum. Jannuska excels throughout.
Is this "French jazz? Not in the sense that it seems to include any Gallic musical flavor. Let's just call it goodand let's call Jean-Christophe Béney one of the best tenor players in jazz today.
Personnel: Jean-Christophe Béney: tenor sax; Pierre de Bethmann: piano, Fender Rhodes; Vincent Artaud: bass; Karl Jannuska: drums; Arnaud Frank (#1,3): congas; Michael Felberbaum: guitar (#7); Meta: voice, udu (#8)