After studying with both Lee Konitz and Anthony Braxton, it would be hard not to have developed a singular sound or vision. And with Renku, saxophonist Michaël Attias presents himself as his own man, but with numerous shards of reference points. For his stateside debut under his own name, Attias puts forth Renkuhis two year-old house group from Brooklyn's Barbès, where he heads the Night of the Ravished Limbs music series. Comprised of Attias mostly on alto, John Herbert on acoustic bass, and the highly underrated Satoshi Takeishi on drums, Renku exhibits a deft ability when it comes to palpable interplay and succinct musical statements that blur the compositional with the improvisational.
Although references to Ornette Coleman's trios have their place, this band's interaction and overall sound is more in line with the late Thomas Chapin's trio recordings for Knitting Factory, where each member held equal weight and was capable of highly intricate passages. And although Attias contributes the bulk of this material, reflecting all the aforementioned references in some manner, Renku stands as an original statement spurned on by consistent inventionfrom the spatial free setting of "Snow to the theme of the album's odd-meter walking opener, "Dark Net, which dissolves and resurfaces throughout its three minute performance.
Throughout, the trio works with a singular mind. Herbert provides a deep, thick tone that often serves as the touchstone while probing for his own statements. Takeshi once again shows his customary depth of listening and technique. Not unlike Hamid Drake, he imbues the music with a sense of daring through an ability to work in free, straight, or folk-oriented contexts. His features on compositions like "The Crunch often favor a paced and conversational feel, rather than bombast or crescendos of press or cymbal rolls.
Attias pulls compositional ideas from Braxton's knotty, complex realm, Thelonious Monk, and other translated artistic mediums. "Renku is named after a form of Japanese poetry where a Haiku (containing lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively) is linked with another two line stanza (seven syllables each) to form a longer form. Attias translates the form, and the group improvises over the converted metric structure until it ultimately folds in on itself.
Attias plays with a lyrical edge that sticks close to the developed melody, but also manifests an angular flow reminiscent of Chapin's, but with a slightly more bitter feel. The approximately five-minute title piece is indicative of how each of these tracks work within their own framework, rarely being stretched beyond their inherent life. Improvisations or solos are consistently ingrained within these constructs, contributing to the structure from which they are generated. This is evident even in two short improvised pieces that follow their own logic.
Ultimately, Renku is a confident trio statement. Attias, Herbert, and Takieshi have forged a standout recording that marks the emergence of a significant new voice on the alto saxophone. It also marks another impressive release from Playscape Recordings.
Note: Credo, a sextet album from Attias, will be released this winter on Clean Feed.
Personnel: MichaŽl Attias: alto, soprano, and baritone saxophones; John Hebert: bass;
Satoshi Takeishi: drums.