Trio Chaud Laulumiehet Restaurant, Helsinki, Finland March 29, 2011 When musicians play together, it might be assumed that they're enjoying themselves, but it's also true that playing can be a very serious business. The combination of play and pleasure is in no way inextricable, but when it occurs both phenomena take on a further strength, allowing audiences to often join in and even savor some of that spirit. While known for his performances in North America, in the context of European free jazz, cellist Didier Petit stands as a continental colossus, having been involved since the age of 16 with the likes of Sun Ra
and his Celestial Communications Orchestra. Despite 30 years of playing, he seems to have lost none of the expressive abandon that characterizes the French style. If theatricality can be distinguished from stage presence, it must be recognized as a skill within whose limits all performers should masterand, with his cello, his voice and his dramatic stage presence, too, Petit has much to teach. While eschewing any electronic medications, all three musicians worked hard to play to the extreme ranges of their instrumentation, none less than vocalist Lucia Recio. Given that there are few means to artificially manipulate the voice (barring Peter Gabriel's trick of inhaling helium), Recio's art is to use technique to examine the boundaries, and push them as far as the night's limits can go, which here involved screeches and wails, and growls as well as pure notes, along with the spoken word (a song by Serge Gainsbourg). Drummer Edward Perraud had a box of professional toys, which played an integral role as the drum kit, producing harmonics, chimes and tones on a scale that is very rarely heard live, and which matched the extreme sounds that Recio produced, using only her vocal chords and breath control. As a group, the trio featured plenty of solo performance, but in the set songs, including Jim Morrison's "Crystal Ship," the intuitive understanding that free improvisation requires of performers was most visibleand enjoyable.
The final piece of the evening also involved the other musician on the bill, and a tradition of expression grounded in Nordic reserve. Virtuoso instrumentalist Veli Kujala joined the trio, bringing his improvisational and tonal experimentation skill on the concert accordion. A student of local guitar extremist Raoul Bjorkenheim
, Kujala brings a expert's variety of touch to his instrument, matching the musicality and muscularity of the three French performers. Kujala's extended solo improvisation, earlier in the evening, had been a more contemplative piece, using tunes by Pekka Pohjola
, which he has also recorded. In the abandon of the final joint improvisation with Trio Chaud, Kujala's typically Finnish reserve failed to conceal the fun and pleasure that a professional also feels when the playing is so rewarding.