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Confusion Bleue Live and in the Studio

Hrayr Attarian By

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The collaborative combo Confusion Bleue is a rare a phenomenon on the contemporary jazz scene. Neither that the group utilizes sound snippets, nor that all their music is entirely improvised. confers on them a singularity. It is, however, the collective ability of its members to create intricate, highly orchestrated and profoundly moving pieces on the spot that makes the ensemble unique. The results are colorful tapestries of various influences which, far from difficult listening, are in fact quite melodic, atmospheric and accessible.

Confusion Bleue

East Side Banquet

Ictus Records


The studio date from 2011, East Side Banquet is a modern symphony of sorts consisting of seven, out of order, movements. The nominal leader, pianist Nobu Stowe, exhibits classical influences with his deconstructed waltz that opens "Movement III." Switching to electrical keyboard he brings a cool, baroque clavichord-esque touch to the otherwise soulful and angular duet between trumpeter Brian Groder's clean muted horn and reedman and guitarist Ross Bonadonna 's blistering string work. The abstract and passionate duet expands over Stowe's percussive pianism and drummer Ray Sage's furious polyrhythms.

Stowe's sparse and melancholic notes form the focal point of the haunting "Movement VI." Groder's mellow flugelhorn meanders in a poetic extemporization that has a strong Spanish flavor especially when paired with Bonadonna's reserved but delightfully atonal flamenco guitar. Musical engineer and designer Lee Pembleton's carefully placed ambient sonic effects enhance the tune's dark mystique. Sage's gently crashing cymbals and percolating drums with their occasional bursts of thunderous beats, meanwhile give it a mordant edge.

Sage's primal and hypnotic thuds and thrums together with bassist Lisle Ellis' delightfully atonal con arco work create a stimulating contrast as they anchor Groder's wistful and explorative trumpet on "Movement II." The ever-evolving track gradually becomes otherworldly and fantastical as Stowe's keys echo Groder's horn's and Bonadonna's saxophone's alternating lines. Tolling bells and clanks of metallic slides coupled with Sage's almost martial traps and cymbals contribute to the eerie ambience. Gradually a bluesy fervor takes over as Groder's cinematic and intriguing horn and Stowe's cascading tones bring in a raw and fiery passion. Bonadonna's electrifying, rock influenced guitar and Sage's urgent, driving cadence enhance this simultaneously ethereal and earthy groove.

Confusion Bleue

Roulette Concert

Ictus Records


This balance of sophistication and open explorative spirit comes through on the live recording from 2010, Roulette Concert as well. Soprano saxophonist Chris Kelsey augments the core quartet on this four part, gratifyingly erudite and refreshingly turbulent impromptu recital.

Kelsey's duet with Bonadonna marks the turning point on "Partie III." This centerpiece of the album illustrates very well the band's distinctive style. It opens with Stowe's melodic and romantic sonata as Kelsey blows mellifluously over the former's elegiac harmonies. As Bonadonna enters the two reedmen break free of the main theme as Sage's galloping drum set drives the increasingly chaotic tempo. It is, nonetheless, controlled chaos with a thrilling and theatrical four-way conversation that burns with unbridled ardor and crackles with intelligent spontaneity.

This spirited group play continues with Bonadonna switching to guitar on "Partie IV" as the musicians express themselves in free-flowing streams of consciousness. Stowe's hard-hitting keyboard chords mirrors Sage's bold and dynamic drums as saxophones wails over the complex and thought provoking cacophony. The cathartic collective improvisation grows more pensive but remains equally exciting as Stowe's wistful notes mix in the saxophones' staccato bursts and Sage's explosive percussing. Gradually a spiritual, Zen-like mood prevails as Sage's sparse strikes and Kelsey's breathy saxophone usher in a haunting, Eastern flavored ambience that Pembleton's carefully placed audio samples enhance. Stowe's gospel-ish piano lines, Bonadonna's flamenco-esque strings and Kelsey's agile and yearning soprano conjure up achingly gorgeous and intimate poetry for three voices. Their alternating dialogues develop over the backdrop of Pembleton's reserved electronics and Sage's dramatically resonant rumble.

Both in the studio and on the stage, Confusion Bleue and guests serve up provocative, elegant and intricate harmonic and rhythmic constructs. Despite being created ad-lib the music is never impulsive and like any relevant and innovative work of art it is both intellectually engrossing and emotionally satisfying.

Tracks and Personnel

East Side Banquet

Track Listing: Movement V; Movement I; Movement III; Movement II; Movement VI; Movement VII; Movement IV.

Personnel: Nobu Stowe: Steinway grand piano, Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano; Ray Sage: drums; Ross Bonadonna: electric and acoustic guitars, alto saxophone and bass clarinet; Lee Pembleton: sound. Special guests: Brian Groder: trumpet; Lisle Ellis: double bass, acoustic bass and bass & circuitry.

Roulette Concert

Track Listing: Partie I; Partie II; Partie III; Partie IV.

Personnel: Nobu Stowe: Steinway grand piano, Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano; Ray Sage: drums; Ross Bonadonna: electric and acoustic guitars, alto saxophone and bass clarinet; Lee Pembleton: sound. Special guest: Chris Kelsey: soprano saxophone.


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