Diversity of experience supplies a foundation for creative innovation. Belgian alto saxophonist Stephane Mercier confirms this axiom on his debut recording for the Fresh Sound/New Talent label.
Mercier entered the American jazz scene in 1992 when he moved from Brussels to Boston. Since then he’s straddled both sides of the Atlantic touring and residing in North America and Europe. This recording finds the saxophonist ensconced in the Big Apple and collaborating with an international cast of sidemen with whom he’s worked since his first days in America. Only his musical breadth supercedes this geographical sophistication. Mercier’s experience runs the gamut from rock to avant-garde and hip hop to Brazilian and African grooves. Flor De Luna reflects this wealth of influences and offers a diversity of sounds and formats that work well together.
The improvisation on the opening track, “Night Meanderings”, captures in one song the spectrum of styles on the rest of the album. Mercier initiates the proceedings with lines that ring familiar to ears tuned to a mainstream sound: fast angular runs; a flowing development of ideas; and dynamic rangehe drops occasionally from the mid-upper reaches of his horn to deliver a brief, low honk. In stark contrast, guitarist Gromaire cranks out what constitutes essentially a rock solo. Bourgeyx’s pulsating voice on Fender Rhodes adds yet anotherfunkylayer. The remaining tunes on the disc accentuate aspects of this microcosm. On a number like “Fits and Starts” the ensemble opts for a traditional arrangement with Mercier, Thomas and Butler comprising a three-horn frontline and blowing in the pocket solos. On “Half Moon” and its complement, “Fool Moon”, Mark Zubek’s heavy riff punctuated by Bourgeyx’s pumping accents pave the way for Gromaire’s protracted carpet bombing that recalls Hendrix or Page rather than Kenny Burrell or Wes Montgomery.
A lot transpires on Flor De Luna in less than 45 minutes. Some highlights include the all-horn trio format of the gorgeous title track that invokes a vaguely hymn-like sensation; the leader’s flute pulses on the “Moon” series that add subtlety to the grinding riff; and Darren Beckett’s insistent hammering that provides a heavy groove to the session. Check out also the brief exchanges on “WGZFM” among the horns and later drums that supplant extended extemporization and Philippe Thomas’ feature position on “Avenue A” where the trumpeter controls both the melody and solo spotlight. These touches distinguish Stephane Mercier as an emerging innovator in contemporary jazz. Give Flor De Luna a spin and you’ll discover other gems for yourself.
Track Listing: Night Meanderings; WGZFM; Half Moon; Flor De Luna; She Sells Sea Shells; Fits and Starts; Avenue A; Samsara; Fool Moon
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.