It takes a few minutes to warm up, but by the time In Touch gets there it's cozy indeed. This project falls under the leadership of trombonist Yves Robert, who has been relatively low on the horizon until this, his ECM debut. But the all-French trio, which also includes cellist Vincent Courtois and drummer Cyril Atef, goes under the name "La tendresse" when they tour. In fact, the subtitle of the record is (48' de tendresse), an entirely appropriate term for the generally soft and gentle nature of this music.
It's become entirely too cliche, but the term chamber music comes as close as anything to describing this record. The seemingly schizophrenic juxtaposition of intermittent composed passages with open-ended free improv fuels much of the excitement, such as it is under these conditions of low dynamics. In fact, until the end of "La Tendresse" it's not really clear that the group will ever rise above piano levels.
And as if the unusual combination of trombone, cello, and drums weren't enough, Robert milks his instrument for all it's got through extended techniques. On "Basculement du Désir" he trembles, burbles, and growls over and around Courtois' linear pizzicato sweeps and Atef's stop-and-start brushwork. Rather than serving as a vehicle for timbral experimentation as a goal in and of itself (which has been in fashion for quite some time among avant-garde players), the leader's eccentricities lend color to an otherwise stark backdrop.
Curiously, it's Courtois and Atef who often have the greatest influence on the group's direction. It seems as if the leader prefers to provide a general framework and then allow coalescence and disintegration to proceed spontaneously. "La Tendresse" embraces romance through gently arcing phrases, disintegrating into tinkles and whispers and then returning. Courtois takes the lead in warm bowed and plucked passages midway through; then when Atef suddenly picks up the pace and turns toward a regular beat, everyone starts swinging (admittedly in an off-kilter Braxtonesque way). By the conclusion of the piece, Atef hasout of nowhere, it seemsarrived at a light reggae groove, complete with built-in simulated echoes. Everyone jumps aboard for a quick minute-long zip to the end.
In Touch deserves credit for its uncompromising creativity and spontaneity. Boundaries are few and far between here. The flip side is that there are a few too many stretched-out moments and not enough of a sense of direction. The record is particularly revealing as regards Yves Robert's extended emotive range and Cyril Atef's fluid touch in such a thin atmosphere.
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