The usual meeting place of improvisation and orchestra works around firm structure where the improvisers solo within the rigid confines of the orchestral arrangements, or the orchestra acts as an underlying support, scored in and around pre-existing extemporization. But in rare cases, daring composers have found ways to allow improvisers to remain untethered while at the same time broadening the sonic palette with a larger ensemble. Howard Shore's collaborative soundtrack with Ornette Coleman for David Cronenberg's film Naked Lunch was one such case.
But even in the case of the Shore/Coleman soundtrack there was an underlying form, a feeling of cooperation between two seemingly disparate aesthetics. In the case of Canadian percussionist/composer Michel Lambert, rather than finding a place where the two can coexist, on Le Passant he emphasizes contrast by making the meeting of free improvisation and contemporary composition a confrontational affair. It's a challenging conceit, and one which largely succeeds because Lambert has lived in both worlds, with a family steeped in classical music, an educational background including time at both Conservatoire de Musique de Québec and Boston's Berklee School of Music, and private studies with saxophonist David Liebman and pianist Misha Mengelberg.
The five-movement, thirty-minute "Le Passant suite sometimes seems to defy conventional logic, despite having an inner relevance. "Le Miroir de la Vérité begins with a short duo between Lambert and saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, a surprisingly centrist piece of spontaneity. But before long Lambert is alone, building a brief maelstrom of percussion that leads into the ten-piece chamber orchestra's first appearance, with Caroline Lizote's harp and a curious combination of flute, bassoon, French horn, and tuba reminiscent of the sometimes chaotic through-composed work of the late Finnish drummer Edward Vesala. Dissolving into an improvised duet between bassist Dominic Duval and violinist Malcolm Goldstein, the piece concludes on a more ethereal orchestral note, filled with long tones and darker dissonances, bringing to mind composers like Ligeti and Penderecki.
The balance of the suite moves through a variety of moods and texturesmost jagged and angular. The bass/violin duet beginning "L'éternal Errant segues into another sax/drums pairing, with the orchestra entering for the final minute, bringing the controlled chaos of Naked Lunch to mind. Lambert's confrontation between the two musical universes creates an ongoing feeling of displacement that rarely resolves, with contrast created out of continual shifts between dense and spacious.
The album finishes with seven improvisations inspired by "Le Passant, ranging from Lambert's brief solo "Ruffians, Riffraff and Raffs to duos and trios with Duval, Eskelin, and Goldstein. Perhaps most intriguing is "Passagers Perdus, where the chamber orchestra explores a more unfettered environmentevidence that the traditional barrier between improvising musicians and classical performers is no longer applicable.
With inherent conflict defining the majority of Le Passant, it's a very demanding listen. Still, while Lambert's divergent views of free improvisation and contemporary composition do indeed make strange bedfellows, they can work together to create a challenging but rewarding and genre-busting work.
Mirror of Truth: Eternal Errant; Labyrinth of Remorse: Spiritual Shock; Pilgrimage of
Humankind; Running in the Cave; Quib; Extracting Lines; Pretend Make-Believe; Ruffians,
Riffraff and Ruffs; Lost Passengers; Cue 9-3, Recalling the Wanderer.
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