For the past eight years producer Charles Gil has been doing his part for better European co-operation. A Frenchman living in Finland, he uses the financial support of the French Ministry of Culture and the Finnish organization ESEK to bring Finnish and French improvisers to tour both countries. His first tour was in 1996, and the French representative was the trombonist Yves Robert’s quartet.
In 2004, after fifteen tours, Gil has brought Robert back to Finland, this time with his trio, and a Finnish quintet, drummer Andre Sumelius’ Lift, as part of his Vapat Äänet (Free Sounds) series. In a concert in Jyväskylä’s Jazz Bar the two groups display two directions that jazz improvisation has taken in the past thirty years. The trio is all texture and twisted non-linear forms, while Lift fills Sumelius’ open, modal structures with dense layers of melody and rhythmic pockets.
Robert’s trio, Didier Petit on cello and Franck Vaillant on drums, passionately explores the outer reaches of their instruments, their songs not really songs at all, but studies in how to build form from extended techniques. Their three improvisations are like the sound of a windshield shattering: twisted patterns emanating in all directions from a center of impact. Robert growls, breathes, barks and puckers, creating a layer of smeared phrases for Petit to play off. His terse pizicatto lines at times generate a skewed and fragmented melody with Robert, but the trio’s tendency for entropy pulls too strongly, and soon Petit drifts below the bridge or falls into a polyphonic bowed drones.
Giving their interplay form is Vaillant. With a broad pallet of sticks and intense energy, he laces together punctual outbursts, sharply articulated attacks and scraping textures into a prickly rhythmic architecture. uses brushes, mallets, steel combs and short metal rods to give his ideas a metallic edge.
Next to Robert’s trio, Lift seems almost traditional, but that’s just because Robert’s explosion of form is so radical. Sumelius’ compositions feature extended intros, often as intricate rhythm jams from vibraphonist Severi Pyysalo. On all the tunes, Pyysalo moves between bright, flowing sounds and earthier percussive play on the vibraphone’s frame. On “Gestures” saxophonist Sony Heinilä unfurls a long wandering solo over the group’s pulsing beat. “Scorpion” has a strong, almost cinematic theme, first stated in a menacing whistle, then picked up and elaborated on by Teemu Viinikainen’s minimalist slide guitar.
The original incarnation of Lift featured Norwegian cornetist Arve Henriksen and bassist Uffe Krokfors. Their 2002 album, Kaira , won jazz album of the year in Finland with its mysterious ambience and spacious structures. Live, without Henrikssen and with Krokfors’ double bass replaced by Lasse Lindgren’s acoustic bass guitar, Lift drifts into a loose, all-acoustic version of early Weather Report, the deep, reflective atmosphere replaced by a denser, and sometimes messier pulse.
The night’s bill effectively expresses jazz and improvised music’s conflicted nature – form against freedom, harmony against texture, rhythm against pulse – and shows that they resolve the conflicts not by eliminating them, but by letting them rub and create sparks. Gil should be credited for making such a concerted and well-organized effort to illuminate the nature of the music.
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