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Louis Sclavis: Lost on the Way

Dan McClenaghan By

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French multi-reedist Louis Sclavis has involved himself in many modes of musical expression during a career which has spanned over 30 years, from free to folk to Baroque, and into the contemporary realm. His jazz perspective is European, which perhaps means having something of a chamber approach, and not much rooting in the blues—not unusual for an artist recording on the German-based ECM label.

On Lost on the Way, Sclavis and his quintet turn to the Greek writer Homer for a musical journey that begins with a gypsy atmosphere on "De Charybde en Scylla" and winds its way, ten tunes later, to a big groove on a deeply rock-tinged, seriously twenty-first century sound on "Des bruits à tisser."

Sclavis' lineup for the set seems, on the surface, a standard jazz grouping: two reeds, bass/guitar/drums. But Sclavis and company don't pretend to be playing anything close to standard jazz. Instead, it is well-crafted and personal music from an artist unafraid to explore fresh sonic ground.

On the web Sclavis tends to be tagged as a free player. While Lost on the Way certainly encompasses a good deal of improvisation, it also sounds quite structured beneath that freedom. The title tune hits a groove, with Matthieu Metzger and Sclavis' unison reed work melding into a modern electronica mood—in spite of the acoustic nature of the instruments—before the leader breaks free on bass clarinet, sounding a bit like Eric Dolphy fronting the seismic trudge of a hard charging rock combo. And when Metzger gets his turn on soprano sax, the energy level cranks up to an even higher level.

"Bain d'or" changes gears, giving off a Celtic vibe, while "Le sommeil des sirènes" opens with François Merville's subtle and very distinct drum ruminations before the alto sax searches and wanders, leading into a ramped up rhythm-team foray, with guitarist Maxime Delpierre giving a frantic, wailing, electro-Banshee voice to Homer's enticing sirens.

Sclavis is the leader, but the strength of his band is the key to the success here, with an adaptive rhythm section fronted by Merville, who can shred with an abandon steeped in finesse, and then move without a beat missed into nuanced comps and accompaniments.

An outstanding set, full of energy, adventure and surprise.

Track Listing: De Charybde en Scylla; La première île; Lost on the Way; Bain d'or; Le sommeil des sirènes; L'heure des songes; Aboard Ulysses's Boat; Les doutes du cyclope; Un vent noire; The Last Island; Des bruits à tisser; L'absence.

Personnel: Louis Sclavis: clarinets, soprano saxophone; Matthieu Metzger: soprano and alto saxophones; Maxime Delpierre: guitar; Olivier Lété: bass; François Merville: drums.

Title: Lost On The Way | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: ECM Records

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