Old Customs Hall
November 2, 2003
Memory holds a sprawling store of sensations, some of them real and some of them imagined. At its most powerful, memory merges the two to create an image that resonates with emotion and meaning. Napoli’s Walls, the latest project and album from the French reedman Louis Sclavis, presents a series of images derived from Sclavis’ reactions to the public art of Ernest Pignon-Ernest in Naples. To the stage at the Tampere Jazz happening he brings his quartet to try and make those memories come alive.
Memory, being the malleable entity it is, draws on whatever available to manifest its images. Improvisers do the same when performing, and Sclavis has assembled a group of imaginative musicians who have the flexibility and daring to evoke his fictive view of Naples. Cellist Vincent Courtois bows adeptly in a more classical mode, picks out sometimes swinging, sometimes funky lines or distorts his sound with filters and feedback as the moment calls for. Danish guitarist Hass Poulsen uses only an acoustic guitar and no effects but his solid technique and inventive skill allow him to move from dazzling runs and steady comping to the outer edges of the guitar’s sound palette, where strange chords and dissonant twisted tones reside. Sclavis himself can shift his sound not only from instrument to instrument-soprano sax, baritone sax, clarinet and bass clarinet-but from style to style-the clear tone of a classicist to the unchained expressiveness of Eric Dolphy.
But the true focal point of this sonic landscape is vocalist/trumpeter/percussionist Mederic Collignon. He absolutely captivates the audience, bringing out audile reactions from more than one audience member. He is dizzying ball of sonic energy onstage, seated in a chair but never sitting still. He harmonizes on pocket trumpet with Sclavis, adds synthesized percussion from a small pad that he imbues with an insane life, emotes with the rich experience of an Italian cantor, rasps like a Mongolian throat singer and shocks as an avant-gardist with dissonant electronica. But driving it all is the sheer joy he seems to take in unleashing such a hurricane of sounds. His joy and creativity drive his partners to radical extremes.
They swerve from the riffing ecstasy of “Napoli’s Walls” to the abstract chamber music musings during the opening of “Colleur de Nuit” only to transform the piece with churning drum’n’bass beats from Collignon. “Kennedy in Napoli,” dedicated to Charles Mingus, turns on Courtois’ funky vamp, then mutates into a furious swing where cello and guitar dance around each other with manic energy. Later, the group evokes the deep heartbreak of Italian song with “Divinazione moderen II,” as Collignon first sings in passionate Italian then mimcs a searing violin solo. These juxtapositions derive from many sources-jazz, free improvisation, chamber music, electronica, Iyalian song-but by mixing them Sclavis has created a dangerous brew of music that constantly feels ready to be ripped asunder and dragged in an unknown direction.
Sclavis has set his artistic goals high, but with such an adventurous cast he achieves them. Watching them perform is like watching a play, only here the characters are ghostly sounds that swirl about the stage, slipping and sliding from one scene to the next. The fictive Naples that resides in Sclavis’ memory becomes real tonight in Tampere, if only for the fleeting moment of a sound.
Complete coverage of the 2003 Tampere Jazz Festival...
Tampere Jazz Happening: Speaking a Universal Language
Wibutee in Tampere: Club Music and Jazz Collide
Erik Truffaz in Tampere: Fusion for the 21st Century
The Bad Plus in Tampere: Cinematic Trio Images
The Electrics in Tampere: All-Acoustic Electricity
Kornstad Trio in Tampere: Improvisation as Negotiation
Scorch Trio in Tampere: If Hendrix and Coltrane had a Love Child...
Uri Caine's Bedrock 3 in Tampere: Too Many DJs
Gnomus & Jukka Gustavsson in Tampere: The Wit of the Improviser
William Parker's Healing Song in Tampere
Samuli Mikkonen in Tampere: Composed Moods and Spontaneous Energy
Louis Sclavis in Tampre: Memories of a Naples that Never Was