Louis Sclavis: Maps of the Mind

Ian Patterson By

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"The recording is just a moment in the music," explains Sclavis. "But I know that afterwards we will do a concert, and the music will change as we push. A few concerts after recording, you think, 'Damn it! It's much better now. We should have waited two concerts more, because now we've really found the best way for this composition.' It's always the same old story," Sclavis says, laughing at the futility of searching for the perfect recording.

In Moussay and Coronado, Sclavis has employed two musicians who push the music, and themselves, as far as they are able to go. "I like Gilles very much," says Sclavis of his guitarist. "I did a special project with a dance company with Gilles, and I know that he's very strong rhythmically. He's not really a jazz musician, and he's not completely a rock musician. He's on the border of many types of music, and I like this. He's a very open musician. He can play very free or very strict when the music needs it. He brings something really different to other guitarists."

Moussay ticks similar boxes: "Benjamin has followed more of a classical jazz route, but for the last couple of years, he has started more to work on his own things," Sclavis explains. "He's also very strong rhythmically. It was very good to have two musicians with a strong sense of rhythm, because there are no drums and no bass, but there is some groove in this music. It was very interesting for me to make music without a rhythm section but with a lot of rhythm."

It's rare to find a group minus a rhythm section that grooves quite as much as Sclavis' Atlas Trio. Album opener "Pres d'Hagondange" pulses with the fugato fires that are the trademark of fellow ECM ensemble Nik Bärtsch's Ronin. There's a smoldering, brooding funk-rock groove to Coronado's composition "Sous Influence," with just a hint that the guitarist was writing while under the influence of Miles Davis' On the Corner (Columbia, 1972). At just under nine minutes, the gritty "A Road to Karaganda" brews menacingly like the Ozric Tentacles visiting Anatolian blues. "I wanted to compose a kind of story, something mysterious with a very simple groove. It's a road to somewhere. Karaganda is a small town in the middle of nowhere in Kazakhstan. For me, it's an imaginary town. It was very exciting to compose a very simple melody with few notes. It's like a mystic walk. You don't have to be brilliant in this kind of composition; you just have to follow the groove." It's the longest track on Sources, though it feels like it could run and run. "In concert, we can play this for twice as long," says Sclavis, laughing.

Louis Sclavis Lost on the WaySeveral of Sclavis' recordings for ECM in the last decade have been made without drums or bass, though the clarinetist is certainly not averse to working in a more conventional rhythmic setup. "I like very much to play with a classic group with bass and drums, and I've done it a lot," says Sclavis. "I have two trios: one with [drummer] Aldo Romano and [bassist] Henri Texier for 20 years, and I used to have another with Bruno Chevillon on bass and [drummer] Francois Merville. But sometimes to progress with the music, I need to have different combinations of instruments in my bands. With this band, I have been obliged to find a new solution, and I like this," Sclavis says.

While the combination of instruments has posed a new challenge for Sclavis, the solution, as he describes it, was very much in the hands of all three musicians. "The musicians bring a lot to my music, and they are involved 100 percent in the creative process," explains Sclavis. "That's what I need. I need musicians who are able to bring their own personality to the music. The result is very collective."

The different musical personalities of the Atlas Trio combine to create a wealth of textures, moods and sounds. Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and North African vibes are suggested, though rarely overtly. North Africa and the African continent seem to have colored a fair amount of Sclavis' playing over the years, though he doesn't seem to feel any special affinity with African music: "Sometimes in my music, there is a sound that could be African, but it's only illusion. It's not really an influence. My relationship with African music is not so important for me."



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