Madame Chili pairs clarinetist Lucien Dubuis with pianist Christophe Studer for a collection of duets that are both intelligent and entertaining. The record, released late last year by the Swiss artists collective/label Unit Records, is one of the more interesting duo records to appear in some time, documening well two artists who are likely unfamiliar to American audiences.
For this record, Studer utilizes the futurist/classic Moog synth, bound-to-be-bluesy Fender Rhodes, and tradition piano; while his multi-reedist partner plays clarinet exclusively (bass clarinet and contrabass), showing an incredible amount of range and versatility on both. Both artists are relatively young and obviously open-minded, two prerequisites for an album this good. Multiple influences abound, telling that these two are not only well-learned of the jazz tradition, of their continent and ours, but also bold enough to where those influences on their sleeves.
Madame Chili opens with the playful "Petits Petons. The six and a half-minute tune is filled with twists and turnssometimes swinging, sometimes chunky, loud, and in your face, but all done with an apparent smile. With Studer on the Fender Rhodes, the duo seems to be still full of giggles on the burlesque-meets-Basin Street "C't'equipe. "Depart Au Zoo gets a little out there, with Dubuis summoning a wealth of unexpected sounds from his instrument, but when they're coupled with Studer's bouncy piano licks, it becomes easy to ignore Dubuis' noises.
"L'arc Noir juxtaposes melodic Moog with abstract bass clarinet, almost coming off like a Matthew Shipp/Daniel Carter duet. "Le Gros Pouce is ambient and free; "l'Entrpouces and "Sans Les Ongles Ou Alors Coupe-les go way out there again; and "1/2 and "Le Va-Et-Vient Du Petit Nain are both surprisingly funky. And so goes the remainder of the record, with this back and forth, this pulsating variation, pushing each tune forward.
Throughout, Studer seems to dictate the mood and direction of each piece by his selection of instrument. The tunes on which he plays piano sound markedly different from the ones where he uses a Moog, and likewise with the Fender Rhodes.
What makes Madame Chili so enjoyably is its utter lack of pretension. Dubuis and Studer are nothing more than two friends engaged in conversation. They are familiar enough with each other that if one partner references somethingan old movie theme, a classic waltz, even something sort of funkythe other feels it, knows it, and follows suit. With only three compositions credited to both Studer and Dubuis, it's difficult to tell how much of Madame Chili is improvisation or composition, but the intimacy and interaction is superb regardless.
Fans of odd ensembles, unconventional instrumentation, and fresh, interesting, and entertaining composition should check out Dubuis and Studer's work together.
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