Marc Ducret Trio: Heart-Stopping Music in Helsinki

Anthony Shaw By

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Playing to a packed bar at Helsinki
The Marc Ducret Trio
Rythmihäiri Club
Helsinki, Finland
November 31, 2007

Lost in translation is not an applicable excuse when listening to free-form instrumental jazz. It is to be expected. Sitting through 25 minutes of the intense experimental music the Marc Ducret Trio offers up during a single selection, inevitably the listener is sometimes in limbo — wherever such respite might be!

Playing to a packed bar at Helsinki's Rythmihäiri (Cardiac Dysfunction) Club, maybe it's surprising there weren't more medics present. The pace and intensity of the music were unrelenting. These three French musicians had just completed a short tour in Finland, so maybe we were reaping the rewards of that prior excursion. As for the musicians, they played with an air of satisfied intensity mirrored by the audience's apparently intense satisfaction at the end of the 90-minute set, comprising just four numbers.

The Trio's music is nothing if not frenetic, but coalesces with such virtuosity that it creates space enough for all three participants' skills. Even so, each piece focuses on Ducret's own idiosyncratic guitarwork, something of a synthesis of Derek Bailey and Jimi Hendrix. Playing a short-necked custom-built instrument with a small selection of pedals, he utilizes every variety of human-string interface to coax different patterns and sound colors from the device. Switching from plectrum to finger-style within bars, alternating continually between rhythm and lead phrasing, and between assertive and subdued styles, Ducret guides the intricate pieces which unfold like a complex algorithm.

The members of the band pursue these calculations as one, having worked together since 1995. At the time, all have served playing a variety of improvised music. Ducret has worked for many years in Europe, Japan and the US with, among many other notables, Tim Berne and Science Friction; double bassist Bruno Chevillon plays with the likes of Claude Barthélémy and Stéphan Oliva; and drummer Eric Echampard is well known to French listeners, and in addition has toured Europe in recent years with Finland's own cutting-edge accordionist, Kimmo Pohjonen.

The music was at all times challenging, but varied — the encore Porteurs de lanternes (Lantern Bearers) building from a very gentle bass rhythm to highly structured, almost progressive fusion. All three players react instantly to the variable degrees of intensity within the pieces, using multiple forms of individual instrumental contact and group interaction to produce a very clean direct sound, with bassist Chevillon contributing most of the electronic processing.

It was quite a shock towards the end of the program suddenly to notice Échampard slumped over his kit, completely inactive for better than a minute. But everyone present at Rythmihäiri's would certainly agree that it's good to give one's heart a break amidst such unremitting tension; there is space for release if not relaxation, too, in this music.

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