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Benoit Delbecq & Fred Hersch Double Trio's "Fun House" and Chris Clark's Debut "Cedar Wisely" Coming from Songlines


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Songlines will release a pair of extremely diverse yet equally exciting albums on March 12. Fun House, the first recorded collaboration between the critically acclaimed pianists Benoit Delbecq and Fred Hersch, finds them performing in a rare double-trio configuration. It's a ground-breaking encounter and between jazz piano and the sonic resources of contemporary classical music, between American tradition and the European avant-garde.

Hersch's quest for absolute beauty and impeccable virtuosity have become legendary. Delbecq is one of Europe's most prominent jazz keyboardists; his compositions and elegant, complex improvisations build on John Cage's prepared piano techniques. Add to this Steve Arguelles' stealth “assistance and obstacles" live sampling, and three of the most celebrated rhythm section players of today (Jean-Jacques Avenel and Mark Helias on bass, and Steve Argüelles and Gerry Hemingway on drums), and the result is a multi-faceted collaboration, with opportunities for various combinations of duos and trios as well as full-group interaction. The music has its moments of abstraction, its moonlit soundscapes such as “One is Several," but it also embraces a jazzier aesthetic, for example on the Monkisyh/Lacyish “Night for Day."

The project was sparked in 2008 when Hersch came to a New York gig that Delbecq was playing with the John Hébert Trio. They had only met once before, but had been digging each other's playing on record. “The first time I listened to Pursuit I was completely mesmerized," says Hersch. “It is an amazing project and showed me that Benoit is a completely unique pianist, composer and conceptualist. I suggested we do something with two pianos, not realizing that he already had a duo project with Andy Milne (Where is Panonica?). So we thought, 'What would be novel and bit outrageous?"

Delbecq came up with the idea of double trio including his longtime collaborators Avenel and Argüelles, and Hersch had a long history with Helias and Hemingway. Delbecq notes, “the personnel came very naturally. Everybody knew each other already. I had worked with Mark for the Phonetics project and had met and played with Gerry several times. The first minutes of the first rehearsal I remember very precisely, they just showed we'd made a great choice! The music found its flow and its freedom from the very beginning."

Tenor saxophonist Chris Clark's debut for Songlines, Cedar Wisely, is a result of an unsolicited demo that he sent to label owner Tony Reif. Reif recounts how his mood changed as he listened to the CD, from beginning to end. Here was an artist who know how to judiciously pace the listener's experience with, as Clark says, “a natural flow of energy or emotion," while continuously expanding the music's range; to draw from the resources of modern jazz a personal, deeply felt statement; to create a fine expressive balance between composition and improvisation, combining a structure and spontaneity.

Clark's compositions draw from contemporary edge, chamber elements, and a rich lyricism to form a spectrum of moods ranging from raucous to bittersweet. And he has a band that's there with him every step of the way.

His Quintet was formed specifically for this recording session, although its members - Davie Ake on piano, Zack Teran on bass, Jesus Vega on drums and Peter Epstein on alto and soprano saxophones - had played in various combinations in and around the jazz program at the University of Nevada, Reno, where Clark had come to study with Epstein, who was head of the department. Clark, Teran and Vega, students at the time, performed frequently in the area as the trio Fiscus. David Ake is also a professor at UNR and leads his own ensembles.

“A freedom to really listen and follow the music is one of the aspects that make this group special, and I think one can hear that on the album," comments Clark. This commitment and passion for improvising does indeed come across, along with a sense of how to make a performance build and resonate without forcing its intensity. Say Epstein, “Finding a balance point between intent and result, without thinking about things too much so a real sense of flow can be established, leads to that elusive place that we all want to get to at all times, so it's particularly nice when it happens...Many of the folks I've enjoyed playing with (Chris, Zack and Jesus certainly being among this number) seem to be coming from a perspective where there's little or no separation between genres, styles, historical periods, or anything else that might provide inspiration or influence."

“There are many different kinds of music which resonate with me, ranging from the more esoteric (Tin Hat Trio, Eric Whitacre, Sun Ra) to pop (Prince, Fiona Apple, Metric,)" adds Clark. “The compositions on Cedar Wisely are strongly influenced by a number of artists. One can hear a very direct Ornette Coleman influence in 'Inside the Gloves,' which was deliberately written with his compositional style in mind. The other tunes have less obvious influences, but some artists whose music has made a strong impact on the formation of my own compositional voice are Cuong Vu, The Brian Blade Fellowship, and Wayne Shorter, specifically his albums from the 1960s and his current quartet. For me, the most important thing is that I feel connected to the music and can perform it with a sense of commitment and sincerity."

Clark will bring the Quintet together for a tour in the fall of 2013.

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