What a wonderful band that pianist Benoit Delbecq has put together! This finely synchonized unit creates an exceptional ensemble sound with its dark, moody tones and circuitous melodies, playing music that sounds as if it were conceived in a cave, in murky shadows and cool and dry air. An unusual timbral mixviola and tenor saxophonesets the sound apart, along with drummer Emile Biayenda's distinctive rhythms.
Saxophonist Mark Turner provides the biggest surprise of the set. I had him tagged as more of a mainstream guy than he sounds in this context. Perhaps the highest-profile musician here, he blends smoothly into the ensemble sound, cool and reverberant, Stan Getz-ian in tone, with a consistently fresh flow of ideas as he teams with violaist Gene Van Geel in the front line. The viola, with a richer, more sinewy sound than its smaller cousin, the violin, goes unison with Turner's sax a good deal of the time, weaving an elastic texture, but it also gets its share of solo time, melding with the ensemble atmosphere to paint in tones of darker grey.
In Ellingtonian fashion, Paris-based Benoit Delbecq contributes his piano fills in a parsimonious fashion; and as with Ellington's piano-within-the-band sound, he leaves you wanting more of him. The band is his instrument, and he plays it extremely well. The pianist/composer (all the tunes here are Delbecq originals) has said: "I wanted to provoke an encounter between musicians I knew from different scenes, Europe meets North America meets Africa" (drummer Biayenda is Congolese). He's done so on Phonetics with remarkable success, offering up dark, exotic, mysterious music full of odd harmonies and malleable polyrhythms and abstract textures. A very new and exciting sound, even to ears that have traveled widely.
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