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Louis Sclavis Quartet: Silk and Salt Melodies

Karl Ackermann By

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With its ancient roots and latter-day association with New Orleans, Dixieland and swing, the clarinet isn't often a frontline instrument in modern jazz let alone avant-garde. A handful of players such as Don Byron and Marty Ehrlich have aided in its prominence but not many. In the hands of Louis Sclavis the bass clarinet is not only a deterrent against conformist thinking; it is an instrument with greatly expanded borders and characteristics. Sclavis incorporates European chamber music, Middle-Eastern samazens and free jazz in his ambitious and literate compositions. Silk and Salt Melodies speaks to Sclavis' years of shaping a world view, unique stylization and his belief that improvisation is not a free-for-all but a discipline integral to telling a story.

Almost twenty years ago Sclavis—with bassist Henri Texier and drummer Aldo Romaro—boldly experimented with blending components of European and West African folk tunes and jazz on Carnet de routes (Label Bleu, 1995). Sclavis, working with continually evolving lineups, has never fallen back on a purely mainstream approach. Now reunited with the Atlas Trio partners who created the excellent Sources (ECM, 2012), guitarist Gilles Coronado and pianist Benjamin Moussay are joined by percussionist Keyvan Chemirani on Silk and Salt Melodies. The Iranian native conveys a new aspect not only in his use of some unusual regional instruments but in his distinctive approach to beat cycles and rhythms. Chemirani's presence is a good fit with Sclavis' proclivity for pursuing global inspirations.

The leisurely pacing of Sclavis' long expressive lines unfold dramatically on "Le parfum de l'éxil" allowing time for Coronado take a more angular route as together they cautiously accelerate the pace. Aided by Chemirani's intricate pacing and Moussay's late arriving countermelody, the piece adds multiple layers while maintaining a pastoral air. Coronado injects some jagged edges into "L'homme sud" complimented by Sclavis and Moussay almost speaking in one voice until the pianist takes off on a particularly nice solo. Chemirani and Sclavis turn the piece around with an injection of Middle-Eastern flavor. Moussay's beautiful and extended solo opens "L'autre rive," eventually joined by Sclavis and again upended by Coronado with a turn toward a darker, more mysterious side. A more rough and tumble "Sel et soie" has Sclavis wailing and Coronado assuming the more expressive role ; his lyrical and limpid notes bringing to mind guitarist Bill Frisell.

Silk and Salt Melodies is the manifestation of Sclavis' vision of a surreal and exotic journey but on a less analytical level it is an appreciation of musicianship. Sclavis' clarinet can sound as deep and resonant as a double bass. He can uncannily mimic the folky sound of an accordion or play as boisterously as reed player Peter Brötzmann. Putting Silk and Salt Melodies in the context of Sclavis' larger body of work is somewhat irrelevant; he builds, incorporates and moves on. It's a good philosophy for listening as well.

Track Listing: Le parfum de l’éxil; L’homme sud; L’autre rive; Sel et soie; Dance For Horses; Des feux lointains; Cortège; Dust And Dogs; Prato plage.

Personnel: Louis Sclavis: clarinet; Gilles Coronado: guitar; Benjamin Moussay: piano, keyboard; Keyvan Chemirani: percussion.

Title: Silk and Salt Melodies | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: ECM Records

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