French bassist and composer Hubert Dupont has been mixing music and political activism since his Sabil Trio played at the Institute of the Arab World in 2013. That event served as the inspiration for Golan/Al Joulan Vol. 1 (2016) and Golan/Al Joulan Vol. 2 (2017), both on the Ultrabolic label. His blend of Arab music and jazz on those releases is part of his broader musical reach, extending to the influences of Africa, Eastern European music and spoken word. Dupont's new quartet on Smart Grid returns to a focus on Western jazz and unbridled improvisation.
Dupont's free-playing quartets date back ten years to when he had included altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa in his otherwise French outing Spider's Dance (Ultrabolic, 2007). The bassist has also been a sideman for Robin Eubanks and Steve Lacy. He is joined by Denis Guivarc'h on alto saxophone who is best known as a long-time member of the Magic Malik Orchestra and has worked with Steve Coleman, Louis Moutin and many top European artists. Pianist Yvan Robilliard has received some training from Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock and recorded four albums as a soloist or co-leader. Drummer Pierre Mangeard has recorded with the French and Senegalese Toukouleur Orchestra.
Smart Grid consists of six original Dupont compositions, recorded live at the Jacques Brel Room in 2017. "Greed" opens with an extended bass solo before giving way to an energized improvisation that spotlights each member of the quartet as an introduction. Dupont picks up the bow to begin "Eoliane," a darker, more portentous opening giving way to the lift of an uninhibited alto interlude. The piece changes course again as Robilliard's melodic piano solo slows the process down to near minimalism. "Helliptic" and "Wonder" are a bit more straightforward, but not without a sizable share of inventiveness. "Recondition" is the most abstract piece in the collection and sets up like-minded access to the long closing number "Pendulair," featuring a blistering Mangeard solo.
The challenge of Smart Grid, especially for listeners more familiar with his trio, sextet or the recent Golan/Al Joulan albums, is to abandon preconceived notions of the composer's pursuit of a strict globalist viewpoint. Even with an underlying concept of renewable resources built in, Dupont reminds listeners that, first and foremost, he is an improvisor. Surrounded here by an equally talented band, he delivers an unpredictable, and unconventional program full of surprises.
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