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Louis Sclavis Atlas Trio: Sources

John Kelman By

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It's not uncommon for artists to shake things up by changing personnel to explore roads previously untraveled, but few push themselves so relentlessly into new territory through revamped instrumentation as Louis Sclavis. Still, since coming to ECM with the auspicious Rouge (1992), the French clarinetist/saxophonist has always maintained continuity between recordings—cellist Vincent Courtois carried over from Dans La Nuit (2002) to Napoli's Walls (2003), and percussionist François Merville showing up on L'imparfait des langues (2007) and Lost Along the Way (2009) five years after Dans La Nuit. With Atlas Trio's Sources, however, the ever-searching Sclavis eschews all past ECM affiliations in a previously unexplored instrumental configuration.

The result is, for Sclavis followers, paradoxically familiar and filled with the kind of surprise upon which the fearless composer/improviser has built his reputation. The trio context provides more inherent space, despite the potential for guitar and keyboards to create denser aural landscapes, especially given guitarist Gilles Coronado's predilection for tart, slightly jagged-edged tones and Benjamin Moussay's arsenal of piano, Fender Rhodes and other keyboards. Moussay's broad reach allows him to support both Coronado's fuzz-toned solo and Sclavis' serpentine, middle-eastern clarinet lines on "A Road to Karaganda" with a relentless Rhodes bass line, even as things turn from angular to near-gentle with his delicate right -hand piano work—though Coronado's jagged chordal support keeps things on edge to the very end.

Elsewhere, Coronado adopts a cleaner tone on "Along the Niger. His reverb-driven a cappella suggests Bill Frisell as a touchstone, with leading notes continually layering, one over the next, to create a sense of ongoing harmonic sustenance as the guitarist slowly finds his way to the dark, plaintive composition's primary melody together with Sclavis, on bass clarinet. When Moussay finally enters, on piano, to complete the picture, the threesome interactively winds its way through Sclavis' form, turning it into one of Sources' most lyrical and beautiful compositions. "Outside the Maps," on the other hand, is Atlas Trio at its most oblique—if not impenetrable, then certainly challenging—a group improvisation where bass clarinet dominates, as Coronado's in-the-weeds tremolo'd guitar and Mousay's piano and electronics help broaden the landscape, even as Sclavis' tone ranges from pure to, at times, guttural.

Aside from "Outside the Maps," Coronado's "Sous influences" is the only other non-Sclavis track. Here, the clarinetist begins alone—a bass clarinet master class in conventional and extended techniques—before leading into an almost ("almost" being the operative word) funky collective, Coronado's scratchy accompaniment and Moussay's ring modulated Rhodes creating otherworldly textures of harsh dissonance and tension-resolving low tones. When an elliptical theme based on leaping intervals and intensifying drama finally emerges, it forms the foundation for the more through-composed second half of Coronado's seven-minute closer.

Even in its most scored moments, Sources is predicated on the freedom of expression that's been a cornerstone of Sclavis' entire career. Here, however, even the clarinetist's renowned unpredictability is trumped by a collective sound like no other, one that searches for—and finds—a new paradigm of contemporary improvised chamber music, and yet another milestone in Sclavis' consistently impressive discography.

Track Listing: Près d'Hagondange; Dresseur de nuages; La Disparition; A Road to Karaganda; Sources; Migration; Quai Sud; Along the Niger; Outside of Maps; Sous Influences.

Personnel: Louis Sclavis: clarinets; Benjamin Moussay: piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboard; Gilles Coronado: electric guitar.

Title: Sources | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: ECM Records

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