Sur Ecoute at The Bronx Bar & 'Cue

Barry Witherden By

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Sur Ecoute
The Bronx Bar & 'Cue
Teignmouth, Devon
February 17, 2018

Teignmouth, an archetypal English seaside resort on the south-east coast of Devon, has recently found itself in the spotlight thanks to The Mercy, James Marsh's film starring Colin Firth as disappeared lone-yachtsman Donald Crowhurst. However, it has other claims on the attention, not least an active jazz club that organises monthly gigs at The Bronx bar and restaurant, and a packed jazz and blues festival at various venues in November. For their February meeting they hosted a visit by young French quartet Sur Ecoute, an enterprising booking, one of only two British appearances by the band at the end of a European tour.

Fronted by saxophonist Greg Sallet, Sur Ecoute ... the phrase alludes to phone-tapping and was also the French title for the US TV series, The Wire... inhabits the mainstream of contemporary jazz: their repertoire consists almost entirely of originals by members of the band and those compositions are usually tightly-structured yet make adequate space for improvisations, both individual and collective. The band is completed by pianist Matthieu Roffe, bassist Bertrand Beruard (using a 5-string fretted electric job) and drummer Kevin Lucchetti.

The evening was bracketed by "Balance" and "Balance Deux," opening the first and ending the second set. The first began with a solo alto cadenza before the others kicked in with a rock beat, the second, dedicated to Vijay Iyer, featured some appealing raindrop-like ostinati in the top register of the piano. "Le Pliage de Miura" refers to a technique derived from origami and developed by Japanese astro-physicists. Miura-Ori was used to build solar-panel arrays that would unfold when ready for use in space. This piece began with a sometimes shimmering, sometimes chirping theme that led into a graceful legato duet for alto sax and piano and eventually relaxed into a passage with a slightly nursery-rhyme feel.

A number of their compositions seem inspired by philosophical or scientific concepts: "Muss Es Sein? Es Muss Sein" alludes to Beethoven and Kundera, whilst "Le Mouvement Cree La Matiere" (which could be rendered as "motion makes matter") references physics and is described by Sallet as "an act of transformation." (A freer, spikier version is the title track of an album by his own quintet.) On the other hand, "Le Desordre Dans La Chaussure" could refer to a stone in your shoe. Whatever the inspiration, the pieces all evinced careful consideration of ensemble effects and how solos would relate to the themes and to each other. Everyone interacted supportively whilst cutting loose when appropriate. Sometimes the others dropped out during solos by Lucchetti (using a borrowed drum-kit with which he seemed entirely comfortable, going by the commendable quality of his playing) and Bernard, who produced a number of enthralling solos, sometimes making controlled use of effects pedals. Other highlights included the only piece based on themes not written by the band: a Monk-medley, starting off with "Straight No Chaser" and, after some more exciting solos, resolving into "Blue Monk."

If they are appearing somewhere near you, do try to hear them live. As yet they haven't issued a CD, though they can be seen and heard on YouTube. The quartet and its members belong to the Pince-Oreilles French jazz collective from Lyon. You can find more information about them all, severally and individually, at the following websites:

https://collectifpinceoreilles.com/Groupes.php?id=14#contenu (Sur Ecoute)

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