Aleatoric and Imperial Quartet in Helsinki

Anthony Shaw BY

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Aleatoric and Imperial Quartet
Helsinki, Finland
March 12, 2015

For anyone who has come to jazz, as I, via the cross-national recombinations that pop up regularly throughout the European continent this combined gathering of Finnish, French and Belgian musicians on the same bill in Helsinki was nothing less than a glorious rout. Thanks to the mix of benefactors, involving both foreign embassies and the Finnish Jazz Federation, the bill featured two very different groups but both sharing similar breadth of multi-national ingredients and inspirations.

Aki Rissanen is a Finnish pianist whose compositions have been recorded on 8 albums released over the last 10 years mainly across European labels. His writing is generally measured and rather contemplative, and his associates play in a more cerebral than cathartic style. In his trio Aleatoric, Rissanen is joined by Belgian saxophonist Robin Verheyen, a deft and less demonstrative musician who neatly matches the leader's original and incisive playing. True to style, on this evening percussionist Markku Ounaskari mostly was using brushes or double toms supporting Rissanen's and Verheyen's leads and rarely showed any signs of breaking a sweat. This was the just what the two lead instruments needed by way of modest but varied rhythm.

By contrast the Imperial Quartet is a multi-headed beast, fronted by two raging saxophonists Damien Sabatier on baritone, alto and sopranino, and Gérald Chevillon with bass, tenor and soprano. Both men share themselves between their saxophones which they handle with near total disregard for respectful soloist roles, playing across and around each others' leads and lines. However behind the frenetic fervour that these two frontmen generate, maybe the most definitive feature of the band is the machination that takes place along the fretboard of bassist Joachim Florent. Playing a shortened, solid-bodied Rickenbacker and an array of effects Florent strummed and tickled his instrument, establishing the electronic structure that creates the terrain for the two frontmen to run amok across the gamut of their six saxophones.

At times the soloists might be involved a tasteful harmonic duo, but more typically these two veterans of the French avant-garde are engaged in a disturbing heretical duel. These took place stage front, left and right, but also around the outer edges of the playing area as they promenaded with their instruments behind the drumkit of Antonin Leymarie. Although Chevillon added contrapuntal rhythm with an additional set of drumsticks either on the body of his instrument or any other handy percussive artifacts, Leymarie was key to maintaining the driving edge of this quartet, and affirming their collective identity as truly balanced four-headed beast. Their music is a heady blend of classical and cutting edge styles (intimated influences ranging from Radiohead or King Crimson to Stravinsky and Soft Machine), a real potpourri of inspired Gallic musical creativity.

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