Trio Sud: Young and Fine

John Kelman BY

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Trio Sud—Young and FineTrio Sud
Young and Fine
Dreyfus Jazz

It's hard to believe that a guitarist as fine as France's Sylvain Luc has been so overlooked by supposedly comprehensive music sites like All Music Guide—especially with albums like today's Rediscovery, Young and Fine, featuring his Trio Sud group, out in the world. While you can find Luc at AMG, coverage of his small but significant discography is diminutive, and that's a shame, because Luc may well be one of the finest guitarists you've never heard...and Young and Fine one of the best jazz guitar trio albums that's been largely overlooked outside of his native country.

With bassist Jean-Marc Jafet—who also contributed four of Young and Fine's thirteen tracks—laying down some thick, muscular grooves on his fretless electric and drummer André Ceccarelli providing fluidly responsive rhythmic support, the album may be largelyl a guitarist's album...but the fact is Young and Fine is truly a trio recording that wouldn't be the same, were any of its members replaced. The group's chemistry is particularly abundant on this, its third and final release following 2000's Sud and 2001's Trio Sud—all three albums on the now sadly defunct Dreyfus Jazz imprint—and it is the trio's best recording on a number of fronts.

First, the set list is particularly broad on an album so breezily redolent of the Mediterranean that you can almost smell the sea air. Beyond Jafet's four originals, Luc's three and Ceccarelli's "Avenue des Diables Bleus," with an impressive opening drum solo that resolves into a knotty theme and atmospheric guitar solo that builds patiently into an overdriven, Allan Holdsworthian feature, Luc chooses the remaining five tracks with careful consideration. Luc's three contributions are a superb as those from his trio mate: the harmonically abstruse ballad, "Renaissance"; buoyant "French Brother," with its complex start/stop theme and brief but lithely dexterous solo from Luc; and his solo guitar masterclass "Imperfect Tune," with its chiming harmonics, tapped guitar chords and dense voicings.

When it comes to covers, Luc runs the gamut from an ambling version of Edgar De Lange and Jimmy Van Heusen's "Darn That Dream" to a brush-driven, bossa-inflected take on Stevie Wonder's "Sweetest Somebody I Know" and a nearly unrecognizable look at Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma." Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes" begins with a deceptive a cappella guitar intro that suggest a funkier reading that never materializes, as the group enters and grooves, to be sure, but in a slower, gentler fashion, while Joe Zawinul's title track—a tune originally heard on Weather Report's unfairly overlooked Mr. Gone (Columbia, 1978) but which never swung as it does here—is a simmering reading where Luc pulls out all the stops and collects a bevy of overdubs and electro-centric sonics, even as it ultimately becomes another fine feature for Ceccarelli.

Throughout the album, Luc employs judicious overdubbing to create a fuller group sound, employing steel and nylon string acoustic guitars along with an electric tone that ranges from warm, clean and clearly articulated to overdriven and heavily processed. But despite the variety of textures Luc employs, his approach to harmony and melody—sophisticated yet never sacrificing substance for style—remains consistent throughout...the sign of a guitarist whose voice is fully formed. That Luc has only recently turned fifty (last year) makes his accomplishments all the more remarkable, except that he's been at this longer than most. A true child prodigy who recorded on his first album and began gigging when he was only seven years old, Luc's biggest international claim to fame as been his occasional duet work with another guitar virtuoso, Bireli Lagrene, but it's his work with the now dissolved Trio Sud and a stellar 2006 solo album, Joko (Drefyus Jazz), that remain amongst his most impressive accomplishments.

The entire trio distinguishes itself by never overstaying its welcome; only three tracks break the five-minute mark, and a full half-dozen don't even make it to four. Every piece on Young and Fine feels exactly as long as it needs to be—no more, no less—and while solos are often surprisingly brief, they're never less than absolutely perfect, with full attention to the core of the song. Every member of the trio is a full-fledged virtuoso, but there's nary a gram of fat to be found anywhere.

Young and Fine is recommendable and rife for Rediscovery for another reason: sonically, this is one of the best-sounding CDs I own, especially when played on my Tetra 333 speakers, powered by a Leema Acoustics Tucana II integrated amplifier and spun on my OPPO BDP-105D, but it also sounds magnificent on a good friend's system, as it did on the more mid-range system I owned before upgrading to my current setup in late 2014. For those who hold onto the idea that vinyl is better, Young and Fine easily refutes that claim with its broad soundstage and dramatic separation, clarity so profound that every scrape of Luc's fingers song his neck can be heard, and a huge frequency range that, aside from not being possible with vinyl (Jafet's bass alone would, no doubt, cause a needle to skip across the grooves if left as it is here), is both bright and warm.

With today's technology there is absolutely no reason for a CD not to sound better than vinyl, and between its strong material, brilliant and effervescent playing and spectacular sound, Young and Fine has everything going for it. While I actually reviewed the album for All About Jazz in 2008, it remains an album worthy of Rediscovery, but is also, no doubt, an impressive album waiting to be discovered for the first time by many.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you know this record, and if so, how do you feel about it?

Tracks: Song for My Twins; Sylvain Shadows; Darn That Dream; Sweetest Somebody I Know; Message; Con Alma; Infant Eyes; Avenue des Diables Bleus; Young and Fine; Renaissance; French Brother; Imperfect Tune; Magnificent Marcel.

Personnel: Sylvain Luc: guitar; Jean-Marc Jafet: bass; André Ceccarelli: drums.

[Note: You can read the genesis of this Rediscovery column here.]

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