Quickies: Three Fresh Ones From ECM Records (Andy Sheppard, Evan Parker, Louis Sclavis)

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by Pico

Tuesday was pretty busy day for Manfred Eicher’s fabled label ECM Records, as this was a day when they are released no less than five CD’s. For this all-ECM version of Quickies, we’re going to take some fairly brief looks at three of these, the more jazz-oriented ones. But like so many ECM titles, these aren’t jazz in the traditional sense. The first selection subtly infuses East Indian and electronics into acoustic jazz, the second one is electro-acoustic whack jazz and the last has a little bit of a rock streak in it. All three are as well-performed and recorded as they are adventurous. It’s a combination that hard to resist, and signals that ECM’s standards remain firmly intact forty years after recording its first album.

Andy Sheppard Movements In Colour

British saxophone player Andy Sheppard is no stranger to ECM, having recorded a dozen albums as a member of Carla Bley’s ensemble under Bley’s ECM boutique label WATT, including the terrific Bley album we covered here a couple of years ago. Sheppard has also previously recorded about a dozen albums under his own leadership, but Movements In Colour marks his first ECM record. For Movements, Sheppard culls together some of best from both his native UK and from Norway: ECM stalwart bassist Arild Andersen, innovative guitarist/electronics whiz Eivind Aarset, another guitarist John Parricelli, and tabla player/percussionist Kuljit Bhamra. Sheppard has already played extensively with Parricelli and Bhamra in duet settings, and both are members of Sheppard’s quartet.

With such an uncommon configuration, Movements has a somewhat distinctive sound, and a good part of the reason is because Sheppard put Bhamra near the center of it. The tabla pulls the style closer to world fusion and combined with Parricelli’s acoustic guitar, there’s a bit of an Oregon (the world fusion group, not the state) character to it, but Aarset’s subtle soundscapes veers the music away from direct comparisons. Andersen remains as immovable force on double-bass as he’s always been and tosses in an outstanding solo on “La Tristesse Du Roi.” For his part, Sheppard possesses much of the ethereal tone of fellow Brit John Surman (which makes Sheppard a perfect fit for ECM). On soprano, his strong suit is the cadence he puts on his horn; on “Nanve Nave Moe,” for example he ignores hackneyed phrasing in favor of a very human trait. Even where some tracks lack the tabla, like “Ballarina” and “International Blues,” the atmospherics with well-placed improvisation carry the songs.

Of the three, Andy Sheppard’s Movements In Colour is the closest to possessing that “classic” ECM sound. It’s never too busy, mostly airy and balances light textures with spontaneous playing (but with a slight lean toward the former). For certain, Andy Sheppard has found a perfect home at which to apply his conception of music.

Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble The Moment’s Energy

The scene displayed in the panoramic picture found in the CD sleeve of The Moment’s Energy already tells you the music contained within is odd: of the thirteen players shown on stage only about half of them are playing conventional instruments. The rest have an assortment of laptops, MIDI keyboards, and/or instrument board clusters arrayed in front of them. This is, after all, Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble.

This lion of British improvised music founded the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble way back in 1992 to further expand upon the possibilities of group improvisation by supplementing acoustic instruments with various electronic noise making machines. The iconoclastic altoist introduced his Ensemble on record with the ECM release of Toward the Margins in 1996. Since then, Parker’s sextet has swelled to the size of a small orchestra, adding both acoustic and electronic instruments along the way, and with members now representing five countries (US, UK, Japan, Spain, Italy).

These recordings, a combination of live and studio settings—and a mesh of both—can only be listened to intently in order to be listened to properly. There’s no hooks, visible song structures or harmoniousness; thick layers of sound are brewed with both the acoustic and electronic components so thoroughly baked in together, it’s often hard to pull apart and identify the ingredients. Some individual soloing does occur (Ned Rothenberg’s bass clarinet chattering on much of “The Moment’s Energy II” is pretty special), only to descend back into the cloud of sounds again. Parker himself can be heard only occasionally, but his role as the conductor and instigator is crucial in getting this herd to move in the right direction. Comprised of six movements and a five minute piece at the end (“Incandescent Clouds”), it’s more of a continuum of evolving ideas and fragments instead of a collection of actual songs.

Simply put, The Moment’s Energy is a trip. But if you know Evan Parker and his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, you probably already knew that, too.

Louis Sclavis Lost On The Way

Two Brits and now, a Frenchm
an. Clarinetist and saxophonist Louis Sclavis has been with this label since 1991, and each time out he is trying out something new, whether it be new band formats, styles, or themes. His last ECM long player, L’ Imparfait des Langues (2007) moved somewhat into jazz-rock & electronica territory. On that record, he encouraged more spontaneity, and he was pleased with the results enough to try something on the follow-up that’s not too distant from the concepts that held sway over the prior session. For Lost On The Way, the drummer and guitarist (François Merville and Maxime Delpierre) are held over and a bassist and an extra saxophonist are added (Olivier Lété and Matthieu Metzger).

There’s no electro-acoustic stuff going on here, although the performances straddle the line between structured and improvisation. Despite a lack of knob twiddling devices and the replacement of two musicians, the vibe on the newer record is very similar to the one on the older one. Within Lost, however, no two songs sound alike and most are bubbling with character. Highlights include:”Le Sommeil des Sirènes,” which unexpectedly moves from avant-garde to metal-jazz; “Aboard Ulysses’s Boat,” where everyone is creating on top of Lété’s hypnotic, elliptical bass line; “Des Bruits à Tisser” stands out for its offbeat arrangement of Delpierre syncing his funky lines with Merville’s paunchy cymbal bashing and the reed players dropping unison notes in the gaps between the accents.

More than a quarter century after first leading his own bands, making records and picking up many awards and accolades along the way, Louis Sclavis doesn’t sound like someone resting on his laurels. The younger players he’s surrounded himself with on Lost On The Way has helped to make Sclavis sound fresh and still hungry to make his mark.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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