This one is for Gregg Brennan, Canadian drummer/bandleader, with whom I often exchange thoughts on Eurojazz. A major influence on his style, Texier is a very distictively European player who is little known across the Atlantic.
We both agree that the strings rarely add much to this session, and I take that as a sign that I haven't missed the point entirely in my review. Feel free to leave comments and disagree!!
LABEL BLEU (2CD LBLC 6648/9)
Armoire Dog; Tonic Tony; Serious Seb; Glenn The Space; Dezarwa (For A.T.); B.Z. The Bee; Colonel Skopje; Sacrifice; Barth’s Groove; Big Phil; Charles Le Bon.
Glenn Ferris (tb); Sebastien Texier (as, cl); Bojan Z (p); Henri Texier (b); Tony Rabeson (d); L’Orchestra De Bretagne with Claude Barthelmy (arr).
Recorded April 2002.
Many prominent jazz artists, from Charlie Parker through to Ornette Coleman and Joe Lovano, have made records with ‘strings’. Suspicions often abound that it is simply a bid to establish for jazz some serious credentials in high-brow circles. When it works the strings enhance the mood, colouration and texture, making new musical vistas assessable. When it fails we either get pseudo-classical noodling or an appendage that appears as a crudely bolted on afterthought. Anybody who read Martin Longley’s informative piece in Jazz Review 39 (which described the making of this album) will realise that Texier is aiming for something far more integrated and worked-through than the latter.
This sumptuously packaged set (with a booklet of photographs by Magnum artist Guy Le Querec) has the trimmings marking a special event, but how does the musical realisation of Texier’s longstanding dream sound? Building on the already sound foundations of the Azur Quintet, his most stable unit, and inviting his long-time associate (and improvising guitarist) Claude Barthelmy to arrange the strings, would both seem to be shrewd moves. The disc starts well: a short Stravinskian intro which segues into a crisp military tattoo from Rabeson’s snare, before the quintet launch headlong into the boppish ‘Tonic Tony’. Yet after several complete listens, I can’t help feeling that the music would be at least as strong without the orchestra. That’s not to say that Texier and Barthelmy have botched the job - more that the job itself is one of debatable value. True, there are times when the strings do add a lushness which subtly enhances the romantic hues of Texier’s writing (‘Serious Seb’ for instance). But equally there are many moments when the strings are an intrusive presence, rather like a circling bluebottle that you just can’t quite manage to swat (‘Dezarwa (For A.T.)’ is particularly so).
Fortunately the exuberance of the quintet’s soloists and Texier’s catchy melodic hooks and deep harmonic pools save the day. The funky lope that is ‘Glenn The Space’, which, other than Henri and Bojan Z, features no strings at all, is for me the standout track. Ferris’ subtly deployed multiphonics are perfectly assimilated into his style, and utterly distinctive. The sudden re-emergence of the orchestra on the following piece seems somehow cheesy - rather like watching ‘Guys And Dolls’ straight after a classic hard boiled film noir.
Disc Two pays an interesting return visit to Texier’s warhorse ‘Colonel Skopje’, and the formal stiffness loosens sufficiently on ‘Sacrifice’ to allow Texier Jnr. to blow some visceral ‘outside’ alto. Probably unintentionally, the project ended up reminding me of just what Texier does best. A group with soloists as compelling as Ferris and Zulficarpasic needs no adornment. An interesting chapter in the career of on of Eurojazz’s most distinguished standard bearers, and the meticulously crafted ‘Strings’ Spirit’ is not a failure despite my reservations.
(Jazz Review, January 2003)