Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Henri Texier...

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!!

Strings’ Spirit

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.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, January 2003)

1 comment:

Gregg Brennan said...

Surprise surprise, I'm going to comment=).

Can I get a copy of that Martin Longley article on the making of this album?

I totally agree with your review, as you know. The important point I think is that the orchestra really adds nothing. The music is great on its own and as you say, there is nothing WRONG with this album- on the outside, it seems like a good plan with the right people (and as always great packaging). It's just not necessary, though it works in some places, but in spite of itself because Texier's melodic sense is so unbelievably strong. When I opened the disc after I first got in it the mail, I went 'aww, there are STRINGS on this?!'. After listening many times, I have the same reaction! I found myself only listening to it because I had listened to everything else by this band so much, that it was just more playing I hadn't heard as much.

His tunes also have alot of raw power, something I think wasn't really addressed in the orchestration. (Nor were his most powerful tunes used either, for that matter. Maybe he was not going for that. On the other hand, his brilliant ballad, 'Don't Buy Ivory Anymore' would've been a good fit here, I think).

On one of the tunes the simplicity and power was sort of addressed, though I don't remember which one- using simple harmony with the strings and focusing on the power of the melody, using the strings in more of a Mahler/Shostakovitch kind of way would've gone far to beef up the tunes instead of countering them with lushness or even taking away from them in whatever way (soloist, etc) at specific times. Barthelemy is great, for sure and Texier's band is indeed arguably his best. Ever. But it could've been so much more. It's like when you watch a good film and after it's done, realize that it could've been so much more than it was, though it was still good for various reasons. Absolutely spot on review, Fred!

note- for anyone that wants to hear the definitive (and original) version of 'Sacrifice' in all it's screaming glory, it's on 'Ramparts D'Argile' featuring a trio of Rabeson (always amazing) and Texier Sr. and Jr. It will blow your mind.