(Vortex, 8th February 2010)
I caught the first of a two-night stint at the Vortex by Julien Lourau’s quartet at the Vortex, launching the new CD Saigon (Naive). The “Saigon Quartet,” the Vietnamese city having been the location of their first gig in late 2006. This is a joint endeavour by Julien Lourau (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Laurent Coq (piano) with top French bassist Thomas Bramerie and drummer Donald Kontomanou, replacing Otis Brown III on this tour. Another example of the Vortex’s varied and innovative programming.
Lourau and Coq were born in the same year, 1970, and have known each other for a long time. Working together is a more recent development for them. Lourau is known for taking on wide-ranging projects, often in more dance-based music. Coq has written film scores, and worked with experimental dance groups. Individually and collectively they take the band through a wide range of moods and feels.
Coq and Lourau share the composition duties equally in this band. Lourau’s compositions have appealing melodic hooks . There are appealing waltzes with stop-starts. Lourau’s compositions draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources. A journey to perform in Haiti was particularly productive, and gave rise to the first half closer Baron Samedi, which got the best applause of the evening. Lourau on tenor was doing flutter tonguing, multiphonics at the eginning. Coq and Lourau brought the number to an end with swirling ascending rapidfire counterpoint, deftly supported by Bramerie with clear tone and big sound, and Kontomanou giving chase. A high point.
I found the gig fascinating, but in the final analysis I also had had reservations. The quartet showed its ability to turn on a sixpence, to switch mood and feel again and again, but last night my ears found the line, narrative, the connections between these moods hard to grasp. I also found that Coq’s improvisational method sometimes has a way of locking the listener straight into stasis rather than guiding one’s ear and producing forward motion. I’m also guessing that the drummer may not have settled with the others yet. But the best of this gig was VERY good indeed.