The quintet with which Louis Sclavis has recorded his fifth album for ECM, and which he brought to Kings Place last night as part of Jazz Scene Europe week last night has an interesting agenda. According to ECM’s website it aspires to imitate Ulysses, to travel somewhere unknown, “to invent new musics in which to lose oneself, to uncover fragments of memory by chance, while chiseling at new ideas.”
Ulysses is a familiar role-model in French culture, and this reference pops straight into the letter-box of shared cultural experience for the French. The poet and diplomat Joachim du Bellay, in one of the most learn-by-heart poems in French, wrote in the 1550’s of the broadening of the mind which comes from following Ulysses’ example.
Sclavis sets out on each of these journeys with a melodic statement. The melodies meander and twist, but they invariably have an underlying agility and a muscular sinew. Sometimes folk-inspired, sometimes designed to plunge straight into a powerful rock groove. A nearly full house at Kings Place, we were enthralled by the journy on which Sclavis took us.
Sclavis’ lively, youngish quintet of Matthias Metzger on saxophones Maxime Delpierre on guitar, Olivier Lété bass and François Merville on drums have the twists and turns of music firmly and impressively under their fingers. The band built some groove-based rock intensity, but managed not to overpower, as I have heard other bands do, in the Kings Place acoustic.
Sclavis and his band all seem fascinating travelling companions. Drummer Merville has worked at the Ensemble Intercontemporain under the sharp ears of Pierre Boulez, and brings unnerving precision, but also passion. Lété on bass towers physically over the others and plays fascinating lines. Delpierre, on guitar, the most boyish looking, seemed a subtle player. He adds a great variety of colour to the textures. but I’d be curious to hear him in a context with more demanding harmonic twists and turns.
Sclavis and Metzger were well contrasted. Sclavis’ has developed one of the most compelling, individual and varied voices on bass clarinet anywhere. Metzger on soprano and alto is technically formidable.,
I wondered if, like Ulysses, Sclavis and Metzger had suffered from baggage restrictions: they were passing around the same soprano saxophone and just swapping the mouthpiece. To hear two players blowing the same instrument one after another gives a different twist. Metzger is a strong soprano player, but Sclavis’ formidable variety of expression on this instrument really is something else. Kings Place hosted an imaginative tribute to the adoptive Parisian soprano saxophone genius Steve Lacy last June. Sclavis, on what is his second (or should it be equal-first) horn, is among Lacy’s finest successors.
Check out photos of the gig by Chris Tribble HERE