François Carrier Quartet - Noh

David Ryshpan, Panpot

Saxophonist François Carrier has served as something of an ambassador for Quebec improvisers abroad, having previously collaborated with pianist Uri Caine and the late saxophonist Dewey Redman, among others. This concert, recorded during a five-night run at Montreal’s Théâtre La Chapelle, is decidedly localized, featuring renowned Montreal percussionists Michel Lambert – with whom Carrier has a longstanding partnership – and John Heward. They are joined by Toronto guitarist Reg Schwager.
The intent and restraint in this concert is palpable. Each improviser is highly attuned to the other, and the amount of listening among the players is remarkable. Carrier is unabashedly melodic, weaving intervallic lines similar to Steve Lacy, and he adeptly avoids the firebreathing free clichés. His concentrated pursuit of line is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s solo improvised work from the ‘70s. Schwager isn’t afraid of playing melody, either – in fact, the guitar/saxophone duo in the middle of “Noone” is some of the most beautiful “free ballad” playing I’ve heard in a while. It is Schwager’s playing that is a revelation to me here – known more in Toronto and outside as a swinging straight-ahead guitarist, he proves himself to be equally capable in a purely improvised setting. His approach to improvised guitar is relatively pure, with little preparation and no effects outside of amplifier distortion. Carrier’s soprano sax tone is often indebted to Asian reed instruments, which contrasts mightily when juxtaposed against Schwager’s decidedly Occidental guitar.
Percussionists Heward and Lambert are both visual artists in addition to being phenomenal drummers, and their interaction is astonishing here. They never play over each other or trample each other, and one gets the feeling that their eyes are as open as their ears. Having not attended the concert in question, I can’t definitively say how visual their interaction was, but they are both equally attentive and fuel the music. Some of the highlights here are the fine details – the nuanced brushwork of Lambert, the small entrances of bells and other percussion, and the percussive interaction between Heward, Lambert and Schwager, while Carrier weaves inventions overtop.
It is recordings like Noh that cement the status of Montreal’s free improv and actuelle scene. Carrier and his fellow improvisers are worthy demonstrators of what free improvised music can be, with open minds and open ears.