All sorts of jazz, free jazz and improv. Never for money, always for love.
Perhaps it’s related to the storied freedom of 1920s Paris where a Black entertainer like Josephine Baker could become a superstar, or the French pre-and-post Second World War intellectuals who wrote learnedly about jazz when it was still scorned in North America, but improvised music in France took longer to assert its own national identity than in other countries. With successive waves of foreign musicians making their homes there, local musicians became the most proficient Europeans playing styles ranging from Dixieland to Hard Bop. That has changed for the better since the 1970s. Since free jazz/improvised music accepted musical influences from all over, unique Gallic sounds began coming to the forefront. Folkloric influences from the countryside, advanced notated and electric/acoustic experiments and melodies from France’s former colonies became accepted. As this disc demonstrates, while it’s impossible to exactly define jazz from France, in its best iteration it’s certainly not an imitation of North American models.
Attuned to expected improvisation is the quintet of pianist Cécile Cappozzo on Hymne d’automne, six tracks which blend into one another to make a suite. With the rare ability to compose tunes that are both dulcet and daring – often on the same track – Cappozzo’s themes are interpreted by tenor saxophonist Guillaume Bellanger, bassist Patrice Grente, drummer Etienne Ziemniak and her father, trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo. Not that there’s any nepotism or favouritism here. The elder Cappozzo, who in the past has collaborated with other pioneering French improvisers like Daunik Lazro, is versatile enough to efficiently put his daughter’s ideas into action. Often, as on the title track, the two Cappozzos outline a skeleton theme consisting of single-note keyboard clips and portamento brass grace notes only to have the rest of the band interject flamboyant dissonance in the form of reed slides into flattement and blunt pops and smacks from the bassist and drummer. As the exposition turns energetic, Jean-Luc Cappozzo joins the fray with emphasized triplets and flutters in counterpoint to Bellanger’s strained mid-range split tones until guitar-like strums from Grente return the performance to a reflective narrative. This strategy continues throughout, culminating with the concluding Hymne d’automne (reprise). In that case, rapid drum paradiddles and breaks introduce the meeting of the trumpeter’s triplet peeps with the saxophonist’s slap tonguing and reed bites. Finally, a calming piano portion doubled by bass string pumps moves the players to a moderated sequence that also reprises the title track’s reflective beginning. Don’t assume that Cécile Cappozzo is deferring to the elders, however. On the extended Dance what elsewhere is emphasized as processional comping almost immediately turns into a kaleidoscope of arching piano chords and dense key clips. Eventually she propels the narrative to a stop-time swing feel, toughened by drum breaks. In the horn responses, including downward flowing reed multiphonics and half-valve growls, her lyrical glissandi mean the tune retains a relaxed Sunday-in-the-park feeling despite the dissonance sprayed around its resolution.
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