Clarinetist Louis Sclavis has described this album as indicating “…my desire for this work to take an imaginary, nomadic, Central Asian route, but also to address the idea of emigration in world history…”. This can, of course be read at the literal and metaphorical levels. Literally many of the rhythms employed by fine Iranian percussionist Keyvan Chemirani are a fine illustration of Sclavis’ emigration point, economically evoking a slow march in stifling dry heat. Metaphorically there is the way that the musical breadth of the soloists pulls the pieces outside of the somewhat limiting definitions of jazz in common currency. Labels aside though there can be no doubt that this music succeeds admirably in terms of the communication of emotion.
Tone is everything – Sclavis` clarinet is seemingly able to fill every space in the room with a natural sounding reverb, showing the quality of the ECM engineering and production quality from production genius Manfred Eicher. Musically there is a clear eastern influence at work adding a touch of the unusual to the collection and unifying the sound and feel across the compositions. This is not an album to pick and choose tracks – far better to sit back and luxuriate in its sumptuous soundworld. Take the opener “Le Parfum D’Exil”, initially the listener’s attention is dominated by Sclavis’ clarinet, but in time details like the subtle walking rhythm, reminiscent of David Sylvian’s “Words with the Shaman”, emerge and complete the picture.
A similar rhythm carries through into the beginning of the second track “L’Homme Sud”, emphasising the episodic, travelogue soundtrack feel to the music and contributing to the unified feel of the collection. The small ensemble are excellent here and throughout the album, knowing when not to play, when to leave space for each other and when to support. So percussionist Chemirani, added to the Quartet for this date, is central to this creation of space – allowing, for example, Benjamin Moussay’s wonderful dreamlike piano solo room to breathe over for the most part just the underpinning rhythm, before eventually prompting Sclavis to double up on the theme and eventually lead the piece to its conclusion.
Chemirani makes a further substantial rhythmic contribution on “Dance for Horses” the pattern being fundamental to driving the piece forward, lifting the excitement level of the music for the soloists to feed off. Another highlight is the near title track “Sel et Soie” or ‘Salt and Silk’ if my long faded schoolboy French is correct. The pace picks up here with an edgy rhythmic guitar line set against an accelerated percussion pattern from the previous slow march. Sclavis initially doubles up with the piano before serving up an effective mix of a powerful, intense solo juxtaposed with a more gentile, restrained theme. Possibly best of all though is “Cortege” which starts with a regular loping rhythm that Moussay’s piano solos around until Sclavis enters at first in step with the rhythm, before the piece takes a different quicker path on the intervention of Gilles Coronado’s guitar. Sclavis solos an outpouring of notes over crashing percussion, the tension from which is then released by the fast paced rhythmic guitar solo that leads us toward the somewhat abrupt conclusion.
Final instrumental piece “Dust and Dogs” pulls things back towards jazz at the conclusion of the collection – Moussay’s piano and Cheiran’s drum solo giving it more of a traditional feel. Of course that is not quite the same as saying Sclavis and co run through their favourite Jazz Messengers riffs, but it is clearly deliberate sequencing – a reminder to the listener of how far from the traditional we have been in the explorations that have preceded it.
This is music that conjures a widescreen travelogue experience whose nearest precedent in jazz is something like John Hassell’s “Fourth World Music” – effectively improvised music that takes inflections from world music influences, but not as a dry exercise in anthropological accuracy or documentation. Add to this the superb band and the masterful ECM production values and you have a fabulous record that deserves to be heard outside of the jazz community.
30 November 2014