FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004

FMP CD 127

John Corbett


In the sometimes hermetic world of freely improvised music, there are contrasting tendencies between fractionalization and intermingling. Players often cling together with others who share their worldview, their aesthetic goals, their taste. Hence, we sometimes experience a sort of Balkanization, where the music breaks into small camps. Most generally, this falls out around the question of the ongoing influence of jazz – certainly in the ‘70s there was a schism between the jazzers and the non-jazzers, epitomized perhaps by Steve Lacy (the soprano saxophonist, always dedicated to jazz) and Derek Bailey (self-proclaimed not a jazz musician, the guitarist who has recently revisited his jazz origins, unexpectedly, despite having spent years publicly wondering why anyone would do such a thing).

But in spite of their differences, Lacy and Bailey made great music together. In some circumstances, it was on Lacy’s terms – take Bailey’s appearances on the Lacy records THE CRUST or DREAMS – while other times it was definitely on Bailey’s turf – as is obviously the case on the Company recordings. Nonetheless, guitarist and saxophonist searched for and found common ground, and where they couldn’t, they managed to discover methods to contrast their interests in provocative ways. Hence, it was possible for people with profoundly different ideals and musical points of view to respectfully greet, to mingle their findings, to find a meeting point.

The gist is that improvised music makes a space for an encounter. That’s all. There’s no necessity of agreement, no mandate for consensus-building. Friction can be productive; difference can make for variety. And when people come together and attempt to find some common ground, rather than simply contrasting their differences, sometimes it brings out remarkable things from them, things they might not otherwise have found.

Jean-Marc Montera and Louis Sclavis are both French improvisers (Montera is, in fact, French-Corsican). Sclavis comes from Lyons, where he cut his teeth during the late ‘70s, playing clarinet with the Marvelous Band, Marmite Infernale and Workshop de Lyon, and playing with various French masters (including the Henri Texier Quartet) and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath. He is arguably the most successful French jazz musician working today, with a raft of hot records on ECM, for whom he’s been recording since 1991, and collaborations with many of the music’s major players. Montera hails from Marseille, where he was co-founder of GRIM, which is usually (awkwardly) translated as Group of Search and Musical Improvisation. He has made a habit of working with artists from other camps, creating scores for films, theater, dance. And he’s actively worked with a whole category of musicians largely foreign to Sclavis, the scronky, punk-noise improvisers identified with Sonic Youth’s guitarist Thurston Moore. One could easily see these two musicians as having divergent, even opposed, aesthetics.

No matter. In improvised music, it’s possible for these paths to cross, and productively so. And as it turns out, these French players have a lot to converse about. For sure, Montera’s approach to tabletop guitar – which treats the instrument as a sound generator more than as a melodic resource – brings out some gruffer, more noise-oriented aspects of Sclavis. The clarinetist has a huge vocabulary, several languages in fact, at his disposal, and he’s surprisingly fluent in the rough-and-tumble worlds of noise guitar. (Interesting contrast with the guitarist Sclavis uses in his ensembles, Marc Ducret, who can play rough too but has a pronounced melodic streak.) Indeed, when in this more aggressive and exploratory mode, Sclavis is terrifying, his facility on the horn seemingly unlimited.

The interesting thing is how Montera comes the other direction, not by playing sweetly or by changing his methods, but by finding soundscapes that perfectly complement his partner, sometimes introducing spiky lines (“Roman/chapitre 4”), working in rhythmic tandem with Sclavis (“Roman/chapitre 6”), or creating a lush bed or sound field in which Sclavis can romp.

Difference doesn’t need to be incommensurable. Neither does it have to be negated. It can be celebrated, cultivated, gold-plated. Vivre la différence !

zurück / back