|Site review by ramesh April 18, 2009
|This lovely disc of avant-jazz features Benoit Delbecq, the pianist who also performed in an earlier Songlines SACD I reviewed, 'Way Below the Surface'. Whereas the latter disc is closer to classical avant-garde, Kartet's quartet of alto sax, piano, bass and drums hews more towards jazz. This is clear from the three minute opening track, 'Misteroso' a shrewd, allegro ma non troppo reworking of Thelonius Monk's composition. [ Monk's performance in the 'Columbia Years' anthology runs over eight minutes.] This opening work functions as a prelude to the succeeding thirteen original compositions, for the opening bars of the second work, 'Y', have affinities to the Monk, before developing in the group's evocative freewheeling style.
The breathy saxophone opening of the fifth piece, 'chrysalide/imago', also seems to explore a couple of rhythmic/melodic cells derived from 'Misteroso' before it propels along as a jazzy, condensed-Steve-Reich : the performers repeat the motif in an ostinato style before changing successive elements. The sixth piece, 'D'Hélices', seems to me to be a miniature masterpiece : the opening sounds appear to emanate from a prepared piano in the guise of a toy gamelan, counterpointed by the following entrances of an exuberant double bass line, drum kit, conventional piano, and finally the alto sax.
Over the past few months of concert going I've heard a few local avant or fusion jazz ensembles, but Kartet's 'the Bay Window' contains performances which are far more memorable. Compositions such as these, full of spontaneity yet as compositionally premeditated as any Ellington or classical avantgarde work, aren't easy to emulate. On those frequent occasions when the music bursts through the envelope of standard jazz into world, John Cagean or other avant garde sonorities, there is still joie de vivre allied to a naturalism of utterance. An art which conceals art. The entire album sounds like the product of seasoned, experienced musicians : indeed, the liner notes indicate that this is their fifth release over the past fourteen years. It sounds like the musicians enjoyed themselves during recording.
The 24 bit/ 48 kHz recording was set down in a Parisian studio in 2006. The stereo sound has a wide soundstage set in a resonant acoustic. The balance is exemplary, without the saxophone or Bösendorfer piano overpowering the double bass lines. Mention must also be made of the beautiful cover art. The striking cover and gatefold colour photos of an empty rooftop café with two orange deck chairs encapsulate this music with its cosmopolitan, urban and urbane sensibilities. [ Performance grading is for the artistic calibre of the compositions.]