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Louis Sclavis & Jean-Marc Montera - Roman

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Artist: Louis Sclavis & Jean-Marc Montera

Album: Roman

Label: FMP

Review date: Mar. 3, 2006

Over the past several decades, clarinetist Louis Sclavis has explored a broad array of avenues from the woolliest abstract improv to film soundtracks and collaborations with visual artists. His highest profile work has been for ECM. Albums for that label largely emphasize his compositions for chamber jazz ensembles and the more melody and folk oriented aspects of his playing. FMP projects with Wolfgang Fuchs, Ernst Reijseger and his own Trio de Clarinettes commonly reside in the less outwardly accessible realms of free improvisation, stressing extended techniques and frequent excursions into atonality. This duo, set with guitarist Jean-Marc Montera in a Marseille studio in 2003, sketches the differences between his various artistic outlets anew.

An hour-long piece broken into 13 chapters varying in length from two to 10 minutes, Roman resists easy description. Montera makes use of table guitar along with his standard-fretted electric and a small battery of electronics. Sclavis concerns himself with his usual soprano saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet. He engages repeatedly in Evan Parker-style circular breathing on soprano, shaping self-perpetuating helixes against Montera’s echoey Erector Set™ backdrops. Montera’s strings take on the tonal cast of vibrating amplified bed springs as he shapes drone patterns for Sclavis to improvise across. Sclavis turns to speaking in tongues through his reed, puckering his embouchure and producing moist raspberries, puttering clicks and eventually, disconcerting banshee cries. Tightly controlled distortion and nebulous static lend underlying menace to Montera’s lines; rarely does his play in the absence of either.

Much of the music comes across as chamber improv for the post-rock crowd. The pair blazes a craggy tandem path of tortured pealing riffs and dolorous bass clarinet tones. Elsewhere their interactions are disarmingly restrained and almost lullaby-like, Sclavis voicing cordial melodic phrases as Montera conjures aerated clouds of cushiony feedback. Percussive reed and keyboard pops join with barely audible shortwave squiggles on the disc’s penultimate piece. Admirers of Sclavis’ more approachable ECM work may be soured by the uncompromising nature of much of this music and there are spots where the duo’s sense of shared purpose does seem to fray and wander. But overall it’s an illuminative meeting, one that effectively exposes and celebrates the idiosyncrasies of each musician.

By Derek Taylor

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