Sonic Communion [TB #1] | October 2013, France

Starting the conversation is a quintet of free spirits – living at the crossroads, seeking to liberate them – brought together by magnetic forces. On the French side, trumpet player Jean-Luc Cappozzo and bass players Joëlle Léandre and Bernard Santacruz. Knowing that the first and the second have, notably, both performed with George Lewis. That the second and the third have, notably, both played with Nicole Mitchell. That the first and the third have, notably, both performed with Charles Gayle, in Denis Fournier’s quintet, and in their own quartet. On the American side, Douglas R. Ewart who, besides being an explosive visual artists, falls within the lineage of the iconoclast multi-instrumentalists of the AACM, such as Lewis and Mitchell; and Michael Zerang, who has already made his surfaces, skins, and metals resound, hiss, and squeak on the stages of Chicago and Europe. Their improvised music – that is to say, very much in/out of proportion to who they are collectively –is the adventurously passionate music of intersecting paths and chartered worlds.

Monday, October 14, 2013, Paris

“Why do you look so happy when you’re playing?” high school students, who don’t think they’re saying or knowing so well, ask the musicians. And then also, “How do you manage when things don’t go as you’d like?”. There’s no doubt that in improvisation, in action, music grants wishes that we didn’t even know we had. What’s not desirable is to prevent things from happening, from taking shape, on their own, even if it means distorting them a little, rushing them a little, provoking chance – like that afternoon in the alluvial underground of La Java, in front of over a hundred students from three different high schools. In front of them, Douglas R. Ewart, Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Joëlle Léandre, Bernard Santacruz and Michael Zerang extolled the virtues of failure, of setbacks, of what is revealed by the contrary. Agreeing to improvise implies living and letting live, letting live the other with his ways that strangely seem to have to concern you, the other and his margin of errors that are never really errors, his margin of errors and wanderings, his margin of maneuver always to be negotiated. When we improvise, then, we play on each other’s wreckage, recovering from it. The dancers at the Lycée Georges Brassens make no mistake about this, as they end up giving themselves over wholeheartedly. They look happy. That evening, at the University of Chicago’s Paris center, in front of friends Avice, Delbecq, Desprez, Duboc, Fournier, Hoang and Kassap, the five musicians decided to play hopscotch, to be patient: several almost wise duos and trios lead to a first quintet, let it be heard, and soon live. Then, during the chat, we talk about cooking in Jamaica, and the virtues of asymmetrical attention. Having an ear for everything.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013, Dijon

Time passed. Departure in new affection and noise: Rimbaud is with us. Straight to Dijon in the tour bus, in our Nautilus. Feint fortifications of Hôtel Le Jura with its chalet-style bar. Ewart and Léandre relate the same anecdote: one and the other, separately, had the opportunity to improvise an entire concert with the subterfuge of a music stand in front of them, loaded with fake scores (perhaps an astronomy or botany manuscript) which they pretended to consult. Inevitably, people came to see them after the concert, with laudatory comments on the complexity of the “composition” they had just performed. At the Théâtre des Feuillants, the first incarnation of the quintet has not finished playing with the fire of a fertile hesitation like a charm, the music slips between the scale and the notch. The possible intensity is deceptive. Santacruz watches and cocks. Cappozzo even mimes his solo. Thinking reeds, rolls of silk, mad smoke without fire. The doors don’t close. A great bulging calm descends and suddenly the stage is a clearing. Ewart speaks, invoking the forces of nature, the spirits. The next day, he doesn’t hear the alarm clock.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013, Toulouse

Time passed. Endless road. A rickety refreshment stand in the mud of a field that could have been a crater, at the edge of which a Bridgestone truck displays “Your Journey, Our Passion”, to deceive the monotony, has the effect of a monster. No sooner had we arrived at the Fabrique Culturelle than the music started up again. The quintet is shaking, flowing: it’s forming. Passing on of batons that go awry, of powers that each refuses. Léandre tirelessly urges everyone to keep their distance. Zerang spaces as much as he distends. Cappozzo no longer mimes, but fiddles with his squeaky mute. Music emerging from silence is a cabinet of curiosities. Friends Sourisseau and Wodrascka are there, and even Famoudou Don Moye.

Thursday, October 17, 2013, Toulouse

Time passed. At the “Rencontres du jazz et de la musique contemporaine” symposium organized by Jean-Michel Court and Ludovic Florin at the Université Toulouse II – Le Mirail, Ewart and Léandre attack aesthetic hierarchies head-on, hierarchies of knowledge folded into hierarchies of power, the dangerous mania for compartmentalization that irritates the allure of musicians who have dabbled in “jazz”. While Zerang defragments. During an hour-long masterclass with some fifteen students from Christine Wodrascka’s class, watched by fifty others, the percussionist unexpectedly forces them to reincorporate. Breathing exercises, stretching, positioning in space. Standing up, eyes closed, the apprentices must make sounds and pass them on (circulate information using other channels), then move to listen to them. Orient themselves (approaching, grazing, colliding, moving away). Become sonar. Reform the circle by ear. Listen to everything. And only then play another hour. Nothing is said about what has to be played: the musical act is the natural extension of the realized knowledge of space and spaces. In the evening at “la porte de la fontaine”, in truth the very conspiratorial basement of the Belfort pizzeria, thanks to Heddy Boubaker, Zerang crosses paths with trumpeter Sébastien Cirotteau and saxophonist Florian Nastorg. Ewart reunites with Moye. Frasques. Frescoes.

Friday, October 18, 2013, on the road

Time passed. Léandre stayed behind. In sight of Bordeaux, the forbidden city, we were turned away at the gates of the Black Knight’s castle and had to retreat to the old docks, the old warehouses, the converted quays of the Garonne and its chocolate water. On the bus, we watch Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up again, reminding us that only what is to be believed is true. In the Brest area, night-time street scenes and fights are like water lilies.

Saturday, October 19, 2013, Brest

Time passed. Early morning at Passerelle, center or greenhouse for contemporary art, former ripening center. Yesterday’s plants and fruits continue to ripen in today’s sounds, those of Ken Vandermark and Christophe Rocher (another from Chicago and another from Brest) who question firmness and malleability on saxophone and clarinet. Rallying around the Vauban, hotel, bar, concert hall, center or hothouse of contemporary life. The quintet, for its part, questions the use of force to which it authorizes itself this evening. There have been enough signs of respect so far (Léandre has ranted enough to ensure that the group doesn’t play in groups, or lag behind the most vigorous, so that the five stakeholders are everywhere sensitive), and we can now confidently attempt to force our way in. So, without having decided to do so, we let off steam. In the double sense of unleashing (it pulsates, it expels, it kicks up a fuss) and engaging (it impacts, it mobilizes all available means). Everyone is ready to pull out at any moment, confident that they can meet up with the others anywhere. And the delicacy at the very end is no longer paradoxical. It consecrates nothing, it has been obtained, like a password.

Sunday, October 20, 2013, Brest

Time passed. At the Conservatoire, everyone was going about their business – Zerang in a bird duo with singer Zalie Bellacicco; Léandre with the ensemble Sillages to complete a program around John Cage; Cappozzo with the Marmite à sons, bringing together musicians and non-musicians (one slim kid didn’t hesitate to challenge the behemoth to a trumpet duel) ; Ewart with the students of trumpeter Philippe Champion and saxophonist Kristian Sarrau, in the hope of getting them to drop some Count Basie scores to race down the steep slopes of Red Hills, a high-risk composition for masses in motion – Santacruz and Frédéric Bargeon-Briet take their double basses under their arms to hang from the lips of splendor in the ruins of the abbey of Saint-Mathieu de Fine Terre, at Pointe Saint-Mathieu. Together, for a few pendular moments, where the monks used to grumble, they magnify. As night fell at Le Vauban, the day ended with a banquet for all the musicians, conservatory students and volunteers from the Atlantique Jazz Festival, dancing to Stax records while sipping Raymond’s strong spirits, and washing up for the banquet despite the water fights in the kitchen.

Monday, October 21, 2013, Brest

Time passed. First of the sessions imagined by Frédéric Bargeon-Briet, this time in the afternoon in a cube at Le Quartz, with the musicians of the Bridge formation and a few local musicians (Briet and Rocher, Céline Rivoal on accordion, Nicolas Pointard on drums, Vincent Raude on electronics) and dancers (Alban de la Blanchardière, Gaël Sesboué and Stéphanie Siou). The collaboration between musicians and dancers begins with the common birth of gestures that produce the first vibrations or movements. Apprehend the apparitions, their articulation and disarticulation. Then, what happens belongs to the wind. Perhaps the dancers force the musicians to adopt a certain slowness. Perhaps the musicians are handing the dancers a few poles of sound. Perhaps.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013, Nantes

Time passed. Nantes University’s student hub, building upon building, where it’s teeming with lives in the making, the good fortune of a campus. The battling trio of Ewart, Santacruz and Zerang work on focus. In two steps, three movements – capturing attention, exacerbating expectation by pretending to diverge, draining and rushing the listener (Ewart savagely stamping on his hotel bell), then lifting the dough of rhythms. Converge. Curved mirror.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013, Nantes

Time passed. A day filled with oysters, elephants, mechanical animals, gusts of wind and rainbows. An evening at the Pannonica, where the shaggy quintet combed out their harmony. What kind of forceful passage can there be when you know there’s nothing left to force? When one withdraws, then returns, who else detaches? What is it that turns around in the situation? What’s the point of coming back? Often, there’s no other solution than to turn to the orb of noise, to read in the crystal ball of noises. A child then slips into my ear: “It’s winter, an abandoned house, you look in through a window, but it’s the ghosts that come out.” He, too, has an ear for everything.

Thursday, October 24, 2013, Poitiers

Time passed. At Carré Bleu in the afternoon, Ewart, Cappozzo and Santacruz reconstitute a circle with some fifteen “dumistes” from the Centre de Formation des Musiciens Intervenants at the University of Poitiers. They infiltrate collective improvisation and redirect it where necessary, helping musical events to find their place and their formula (and bringing extended techniques back to greater reason). Introductory whirrs are followed by a procession of rustles. An accordion of voices, an aviary of voices, a relief of bursts of voice behind which timid instruments hide. Discussion. While we mustn’t try to say everything, right away, and also know how to stand aside, or even keep quiet, any presence, when it becomes presence, must be sensitive. We can duck, brace, tone, breathe or interrupt, as long as it’s said and assumed. And let’s not be afraid of harmony either. Ewart sings a South African song at the top of his lungs, call and response. Carré Bleu always, a mist has formed and the quintet in concert exists first and foremost through transparency. The music transpires. Logically, there is clarity in confusion, and confusion in clarity. The flute’s air of nothingness, while the trumpet muskets; the double basses creak like ropes or branches; the rhythms swing. It’s the hour when voices reappear, when an English horn, a double bass and a dumbek scheme. Countdowns and vertigo.

Friday, October 25, 2013, Tours

Time passed. Cappozzo already far away, scouting, we spend an hour behind the hard shoulder of the A10 freeway, after the clutch fails. Game after game of pigs. Tow truck with a terrifying tow truck driver. Vehicle change in the pouring rain. Two of us sit on the sidelines and miss out on an epic table-football tournament in Luzillé, won hands down by Cappozzo and Santacruz. These people are incredible, they never stop having fun. At Le Petit faucheux too, despite the drones, for a concert of grooves and traces (Ewart takes a bobsleigh solo), all adding up to consistency. The quintet’s industry tonight is metallurgical. Thickening.

Saturday, October 26, 2013, Avignon

Time passed. Inside Avignon’s ramparts, a lingering summer circled the sky’s silhouette in pink chalk. An Ariadne’s thread stitched relationship between what we would take to be “archaisms” (flutes, conches, chants and rasps) and what we would take to be “modernisms” (no defined base or summit, relative value of everything). The quintet, in its final moment at AJMI, reverts to ambulant, almost gaseous forms, and exults. As we now know, this is total music that denies itself nothing, an orchard.

Sunday, October 27, 2013, Avignon

Time passed. Final morning session at AJMI and on Santacruz’s initiative. We end with the formation’s deformation: Léandre and saxophonists Lionel Garcin and Philippe Lemoine use the minus sign as a hyphen; Léandre, Ewart and drummer Denis Fournier brown the caresses; Ewart and a 10-year-old drummer go all out with lightness; Zerang wanders with guitarist Pascal Charrier and saxophonist Jean-Baptiste Berger. Santacruz observes without saying a word. It’s over, time has passed, and we now know that the five stakeholders will never leave each other again.

Alexandre Pierrepont