The Turbine ! [TB#3] | February 2014, France

Since the year 1960 and “Free Jazz” by Ornette Coleman, who doubled every instrument of his quartet, until the mirror structures of Roscoe Mitchell’s or Henry Threadgill’s ensembles, the multiplication of the rhythm section – already devoted to all matters of growths and outgrowths – has gone through varied forms. Since February 2014, with a resounding first tour in France “on The Bridge” and a first recording for the Rogue Art label, there is also The Turbine! with Harrison Bankhead, Benjamin Duboc, Hamid Drake, and Ramon Lopez –two extraordinary bassists, two drummers extraordinaire, the rise of rhythms. In this case, however, it’s about something way beyond the reinforcement of the autonomy of the “rhythm section,” playing or juggling with pulsations, or something way beyond combustion – although the men of The Turbine! keep this power about them, this power to transform any rhythm in a connector, a generator, a regenerator. To rephrase things like Bankhead, Drake, Duboc, and Lopez let them be understood, and let them grow: it’s about four, distinctly, creating musicians, who engage in total music, (incidentally) made on basses and drums. Together, telluric or transparent, the four men strike alliances after alloys, go back in all times, are the masters of the feeling of duration and permutations, deal with matter, materials, speeds, flows, realities. Wisdom of the rhythmicist (physicist?):

These days, physicists themselves realize this: that there is no inherent nature. The form is empty. If you look at any object under a microscope, you’ll see other thins, other elements, whereas the object seems endowed with a solid form. I am happy to carry out this function that gives the impression that a beat is kept, in a given situation, benefiting beings, although I know that I am not keeping anything. How could I? Time is constantly flowing. And these words that we use: ‘keeping’ the beat, ‘keeping’ time… Illusions.”

Fully conscious of the paths that open up at any time for the music created in the moment, the four polyrhythmicists dive in the continuous flow of things and beings, and frequently invite a fifth improviser to join them, to sift through or magnetize their collective exchanges. Communication is established once and for all. Right away and forever, it will always be euphoria, resounding realms.

“If you think that having a double rhythm team would limit the sound or ideas in any way, you would be wrong since the sound of this group is magnificent, powerful, consistently awe-inspiring. The blend of both bassists, drum set or frame drum and tablas is expansive and joyous. While one rhythm team plays the groove or pulse, the other one plays around or with them, all four (…), ascending their spirits together.”

Review of The Turbine! album, Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

The author embarks with the adventurers. Their ventures.

Across France, February 5 to 23, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014, Paris

First garden, pollinate. During the inaugural discussion at the University of Chicago’s Paris Center, Harrison Bankhead, Hamid Drake, Benjamin Duboc and Ramon Lopez attest to this, in the presence of Michael Dawson, a lucid professor of political science: the first creative act is procreation, it’s in the division of cells, in the plant world, the animal world, even the mineral world. It is everywhere that life comes, in ecstasy, and in the madness that borders existence. In the sacrifices a family makes so that a child can flourish. What then to do with the fears and hopes, beliefs and customs, which we also inherit… Can we be free of this, or thanks to it? How to compose? By improvising? Nothing is achieved in isolation, everything is dialogue and debate, even with oneself, everything comes simultaneously from within and without. Worlds in orbit around each other. To be autonomous, you have to know yourself to be bound, to be an automaton, and to be graceful in so many ways. Let forms come and go, then embrace them, like water and currents. Soften body & soul. The beat is set.

At the Duc des Lombards, for an almost private evening, we enter all the gardens of rhythm. From the outset and for all time, it will be euphoria in its reverberations. Rhythm, all the contact noises it makes and propagates, is a connector, a generator and a regenerator (hence the name given to this ensemble: La Turbine!). Already, Bankhead dares to quote Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love (unless it’s Willie Dixon’s You Need Love, popularized by Muddy Waters?): so much music in music alone. If, for the double bassists, the quest for the center of gravity has only just begun, for the drummers, the rules that will govern their exchanges are immediately fixed: obviously, Drake and Lopez complement and compliment each other, there is and never will be anything clashing in their endless interweaving. Their shared rhythm, instantaneous, unerring, a fold in the fabric of time, never lets us forget the perpetual movement that pairs the near and the far, the strange and the familiar. Seeming to hold, yet seeming to stretch. In the second set, they are joined by singer Claudia Solal, alto saxophonist Guillaume Orti and clarinetist and bass clarinetist Sylvain Kassap (and even, in the spiral of the night, trumpeter and buglist Aymeric Avice and alto saxophonist Stéphane Payen): a display and a ball of clawed voices often. Complete joy.

Thursday, February 6, 2014, Paris & Cachan

Early in the morning at the Lycée Georges Brassens, in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, an entire class of male and female dancers give themselves up with exquisite grace to the four musicians who will then play for them, and finally with them. From the guarding of their bodies to their reunion through gesture, movement and the offering of waves. Worlds in orbit around each other. Shapes marrying. Will we ever know the reasons for this magnetism? We lunch in a secluded corner of Place du Danube, on the edge of all future cities. Or, in the evening, on the hillside of Cachan, as part of the Sons d’hiver festival, among the buildings that grow like vines, where La Turbine welcomes its guest from the first days and gardens, guitarist Marc Ducret, and another surprise guest, double bassist William Parker. Everything is ductile at first, and speckled with impact. We experience the rolling and frictional forces that the band constantly takes advantage of, frequently drawing them to consequences other than the most blatant. We clear paths without necessarily committing ourselves to them. What can a rhythm do? That’s it: the certainty of being able to find is so great that it’s self-sufficient. With Parker, and three double bassists, the listener spins around in an aquarium of strings. The multiplication of rhythms doesn’t carry any soloist higher; it absorbs him. The guitarist takes advantage of the situation to take a solo on the fly. Electricity is suddenly static. Everything turns purple. Everything has gone too fast. There are some curious machines, somewhere between the press and the wine press, backstage at the Salle Le Marché in Cachan.

Friday, February 7, 2014, Quimper

On the way to La Fin des Terres, we receive alarming news of the storm still raging on the Breton coast. It makes us fear right up to the last minute that we won’t be able to attend Johann Le Guillerm’s show “Secret”. Tonight, the musicians are off to the circus, Cirque Ici. The big top has been erected at the top of rue de Kermoguer, on a vacant lot between the pavilions, in the middle of nowhere as usual: it’s that of a man who (plays) with unstable balances, with “the rare and dizzying sensation that anything is possible”. The storm has nothing to do with it, and doesn’t insist. She is a close relative of the man who based his art on the probability of collapse, on the need to collapse in order to rise again, on permanence and impermanence, on the physical and magical laws of attraction. The dancers at Georges Brassens high school would call it magnetization. At the restaurant, Le Guillerm sits down between Bankhead and Duboc, just that, and it’s barely a conversation, but it’s a conversation about turbulence, knowledge of points and lines, pressure points and the displacements they induce, it’s a conversation about other consequences. It’s midnight, and we’re celebrating a child’s eleventh birthday.

Saturday, February 8, 2014, Brest

Passerelle, a contemporary art center or greenhouse. It’s midday and Duboc’s solo falls into his double bass. Contracted, his head tucked into his shoulders, he plays not on the strings but with his bow on the bridge, all the time. The movements become slower and longer, burrowing, because he’s kneading heavy metals. We hear the wind outside, the fans inside, the echoes of bodies, and what rises from inside the double bass’s flask or sarcophagus. Torpor. A final, lapidary cry, like a sparkling cedilla, shatters the opaque glass of this torpor and sets the tone for the distant future. We’ll have to retrace our steps in the opposite direction. In the meantime, thanks to Penn ar Jazz and Unis-sonS, the users’ association of the École des Musiques du Pays de Daoulas, Marc Ducret ponders self-expression in front of some fifteen apprentice sorcerers and musicians. How one grows inside the other, learning even from what he doesn’t appreciate, the offspring born of the rejection of propriety, all that can be brewed from simple modules and their innumerable combinations, the full and the empty, the bound and the unbound. Does Ducret have in mind what the sinologist Jean François Billeter says about Bach in his “Lessons on Tchouang-tseu”? “Complexity is not in the elements, but results from their combination. Bach couldn’t combine them as he does if they weren’t simple, most of the time, and above all perfectly drawn, clean and finished. The finiteness of the elements and, more generally, discontinuity are a necessary condition for his ever-renewed polyphony.” At Le Vauban in the evening, La Turbine and the guitarist are engulfed in a blaze of fire, with discharges of energy ripping through the gangue of rhythms. Ducret’s outbursts curl and ripple with bass and drums. The man knows how to carve out a space, a halo, to stand aside, square in a quintet of infernal cadences. But Bankhead, Drake, Duboc and Lopez don’t aim to tame or accumulate, they just light up.

Sunday, February 9, 2014, Brest

Gnostic ceremony. Sunday morning, Chapelle Bonne Nouvelle de Kerveguen, a desecrated building in the Recouvrance district, where the miscreants of the Dérézo company otherwise sit. Double bassist Frédéric Bargeon-Briet, detained due to a workshop in Douarnenez with trombonist Jeb Bishop, nevertheless invited members of La Turbine and Marc Ducret, Christophe Rocher (clarinets), Céline Rivoal (accordion), Nicolas Pointard (drums) and Vincent Raude (electronics), as well as dancers Stéphanie Siou, Mari Flones, Gaël Sesboué and Pauline Sol-Dourdain, for a new exploratory session between music and dance contemporaries. Fred 2B has even designed a scenic circulation space on the deep stage, made of an intertwined circle and triangle, to punctuate the action: tutti (circle); trio Rocher, Lopez and Raude; trio Rivoal, Bankhead and Drake; trio Ducret, Duboc and Pointard; tutti (circle). The dancers intervene and interact when and if they want, following the lines or not. Their animations are parsimonious, their speed watchful. There’s a torment in their impulses, which Ducret unravels when he whispers (this is improvisation): “Bears… Bears? Have you seen bears? I don’t think so… Or maybe a very long time ago…”. Duboc, with his head still tucked into his shoulders, thinks he’s the minotaur and goes under the knife at Brest’s CHRU (from then on, his tour will be chanted in every town by a choir of nurses). Afternoon. Drake and trumpeter Philippe Champion, in the confines of the Espace Léo Ferré, are a duo with a taste for the glow. They improvise with economy or flagrancy, caulk or trumpet, even if it means covering Bobby McFerrin. Meanwhile, under the Galapiats winter big top, again thanks to the ARCH Breton encounters program, parallel to The Bridge, Bankhead and cornetist Rob Mazurek meet up with Rocher and Pointard for a quartet meshing their fishing net with escape lines, funk if need be. Everyone thinks they’re William Tell.

Monday, February 10, 2014, Tours

To catch the 40 or so students from Jazz à Tours, a school of “contemporary” music, in the act of a masterclass at the Petit faucheux, Drake and Duboc in tandem turn on all the action, and immediately calm down. We can now talk about social relations in improvisation, the centers of perception and singular sensors that each of us constitutes, and the usefulness of the whole range of our emotions, from joy to anger to frustration. As for temperament, the first sub-group to join the two men still lacks it, so politeness and precedence remain the order of the day. Let’s start again: what’s the point of improvising if you don’t cause any disruption, if you don’t take the risk of going too far or going astray? As Apollinaire wrote at the dawn of modern times: “Lose / But really lose / To leave room for finding”. The second sub-group sticks to the task and lights up, while the third is rewarded by frolicking to a canopied groove.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014, Tours

Last evening with Ducret, at Le Petit Faucheux. A few surges, no surges: everyone makes sure that information circulates and is free in its meanings, a feigned disorganization is affriended. It transpires that Drake and Lopez, clicking and unclicking to satiety, work in the building trade: while one is busy putting up walls and roofs, the other is opening doors and windows. But in their house, everything turns inside out: what goes inside is like what goes outside. At this point, it’s no longer a question of reactivity or receptivity: the factory is continuously shared (of the entire tour, none of them will take a solo as such). Except that the two bassists continue to play in enfilade – one wraps himself up while the other twists. When one filters the other, the other escapes, never to return. During Duboc’s condensed solo, immoderate Bankhead sketches a few dance steps. The emotion is found, but not the center of gravity, not yet.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014, Nantes

Stéphane Payen arrives just in time, by train, to take part in the informal meeting organized by the Pannonica between members of La Turbine and several musicians based in the region: saxophonist Elie Dalibert (from the 1 Name 4 A Crew collective), cellist Soizic Lebrat, and double bassists Sébastien Boisseau and Sylvain Didou. Each recounts his or her most precious or feverish experience, and takes on the experience of the other. We insist on the primacy of relationships, of rubbing shoulders with others rather than merely meeting them, and on doubling the musical education (mainly historical and technical) now dispensed in a plethora of conservatories with an updated form, adapted to our times, of the oral, direct-line transmission that has always characterized jazz music. Hence, already, this type of sharing moments – which are part of the music, as Avreeayl Ra reminded us during the November 2013 trip to Chicago. When it’s time for the concert, Payen picks up the rhythmic powder and begins to weave, with the jerky delivery and dented diction that are among his trademarks. He juggles mirrors, shimmers symmetries, builds inside constructions, only to pierce and splatter them with strokes that then, and only then, seem to come from nowhere. Syntax becomes an effect and reflection of the tangents taken. The builders have been joined by a linguist and a numerologist, of the kind painted by Victor Brauner in his painting Les Amoureux, messagers du nombre, and the double bassists can finally play dominoes. We’re on the verge of something akin to an apotheosis when, following a series of misunderstandings, Lebrat’s invitation to join the quintet for the encore is rushed, leaving the cellist no choice but to assume full responsibility for staking and sharpening, first without a microphone, then with that of the saxophonist, who installs it for her and soon withdraws.

Thursday, February 13, 2014, Poitiers

“Go ahead brother, I’m with you”, says Drake to Bankhead as the greedy latter hesitates to jump in. The drummer has his ear to the ground, curbing his Chicago partner’s outbursts, endorsing his fellow percussionist’s wanderings, and keeping a third ear to anticipate what Duboc, reticulated in the chiaroscuro, is slipping in his derivations. Faced with the largely cultural problem of the genial versatility of his double-bass alter-ego, disarming in his candor, humor and intelligence, Duboc’s choice is curious and courageous: he forgets his glazed textures and revisits authentic bass lines, even if it means undermining them. Bankhead, never disconcerted, always disconcerting, doesn’t take the bait. His mind is elsewhere. He dances again, but this time it’s Jean-Luc Cappozzo on trumpet who makes him dance, and his carriage is exceptional. Sounds of suction, hatching and shot produce this sort of levitation. The deal was done: Cappozzo was to join La Turbine on stage at the end of the Carré Bleu concert. Previously, the quartet (with Bankhead alternating between double bass and the cello he’s been lent) had long dithered between L’Embarquement de Sainte-Paule à Ostie by Claude Gellée, known as the Lorrain, and L’Embarquement pour Cythère by Antoine Watteau, thrown as they were into preparations, staying in motion, always embedding and linking (Drake’s playing swells in the continuous, Lopez’s playing picks in the discontinuous). Alliances and alliances. Their double game of collective construction awaits the salvific collapse and fitting-out, which only comes with their commensal. Le Guillerm is among them; unknowingly, he’s Cappozzo.

Friday, February 14, 2014, Poitiers

At the crack of dawn, around 150 students from the Lycée Aliénor d’Aquitaine packed into the Carré Bleu hall to listen to Bankhead and Lopez as a duo, priming the rhythm pump, propelling their ram of rhythms. They show what it’s like to play together, a constant transfer of power, a tapestry of possibilities. They show: it’s an album of images, in the music or in the ensuing discussion, we caramelize fragments of Duke Ellington’s Take the Coltrane, Oscar D’Leon, Usher, Thelonious Sphere Monk, classical or mariachi music, and play so much more, with, around and beyond… Bankhead recounts his terrible childhood, saved by music, and enjoins all foolish youth to realize their dreams, for only dreams show the way. There are reasons for his inadvertencies, unique reasons that make him unique, that mean that, like Charlie Parker, he has chosen to play music where you can finally be who you are. Quartier libre.

Saturday, February 15, 2014, Toulouse

At some freeway service station, across a France that sometimes feels like a lake, so rainy has it been, a shop window displays side by side, without further explanation, a saxophone mouthpiece and a copy of the “Manifestes du surréalisme”… Perhaps it’s a petrifying coincidence: When we arrived in Toulouse, we let the two double bassists take over the direction of Mandala, while the two drummers and I went to the bookshop Ombres Blanches to listen to Patrice Beray’s presentation of “Pour chorus seul”, a poetic essay on Jean-Pierre Duprey and Claude Tarnaud, and François-René Simon’s edition of “Je suis parfois cet homme”, a collection of texts by Stanislas Rodanski. Both haunted the Surrealist group after the Second World War. Beray speaks of a collective, “multi-composed” book; Simon speaks of “acquiescence to madness”. Drake, to whom we translate the essentials by ear and who understands everything, takes the floor to compare Bud Powell to them, the speeds of his playing and the speeds of thought. At the Mandala, which could serve as the set for a pirate movie, a bass trio is scheduled with Bankhead, Duboc and Mathieu Sourisseau. Duboc gnaws at the bone of his bass, Sourisseau uses projection powders, the strings are pinned together, except for Bankhead’s rubberized ones, which don’t abstract, which bubble and blues, always ritornellos. Everything is done in favor and against. In the second set, baritone saxophonist Florian Nastorg reconciles them, toning down his growls and grunts as if to play in apnea and sink into delight. Everyone sinks in before the night dries up.

Sunday, February 16, 2014, Cazères & Toulouse

Didier Francon and Maryse Mercier welcome the Bridge caravan, the team and friends of un Pavé dans le jazz, for a gargantuan feast in a building that once served as a hotel, and deserves the term “guest house” more than any other. There’s feasting, storytelling, music, darts and hide-and-seek upstairs. The sense of hospitality is insane. From then on, and for a few days afterwards, the author, wounded in the eye, no longer had a very clear vision of how things were going. It is said that in the evening, in a crypt in Toulouse, Heddy Boubaker received Duboc and Lopez, and together they reformed the saxophones of Daunik Lazro, who was passing through the region.

Monday, February 17, 2014, Toulouse

The story goes that, in Christine Wodrascka’s class at the Université Toulouse II – Le Mirail, eleven apprentice sorcerers or musicians got together with Lopez to hatch an orchestral mass. The drummer and pianist had only to confirm that there was no need to fear emptiness or disorder. Know your bearings and know how to neglect them so that the stories of the moment can be told (in improvisation, never count on or capitalize on past successes: time lived is the only score). Does “being in the music” only fully apply to music that is not directed or oriented? The story goes that, on the evening, this is exactly what happened, that the young orchestra cashed in superbly, and that Lopez played the pretty heart, as befits him. In the second half, La Turbine, with a relentless Christine Wodrascka, rinsed the Espace Job with passion. By mutual and ragged agreement.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014, Montpellier

Between two jokes, Lopez gives the one-eyed author dark glasses as outrageous as the sun, and Duboc’s nurse of the day doubles up. Sight is almost restored, in view of La Chapelle de la Résurrection (sic), also desecrated, in the gypsy-populated Cité Gély. Bankhead and Drake recognize the signs of adversity, misfortune and fortune, and rejoice: “We’re in the hood! To pay tribute to Malachi Favors Maghostut, here on this almost circus ring, among friends, Bankhead tries his hand at the piano with the same naturalness he applies to everything. An ample river inevitably flows between the drums of Drake, Lopez and Denis Fournier: how can one curb the jubilation of rhythms? With Fournier’s rich jangling sounds cracking their locks? Saxophonists David Caulet and Doudou Gouirand (whom Drake once frequented in Don Cherry’s free commune), and buglist Michel Marre literally emerge from the shadows to join in the revelry. The flag is never lowered. All you have to do is watch and play.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014, Montpellier & Avignon

A break. Some keep the room, others buy yellow shoes. One even treats his third eye.

Thursday, February 20, 2014, Avignon

We live happily under the Rocher des Doms, near the Urbain V orchard, behind the Palais des Papes, from place to place, so that at the AJMI jam, the musicians nod from their instruments and let themselves go to the pleasure of Bankhead, who is in no way trying to monopolize anything, who just likes to play endlessly, avoiding the endings. A tightrope walker and a sleepwalker in one. To stop him, you’d have to exegete Miles Davis’ comment to John Coltrane, wondering how to stop: “Take the horn out of your mouth”. When the musicians finally sit down at the edge of the stage, far from talking technique or store, they examine the virtues useful to improvisation: what is the use of confidence, what is the use of vulnerability, what is the use of the most troubling visions we keep behind us. Can we be both attentive to others and lost in our own thoughts? The jam resumes as night falls, everything is stable, everything is unstable, saxophonists Jean-Baptiste Berger, Philippe Lemoine and Julien Maes, a street violinist, a blues patriarch or an adamantine child take to the stage, singers pop up from all over, from Ethiopia and Haiti. There are owls, lemurs, animal spirits and whirling dervishes. The night rises.

Friday, February 21, 2014, Nîmes

A detour to Nîmes, where the temptation was decidedly too strong, since this Turbine is based on the principle of instrumental doubling and on the insane sense of hospitality, including the third party, to associate a third double bassist (Guillaume Séguron) and a third drummer (Samuel Silvant) with one of these evenings: the one taking place today at Ever’in thanks to the association Le Jazz est là. Just looking at the virgin vine of the instruments at a standstill, waiting to be picked up, their compactness, the common armour of the three drums, cymbal against cymbal, against which the ridges of the three double basses rise, you can guess that the passage will be in force(s). The musicians, fully aware of the risks involved, notably that of saturation, do not shy away from the driving force that will replace, for the duration of a concert, the forces of rolling and friction. What do you do when the fulcrums boil over and scald the very line of perspective? Were we still talking about the vanishing lines followed by the dancers in Paris and Brest? Johann Le Guillerm’s lines and pressure points in Quimper? The brazen bass lines that Duboc has been questioning from the outset? The lines on which anthropologist Tim Ingold based his analysis, and which Séguron explained to Drake before the concert: “What is a person, if not a weaving of lines? “And everything a parliament of lines? Bankhead, feverish, haggard, refusing to be a mere diffuser when the elbow-to-elbow drummers are feasting, caracolates and extricates himself from the bass mist, however heady. There are times when there’s no backing down from the thunder, when overkill is justified. On the way home, we listen to Malachi Favors Maghostut in duet with Michal Richard Abrams.

Saturday, February 22, 2014, Avignon

To recover, we headed for Fontaine de Vaucluse to witness the birth of the Sorgue, a tumultuous river on this day like the musicians the day before. Beneath the oval cliff, above the chasm’s funnel, Bankhead (present in spirit: convalescent, he didn’t accompany us), would be the waters of Mont Ventoux; Drake, the waters of the Monts de Vaucluse; Duboc, the waters of the Plateau d’Albion; Lopez, the waters of the Montagne de Lure, all flowing into the underground basin that feeds the spring. Lionel Garcin, the saxophonist who arrives in the meantime, their last guest, is the resurgence. Legend has it that the minstrel Basil fell asleep near the spring, only to be visited – in a dream, that is, in reality – by a nymph, as beautiful as a clear wave and guardian of the spring, who parted the waters to lead him to the bottom of the abyss, amidst a smiling meadow strewn with supernatural flowers. There, she showed him seven diamonds; under the last one, provided all the others had been lifted first, water gushed forth that marked “the fig tree that drinks only once a year”.

We stayed a long time under the shadow of this gaunt fig tree – until it was time to return to Avignon and its stump of a bridge that continues, ossified, in the invisible, for a group photo with Bernard Santacruz, Samuel Silvant and Denis Fournier too. We had found the place of the lull, a frothy lull, and what lurks there. It was the last concert at AJMI, the concert of the last energy, in the insolent sands. Garcin exerted his magnificent magnetic passes, and the two double bassists, finally in tune (the center of gravity was thus underwater and between worlds), the two drummers with ultimate rhythmic tremas drilled themselves, distilling abundance… The builders, acrobats, linguists and numerologists showed themselves for what they are: a fraternity of musicians and dowsers. We celebrated this find, this reunion, no separation, and danced into the wee hours to Séguron’s playlist, in the hands of DJ Oscar. Recently (in the March 31, 2014 edition of the San Jose Mercury News), Wayne Shorter confided, “They try to say you don’t live happily after this, that fairy tales are false and we must face reality. But sometimes you have to consider that reality might be the fairy tale. We need the Knights of the Round Table today, and we need men and women of noble quests and honor – the “Impossible Dream”, that kind of stuff.”

Alexandre Pierrepont