“Synthesis”: meaning the combination of two or more entities that together form something new. Alternatively it refers to the creating of something by artificial means. In this instance both apply. Saxophonist/composer Gaël Horellou has, over the last ten years performed with several acoustic jazz ensembles, drum and bass and experimental electronic jazz outfits. On “Synthesis” he brings together man and machine for his latest exploration in sound. Together with David Patrois on vibes, Geraud Portal on bass and Antoine Paganotti on drums, Horellou directs and conducts his musical machinery in a wonderful fusion of jazz based rhythms and soundscapes with thoughtful, cleverly integrated electronica. At its heart though, there is always a good tune. This may sound simple enough but where many musicians fail in attempting a unison of synthetic sound and acoustic melody, Horellou succeeds. The band leader’s writing and playing is both lyrical and melodic throughout. Not unlike perhaps Andy Sheppard or Joshua Redman; eminently listenable with a likeable cutting edge to it. Helping him achieve this are some fine performances from his fellow band members. The individual instruments are sometimes natural, sometimes tweaked by electronics, but always in such a thoughtful, well integrated way that the whole thing sounds like it was meant to be… Not some unnatural cobbling together of instruments, but a musical vision that delivers an intriguing and beguiling beauty. Bass and drums combine perfectly to create a groove whilst Horellou’s sax and Patrois’ vibes dance together and tell their endearing melodic tales as the oscillating, experimental sounds ripple effortlessly in a stream of atmospheric sound. Warm vibes, sax and percussion greet the listener as the album’s opener “Cite Engloutie” opens in meditative fashion. Subtle flute floats in and out and the first signs of the machinery flutter effectively in the background before the double bass and sax envelop each other with a lovely melody that prevails throughout the tune. “Atlantis” relies more heavily on the synthesised effects and sounds and once again, a common theme throughout the session, Horellou’s sax is bright and lyrical as it winds its way freely in sync with the cool electronica. A slightly avant garde feel with an immovable bass riff sums up the darker outlook of “Lm4”. The title track could be one man’s nightmare vision in a darkened tube station. Or perhaps the cold light of dawn after a raving all-nighter… who’s to say? “Secret Stone” features the excellent double bass of Geraud Portal as it develops into a cool traditional jazz rhythm, taken into a different dimension by Horellou’s soprano sax and eery special effects. This album seems to pick up pace as it goes. Whether that’s due to the listener gradually being pulled in, or simply that the second half of the recording feels more confident and innovative in its writing and performance, I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, “Fractals” begins a series of tracks that allow the listener to melt into the essence of this music. Free spirited, playful and experimental- but never without a clever hook or cool riff to grab hold of and walk hand in hand with. A Philip Glass – like chordal backdrop is lifted by some lovely arrangements between sax and vibes here. As “Broken Chant” begins with its echoes of a long lost tune by Tangerine Dream, we are led further into this voyage of discovery by another solid bass riff that provides the solidity for the rest of the tune to work around. This track has a disconnected feel to it, and yet it’s musicality still shines through. “Constellation” encircles us with its starry melancholy, drums and bass set off by the stellar sax and vibes combination, bringing light from dark and creating a powerful groove led mix that Gilles Peterson would be proud to discover. Imagine a psychological horror film and you can picture the scene set on “Hypnosis”. Once again though, the deep pools of darkness portrayed at the start of the tune are soon overshadowed by the electric light and energy that engulf the rest of the track with its lyrical, singing melodic musings. A reprise of the walking bass line and tuneful, engaging sax heard on the opening track take the album to its end with the radio edit of “Cite Engloutie”.
In summary, Gaël Horellou has come up with an engaging album with “Synthesis”. Whilst not particularly ground-breaking, its music is at times innovative without being at odds with itself. The electronica is arranged and performed in such a way as to enhance the music, adding to the overall oeuvre of the composer’s work. There are some great tunes working their magic here, all rounded off nicely with the meeting of minds that sees the quartet syncing the acoustic jazz tradition very nicely with its futuristic sounding electronica.