Here is yet more evidence, alongside the likes of Ibrahim Maalouf, Florian Pellissier, Géraud Portal/Etienne Déconfin and Benjamin Faugloire, that whilst the current French jazz scene may not be littered with big name stars it runs deep with burgeoning talent.
“Cosmic Dance” is the second album from French trumpet/flugelhorn player, composer and bandleader Julien Alour and his Quintet. Their first, “W.I.L.L.I.W.A.W”, was released in 2014 and earned Alour recognition as the French breakthrough artist of that year by radio station TSF Jazz.
Born in Quimper, Brittany, Alour followed his older sister, Sophie to Paris to study music, firstly with the Belmondo brothers, Lionel and Stéphane, at the Institut for Artistic & Cultural Perception and then on to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Music et Danse de Paris, from which he graduated in 2008. During this time Alour gained experience and craft playing with the likes of organist Rhoda Scott, pianist Eric Legnini, the aforementioned Belmondo brothers and drummer Tony Allen.
The Quintet, which has not changed in personnel since their first album, is led by Alour on trumpet and flugelhorn with François Théberge on tenor saxophone, Adrien Chicot on piano, Sylvain Romano on bass and Jean-Pierre Arnaud on drums. Aside from this group, the members also perform together on other projects and this shared understanding and inter-relationship is apparent in their playing.
Musically “Cosmic Dance” carries on where “W.I.L.L.I.W.A.W” left off. Their sound is energetic with a drive reminiscent of The Jazz Messengers or, more recently, Soil and Pimp Sessions or Quasimode. OK, maybe without the intensity and brashness of Soil and Pimp Sessions, but they do capture a lot of their dynamic fluidity. Supported by a tight rhythm section the main focus is on the dialogue between Alour and Théberge, whether in close harmony or juxtaposed as improvised solos. In the main Théberge’s role is that of the supportive partner, adding emphasis and depth to Alour’s narrative. Alour’s playing is not dissimilar in style to Tom Harrell, its rich in melody and texture, purposeful in tone without pressing too hard.
Overall I found “Cosmic Dance” to be entertaining without being spectacular. Favourites include tracks like “Super Lateef”, charged with hard bop vigour; a tour de force from Adrien Chicot, who not only drives the rhythm, adds colour in the fills and, if that were not enough, finds time to snap up a cameo solo, or “Black Hole in D”, which has some retro flair about it and really swings.
Although there are no ballads, slower tunes like “Solstice” and “Eternel” are a welcome contrast with gentle, seductive melodies. “Big Bang” is arranged around a bass line lifted from the smokiest, dingiest 1950’s jazz club, with some nice improvisation from Chicot. The album ends with the only cover, a pleasant version of Thelonius Monk’s “Think of One”.
On a final note I should highlight the label behind this album, the Gaya Music imprint, set up by saxophonist Samy Thiébault in 2009. In this relatively short space in time the label have released a number of notable albums (from the likes of Jeremy Hababou, Géraud Portal/Etienne Déconfin and Thiébault himself) and are definitely ones to watch.