Louis Sclavis ‘Characters On A Wall’ LP/CD (ECM) 4/5

“Characters on a wall” marks the second time that French clarinettist Louis Sclavis has devoted an album to music inspired by the art of Ernest Pignon-Ernest. “Napoli’s Walls”, recorded in 2002, was the first, and this new release, Sclavis’ 13th as a leader for ECM, is inspired by the artist’s work in all its periods. Sclavis: “Ernest’s work speaks to me very directly. When I look at his images, I don’t have to search for long – ideas come to me very quickly. But there’s no rule, no method. Each work generates its own form and compositional processes.”

Surprisingly, this is the first time the clarinettist has explored the classic jazz quartet format of reeds, piano, bass and drums on an ECM session. And he does it in a characteristically individual style. With Benjamin Moussay on piano, Sarah Murcia on bass, and Christophe Lavergne on drums, the music being performed benefits from Sclavis’ experience with writing for ensembles, with a very clearly defined atmosphere created in the process, enabling this band to feel like a real jazz group – in its make-up, subtleties and intuitive interplay between the musicians.

There are some stunning compositions on this album, brought to life by all of the musicians involved. Sclavis is on top form, his sensitive and emotive playing always melodic and often melancholic, as on the beautiful and moving “Extases”, a wonderful tune that sends shivers down my spine. The quartet are in full jazz-ahead mode for the exhilarating “Prison”, with its powerful, striking bass lines, riffs and solos. One of the skills of any small ensemble musician is to know when to stay in the background and when to come forward, and these musicians are particularly adept at this throughout this recording. On “La dame de Martigues” pianist Benjamin Moussay shows a lyricism that is at once beautiful and engaging. In fact, this quartet, led by the indomitable clarinettist, produce an often spellbinding array of melody and musicianship across all 8 original pieces, with the closing track “Darwich dans la ville” being one of this writer’s favourites.

“Characters on a wall” is an evocative jazz album, produced by Manfred Eicher and benefiting from ECM’s high quality of sound recording. Available in CD and vinyl formats, there are comprehensive liner notes by Louis Sclavis and Stephane Olivier, along with a selection of photos of Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s artwork.

Live dates:
November 14 – Lux Valence France
November 15 – D’jazz Nevers festival Nevers France
November 24 – Flagey, studio 1 Brussels Belgium
January 15 – Theater, Hinterbühne Rüsselsheim Germany
February 03 – Elbphilharmonie, Kleiner Saal Hamburg Germany

Mike Gates

Read also:
Dominique Pifarély Quartet ‘Tracé Provisoire’ (ECM) 3/5
Louis Sclavis Quartet ‘Silk and Salt Melodies’ (ECM) 3/5