Louis Sclavis Quartet ‘Silk and Salt Melodies’ (ECM) 3/5

louis-sclavis-quartetFrench multi-reedist Louis Sclavis has a portfolio like no other and this is partly because of his range of influences that borders on the wildly eclectic. Thus a touch of French baroque in Lully and Rameau is likely to be juxtaposed with free jazz and contemporary minimalism and this has alienated some listeners in the past. His formations vary considerably, but on this latest recording he has taken on board one of the young Turks of the French jazz scene in Alsatian keyboardist Benjamin Moussay whose influences are quite different to the leader and include Headhunters era Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Lenny Tristano among others. A mightily impressive concert performance at the Manchester Jazz Festival a couple of summers ago revealed what a fine leader Moussay is and he has a very promising future ahead of him if his participation here is anything to go by. As ever, Sclavis aims to surprise the listener and for those who might be wary of his wilder side, they would do well to listen to the introspective piece ‘L’autre rive’ with a minimalist piano intro and then the leader enters for what proves to be a memorable duet. In fact, this writer would welcome a whole album of duets between the two, so natural is the empathy between them here. In stark contrast, the dub-like percussion of ‘L’homme sud’ features an extended clarinet solo from Sclavis and cascading piano rolls from Moussay on this most uplifting of numbers. Ambient guitar from Gilles Coronado greets the listener on another introspective composition, ‘Le parfum de l’exil’ which hints at ‘In a Silent way’ in certain respects while the guitarist engages in some interaction with percussion on ‘Dances for horses’. In general there is a dark, brooding atmosphere to the music on offer that may not appeal to all and not necessarily the lightness of touch that one might expect from a French musical formation. It should be said in fairness that this album is slightly more accessible than Sclavis’ previous recordings, but will still require repeated listens for all that.

Tim Stenhouse