French pianist and composer Adrien Chicot has a style that captivates me as a listener. Originally self-taught from childhood, he has gone on to study at IACP, a school headed up by the Belmondo Brothers, with the pianist successfully imposing himself as one of the leading players in the birth of a new generation of fine, young jazz musicians. Both his 2017 trio release, “Playing In The Dark” and 2018’s “City Walk” were excellent albums, showcasing Chicot’s original, enchanting style to wonderful effect. “Babyland” is the ambitious follow-up to those releases, with the composer opening out the soundscapes of his music to a quintet setting. Joining the pianist are saxophonist Ricardo Izquierdo, trumpeter Julien Alour, bassist Sylvain Romano, and drummer Antoine Paganotti.
Exploring for the first time the music of a quintet, Chicot conceived the music of “Babyland” by intelligently integrating parts for the brass instruments. There’s still the same refreshing and intuitive feel to his music, it is just a broader spectrum of sound than when working with his trio. On the eight original compositions, multiple climates, tones and textures are interspersed with lyrical and rhythmic themes, creating a very cool dynamic for all of the musicians to explore.
Chicot’s music is exhilaratingly expressive, none more so than on the album opener “Now!”. There’s a natural flow to this tune, met with a singularly unabashed musical force, one that blows me away with its classic yet modern making of a brand new, contemporary jazz standard. It’s bang on the money, brilliant writing, arranging and performing. “Cala Carbo” enjoys a distinct Latin feel, with its light, airy melodies punctuated by the splendid unity of the horns. Chicot switches from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes for this tune, and it works particularly well here. The longest track of the album “Birth” is more exploratory and essentially quirky. Best described as a mini-suite, this tune changes in pace and mood from start to finish, with some interesting twists and turns along the way. “Meeting with Fred” feels somehow familiar, the intuitive playing from piano, bass and drums especially noticeable. Back to the wonderful brass for the intriguingly titled “The Rooster In The Hat Is Watching TV”. Lovely, silky-smooth arrangements allow the two horn players to show their class. The short piano solo “Sunlight”, expressive and alluring, leads us into another jazz standard in the making “Brain Eaters”. It’s like discovering a famous, classic Blue Note tune you’ve never heard before. The final piece “Low Latency” once more showcases Chicot’s intriguing, compelling compositional style.
There’s a fresh spark that ignites my listening passion as I play this album. Adrien Chicot continues to delight with his wonderful style and musical charisma. Yes, actually, that’s what this music has more than anything else; charisma. The pianist’s characterful and skilful arrangements make the whole thing work well as a darn good jazz quintet. Excellent performances from all make this a lovely album to listen to and enjoy.