Return of the New Thing



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Original liner notes

New Thing. Free jazz (attention : pas « jazz gratuit », comme le constatent amèrement quelques fans venus écouter un « Free Jazz Concert » d'Ornette Coleman à Cincinnati en 1961). Dans la France conservatrice et frileuse de l'ère gaullienne de l'époque, on dira prudemment : le « nouveau jazz » (c'est aussi le pays du « nouveau roman », de la « nouvelle cuisine » et même de la « nouvelle société »...). New Thing donc, qui sous-entend : « ce n'est pas de la musique ». Pas que de la musique : enjeux économiques, sociaux, politiques... Car, malgré ce terme aux allures de tabula rasa, les musiciens free des années 60 ne refusent pas tous systématiquement les organisations mélodiques préétablies ou la régularité rythmique, ils rejettent tout simplement ce qu'est devenu le jazz (conformiste, académique, prévisible, institutionnel...) et la mainmise du capitalisme (blanc) sur la création. A partir du free jazz se développera progressivement en Europe et en Amérique la pratique d'une méthode vieille comme la musique, l'improvisation libre, par une série de musiciens venus progressivement de tous les horizons (jazz, rock, contemporain, électronique, traditionnel...). Mais ceci est (peut-être) une autre histoire.

Les musiciens—tous basés à Paris—qui forment le quartette de « Return of the New Thing » (sur une idée de Dan Warburton) n'ont pas un parcours rectiligne et ne sont pas des stricts jazzmen, loin s'en faut. Ce qui les rassemble est une attirance mutuelle (et peu commune) pour la composition contemporaine et l'improvisation. Si François Fuchs est un contrebassiste impliqué dans diverses formes musicales (en particulier avec son groupe Quinte & Sens), le saxophoniste Jean-Luc Guionnet (licencié d'arts plastiques et amoureux des productions de Xenakis et Stockhausen ainsi que des musiques extra-européennes) multiplie les interventions dans les domaines de la musique électroacoustique, des films expérimentaux, du théâtre, et fait partie des groupes d'improvisation Schams et Calx (dans les deux cas avec Edward Perraud). Après des études à l'IRCAM et au Conservatoire de Paris dans la classe de Michaël Levinas, le percussionniste Edward Perraud joue au sein du groupes Shub Niggurath, et crée l'Orchestre des Sons Traqués (collectif à géométrie variable de 10 à 25 musiciens basé sur l'idée d'improvisation dirigée). Il se produit aussi avec les pianistes Noah Rosen et Frédéric Blondy. L'initiateur du projet, le pianiste et violoniste britannique Dan Warburton est avant tout un compositeur que les travaux d'un Zorn, d'un Goebbels ou d'un Misha Mengelberg ne laissent pas indifférent. Après un doctorat de composition musicale à l'Eastman School of Music, Rochester (NY) au cours duquel il travaille avec Steve Reich à New York, il s'installe à Paris en 1988 où, tout en exerçant des activités diverses (présentateur radio, journaliste pour The Wire (GB), Pulse Magazine (USA), rédacteur en chef du Paris New Music Review [http://www.paristransatlantic.com/]...), il remporte le Prix International Lili Boulanger en 1992. Plus tard il écrit des compositions pour le Newt Hinton Ensemble, The Composers Ensemble. C'est après avoir tourné avec le groupe de rock Tanger en 1997 que lui revient le goût de jouer et le désir d'improviser, il se produit aussi souvent en duo avec François Fuchs.

Les liens tissés entre ces quatre individualités sont donc complexes et témoignent d'une ouverture et d'une gourmandise réjouissantes. Même si la musique présente sur ce CD donne l'impression (miraculeuse ?) d'être « composée » et interprétée par un groupe à l'existence régulière, il convient de signaler que Guionnet et Warburton jouaient ensemble pour la deuxième fois à l'occasion de cet enregistrement et que tous les morceaux (à l'exception de Hic et nunc, in limine, d'Edward Perraud) sont des improvisations libres. Et si l'ombre d'Ornette Coleman semble planer au dessus de cet album, c'est - au delà de la présence de l'alto et du violon - à cause d'une flamme particulière et de la troublante relation dichotomique compositeur(s)/instrumentiste(s). Somehow, anyhow (un titre emprunté à Malcolm Lowry) évoque une jungle moite et inquiétante, traversée par les traits acides et discontinus du saxophone et les clusters de piano, que renforcent les tambours et l'archet. Seule composition de l'album, la ballade Hic et nunc, in limine traverse des paysages (apparemment) plus paisibles, par taches pointillistes, pendant que s'enflent doucement les longues lignes lyriques et chaudes de l'alto (à la manière d'un « ténor aigu ») et que s'installe un groove qui s'inscrit ici plus directement dans la tradition des musiques free noires. Y2K (jargon informatique anglophone pour : l'an 2000) laisse se manifester deux duos sax/batterie et violon/basse avant l'apparition d'un quartette superbement swinguant où l'alto prédomine, agrémenté d'un accompagnement de piano à la McCoy Tyner. Rythmique aux accents orientaux au début de Truth and Reconciliation, sur fond de claquements d'anche et de piano préparé, suivie d'évocations funky traversées par la mémoire des véhéments ténors noirs (Shepp, Rivers, Ware...), mais aussi d'Abdullah Ibrahim et de Bobby Few. La scène française des musiques créatives improvisées est en plein épanouissement depuis quelques années, cet album enflammé et généreux en est le témoin. Return of the New Thing ?

— Gérard Rouy


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New Thing. Free jazz (careful: not free as in "free of charge", as some fans at one of Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz Concerts" in Cincinatti in 1961 caustically observed). In the chilly conservatism of the Gaullist France at the time, they cautiously called it "New Jazz" (this is also the land of the "Nouveau Roman", "Nouvelle Cuisine" and even "Nouvelle Société"..). New Thing, then, by which we are to understand "this is not music". Not just music: there are economic, social and political issues at stake.. For, despite the term with its tabula rasa connotations, the free musicians of the Sixties did not reject out of hand all pre-established melodic organisation nor rhythmic regularity; they rejected quite simply what jazz had become (conformist, academic, predictable, institutionalised..) as well as the heavy hand of (white) capitalism on its creation. In America and Europe, there arose out of free jazz a practice as old as music itself, free improvisation, through a series of musicians from all directions (jazz, rock, contemporary, electronic, traditional..). But this is (perhaps) another story.

The musicians - all based in Paris - who make up the quartet of "Return of the New Thing" (Dan Warburton's idea) have hardly followed straight-line trajectories, and are not strict jazzmen; far from it. What brings them together is a mutual (and uncommon) attraction for contemporary composition and improvisation. If François Fuchs is a bassist involved in many musical activities (particularly with his group Quinte & Sens), saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet (a Fine Arts graduate into Xenakis, Stockhausen, and non-European musics) is active in electro-acoustic music and experimental film and theatre, playing in the improvisation groups Schams and Calx (both with Edward Perraud). Percussionist Perraud, after studies at IRCAM and at the Conservatoire de Paris with Michaël Levinas, played in the group Shub Niggurath, and formed the Orchestre des Sons Traqués (a collective of some 10 to 25 musicians working in conducted improvisation). He also plays with pianists Noah Rosen and Frédéric Blondy. The initiator of the project, British-born pianist/violinist Dan Warburton is above all a composer, not uninfluenced by Zorn, Goebbels and Misha Mengelberg. After a PhD at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY, as a Harkness Fellow (working with Steve Reich in New York), he moved to Paris in 1988, where his activities have included broadcasting and journalism (for The Wire (GB), Pulse! (US) and the Paris New Music Review [http://www.paristransatlantic.com/], of which he is Paris Editor). In 1992 he was awarded the Lili Boulanger Prize for composition, and has written for the Newt Hinton Ensemble and the Composers Ensemble. Only after a stint with rock group Tanger in 1997 did he re-develop a taste for performing, since when he has worked regularly with François Fuchs.

What binds these four individuals together is complex and testifies to a glorious openness and pleasure. Even if the music on this disc gives the (miraculous?) impression of being "composed" and interpreted by a group of long standing, you ought to know that Guionnet and Warburton were playing together here for only the second time, and that, with the exception of "Hic et nunc, in limine" (a Perraud composition), all the pieces were freely improvised. If the spectre of Ornette seems to hover above, this is - beyond the presence of alto sax and violin - due to the white heat and special tension of the composer/instrumentalist dichotomy. "Somehow, anyhow" (title from Malcolm Lowry) evokes a sweaty, disturbing jungle shot through with discontinuous, acidic saxophone lines and piano clusters, reinforced by drums and bowed bass. "Hic et nunc, in limine" ("Here and now, on the threshold"), the album's only "composition", crosses more tranquil (apparently) landscapes with pointillistic dabs of colour, while long, lyrical saxophone lines unfold (sounding like a high tenor) and a groove establishes itself, a groove directly in the lineage of black free music. "Y2K" (computer jargon for "the year 2000") sets violin/bass and sax/drums duos against each other before the appearance of a superbly swinging quartet, alto saxophone riding high over McCoy Tyner-esque piano. The oriental rhythmic inflexions that open "Truth and Reconciliation", over a background of sax and prepared piano clattering, are followed by funky evocations of of great tenormen (Shepp, Rivers, Ware..), but also of Abdullah Ibrahim and Bobby Few. The French scene of creative improvised music has been in full bloom for several years now, and this generous, burning album is the proof. Return of the New Thing?


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An interview with James Baiye, November 1999

JB: First things first.. why did you put a photo of your son on the album cover?

DW: Well, you know it's my son Max, but maybe other people don't. I suppose they do now though! So perhaps the question should be "why did you put a photo of a baby on the album cover?" I was thinking of the cover of Nirvana's "Nevermind", you know, the one with the baby swimming after a dollar bill.. I believe album covers are just as important as titles in terms of image and communication - look at Blue Note, for example.. So, whereas the Nirvana thing could be interpreted as a critique of materialism, I wanted to show a different kind of commodity, namely records. There's also a kind of game element to this, too; I've always loved record covers which show other record covers.. for example, I spent ages trying to find out what the record was on the cover of Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly" (I think it's a Wes Montgomery album), and a friend of mine went in search of the soundtrack album to "Gigi" only because it's part of the photomontage on the cover of Pink Floyd's "Ummagumma"! So the challenge to my friends is: tell me what all thirteen albums are on this cover (with name, date, label and all the info) and you get a free album (as long as stocks last, as they say..)!

Talking of titles, would you explain why you chose the title, "Return of the New Thing".. something people might interpret it as being a little pretentious?

Well, we've had our little discussions about that within the group too, I can tell you.. (laughs). No, I suppose it's fifty per-cent for artistic reasons, fifty per-cent "marketing". I'm personally convinced that the music on this CD is more accessible than a lot of improv stuff - though it's by no means easy listening- and I didn't want to think that the album would be consigned to the obscure niche-market that is improv these days. Greatest respect for warriors like Jérôme Noetinger and Metamkine for not playing the big labels' game (not that Leo is a big label by any means), but I wanted to give this album a damn good run for its money and try and attract listeners who'd never normally set foot in a new music place like the Instants Chavirés. I believe in the idea of "walkways", by which I mean that some albums naturally lead you on to discover whole new areas of music.. Zorn's Naked City project is a great walkway, for instance: thousands of people got into Morricone, Napalm Death, Japanoise and all kinds of other weird shit thanks to those albums. (Whereas, on the other hand, his Parachute albums are not walkways.. you have to be into that stuff already to appreciate them, and they don't necessarily lead you anywhere else.) So, I suppose I'd like this record of ours to function as a walkway into our other individual musical projects, as well as into vintage free jazz, and contemporary improvised music.
Artistically, "Return of the New Thing" ties in with the album cover; the new thing is Max, just as much as it is New Thing as in "free jazz". Also making and releasing a record itself, which is a new thing for me. Of course, on the musical level, it's just a respectful nod to the past, nothing more. It's clear from the album that we've all grown up with free jazz: you can hear [Archie] Shepp as well as [Steve] Lacy in Jean-Luc's playing, a lot of Tony Williams and Elvin [Jones] in Ed's drumming, and Frankie Fuchs' bass work reminds me of many great bassists, from Mingus to Ronnie Boykins..

And your piano playing?

Well, as Harrison Birtwistle says, it's always a bit daft asking people who their influences are, because anyone with any taste will probably give you the same names! So, yes, there's definitely some Monk, some McCoy [Tyner], but also, I like to think, some Herbie [Hancock] and even some Bill Evans. My two favourite pianists though, and I think it shows, are Misha Mengelberg and the late great Don Pullen. Misha because he tries to give you the impression he doesn't know what he's doing while he's 100% on the ball all the time, Don Pullen for that amazing rolling-fist glissando technique, and the fact that he was equally at home playing free, funk, bebop or ballads.

You interviewed Misha for this magazine of course..

Indeed. That was a great thrill! Especially when he said, "I'm nothing as a pianist.." It reminded me of Hendrix who plucked up courage to sing when he heard how badly Bob Dylan did it! (laughs) No, seriously, I think one of the things we learnt from Ornette was that the old idea that you must have really amazing technique, in the classical sense of the word, before you can say anything interesting with your horn in jazz, is no longer all that important. I can't hold a candle to concert pianists, if we talk technique in the Conservatory sense of the term. I can struggle through Beethoven Op.110, and that's about it. But I don't think they could do the kinds of things I do on the piano either! People always used to crucify Ornette for his trumpet and violin playing, but you'd better believe me when I tell you Ornette's my favourite "jazz" violinist. All the technical facility of a Grappelli or a Lockwood does nothing for me, but those two Coleman trio albums recorded at the Golden Circle absolutely blow me away..

Are there any other major influences on your violin playing?

There you go again, as Ronnie Reagan used to say, on about influences! Yes, I suppose you can add Ramsey Ameen (Cecil Taylor's violinist on "One Too Many Salty Swift.."), and Michael Samson, who played on the late Albert Ayler recordings. Plus any number of great classical violinists from Heifetz onwards..

Heifetz?

Of course, the violinist's God! The difference between my piano playing and my violin work is that I was never any good on piano, while I managed to acquire a pretty good technique on the violin. I played more or less seriously from the age of seven to about twenty. I even led a couple of Conservatory orchestras, and was doing OK until the day I had to do a recital broadcast live on the radio, during which I got lost during a piece of unaccompanied Bach that my teacher had insisted I play from memory. That kind of shattered my confidence, and the violin was more or less confined to its case, until recently. My approach now is a kind of unlearning of the instrument.. knowing how to make all the right sounds also gives you a good idea as to how to make the wrong ones. I'd describe myself as a "lapsed classical violinist"..

How did you meet up with the other members of the quartet?

Frankie Fuchs and I have a great mutual friend in New York, a fabulous pianist called Mitch Rothschild, who used to live in Paris a few years ago. Frankie played bass with him, but to be honest I never paid much attention, because at the time I wasn't interested in playing at all. It was only later, after doing a few gigs with a French rock group that I started enjoying playing again, and when we were on holiday in the States in 1997 we met up by chance with Frankie who was in New York at the same time. When he told me he was a big Fred Frith fan, and was heading off to the Village Vanguard to see Cecil Taylor play, I thought: "hey, maybe we should make some noise together after all..!" So started working as a duo, and then a trio with another drummer, who soon admitted he didn't like the free stuff, so he didn't want to stay too long with us! It was Jacques Oger (Potlatch records) who suggested Edward Perraud. It took ages for him to get in touch, but he did, and we found we had a lot in common: Ornette, Zappa, Tristan Murail.. And seeing that Ed already had a long-standing duo project with Jean-Luc Guionnet, Calx, it was only natural that Jean-Luc should eventually come along.

But according to Gérard Rouy's album notes, the recording session was only the second time you and Jean-Luc had played together..!

That's right. He came to a trio rehearsal one afternoon and blew some horn for about ten minutes. That was at the end of last year. Then the next time I found myself on stage with Jean-Luc was as part of Edward's "big band" collective, the Orchestre des Sons Traqués, in February this year (1999). After that, the recording..! I suppose that's why I spend a lot of time on the recording shadowing what he does, following him around until I know where he's going, at which point I try to get there before him, and "head him off at the pass," as they used to say in Westerns! (laughs) In any case, I don't see it as all that surprising that we hadn't played that much before. I mean, improvising is improvising, right? Evan Parker once said that you can't rehearse improvisation: either you improvise or you think about improvising.. And I guess I'm a bit lazy. I like Misha Mengelberg's idea of "one or two rehearsals, that's enough.."!

Rouy's notes also speak of a special tension that comes from the fact that you're all composers as well as performers.. do you agree?

A point of clarification: François Fuchs writes jazz material but isn't a "classically trained" composer as such. I am, and so is Edward. Jean-Luc's work outside sax playing is basically in electroacoustic stuff, not notated composition. But it's true to say that we do come from a background of contemporary music as much as free jazz.
That said, there's a lot of nonsense written these days about improvisation as composition, or the so-called interface between the two, et cetera. Maybe I'm an old traditionalist, but for me composition means putting it down on paper. If there's a score - however vague, graphic, textual, or whatever - I consider it as a composition. Stockhausen's "From the Seven Days" pieces are compositions, even though their recording led to some furious wrangling about authorship among the participating improvising musicians! Compositions may include parts for improvising musicians (look at Heiner Goebbels, for example) which may be impossible to reproduce with other musicians, but they're still compositions. On the other hand, a Butch Morris conduction, unless he writes down in advance what he's going to have the musicians do, which I don't think is the case, is not in my book a composition. Structured improvisation, maybe, but not composition.

But what about your hero Misha, and his idea of "Instant Composition"?

Again, I'd prefer to call it "structured improvisation." It's maybe significant that one of the pieces on Misha's recent Hat album, "The Root of the Problem" is nothing more than a cover of one of his earlier pieces, "Reef". Not really instant at all.. but very good!
Going back to "Return of the New Thing", I think there is a sense of architecture in the pieces that comes naturally from a compositional sensibility: we reinsert bits of earlier ideas, as a conscious kind of "recapitulation", from time to time. The pieces sound more composed as a result, but they're only "compositions" in the sense that I copied them out for the SACEM to register the material!

So you could play them again then, in some form?

I have every intention of so doing! We've all listened to this album so much (we've had to) that to a certain extent the pieces have become compositions. Not what I'd call compositions, but certainly some sort of fixed musical entity, elements of which can easily be reproduced. Yes, I'd like to think that we can go on to develop this material in the future.


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Selected Discography:

"Return of the New Thing" (Leo Records, CD LR 280) is available directly from Dan Warburton (DWarbur928@aol.com) or from "any good record store.." (!) from early 2000 onwards.

François Fuchs' group Quinte + Sens can be contacted at Quinte15@aol.com. A demo album is available, and the group (François Fuchs, bass: Olivier Py, saxophones; Xavier Bornens, trumpet; Claude Whipple, guitars; Aidje Tafial, drums) is working on their first album, out soon.

Jean-Luc Guionnet's debut electro-acoustic album, "Axène", is out soon on Ground Fault Records (contact Erik Hoffman at mail@groundfault.net).

Jean-Luc Guionnet is also to be found on "Erres", the debut album by Schams (with Eric Cordier, hurdy-gurdy and electronics, and Eric Brulebois, drums), available from Shambala (Shamb 99002): contact Boris Cabeza at Shambrec1@aol.com. (Edward Perraud has since replaced Brulebois as the drummer in Schams).

Calx (Jean-Luc Guionnet and Edward Perraud) have their debut album out now ("Improvisations Vol.1") on La Belle du Quai, 00107. Contact Frédéric Blondy at klacsons@free.fr for details of this and other albums on the same label

Return of the New Thing on Leo Records



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Press Clippings: www.chronicart.com   Downtown Music Gallery   Jazz Magazine   Improjazz   Signal to Noise