Wednesday, April 10, 2019

CD Review: Michaël Attias - échos la nuit/ Larry Grenadier - The Gleaners

Michaël Attias
échos la nuit
(Our Of Your Head)

Larry Grenadier
The Gleaners

Michaël Attias and Larry Grenadier each went into the recording studio alone for these albums. The similarity between these albums really ends there, although both of them captured the qualities that can make a solo album as rewarding a listen as any session with a group.

For échos la nuit, Attias plays both alto saxophone and piano, often simultaneously. He didn't overdub in the session. His left hand played alto while his right handled the keys. In some ways, it's almost as if he took Rahsaan Roland Kirk's two- or three-horn approach and expanded upon it. The piano often acts as an accompaniment to his crisp saxophone lines, confirming them in "Echoes I Mauve" and returning to the main phrase introduced by the horn. They also move together in the angular "Trinité," clashing on an interval at the end of a phrase and sticking to their respective notes, like a left/right battle of wits. The piano strings reverberate when Attias hits a certain note in sax-only"Circles," sustaining and echoing the sound.

Attias shows dexterity and ease when playing both instruments together. If things sound rigid, the music calls for it, not for lack of ideas. Some tracks are based on snippets Attias had in his head for a dozen years but the session was largely improvised in just over an hour. So even if he forgoes the piano and gets introspective or stuck on an idea (the repetitive "Rue Oberkampf" is based on his studies of the Schillinger Technique), he adds something to the music to keep it from merely sounding like an exercise and gives it a proper payoff.

Solo bass albums can be some of the more challenging of the single instrument solo performances, due to its stark soundscape and the way frequency range where it lives. As on any album devoted to one instrument, a player can forget about songs and get lost in a display of various techniques (pizzicato/arco, low and eerie/high and shrill). But that hasn't stopped ECM from releasing numerous albums devoted to the instrument, starting with Dave Holland and Gary Peacock, leading up to last year's exemplary End to End by Barre Phillips, which I kept meaning to write about here.

Larry Grenadier could arguably called ubiquitous. His name appears frequently on albums, from his long tenure in Brad Mehldau's trio to time with Paul Motian and Pat Metheny and the cooperative trio Fly. The Gleaners comes off like a well-organized recital because each track feels like a developed composition.

"Pettiford" might be a largely improvised homage to the bebop legend, but Grenadier lays out his lines, flowing from short phrases to boppish riffs, in an extended complete work. The way he strikes his instrument, heavily but not heavy-handed, is spellbinding, and lets the wood resonate. The wood can be heard too when he uses his bow, especially when he spends time in the upper register ("Oceanic"), playing with rich clarity. One of two bagatelles composed by guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel features Grenadier's strings gracefully harmonizing, bringing out the power of the brief track's slow melody. In the countryfied "Woebegone" he plays rhythm and accompaniment simultaneously, overdubbing a second bass track.

I've often said that solo albums give a chance to get inside the head of a musician and find out what goes on. If these two albums are any indication, Attias and Grenadier's minds are hubs of activity with constant movement and development happening.

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