Friday, October 27, 2006

Michel Devilliers and Lutina Pensard... improvised performance... Île De Groix... Saturday, 21 October, 2006...

I am not sure what the phrase 'Busman's Holiday' would be in French. Les vacances de driver d'autobus? Maybe there is no idiomatic equivalent, which is a shame as it would have given me a neat link... Among other things, I play music of the improvised variety and also run a small (yet wonderful) performance space in between the obsessional needs of writing this blog... All of which I was intending to sidestep/avoid like the plague etc for a week or so... a holiday was (urgently) needed... sanity is, after all, a desired state... But the omens were there... I landed in Nantes on the first leg of my journey to stay with my old and dear friend Caroline on the Île De Groix, situated off the coast of Britanny. I had originally intended to go to the Pannonica that night, as I had heard good reports, but decided against it due to excessive fatigue and – well – a desire to escape all of this as hinted at above... went for a walk before an early night – avoided the Pannonica succesfully... and ended up in a bar called 'The Blue Note.' Well... The ghosts of Lion and Wolff prodded me... I had to go in... And next morning, on Nantes railway station, waiting for my train to Lorient, bizarrely I saw this guy lurking who was the spitting image of Chet Baker. Whom, logically, I know is dead – but my friend Wild Bill told me a while back that he is still alive as the fall from the high window in Amsterdam had been some desperate junky bluff - and has been spotted in Nottingham, U.K. of all odd places (or maybe not,given Chet's drug problems and the, how shall we put it? - ease of access there). Wild Bill can be whimsical – in a gritty sort of East Midlands via upstate New York way- but can also be spot on: You takes your pick... But. Two harbingers... then Saturday night after a very good dinner chez Caroline... I was taken to a performance on the island – described in advance as 'improvised sax as a woman created a painting'... is there no escape? How could one refuse politely? But...some things you can't fight... fate, for one...

So... the busman went on holiday...

The performance space was a reasonable size, apparently also used as a small cinema, with incredibly comfortable seats that you could slump into after a good dinner... which we did... The basic premise was that Michel Devilliers would play saxophones, tenor and soprano, improvising over a backing track (presumably of his own creation) while Lutina Pensard would in synchronisation/reaction paint a picture on the canvas in front of us, both reacting to the other's imaginations. For a pre-determined period of time- 40 minutes or so...Perhaps the surprise was – to this jaded old observer – that it worked so well, both visually and aurally...

Lutina positioned herself in front of the canvas... Michel donned headphones and picked up his tenor. Cued the backing track... A fairly abstract but warm electronic intro going into string drones, arco strings, and a higher charango-like sound in places that gave a hint of South American flavours, as the sax started to play in real time and Lutina essayed a yellow line and some circular swirls to enclose the field initially... the first few minutes, given the (presumably) synthesised string textures and the full warm tone of the tenor reminded me of an old Stan Getz album – 'Focus' recorded in collaboration with arranger/composer Eddie Sauter - no mean comparison as it was was one of the few successful combinations of strings in jazz at the time (1961) – forget Bird – he only made those tracks work by the sheer power of his playing which dragged the rather saccharine arrangements (of 'Charlie Parker With Strings' ) along in his mighty slipstream... (but it was 1949, to be fair...)

Fairly soon in and the sax starts to push outwards... rhythmically and harmonically gently stretching the static harmony... black paint now... the backing track goes into light pattering rhythms – that throughout will veer between an almost Indian tabla feel and the South American nuances already mentioned... a synthesis of 'global' music which could be bland but actually works well enough here for the sax to bounce off with long-distance finesse. Lutina now painting a kundalini rising line of energy to mirror the music's movement...

Throughout, there is a relaxed, almost bucolic feel to the music, with various points of reference east and west that supply a 'world music' texture over which the more 'jazzy' timbre and phrasing of the sax flows effortlessly. Other simple devices will help to pace, diversify and add a loose, unifying structure. For example, an insistent bass pedal bomp boomp bomp eighth note quarter note eighth note or near it – more staccato and syncopated than the description conveys - which acts as an anchor and also provides some gentle swing... In the middle the painting seems to be getting muddy... a lack of definition... which interestingly will be resolved... almost shadowing the manner in which we will always float our attention off sporadically during a long piece. The drums kick in and out... adding some rhythmic variety... some nice double stopped bass... tablas again... The painting starts to swirl now into more interesting complexity... earthy colours... pulled into shape by the artist. Michel switches to soprano saxophone... that tabla nuance echoed with the eastern skirling bite that the higher horn can give...

This is unrushed but does not drag... easy and relaxed yet belying the skill of the artists...very clean playing which, although not as granularly abrasive and chromatic as much of the music in contemporary improvising genres usually is, holds the attention throughout... coming in part from jazz via the signifiers of 'sax' and phrasing out of 'jazz', but not 'jazz' as such, offering an accessibility done with skill and warmth... a few more squiggles of white then out... end of performance... and an added touch... the canvas is now separated into sixteen squares and the resultant portions sold at fifty euros a pop...I would have bought one but had no room to take it back with me, unfortunately...

Overall... the music matched the painting and vice versa... done with intelligence and a subtly disguised rigour underpinning the ongoing creation... I have frequently taken a shot at the pretentiousness and sheer alienation of audiences by performers and (more often) those that promote the gigs that I have encountered in so-called prestigious (and unfriendly) venues... and, we do some pretty austere and abrasive music in my own club... yet, hopefully, with a sense of humour... which was in evidence here tonight...

...and a gig is, admittedly, always easier in front of the home crowd... yet the road beckons... Michel and Lutina do their next show in Geneva at the La Ferme Sarasin on November 2nd... they get around... anyone in the vicinity should go and enjoy... It will be interesting to see how this translates into other venues. But I figure that there is enough space within the conception coupled to the inherent skill of the artists to take into account different performative circumstances. Which is part of the adrenal rush of improvisation, after all...

This busman enjoyed it...

And let us not forget Monique Garrigue... the organiser is always that very important and rarely credited factor in the success of a performance, after all...(and a personal thank you for her gracious hospitality in showing me some of the island a few days later...)

(Malheureusement, mes copains, although I shot a load of photos at the gig and also round the island over the last week, I can't upload them at present until I return to God's Little Acre... but watch this space...)

I wonder if that really was Chet Baker on Nantes railway station...

4 comments:

Molly Bloom said...

Sounds like you are having a really fab time Rod. Sounds like a brilliant gig too. Huzzah!

Chet Baker said...

It was me you know.

Rod... said...

ay up Chet...how's Nantes?

Anonymous said...

Quelle oreille !! Quelle pertinence !! Bravo et merci !!
Michel Devillers
PS J'ai croisé Chet Baker il y a peu à Pontivy. Il ne m'a point reconnu !