By Ken Waxman
Recording for more than a quarter century, French pianist Benoît Delbecq has made a point to divide his skills between conventional and unconventional sessions and various-sized ensembles. Close listening to these sets though suggests that the trio nay be his perfect formation. In the right hands and using appropriately flexible instrumentation, a sufficient number of colors are coupled with economy of form. At the same time, like the proper organization of a spread sheet, there’s enough space remaining so that each of the participants has room to amply express his participation.
The sixth CD by the all-Gallic Les amants de Juliette (LAdJ) – origin or reason for this female’s friendship unknown – S’électrolysent eposes the relationship among Delbecq’s keyboards, the vocalized trumpeting of Serge Adam and a juddering undertow from Philippe Foch’s percussion. Foch’s preference for tabla rhythms is non- specific enough to take advantage of the drums’ echoing qualities without touching Carnatic exotica, though. Taking a cue from the improv-orientation of early fusion – Eddie Henderson or Miles Davis variants – the trio also relies on electronics, but as accents for the six original compositions. Ink is resin of a different color. LAdJ band members take their cues from bedrock fusion, subsequently interpolating more contemporary tones as if they’re social media and anti-pollution devices outfitted in a classic car. Meanwhile to take the automobile metaphor further, Delbecq own trio is the 2016 model of the emblematic jazz piano trio. Adding preparations to his piano confirms Delbecq’s up-to-date orientation.
Ink’s defining timbres are the plucks, twangs and stops that emanate from the piano’s excited inner strings. This isn’t overdone though, since Delbecq uses outside and inner piano effects with an Ahmad Jamal-like prudence. Consolidating each musician’s parts, a composition such as the introductory “Le Ruisseau” bubbles like the stream it’s meant to reflect. As this recital of all-Delbecq compositions evolves, the others make their presence felt as well. Canadian bassist Miles Perkin displays an erudite use of guitar-like chording on “Colle Et Acrylique” for instance, which is further glued together with some Latin-directed cymbal clapping from French percussion Emile Biayenda and sweeping keyboard glissandi. With the strength of a weightlifter achieving his personal best, the bassist sets up the title track with extended string swots that open up the piece to tremolo coloration from Delbecq plus relaxed patterning from Biayenda.
Similarly, tunes such as “Nombre” and “Family Trees” are perfect reflections of this trio’s artistry. Understated bass lines and an insistence on linear narrative on the pianist’s part reflect back to the slow-burning, beneath-the-surface swing that was second-nature to Jazz trios of the 1950s and 1960s. But at the same time, cunning and caressing key patterning and unexpected sonic alleyway exploration confirm that the BD3 is more than your father’s Jazz combo.
Precise, stabbing lines from piano and double bass characterize “L’Esprythme”, which is dedicated to Adam and another band in which Delbecq and the trumpeter are involved. Another point of congruence to LAdJ is how the pianist’s bolstered string preparations in trio form relate to Foch’s tabla work on the other CD. On that set, like an anthropologist familiar with the links among indigenous cultures, the percussionist ensures that none of his beats are ethnically specific. In fact rhythms on “Ashan” appear to have Latin, Balkan or Klezmer roots. Other pieces which are more closely aligned to the Indian subcontinent don’t express so-called exotica via the drummer though. Instead Delbecq’s keyboard undulations and vibrations or in the case of “Ashan”, pulsating emphasis from his bass pedal provide the sp-called ethnic sounds.
With archeological-like skill of isolating treasured fragments from the detritus that surround them, Adam’s vocalized brass often sound as if it’s processed through a hoary echoplex. These collective loops and echoes allow him to outline ideas at the proper pace and capacity. Chirping tremolos erupt from the middle of electric washes on a tune like the concluding “La disparition du Sable”. Elsewhere secluded grace notes burst into fuller bloom like nurtured hothouse flowers on “Naoto” since processing means that Adam can bulk up his solos with additional, affiliated tones.
The most complex, if expected, use of electronics is on “Family Trees”. Here the high-pitched reverberations are segmented among different signals so that Adam at points appears to be playing more than one trumpet. Sometimes in this contrapuntal expression, he appears to be completing a statement initially advanced by the brass instrument. Delbecq and Foch respond with an appropriately splayed interface.
On the evidence of these top-flight CDs, Delbecq continues to improve and display his skills as leader and as part of closely knit ensembles. Who knows in what form or grouping his talent will next be displayed?