By Ken Waxman
Like a high-quality electronic product manufactured by the Panasonic Corporation, the career of alto saxophonist Michaël Attias has always involved being slightly ahead of his time. Israeli-born, the reedist followed what has now become a common career trajectory, by moving back-and-forth from the US to Paris, where he first recorded, before setting in New York in the 1990s. Since that point, despite Donald Trump and Brexit, globalization has become a reality in the music business, with the number of immigrant musicians who relocate to North America, especially New York, for a greater or shorter time swelling. Today many players on an Apple bandstand may not only be non-New Yorkers, but non-Americans. Live in Greenwich Village reflects this internationalism. Besides Attias, the cooperative Renku trio includes Japanese-born percussionist Satoshi Takeishi and bassist John Hébert, whose Cajun-Louisiana background is noted in the Gallic spelling of his surname. Each contributes to the compositional pool of this its third disc, recorded after 10 years together.
A true partnership, he composed five of the tunes here, Hébert two and Takeishi one. Although the lion’s share of the compositions are his, that doesn’t, to extend a metaphor, mean he hogs the solo space. “Dark Net” for instance is propelled by Hébert’s purposeful walking bass, with the melody decorated by pointillist slurs from the saxophonist. More intense, “The Lions of Cayuga” features sax lines fading in and out of the front line as guitar-like arpeggios echo from the bassist When it come to Paul Motian’s tricky The Sunflower”, the three treat it as they’re peering into corners for the melody, finally discovering its beauty in Attais’ flutter tones.
The saxophonist’s chameleonic skill is more on display during Hébert’s “70s & 80s Remix” where he manages to sound like Sam Rivers and Paul Desmond simultaneously. Pulling apart like lovers from an embrace after stating the exposition, the saxophonist and bassist turn bellicose with the piece completed by strident reed vibrations plus bass string thumps, as Takeishi hand pats underneath the bridge. Leaving theme expression to the resolution of “Lurch”, also written by the bassist, the saxophonist and Hébert move in-and-out of harmony as they exchange metallic-sounding reed puffs and slurs perfectly balanced with elongated string jumps until the whispering finale.
Live in Greenwich Village suggests that Hébert has developed into a notable composer, while both CDs also highlight high-quality playing from all participants. More to the point, both discs confirm the skill of Attias. He’s no longer slightly ahead of his time when it comes to improvised music, but at its centre.