JOHN HÉBERT TRIO – Spiritual Lover (CF 175)
Bassist John Hébert played with Andrew Hill for several years at the end of the pianist’s life; he can be heard on Hill’s final studio release, 2006’s Time Lines. Thus it’s fitting that he opens this album with a version of “Spiritual Lover,” from Hill’s 1989 album Eternal Spirit. Benoît Delbecq, who plays piano, clavinet and synthesizer on this album, doesn’t owe much to Hill. His mixing of electric and acoustic sounds (on many tracks, notably “Cajun Christmas,” he plays piano and keyboard simultaneously, throwing in weird electronic accents behind himself) is if anything indebted to Herbie Hancock’s early ’70s work. Drummer Gerald Cleaver, meanwhile, is adept at genre-mixing and comfortable with the sonically unexpected, having worked with margin walkers like Matthew Shipp, David Torn, and Craig Taborn, among many others.
Spiritual Lover moves back and forth between groove and abstraction, sometimes sounding almost looplike and other times erupting into classic free jazz (and yeah, I know exactly how paradoxical/ironic that phrase is, and I suspect the players in question do, too). The zapping synths, most of which murmur quietly in the background, only occasionally erupting, add some strangely retro elements to what would otherwise be a “mere” piano trio album. The tones Delbecq chooses are straight from the ’70s, recalling Return to Forever, Weather Report and even Tangerine Dream. This spurs Cleaver to rumble across the toms and take solos that are more Alan White or Bill Bruford than Tony Williams. “Guacamole” erupts to such a degree that when the next track, “La Rêve Eveillé,” turns out to be a ballad of almost Bill Evans-ish subtlety, it’s a genuine shock. “50808” is a showcase for the rhythm section, Delbecq’s piano only appearing for short periods at a time. The album’s final track, “Here’s That Rainy Day,” is another exercise in staticky abstraction. One particular synth tone sounds like a cell phone ringtone.
This is the kind of album that requires multiple plays to really sink in. What Hébert, Delbecq and Cleaver are doing is subtle and genuinely innovative, even at its most classicist or retro moments. Without getting all up in your face about it, this album really doesn’t sound like anything else out there.
1. Do I foresee myself listening to this record again? Yes.
2. Should you buy this record? Yes.