Recorded at Crescendo, Norrköping, Sweden, November 14th 2003. Mastered by Maikol Seminatore. Produced by Marek Winiarski. Photograph by Dan Warburton. Artwork by Marie Warburton.
Tracklist: 1. 35′ 31 [35:31] 2. 25′ 11” [25:11]
Far from being a subversive play on words
verging on paradox, Return of the New Thing is a reminder that tough, uncompromising music was not invented yesterday, but has a history spanning over 40 years. One should appreciate the honesty and sense of humour shown by those behind the name – Fuchs, Guionnet, Perraud and (its author) Warburton – who, in this somewhat subversive manner, pay homage to tradition. On the other hand, there arise a number of doubts: can music burdened with so much tradition, as played by ROTNT, be fresh and honest? Have the ideas of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler and many others not become outdated or passé? Does it make sense to refer to them?
Upon listening to Crescendo these doubts are gradually dispelled. The quartet plays music that can still be appreciated. Music that can simultaneously irritate and fascinate, exhaust and thrill, amaze but also confuse; music that affects both intellect and emotions. Particularly noteworthy is the freedom and precision – seemingly opposing qualities – with which the members of ROTNT develop their parts. One may feel surprise that free jazz (with which the term “new thing” was synonymous) can be so disciplined and exceptionally lucid, so precisely executed. Both as soloists and accompanists the musicians maintain an exceptionally tight grip on the clarity of their expression, and in the process of saturating it with detail they fully control the dynamics and timbre of their sound, whilst never forgetting the form and structure of the recording as a whole. The album contains only two fairly lengthy tracks, which can presumably be regarded a the product of so called “structured improvisation” – i.e. free expression based on certain elements agreed in advance. If I am mistaken in this – I am not familiar with the background of the recording – and the material is improvised in its entirety, the musicians deserve even greater praise.
In the quartet’s performance one can hear not only that its members are familiar with the history of jazz, but also that they are capable of transforming and personalising this history. It is presumably significant that Crescendo is jazz played by musicians who do not play jazz on a day-to-day basis (Jean-Louis Guionnet divides his time between electro-acoustic, improvised and organ music, François Fuchs customarily concerns himself with improvisation, while Dan Warburton and Edward Perraud possess a “serious” musical education and have quite thoroughly explored the world of non-conventional sounds, touching on rock, classical and various types of improvised music). Hence, their language becomes a product of the “free” idiom, traceable directly to the classics (e.g. Coleman, Shepp, Ayler and Mengelberg), as well as personal experiences connected with other areas of musical practice. Obviously, in line with its name, the music of ROTNT is dominated by the former, but tasty interjections lend it a certain amount of peculiar charm. — Tadeusz Kosiek (Translated by Rafał Eile)
New Thing. Free jazz (careful: not free as in “free of charge”
as some fans at one of Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz Concerts” in Cincinatti in 1961 caustically observed). In the chilly conservatism of the Gaullist France at the time, they cautiously called it “New Jazz” (this is also the land of the “Nouveau Roman”, “Nouvelle Cuisine” and even “Nouvelle Société”..). New Thing, then, by which we are to understand “this is not music”. Not just music: there are economic, social and political issues at stake.. For, despite the term with its tabula rasa connotations, the free musicians of the Sixties did not reject out of hand all pre-established melodic organisation nor rhythmic regularity; they rejected quite simply what jazz had become (conformist, academic, predictable, institutionalised..) as well as the heavy hand of (white) capitalism on its creation. In America and Europe, there arose out of free jazz a practice as old as music itself, free improvisation, through a series of musicians from all directions (jazz, rock, contemporary, electronic, traditional..). But this is (perhaps) another story.
Edward Perraud | Photo by Christophe Alary
The musicians – all based in Paris – who make up the quartet of “Return of the New Thing” (Dan Warburton’s idea) have hardly followed straight-line trajectories, and are not strict jazzmen; far from it. What brings them together is a mutual (and uncommon) attraction for contemporary composition and improvisation. If François Fuchs is a bassist involved in many musical activities (particularly with his group Quinte & Sens), saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet (a Fine Arts graduate into Xenakis, Stockhausen, and non-European musics) is active in electro-acoustic music and experimental film and theatre, playing in the improvisation groups Schams and Calx (both with Edward Perraud). Percussionist Perraud, after studies at IRCAM and at the Conservatoire de Paris with Michaël Levinas, played in the group Shub Niggurath, and formed the Orchestre des Sons Traqués (a collective of some 10 to 25 musicians working in conducted improvisation). He also plays with pianists Noah Rosen and Frédéric Blondy. The initiator of the project, British-born pianist/violinist Dan Warburton is above all a composer, not uninfluenced by Zorn, Goebbels and Misha Mengelberg. After a PhD at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY, as a Harkness Fellow (working with Steve Reich in New York), he moved to Paris in 1988, where his activities have included broadcasting and journalism (for The Wire (GB), Pulse! (US) and the Paris New Music Review [http://www.paristransatlantic.com/], of which he is Paris Editor). In 1992 he was awarded the Lili Boulanger Prize for composition, and has written for the Newt Hinton Ensemble and the Composers Ensemble. Only after a stint with rock group Tanger in 1997 did he re-develop a taste for performing, since when he has worked regularly with François Fuchs.
What binds these four individuals together is complex and testifies to a glorious openness and pleasure. Even if the music on this disc gives the (miraculous?) impression of being “composed” and interpreted by a group of long standing, you ought to know that Guionnet and Warburton were playing together here for only the second time, and that, with the exception of “Hic et nunc, in limine” (a Perraud composition), all the pieces were freely improvised. If the spectre of Ornette seems to hover above, this is – beyond the presence of alto sax and violin – due to the white heat and special tension of the composer/instrumentalist dichotomy. “Somehow, anyhow” (title from Malcolm Lowry) evokes a sweaty, disturbing jungle shot through with discontinuous, acidic saxophone lines and piano clusters, reinforced by drums and bowed bass. “Hic et nunc, in limine” (“Here and now, on the threshold”), the album’s only “composition”, crosses more tranquil (apparently) landscapes with pointillistic dabs of colour, while long, lyrical saxophone lines unfold (sounding like a high tenor) and a groove establishes itself, a groove directly in the lineage of black free music. “Y2K” (computer jargon for “the year 2000”) sets violin/bass and sax/drums duos against each other before the appearance of a superbly swinging quartet, alto saxophone riding high over McCoy Tyner-esque piano. The oriental rhythmic inflexions that open “Truth and Reconciliation”, over a background of sax and prepared piano clattering, are followed by funky evocations of of great tenormen (Shepp, Rivers, Ware..), but also of Abdullah Ibrahim and Bobby Few. The French scene of creative improvised music has been in full bloom for several years now, and this generous, burning album is the proof. Return of the New Thing? — Gérard Rouy
CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)