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French guitarist Marc Ducret is an electrifying performer. He’s probably best known for his work alongside Tim Berne, whether in Big Satan, a co-operative trio completed by drummer Tom Rainey, or in Berne’s groups Bloodcount, Caos Totale, and Science Friction. He’s been maturing since the late 80s though, and his more recent membership of trombonist Samuel Blaser’s Quartet – as heard on Hat Hut albums Boundless (2011) and As the Sea (2012) – yielded equally notable results.
Between 2011 and 2014 Ducret recorded an ambitious sequence of Tower albums, which he conceived as “a sonic mirror of (author Vladimir) Nabokov’s narrative techniques”. Each volume featured a different ensemble: guitar plus trumpet, trombone, bass saxophone and drums on Tower Vol. 1; guitar, alto sax, violin and drums on Vol. 2; guitar, three trombones, keyboards and percussion on Vol. 3. Vol. 4 was for solo guitar, but Ducret capped the series with a double CD, Tower-Bridge, which features all of the musicians from the previous four albums performing the entire Tower opus live. How to follow that?
Métatonal (Ayler Records) reunites ;Ducret’s long-established working trio, with bassist Bruno Chevillon and drummer Eric Echampard – one of the most exciting units in modern jazz, and criminally under-sung.
The trio’s studio-recorded debut L’Ombra Di Verdi was released on Tim Berne’s Screwgun imprint in 1999, but the two follow-ups, Live (2004) and Live #2 (2006), were both self-released, and are as difficult to source as they are highly recommended. So thanks to Ayler Records for Métatonal, which was recorded live at Le Triton in Paris over five nights in December 2014 with three guest musicians: Samuel Blaser, saxophonist Christophe Monniot, trumpeter Fabrice Martinez.
“Dialectes” makes for a penetrating, no-nonsense opener, as staccato guitar riffs and chunky bass latch onto a momentum of tumbling drums. But that momentum eases off in a shower of cymbal rain after five minutes, giving Chevillon and Ducret space to unpick ideas at a much slower pace, and Ducret develops a fine, fluent solo with muscular support over a further ten minutes.
Chevillon’s style on double bass approximates the sharp, undamped sound of an electric bass with added string-on-wood buzz, marrying the wiry ductility of Ducret’s lead soloing to chunky, more emphatic emphasees. Ducret has a style all his own, but fits somewhere in the company of Bill Frisell, Raoul Bjorkenheim, Vernon Reid and Elliott Sharp – all players who use effects boldly but keep them on a tight leash and imbue their lines with sharply etched melodicism.
“Inflammable” introduces the horns for the first time, all three combining to repeat the theme on another staccato rhythm, only to drop out as Chevillon and Echampard kick in behind Ducret’s rhythm-into-lead guitar. They reenter only after another unhurried trio passage, coming in to shadow and elaborate the final melodic contours of Ducret’s solo. This is no blowing session: the roles of the sax, trumpet and trombone are immaculately delineated.
The horns play in unison on “64”, which flows through tight contrapuntal passages and a spacious interval of liquid guitar to a crowd-pleasing endgame, which incorporates elements of two Bob Dylan songs, “The Times They Are a-Changin'” and “Wigwam”. Fabrice Martinez’ trumpet catches the mariachi flavour of the original “Wigwam”, and someone plays uncredited harmonica against a backbeat and a loping bassline with the louche immediacy of a blues.
“Kumiho” is a distinctive metal-edged workout with real bite, reined-in lead guitar work and a lissom muscularity in the rhythm section that holds through multiple gear shifts, before coming to a sudden halt after four minutes. The ensuing silence is broken only by solo trumpet, shaping an introspective soliloquy that draws measured responses from the rest of the group until they piece together a concerted response, and Christophe Monniot’s saxophone leads the group in a new direction, matching a jazz-funk vibe to Tim Berne-style serpentine rhythmics.
That just leaves “Porteurs de lanternes”, which starts off with guitar and drums in unplugged and abstract rhythm, and a thin tracery of bowed contrabass that gradually ekes out a melody ahead of the long-delayed mutation into full-bore electric jazz workout. Ducret flirts with Hendrix-like touches, but keeps things tight for a final twist.
The album is around an hour long but feels, if anything, too short. It’s been carefully sequenced and compiled, but it’s moreish, and I’d guess there was a lot that didn’t make the cut. No argument about what’s here though.
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