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Mostly known for his work with saxophonist-composer Tim Berne, French guitarist Marc Ducret and, while that collaboration has been extraordinarily fruitful – resulting in about a dozen albums under Berne’s leadership and a number of others variously helmed – Ducret’s own dates might be a bit overshadowed. Along with countrymen François Courneloup (saxophones), Dominique Pifarély (violin), Bruno Chevillon (bass), and Benoît Delbecq (keyboards), he’s created some fascinating music under a hybridized rubric of free jazz, modern composition and progressive rock. The two volumes of Tower, released on Ayler Records, eloquently display Ducret’s mastery of powerful free jazz-rock with two multinational ensembles.
The first volume is a French-Danish meeting and joins Ducret with trombonist Matthias Mahler, saxophonist Fred Gastard, trumpeter Kasper Tranberg and drummer Peter Bruun on three rather intense compositions. “Real Thing #1” starts the set off extra crunchy, with midrange guitar flutter and hum approximating shorts and small explosions as Ducret’s volatility jibes with whining trumpet and Bruun’s cymbal scrape. But things really kick into high gear with a series of mouthy ensemble knots, Gastard and Mahler providing a serious bottom end to cutting trumpet, adroit martial clatter and Ducret’s scumbled, cottony electricity. The composed lines are charged with a tensile weave, motoring huffs befitting a Six-era Softs until Ducret and the horns put forth dense power chords, rocked-out poles that segregate and shore up fragmentary duo and trio improvisation. Though not evincing as much multiphonic shredding as someone like Mats Gustafsson, Gastard’s bass saxophone work is in that tradition and fits well with the twining spires of Ducret’s choppy and compelling jazz-rock vision. Bruun is the drummer to realize this, building tension with top-heavy, caterwauling rhythms that are nevertheless precise and delicate. The absence of a bass-centered rhythm section also helps to push the ensemble’s rockist tendencies into a weirdly light overdrive. Real Thing #2” follows, Ducret spinning out funky flint against muted cymbals and agitated roll, augmented by a chunky front line. An area of knife-like interplay between guitar and brass emerges, very free, before Gastard and Bruun build a fat motion for sinewy mid- and upper-range colors to ride, with Tranberg’s keening young-lion blast getting some fine stretching room.
Tower Volume 2 presents the French-American contingent, with Ducret and Pifarély joined by Berne and drummer Tom Rainey. The opening “Sur l’Electricité” melds a soundtrack of the Paris Metro and cityscape with guitar and electric violin at the outset, amplified ponticello skirls, triple-stops, and scrambled staccato elegantly contrasting Ducret and Rainey’s slim, blues-rock backing. That’s not to say that the violinist doesn’t pick up on these advances, wailing flatted fifths and then some before he, Berne and Ducret assemble a bright, atonal progression. A choppy guitar-drums duet emerges, wiry, backbeat-heavy and painted over with an awesomely aggressive swirl. As much differentiation as exists in the quintet of Tower Volume 1, the quartet here is extremely well matched and dare I say familiar – Pifarély and Berne complement one another perfectly, alto curling in soft salts as the violinist works through a deep, sinewy harmonic range. “Real Thing #3” opens with guitar, alto and violin approximating some of the spacious, toothy tones of Morton Feldman (especially apparent in Pifarély’s long, dissonant quaver). Even as Ducret begins assembling crotchety, fuzzy clusters, there’s a sense of poise against those rough blues that’s really remarkable. As with the other “Real Thing” compositions, the group alternates between patches of scrappily open detail and rugged, seafaring movement. Perhaps this quartet is a bit more delicate, with Berne’s lip-curls and Pifarély’s rangy poems in the front line. Either way, Ducret has assembled two fantastic groups to work through six collective compositions striding across free and rigorous form. Both volumes of Tower are essential new-millennial listening.
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