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Charles/Jauniaux/Mariage - L'amour

Nick Ostrum, The Free Jazz Collective

begins softly, with lone and softly layered tones, decays, ringing, and other noises. It builds in intensity, still quietly. The extended tones fluctuate and stretch. A hiss comes into the left ear, coy squeaks into the center and a bowed(?) guitar persists in the right. The track shimmers and crackles. It heaves at points, before crumbling into a few phrases of carefully articulated French, then ceases.

Each of the eleven tracks on L’amour follows a different course, but the basic contours and certain elements – the hushed guitar of Jean-Sébastien Mariage, the extended clarinet of Xavier Charles, and the dynamics between the lyrics, all in French, and the experimental vocalizations of Catherine Jauniaux – bind them, as does the text that inspired this project. I do not know French, so the lyrics, all excerpts from Marguerite Duras’ 1971 cinematic novel L’amour, are lost on me. Catherine Jauniaux’s powerful delivery, however, is not. Indeed, I might even hear more of the inflections, the drags and stops, and the sonority than I would were the lyrics in a language I understood. This album, moreover, was recorded after the trio toured Moscow, Berlin, Saint Petersburg, and Paris, reconnecting these major cities in which French once dominated as a literal lingua franca potentially to audiences who, like me, were able to bask in the vocals as estranged and beautiful sound. I am not sure how far the point about reasserting French as a regional language of culture should be taken, but, if not the language itself, Jauniaux, Charles, and Mariage are certainly elevating the French experimental scene in some of the experimental hubs of Europe, and without watering it down with Anglicism.

The musicians of L’amour form an unconventional trio based on what seems to be an unconventional text. At times, its quiet dynamics remind me of some of the more variegated releases of Creative Sources and Insub. (In fact, it sounds to me like a more developed take on a spoken word, gurgly improv style that the Guez Trio, released years ago by Insub’s predecessor netlabel, had experimented with.) That, of course, is not to detract from its distinctiveness. Indeed, although I recognize a lot of the elements on L’amour, I have not heard them combined and staged quite like this. If you know French, I imagine there are layers of meaning accessible to you that I simply cannot speak to. And if you do not, it is certainly enough to let the sounds speak for themselves.