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Théo Ceccaldi Trio+1 - Can You Smile?

Ken Waxman, The Whole Note

As genres draw closer to one another, the idea of a musician from one area playing and composing a work in another area doesn’t seem so far-fetched. More importantly the sophistication of many contemporary performers means that these inter-genre excursions are triumphant rather than merely passable. One form that is being explored by improvising musicians for instance is composing for the bedrock of the so-called classical music tradition: string groupings.


While other discs are concerned with the place of strings in advanced settlings, French violinist/violist Théo Ceccaldi goes one step further, reconstituting the most revered of European ensembles: the string quartet. On Can You Smile (Ayler Records AYLCD 136), his Trio+1 also includes guitarist Guillaume Aknine, cellist Valentin Ceccaldi and bassist Joëlle Léandre. Throughout the emphasis is on atonality, with each player doing his or her best to disrupt the proceedings at the same time as bonding during the 11 compositions. Case in point is Brosse à chaussure where sharp, sul ponticello quivers from the cellist and violist sprawl alongside the guitarist’s chromatic picking, only to mix twangs and triple stopping in an exciting conclusion. On the other hand Sirènes et bas de laine finds Léandre and Aknine strumming a continuum while tremolo glissandi from the viola replicate reed slurs. Finally Hirondelles parcels out the dissonance among all the strings, as every sequence becomes narrower and more staccato, until unexpectedly a measured combination in the final 30 seconds produces a quixotic climax. Throughout, the bassist’s florid nonsense syllable verbalization constantly mocks any high-art pretentiousness associated with a string quartet, while preserving an innate musicality. Fancifully the sounds from this Trio+1 may be what could have resulted if one of the serialists had composed for a Roma ensemble, with the added virtue of a sense of humour.

From Léandre’s frenzied sawing coupled with sibilant whispers to the emphasis on new roles for mass string ensembles advanced by Salamon, these sessions outline some of the paths to couple improvisation with the liberating compositions for strings.