Quartet Saïgon

~ Release group by Julien Lourau


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Over 40 years after Coltrane, 30 years after David Murray and 20 years after Marsalis, most tenor-soprano saxophonists may look at the quartet format as something of a ritual Everest. To the question of how to ensure the most satisfying ascent, the answer might be to, obviously, enlist the right sherpas, and, perhaps a little less obviously, get to grips with a Bacharach number.

Hence the Frenchman Lourau, impressive since the early 90s through his sideman duties with the likes of Henri Texier and then as the leader of his own dance-oriented Groove Gang, skilfully covering both bases, unveiling a cultured new band and a no less cultured reading of A House Is Not a Home. In fact, pianist Laurent Coq, bassist Thomas Bramerie and drummer Otis Brown III have the composure, often a hard quality to nail in jazz, given its great technical demands, and the drive to help the leader fulfil his vision of music that hovers on the cusp of introspection and dynamism.

Lourau has always drawn on Latin, African, Caribbean and European folk forms, but they are not so much woven as absorbed into his writing and arrangements here. Some of the intricate, loping rhythms are tantalisingly slowed down and drawn out, partially highlighting the melodic fragments they conceal, and the prevalence of the leisurely tempos is used not to so much to create soothing or languid atmospheres as to stoke palpable tension. This is also ratcheted by the blend of Coq's dense chords and Bramerie's short, brawny basslines, no more than the four stuttered notes on the title track.

As for Bacharach's well crafted pop, it mutates into a kind of highly lyrical, sophisticated folk song, and although it would be rash to suggest that it is Lourau's My Favourite Things there is a loose parallel with Coltrane's reinvigoration of the old show tune insofar as the performance is about the imaginative creation of an entirely new mood as well as a series of thoughtful variations on the original theme. This is a portrait of an artist excitingly reaching creative maturity.