One of the finest clarinetists in free jazz and the avant-garde, Louis Sclavis plays improvised music with unusual clarity and precision. And while his technique is huge, it doesn't overshadow his musicality; Sclavis is a most expressive player. Sclavis began studying clarinet at the age of nine. He played in a local brass band before entering the Lyon Conservatory of Music. From 1975-1982 he played with a variety of ensembles, including and most notably the Henri Texier Quartet and Chris MacGregor's Brotherhood of Breath. He formed his own band in 1982, Le Tour de France, comprising six musicians from different regions of France. He also played and recorded with a number of prominent free jazz musicians, including Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Tony Oxley, and Peter Brötzmann for the FMP and NATO labels. In 1984, he recorded Clarinettes, a solo album for the Ida label. That year, he also formed a new quartet; the band would record a pair of albums, Chine (1987) for Ida and Rouge (1991) for ECM. In 1987 he founded a septet, which would also record for Ida. In 1988 he was awarded the Prix Django Reinhardt as French jazzman of the year. He also founded the Trio de Clarinettes with Jacques di Donato and Armand Angster that year; in addition to playing improvised pieces, the group also played works written by its members and such classical composers as Brian Ferneyhough and Pierre Boulez. Around that time, he met choreographer and dancer Mathilde Monnier and they collaborated on several performances. Sclavis' renown grew during the next decade; he won a British Jazz Award in 1991, and recorded often for FMP and ECM. Projects included a trio with Aldo Romano and Henri Texier, and also recordings and performances with his clarinet trio, septet, percussionist Trilok Gurtu, and a Cecil Taylor large ensemble. Besides his jazz-related activities, Sclavis also composed for theater and film. His 2002 release, Dans la Nuit, was a soundtrack for an antiquated French silent film. The year 2004 saw the release of Napoli's Walls, Sclavis' first attempt to provide a soundtrack for visual art. He recorded a series of pieces based on the history and culture of Naples as interpreted by the work of the French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest, who lived and worked in the city for a number of years. Phare appeared a year later, followed by two ECM-issued offerings -- Imparfait des Langues and Les Violences de Rameau with his sextet -- and L'Engrenage with Le Quatour Habanera on the Alpha label in 2007. Sclavis released only one album in 2008; Moitie du Monde was a collection of pieces written for theater and cinema released by JMS. Though he is known as one of the great jazz improvisers, Sclavis focused on his written music for 2009's return to ECM with Lost on the Way. He was accompanied by saxophonist Matthieu Metzger, electric guitarist Maxime Delpierre, electric bassist Olivier Lété, and drummer François Merville. That same year, Yokohama, a duet album with pianist Aki Takese, was released by Intakt, and Piffkaneiro, a long-form suite with the Swedish new music group Koj, was issued by Between the Lines. Sclavis took to touring and playing the festival circuit followed by a well-deserved vacation. His next recording, Sources with his Atlas Trio (keyboardist Benjamin Moussay and guitarist Gilles Coronado), appeared from ECM in 2012, followed by a global tour. In May of 2014, 3+3, an album that showcased two trios, Sclavis, Texier, and Romano with Enrico Rava, Nguyên Lê, and Bojan Z., was issued by Label Bleu. It was followed in August by Silk and Salt Melodies on ECM, which added Iranian percussionist Keyvan Chemirani to the trio that appeared on Sources. In 2014 he was also part of pianist Aki Takase's quartet for Flying Soul on Intakt -- along with violinist Dominique Pifarély and cellist Vincent Courtois. The following year Sclavis issued Lost on the Way in a quintet setting with Matthieu Metzger on soprano and alto saxophones, Maxime Delpierre on guitar, bassist Olivier Lété, and drummer François Merville; this band took its show on the road for more than a year. Sclavis often places as much importance on his work as a collaborating sideman and soloist as he does on his role as a bandleader, and has often performed in those various capacities in a single year. In 2016 he was a featured soloist with Ensemble Amarillis for Inspiration Baroque, a musical journey to the heart of the 17th century's musical sensibilities from Italy to France and ultimately through England and Germany. That same year he recorded an improvised concert duet offering with double bassist Elise Dabrowski in Switzerland entitled Live at Romanshorn. In 2017 he reunited with Pifarély and Courtois on ECM for Asian Fields Variation. Despite their long collaborative association, it marked the first time they had worked together in a trio setting. Produced by Manfred Eicher, the album was released on the eve of a European tour. ~ Chris Kelsey
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Contemporary Jazz - Released July 1, 2013 | Label Bleu
Originally released in the late '80s, Chine and Chamber Music are here conveniently reissued as a two-CD set. At the time, both albums helped Louis Sclavis gain wider recognition -- at least in Europe. Chine is a quintet session which reflects the leader's interest in folk music and his "imaginary folklore" concept. The themes are not only inspired by French folk music but also by sounds from Argentina or Africa, for instance. At times, some rock accents tend to date the music. Chamber Music takes Sclavis' musical concept even further with a drumless septet featuring original instrumentation and delivering stronger compositions. The material does not offer the same variety as its predecessor, but it is more focused and benefits greatly from the addition of such wonderful improvisers as Yves Robert and Michel Godard. Once again, the session is still characteristic of early Sclavis endeavors -- improvisation over an obsessive pattern or use of overdubs on unaccompanied solos. Although violinist Dominique Pifarély does not contribute any material, his presence is more obvious and alludes to things to come. Without a drummer, bassist Bruno Chevillon's role becomes even more crucial and he meets the challenge with bravura. Like Pifarély, he would also become an essential component of Sclavis' future projects. Despite a few shortcomings, this reissue is essential to anyone interested in this significant musician's development. ~ Alain Drouot
Jazz - Released January 30, 2007 | ECM
Saxophonist/clarinetist and composer Louis Sclavis has displayed a relentless pursuit of the unknown in his recordings for ECM in particular and in his long career in general. Take L'Imparfait des Langues, for instance, his 2007 outing for ECM. While he's never used two bands that were exactly the same on his recordings for the label, this one is easily his most adventurous. The only remaining member of his past ensembles is drummer par excellence François Merville. The other bandmembers -- alto saxophonist Marc Baron; keyboardist, guitarist, and electronician Paul Brousseau; and guitarist Maxime Delpierre -- are all younger musicians who have very diverse musical backgrounds (not all of them in jazz per se). Sclavis assembled and rehearsed this group for a festival in Monaco, using a new compositional method, where perhaps only eight or 16 bars were structured, allowing for maximum improvisation. When the festival was unexpectedly canceled due to the death of the country's monarch, Prince Rainier, the day before, Sclavis took the band into a Paris studio and recorded the album in a single day. The spontaneity and fresh crackle of interaction and interplay are unmistakable. Sclavis led the band but used instinct instead of control to get the job done. The textures and colors created on tracks such as "La Verbe," built around a single, repetitive melodic fragment, bring the band closer to the sound of Soft Machine in their later period than any contemporary jazz group. The horns work against one another in the middle, playing short contrapuntal tones and phrases, while the guitars and keyboards color everything around them in a gauzy darkness as only Merville's drums hold the entire tune together, accentuating the beautiful strummed trills by Delpierre. Elsewhere, as on "Palabre," a guitar riff creates the basis for the horn players to exchange and challenge one another once the head has been constructed atop the guitar. Here, the skeletal funky beginning offers shades of Eastern modality and melody, Ornette Coleman-style harmonics, and an improvisation between Sclavis and Baron so symbiotic that it is mind-blowing. There are ideas closer to what listeners expect from European jazz these days as well, such as on the wonderfully ethereal and knottily aggressive "L'Idée du Dialecte," where different musical languages are held -- however loosely -- inside the Euro jazz idiom. "Story of a Phrase" is wonderfully abrasive and slow as Delpierre uses a mild distortion pedal to play an angular -- if slightly restrained -- metal riff and both Baron and Merville find ways of creating both a melodic language and polyrhythmic counterpoint to the pulsing guitar lines. Sclavis takes his solo on the soprano and delves deep into the space between, using the guitar line to bounce off several others, all counter to the rhythms being laid down. Throughout, ambient sounds, small drones, and found samples are littered, layered, and slotted between the various players -- and this happens on virtually every track. Yes, this is most certainly a European jazz album, and a brave step for Sclavis, who probably considers this the next logical step in creating his encyclopedia of sound. But given the young ages of the players, he is stretched as well. L'Imparfait des Langues is a welcome and utterly fascinating surprise that will no doubt bring his fans closer, and hopefully extend to those who find themselves drawn to progressive music in general. ~ Thom Jurek
Jazz - Released October 7, 2003 | ECM
Louis Sclavis has for decades dazzled and provoked listeners with his literate, ambitious musical projects that examine not only the many dimensions and directions of the sonic spectrum, but also his Renaissance-like embrace of literature, foreign cultures, and now, visual art. With a new quartet collaborating with him -- only cellist Vincent Courtois is retained from his previous outing, L'Affrontement des Prétendants -- Sclavis turns his eyes, ears, and spirit toward an investigation of the paintings of the French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest on Napoli's Walls. Pignon-Ernest, born in 1942, is a curious and wonderfully captivating artist, since he works not on canvas but on public surfaces. From 1987-1995 he worked in Naples, digging through a knotty, tragic history that involved both Oriental and Occidental cultures and the aftermath of volcanoes, disease, defeat at the hands of many armies, and the poetry of its people through it all. Sclavis (playing both clarinets and saxophones), Courtois (on cello), Médéric Collignon (on pocket trumpet, electronics, voices, and horn), and Danish guitarist Hasse Poulsen engage Pignon-Ernest head-on. They explore the various musical traditions of Naples, but also of the entire region through the language of the postmodern, as improvisation, formal composition, ethnomusicology, and an aesthetic that attempts to illustrate the visual aurally. This is accomplished by stitching together the region's popular and antiquated song forms (from folk to opera to madrigals), jazz (through a Mingus-like engagement with history and the dissemination of cultural mores), sophisticated and striated harmonic sensibilities, and a nuanced aesthetic of dissonance. There are ten selections on Napoli's Walls, all but one of them dedicated to a person or place and all of them warm and utterly engaged in time and place, whether the piece has humor in its articulation, such as on the title track or "Kennedy in Napoli," with its wondrous counterpoint, or is more elegiac as in "Divinaziona Moderna, Pt. 1" and "Guetteur d'Inaperçu." The classical thematics and structure of "Les Apparences," with its lilting cello line that counters the pocket trumpet in creating a theme to which Sclavis adds his trademark rounded tone on clarinet, is among the most striking moments on the set, especially as Poulsen's guitar breaks the dynamic and then shifts it into a meditative improvisation. Simply put, Napoli's Walls is an album that moves jazz from its rarefied 21st century ghetto and engages it in a different dimension, as it offers the visual as another song form and place of investigation for sonic inquiry as well as dissemination for antiquated and popular culture. And far from being merely academic, this record is full of sensual pleasure and an utterly accessible, often deeply moving articulation of a new musical language. ~ Thom Jurek
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