Sons d'hiver (Winter Sounds) has been running in Paris for almost three decades, presenting artists on the perimeter of jazz, usually with a pair of acts each evening, and taking up most of February. For the festival's last weekend (22nd/23rd) of its accustomed three-week run, Paris was basking in unseasonal sunshine, and spring sounds were already sprouting. All of the gigs take place in the Val-de-Marne region, where the city's old walls used to be, to the south-east of Paris. A different venue is occupied each evening, with the exception of these last two days, when Maison Des Arts (in Créteil) was used twice.
Alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse played the climactic Friday night set, but for this slot, in a very crowded, large theatre, his music avoided its funk complexity of old. Natal Eclipse is a Coleman line-up with a modern classical character, lacking drums, but still mightily propulsive. Arranged in a crescent, the mostly seated players ran through the colors of piano, upright bass, trumpet, alto, tenor saxophone, clarinet, violin, and flute, almost fully reflecting the palette of Coleman's 2017 Morphogenesis on Pi Recordings, this festival set featuring six selections from that album.
runsFebruary 22–23, 2019
A balance was struck throughout the continuous sonic cycle, alternating between the leader's inner trio with Matt Mitchell (piano) and Greg Chudzik (bass), and the swift responses of the full ensemble spread. There were various permutations, involving trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson taking lead of the trio, as well as a cascading pack of solos from other players, emulating and responding to Coleman's serpentine lines. We found the altoman/composer at his closest point to bebop articulation, surrounded by a swinging pulse that merged 1940s jazz with 1950s Moondog and 1970s Reichian minimalism. Besides all of this, the conceptual matter inspiring these pulsations arrived from the boxing ring, as Coleman had originally improvised whilst contemplating various moves, subsequently notated and expanded into these rippling frames. The presence of Mike McGinnis (clarinet) and Román Filiu (tenor) illustrated the broad traditional jazz range required, when set beside most of Coleman's output. Mitchell sounded alarmingly lounge-y, when he repeated phrases inside the inner trio, as close to a mainline sound as we'll probably ever hear from this unpredictable technician. Coleman's music was in perpetual motion, soloing thought-streams weaving in and out of primacy, powdering the repetitions with regenerating shapes.
On the following night, drummer Nasheet Waits premiered his "Children Of The Star" ensemble, which combined an NYC quartet with a quintet of Malian players from Bamako, mostly percussionists, but with Sountoucoumba Kone on guitar. Also on guitar, Miles Okazaki sounded more abrasive than usual, as an early 1970s Miles Davis vibe encroached on the opening Malian trounce, wah wah pedal working hard, and Ambrose Akinmusire soloing with trumpet fire. The axis tilted back to Africa, but with the Bamako crew playing more freely, as the two gangs began to coalesce. Ultimately, though, despite the exciting tensions created, there wasn't enough full-group action, as the tendency was to separate each side (they were even arranged onstage in divided camps), alternating numbers rather than tangling into oneness. It was bassman Tarus Mateen who stood up from his chair, near the end, engaging directly with the Malians in a brief climactic spate of unfettered dialogue.
Eve Risser's Red Desert Orchestra unveiled a new composition-construction, Eurythmia, which was far more riff-inclined than the French pianist's previous White Desert Orchestra work. As with the Nasheet Waits group, Risser has included a West African section, although here sounding more integrated. Their balafon and drums made a considerable contribution to the rhythmic thrust of this work, in another example of minimalist-inspired repetition. Or more like a feedback between Reich and one of his main musical sources. Growing activity reared up from a steady field of tone, with increasing industriousness, individual scrabblings from inside the sonic thicket suggesting bird and insect activity, with a retro-styled Korg synth chittering. Risser gamelan-ised her piano, and a tranquil oasis was sighted, where the Orchestra became becalmed. After a while, the two balafons tripped out, with alto saxophonist Antonin-Tri Hoang moving to a small keyboard, and the Korg returning for a final rush.
Even though free jazz and improvisation are the dominant forms at Sons d'hiver, there were frequent side-steps during its three weeks, to avant hop, risky rock, and various global styles from around Africa and the Indian Ocean. And then there was the funk, courtesy of veteran U.S. trombonist Fred Wesley and his New JBs.
It was a partying set, eminently suited to being the festival's closing Saturday session, the large theatre looking close to being sold out. Phillip Whack was playing tenor saxophone, but it still squealed out in Maceo Parker alto fashion, as he spiked the stoking seven-piece combo. Initially, Wesley was content to riff as part of the three-man horn section, but as the set progressed he began to increase his time under the spotlight, providing multiple greasy solos, limber in their rubberiness. Wesley used to lead his Horny Horns, so called out their "Four Play," with Dwayne Dolphin's buxom bass-slapping to the fore, Reggie Ward's guitar strafing, as the audience clapped en masse, and virtually without provocation. Wesley soloed on "Peace Power," springy, fruity in his controlled blast, then sang on "Bop To The Boogie" and Earl King's "Trick Bag." Then, it was straight into the full release of "Pass The Peas" and "Funky Good Time," getting the crowd up on its feet. It's usually a bad sign when the rest of the band walks offstage, leaving either the drummer or bassist to solo interminably, so that midway interlude was the only interruption to Wesley's spirited big-hits set.
Lastly, on the visual front, an extensive exhibition by the Parisian photographer Nicolas Henry made an impressive start to each evening, his mostly large-scale works arrayed around two floors of the venue's foyer. Initially, these tableaux might seem like manipulated collages, but it seems that his wide-angle posed group portraits are (hyper) "real," their realization assisted by the artist's background as a stage lighting designer, a rickety wooden set-construction master, and a capturer (or manipulator) of strange, collective dream-scenarios. These are all gathered during his extensive global travels, and all framed with hand-hammered multi-jointed wooden frames, the "sets" built together with his subjects. Henry's ethno-kaleidoscopic pictures exist on multiple levels, celebratory, haunting, humorous and surreal.