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Chat Noir – Nine Thoughts for One Word – RareNoise

A trio which finds the middle ground between electronics and acoustics.

Chat Noir – Nine Thoughts for One Word [TrackList follows] – RareNoise RNR064, 48:09 [5/20/16] ****:

(Michele Cavaliari – keyboards, piano, effects; Luca Fogagnolo – electric bass, upright bass, trombone; J. Peter Schwalm – electronics, beats, keyboards, acoustic guitar; Daniel Calvi – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, lap steel guitar (tracks 3-4, 7); Alessandro Tomaselli – vocals, lyrics (track 3))

The RareNoise label is becoming the go-to imprint for musicians who defy simple categorization. Chat Noir is an Italian trio which easily fits into the RareNoise roster. Keyboardist Michele Cavaliari, bassist Luca Fogagnolo and newest member, J. Peter Schwalm (a Brian Eno collaborator who adds electronics, beats, keyboards, and acoustic guitar) create a tempting mixture of ambient music elements, electronic textures, modern chamber music and electric jazz. The threesome’s latest is the 48-minute Nine Thoughts for One Word, their sixth recording and second for RareNoise. Nine Thoughts for One Word has been released as a digital download, on vinyl, and as compact disc. This review refers to the CD configuration.

While Chat Noir isn’t like anyone else, their material has an aesthetic and adventurous attribute which should be appreciated by anyone familiar with the Neil Cowley Trio or the Bad Plus and any of Eno’s recent ventures. There is a tantalizing equilibrium between the electronic dynamics and acoustic instruments, a course which shows the trio’s growth and development. “Experimentation has always been a fundamental part of our work,” says Fogagnolo. “We would describe our journey as a ship adrift. If jazz was our starting point we’ve always felt free to explore different languages.”

The opener, “Eternally Tranquil Light,” is like the theme for a cinematic travelogue. There are subtle Middle Eastern slices; wordless chants; a propulsive and magnetic electronic motif; a foggy trombone which rides beneath the electric sheen; and Schwalm’s dance-enlaced beat. Tunes tend to segue from one to another with no pauses, imparting a suite-like approach. Thus there isn’t any separation from the first track to the second, “Fundamental Mind,” which is led by Cavaliari’s poetic and delicate acoustic piano, and some electronic effects which include a violin-like tone. There is a linear flow to “Fundamental Mind,” similar to “Eternally Tranquil Light,” especially the sense of an instrumental narrative, which continues throughout the piece’s gradual build-up. Elsewhere on the record, sometimes digital effects and acoustic features are both explicit, such as during the pulsing “Blinking Neon,” which evokes David Bowie’s music from the last ten years: a concordance of acoustic tools (piano and guitar) with purely electronic components.

Schwalm may be the newest Chat Noir member, yet his involvement has an important artistic mannerism. He furnishes spaciousness to some cuts; provides otherworldly beats and grooves to other numbers; and supplies sound processing and production treatments to all eight tracks. Certainly his personality has a persuasive perspective on the trip-hop structure of the dance-floor-ready “Uneven” and the nearly nine-minute excursion, “Soft Ground,” which begins with an ambient section, lifts upward with a mysterious Middle Eastern/dub reggae segment, and has a crosshatched arrangement analogous to Matmos merged with Portishead. Another notable contributor is vocalist Alessandro Tomaselli, who brings his David Sylvian-like voice to the alt-pop song, “Momentary Continual,” which has an arrangement and resonance comparable to Sylvian’s late-‘80s output. This is a lithe, memorable piece and hopefully Tomaselli can donate his talent to future Chat Noir projects. Chat Noir concludes with the quiet, austere “Crystallized Flow,” fronted by Cavaliari’s solo piano, accompanied by an undercurrent of weightless digital effects. While the album has spatial qualities and movement, “Crystallized Flow” has the most atmospheric aspects, like something from Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire period. Some artists on RareNoise are unconstrained and flagellate listeners with aggressive loudness and intensity. Not so Chat Noir. The trio’s music is one of illumination, subtleness, and textures.

TrackList: Eternally Tranquil Light; Fundamental Mind; Momentary Continual; Blinking Neon; Detuning Leaves; Uneven; Soft Ground; Crystalized Flow.

—Doug Simpson

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