The Benoît Delbecq Trio – The Sixth Jump – Songlines SGL 1585-2, 51:29 ****:
(Benoît Delbecq – piano, producer; Jean-Jacques Avenel – bass; Émile Biayenda – drums, percussion; Steve Argüelles – remixes (tracks 2, 5 & 10))
French pianist Benoît Delbecq produces jazz for the adventurous listener. On his latest sojourn, The Sixth Jump, Delbecq uses his improvisational chamber trio to mingle third stream jazz, African folk and other elements into unpredictable modern grooves which have a compressed energy.
Delbecq’s collaborators are an integral ingredient in the creative process. Bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel has been active on the European free music scene for three decades, most notably working with Steve Lacy since 1981, as well as leading his own group, Waraba, an important West African-influenced ensemble. Paris-based Congolese drummer and percussionist Émile Biayenda has played in Europe and Central Africa and has worked with Les Tambours de Brazza and others. He and Delbecq initially performed and recorded when Delbecq was on tour in 1994.
Avenel and Biayenda – who uses two snares, two gourds and an ankle shaker as well as conventional drums – establish a dynamic rhythmic surface for Delbecq’s ruminative keyboard passages. A fine example is opening track, “Ando,” where Delbecq shapes an introspective course which gradually expands as he adds expressive notes which build up to a brisk enthusiasm. On this and other material, Delbecq’s scales are accentuated by the rhythm team’s percussive inflections which stress an animating beat.
A slight classical inspiration sheens through the sublime “Letter to György L,” written for Ligeti. Delbecq showcases soulful phrasing which purposely pulses with sentiment. The elegiac mood has a lasting allure that lingers even after Biayenda’s final percussive notes fade out.
The album’s title, The Sixth Jump, signifies a particularly intense period in Delbecq’s life which ended at the sixth cycle of seven years (i.e., during his early 40s). When Delbecq began to conceive music for his newly formed trio certain compositions mirrored that turbulent and reflective time. The subdued but dramatic “Le Sixième Saut,” which utilizes the sound of shakers and running water, suggests that transformative timeframe. The understated piece is discreet but restive, muted but nevertheless uneasy.
Delbecq’s modernist mannerism is prevalent throughout the 51-minute, ten-track record, however it is most prominent on three cuts which include remix efforts by Steve Argüelles, who has teamed up with Delbecq on various projects over the previous two decades. “Poursuite/Drum Page” has a reverb-laced, percussive outro. Delbecq’s melancholy solo tune, “Piano Page,” features overdubbed keyboards with an insinuating bottom end tweaked by Argüelles. The concluding cut, “Pointe de la Courte Dune/Bass Page,” is highlighted by a repetitive groove, Avenel’s occasional employment of arco and Biayenda’s characteristically intricate rhythms. The piece finishes with a bass/percussion duet where Biayenda’s percussion – courtesy of Argüelles’ post-production – seems to echo from a deep well.
The record is nicely engineered and mixed by Etienne Bultingaire, who has a good ear for recording the piano where details, space and depth are equally represented. The drums and bass are also given acoustic strength which enriches the moments when those instruments are in the forefront.
2. Poursuite/Drum Page
3. Letter to György L.
5. Piano Page
7. Le Même Jour
9. Le Sixième Saut
10. Pointe de la Courte Dune/Bass Page
— Doug Simpson