03 January 2010

Olivier Themines Trio
Miniatures

Olivier Themines Trio - Miniatures
Yolk, 2009

The musical form of the miniature might well be viewed in the same light as the short story in literature, or the film short in cinema – arguably more challenging to the creator of the work than longer forms, in that the ideas expressed must be presented in an extremely succinct manner, without the luxury of slow development. There is no time to spare, no space to waste – every note, every rest, each rhythmic form and variation must be precisely designed toward the creation of these small bits of carefully crafted music. Clarinetist Olivier Themines rises to the occasion brilliantly on Miniatures, presenting a programme that shines from first track to last, performed in the able company of Guillaume Hazebrouck (piano) and Kit Le Marec (vibraphone). All of the compositions save one are originals, the lone cover being a piece written by the extraordinary American pianist Ran Blake – ‘Glaciation’, here reduced from the original length of 0’55 to an even more concise 0’32.

Even considering the sparse instrumentation, the arrangements are drawn frugally, in some cases featuring only one or two instruments at any given moment – but nothing is left to chance, with every piece of the musical puzzle falling into place beautifully, creating thoughtful interplay driven by perfect execution. I know that Themines and Hazebrouck are members of the extended Yolk collectif of composers / performers / improvisers – Themines has worked with the Bruno Regnier Xtet, and Hazebrouck has his own sextet as well as performing in a duo with reed player Pierre-Yves Merel. I’m not familiar with the work of vibraphonist Kit Le Marec beyond this recording, but no doubt he, Themines and Hazebrouck keep busy – the music they offer here is on a level that belies the relaxed feel it projects, something that is definitely not casually produced.

There’s a palpable sense of the spirit of Érik Satie hovering over much of this recording – that’s not to say it’s derivative, only that it has an almost dreamlike quality, one that gently reanimates the memory echoes whose resonances have faded almost to silence in the subconscious of the listener. Also present is the very real influence of Jimmy Giuffre, , the American clarinetist / composer whose ground-breaking trio with Paul Bley (piano) and Steve Swallow (double-bass) brought a thoughtful stream of dynamic, forward-looking minimalism (not as much of a contradiction as it might seem at first glance) into the jazz scene of the 50s and 60s, proving that a drummerless ensemble could be both swinging and thought-provoking – one track on Miniatures is entitled ‘Giuffrian sketch’ as an hommage to the inspiration his work offers to Themines and his bandmates. (I highly recommend checking out some of Giuffre’s work, especially the double-disc hatOLOGY re-release of Emphasis and Flight, two albums recorded on a concert tour of Germany in 1961)
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The clarinet, piano and vibraphone spin out melodies that intertwine one moment, shifting focus and sending one instrument soaring into solo flight the next, with the others alternately offering up a quiet counterpoint or dropping out altogether, only to reappear moments later to make their own statements. Far from being flights of improvised fancy, however, I’m left with the feeling that each note is placed in the score precisely where Themines intends it to be – there are doubtless short bursts of improvisation within a framework, but for the most part this seems to be strictly composed music. There are moments when the jazz backgrounds of these players are evident, others when they sound as if they would be equally at home in a classical chamber ensemble – but throughout the recording, they perform with care, emotion and an enthusiasm that enlivens the delicate nature of this music. While Themines is the leader of record here, and the composer of all but one track on the disc, this is without question a cooperative effort – the three players work together seemingly without the fences that the human ego can throw up to block equal interaction. The instruments themselves seem perfect in reflecting the intentions of the composer – the timbre and attack of the piano and vibraphone allow them to play off each other naturally, with the voice of the clarinet sliding in and out as gracefully as the breath that drives it. A trio without bass or percussion to drive the rhythm might seem weak on paper, but Hazebrouck and Le Marec never allow the music to drag. The three instrumentalists draw from their respective palettes with sensitive consideration, the resulting musical image being a delicate, spare filigree that leaves the listener holding breath as the images form and dissipate. No one seems determined to enter into every single ‘conversation’, to vie for attention – these arrangements are about as perfect as they could be, especially given the chosen form, and the experience is a rich one.

Yolk has been a source of some of the most rewarding music I’ve come across over the past 3-4 years – the label, as well as the collectif itself, seems to encourage and nourish the creativity of its participants by allowing them apparent near-total control over their individual recordings. Only in such a freeing atmosphere could musicians and projects like this one thrive and come to such complete fruition. Click on the link below to go to the label’s website – there, you can check out all of their releases and artists, as well as listen to the occasional sample tracks from their releases. If you hear something that strikes your fancy, I urge you to order it from them – they accept PayPal (the safest way to pay online that I’ve found), their prices are much cheaper than one would expect to pay for products from Europe, and their shipping is fast and securely packed. In the world of creative musical endeavors, it's a combination that's hard to beat.

Yolk Records

1 comment:

Ashley the Great said...

Tres Gymnopédie (the first) was one of the first songs on piano I learned by ear so I have a soft spot for Satie, though Chopin is my favorite classical composer.

Distracted by the shoes of the first picture tho. Without the springs I would wear those every day. Nice.

And today I was listening to Elvis, Brigitte Bardot, Tom Petty, Henry Mancini and Nina Simone. Now you have an idea what *I* listen to : )

See you around and maybe on rainy days during the summer. If you see me on a gold scooter, wave!