François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin

The Russia Concerts Volume 1/The Russia Concerts Volume 2
FMR CD 367/FMR CD 381

Consciously peripatetic , as most committed improvisers of his generation have to be, Montreal-based alto saxophonist François Carrier is more likely to be playing at a festival in Nepal than Napanee or gigging steadily in London (England) rather than London (Ontario). Baldy titled, The Russian Concerts capture ardent performances from three different federation dates. Carrier’s accompanists are his long-time foil, drummer Michel Lambert, a fellow Montrealer, who has his own career as composer/performer and St. Petersburg pianist Alexey Lpain, who has previously recorded with the two Canadians as well as locals such as reedist Alexey Kruglov and drummer Oleg Yudanov as well as German saxophonist Matthias Schubert and British percussionist Roger Turner. The performances are from a four-day series of concerts at the DOM Cultural Centre and Jewish Cultural Center, which are both in Moscow; plus St. Petersburg’s Experimental Sound Gallery and JFC Jazz Club. Each set has a distinctive spatial impetus and rhythmic feel about it, depending on the location.

The three lengthy tracks which make up the “DOM” suite for instance, demonstrate the saxophonist’s wide-bore multiphonic skills. Soaring flutter-tonguing, often in tenor-saxophone-like pitch, constantly refresh the music, with vibrating melisma and swelling glossolalia used to its best advantage. Carrier’s Québécois emotionalism is augmented by Lapin’s swirling cadenzas. Sophisticated enough to break up the time as he plays, the result suggests a melding of McCoy Tyner and Peter Tchaikovsky with modal attributes pressing up against romantic glissandi. For his part Lambert maintains the improvisation’s linear flow with pops, crackles and crunches. Always in control, the pianist creates one near-climax on “Dom I” with florid, harpsichord-like pulses; but these are quickly shredded by the saxophonist’s aviary, irregularly oscillated cries. Taking the program through Boppish asides the pianist’s expressive cascades eventually reach common ground with Carrier’s textural smears that together straighten into a gratifying finale, presaged by Lambert’s martial pumps.

At the JFC Jazz Club four days later, the performance is even tougher and more tensile. Lambert gets a chance to demonstrate his talent in backbeat coloration, but by the time “JFC II” comes along Carrier’s spindly slurs, spetrofluctuation and smears take centre stage. While Lapin’s percussive key clipping regularizes the beat, the reedist colors the result with clown-horn-like squeezes and rugged snorts until forcing out a blowsy finale.

Earlier performances introduce other approaches. In this context, for example, the three tracks recorded at the Experimental Sound Gallery include stretches of balladic melodiousness from floating saxophone lines and sparkling single-note piano; although the gentling patterns are soon overturned by paroxysms of volcanic improvisations. Even Lapin’s initial empathetic pulse is soon boiling with key clips, swirls and pressurized patterns as the saxophonist growing reed intensity is expressed by swallowed squeals, overblowing and nods to Tranesque sheets of sound. Decisively, the mini-suite finally reaffirms its moderato beginnings with the episodic textures from all three players impressively working into each others’ sound field.

“JCC” I to IV, which begin on Volume 1 and conclude on Volume 2, reflect variations of the trio’s improvisatory approaches. Lapin is most prominent here, extracting affecting bottom-board echoes on the first track and treating his solo on “JCC III” with a panache that appears to draw equally on the dynamics of Cecil Taylor and the formalism of Vladimir Horowitz. In both cases though, his fully flavored cadenzas draw arousing responses in the form of pressurized slurs and staccato intensity from the reedist. This unique will-o-wisp timbre placement is brought to its full flowering on the final “JCC” track where backed by Lambert paradiddles, the other two appear to be soloing at the same time. Appropriately enough the ending is cemented as Carrier leaks unaccented air from the goose neck and body tube of his horn.

Characteristically exciting and almost exhausting in equal measures, this Eastern European expedition was obviously productive for the Canadians and their Russian colleague.

—Ken Waxman