Jazz CD Reviews

Alexandra Grimal, Lee Konitz, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian – Owls Talk – Aparté

Quiet abstractions with one newcomer and three master musicians.

Published on December 4, 2012

Alexandra Grimal, Lee Konitz, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian – Owls Talk – Aparté

Alexandra Grimal, Lee Konitz, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian – Owls Talk – Aparté/Harmonia mundi  AP 037, 59:42 ****:

(Alexandra Grimal – tenor and soprano saxophone; Lee Konitz – alto saxophone; Gary Peacock – double bass; Paul Motian – drums)

On her new album, Owls Talk, French tenor and soprano saxophonist Alexandra Grimal (who now makes Brooklyn her home) and her associates (alto saxophonist Lee Konitz; bassist Gary Peacock; and the late drummer Paul Motian) have created music steeped in mostly quiet abstraction suffused with nuanced, oblique lyricism; longitudinal dynamics; and intuitive, expressionistic harmony. This hour-long, 15-track project was recorded in 2009 and issued in France in 2010 on the Hôte Marge label; Aparté (with a distribution deal through Harmonia mundi) has now made Owls Talk available to a wider audience.

Grimal’s previous records share an adventurous spirit, blending improvisational exploration with compositional elements, and here Grimal follows suit: in fact, it’s difficult to tell between the written and spontaneous sections, since everything has a balanced and independent texture. However, while the performances do not fit into mainstream jazz, the music is reasonably accessible: this is creative music with emotional depths and dimensions with a distinctly modern approach.

In her poetic liner notes (in French and English), Grimal avows this venture was both “an incredible encounter” and “a moment suspended in time.” Hearing the sounds from the twinned saxes and the bass and drums, Grimal’s assessment is correct. On opener, “Awake,” there is a tethered quality, where Konitz and Grimal trade colors and a moody understatement (in an interesting tactic, “Awake” is reprised, using a different configuration, later in the program); that feeling is heightened on Peacock’s brief, penetrating “Horus” (designated after the ancient Egyptian deity), where Grimal and Peacock craft an elegiac duet: the radiant sax/bass interaction is echoed on the melancholic two-tune medley “Petit Matin,” (which can be translated from the French as “the early hours,” as in after midnight and before dawn), and “Envol” (French for “flight”). Grimal’s painterly quartet number, “Breathing Through,” travels a similar pathway, where Motian is characteristically sensitive, and his flowing and layered brush strokes gently nudge his collaborators.

The material percolates to a luminous boil on a few cuts. The title track shows the foursome’s notable interplay, where loose improvisation reveals the lengthy experience of each player, the sort of immutable communication which only experts of long standing can offer: listening to Konitz and Grimal circle and commingle on their saxes is a striking circumstance. There is a slightly lighter tone during another Peacock tune, “If This Then…,” where Grimal’s supple soprano sax supplies witty phrasing, while Peacock and Motian dialogue and/or solo via a swift rhythmic progression. The quartet’s symbiosis also carries through the gripping “Mélodie Pour João,” which brings to mind the inventive framework which Peacock and Motian have brought to other projects they have done together. That seemingly effortless, decades-old give-and-take is heard on Peacock’s “December Green Wings,” (also known as “December Greenwings”) which dates back to Peacock’s 1977 album, December Poems, (that version was done as a duet with Jan Garbarek) and subsequently reappeared on 2001’s Amaryllis with Marilyn Crispell and Paul Motian. Since this is one of Peacock’s most personalized works, it definitely bears a repeat performance, and in particular it is wonderful to hear once again Motian and Peacock’s bass/drums relationship. Another piece which also goes back to the late seventies is Motian’s “Dance,” (from Motian’s album of the same name); originally cast as a trio outing with bassist David Izenzon and saxist Charles Brackeen. Motian redid it again on his 2000 record Fantasm, also in a trio milieu. This time, the arrangement gains a second sax, and more malleability and a richer space for chord development. The most swinging and most traditional cut is Konitz’s pleasing “Blows II,” a winning post-bopper with a temperate groove and swapping sax lines.

The recording’s sound quality is superb, clearly demonstrated in many instances. Peacock’s bass on “Petit Matin,” for example, is remarkable in its sympathetic subtlety. Grimal’s soaring soprano and elevated tenor are also astute, principally during Grimal’s introspective, intangible “A.H.” and her closing solo stretch, “Éclipse.” All the musicians converse flexibly and wholly with each other, but there is a sense of loss which permeates this material due to Motian’s passing in November, 2011. Throughout this disc, listeners can hear what is now gone, and how Motian was a sterling drummer and percussionist: throughout Owls Talk he frequently utilizes ticking percussive effects and cymbals, fashioning flusters of rhythmic interpretation and commentary, sometimes suggesting the beat and other times positioning a shifting foundation.

TrackList: Awake; Horus; Breathing Through; If This Then…; Owls Talk; Petit Matin/Envol; Moor; Mélodie Pour João; Blows II; December Green Wings; A.H.; Dance; Awake; Indicible; Éclipse.

—Doug Simpson




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