Mar 18 2013
This is music in motion. This is music that flows with grace, whether expressing a calm nature or something more on the wild side. Yokai, the excellent release by drummer Anne Paceo, makes its mark by establishing a lovely fluidity despite having many different parts in play.
The well-traveled Paceo, via a history of miles logged and artist collaborations from a disparate array of backgrounds, deftly finds a way to allow various aspects of these influences to inform this music without ever letting any single one assert dominance over any other. As a result, there is something refreshingly unique about this music… it exists in its own sphere, and that likely has a lot to do with how its able to maintain its fluid motion throughout the length of the recording.
Your album personnel: Anne Paceo (drums, vocal), Pierre Perchaud (guitar), Stephane Kerecki (double bass), Antonin-Tri Hoang (alto sax, bass clarinet), and Leonardo Montana (piano).
There is an element of dance in much of this music. The thing of it is, so often an ensemble falls into the trap of simplifying the music to focus on grooves to attain this. However, here, Paceo throws crosscurrents of rhythms and harmonic textures across the expanse of the tunes while weaving them all together in a way that elicits an impulse of movement. This is not simple music. It is simple to connect with. Paceo’s ensemble makes it so easy.
There are some lovely melodic constructions here. The album opens with “Shedwagon,” Parts 1 & 2, and though the driving force of these songs is the ebullient cadence that dares the listener to sit still, it’s the opening statements of melody which invites the listener to step right up and stick around for the show.
An infectious swing is absolutely buoyant, harmonies buffeting the melody upward. Perchaud has a great solo on guitar, fiery and warm. When Hoang mirrors the path on sax, it just adds to how catchy this wildly celebratory song is.
The use of contrast is particularly effective. There’s the somber melody of title-track “Yokai” set against a chipper rhythmic tapestry and, also, the contrast between the ocean-deep bass clarinet, brightly shining piano, gliding guitar notes, and soulful groove on “Little Bouddha,” and the transition from the solo percussion of “Talking Drums” to the heavily melodic “Toutes les fées étaient là,” with its nifty turns of phrase on sax, and then, later, some wonderful interplay between Hoang’s bass clarinet and Montana’s piano lines. Moments that absolutely transfix.
“Little Bouddha” is arguably the most intriguing song on the album. It exudes a luxuriant sway, bending notes held for long enticing moments long past when one would expect them to end. It creates music that is both ambient and full of the spark of life. Perchaud’s guitar mimics the pattern of raindrops. Hoang’s sax trills and glides.
“When the Sun Rises” has a mournful tone and a meditative yearning. There is something both sad and hopeful about this music. Perchaud’s guitar enters with some real heat, adding fire to the melody. When the sound recedes, Kerecki’s bass slides into the vacuum. Kerecki takes his time to make his point, choosing to be succinct and interesting rather than trying to leave no note unsaid. The tune ends with Kerecki up front, leading the ensemble into an atmospheric fade-out.
“Smile” begins with chant and a solo piano, soft and beautiful. It marks Paceo’s sole vocal track on this album. Full of uplifting messages, it would be easy to take a cynical view of this song, but it fits so soothingly into the fabric of the album… an album which is terribly uplifting music. It only makes sense that some of the message would be vocalized. “Lulea” begins with much the same airy serenity where “Smile” left off, with Hoang offering quiet bursts of notes on sax while Montana’s piano whispers in its ear. It’s a duo performance for about two-thirds of the song. Then the pace and volume pick up just as the ensemble joins in for the big finale.
“Crunch” accomplishes several costume changes within the span of its notes. It opens with Montana and Paceo contributing some relaxed piano and brush-work, but then picks up the pace after a pause. Kerecki’s bass brings a nice throaty bounce. Hoang’s sax states the melody brightly while Perchaud shades at its edges on guitar of a darker color, eventually rising up and utilizing brighter colors. Then, a tempo change to a nice stuttering cadence, led by piano, accentuated by sax, and driven home by drums.
The album ends with two tracks that range to the peaceful end of the spectrum. “In My Country” drifts in, hangs expectantly in the air. Piano and cymbals drive up the tension, but keep it at a simmer. Bass growls, and begins to loom. Guitar twangs. Sax cries forlornly. The wave of volume and tempo surges, but crashes down before it fully crests and builds more momentum. This leads calmly into “Entre Les Gouittes,” which begins with a seductive section on bass clarinet, accompanied by piano phrases and brush work by Paceo. The entire song drifts contentedly along. For such a rambunctious album, the peaceful ending has a sublime quality to it.
Every year, without exception, long after I’ve wrapped up the prior year’s Best Of list, a handful of albums come to my attention… either completely new to me or ones I’d not quite appreciated enough… that were released in that prior year, and which would have made my Best Of list had I taken notice at the time I was compiling it. Yokai is one of those albums. It’s too late to officially place it on my Best of 2012 list, but go ahead and consider it one of the top thirty albums of 2012. I sure do.
Released on the Laborie Jazz label.
Listen to more of the album on the artist’s Soundcloud page.
Jazz from the Paris, France scene.