In 2009, Michel El-Malem brought together in the studio three musicians firmly rooted in the European jazz scene to record First Step, the “first step” of a formation that today includes Marc Copland. The latter blends into this group, which has gained in maturity, and brings its characteristic harmonic lights, favouring – and this is why this second album is aptly named – the nuances, colours and subtleties of a music that rediscovers itself with each listening.

The contribution of Copland, the great American pianist, is essential, but only makes sense because it is part of a dazzling collective game where everyone blossoms. However, the solos are no pretext for self-centred chatter. In terms of the arrangement of the music, care has been taken here to ensure that the enormous potential of this sum of personalities is always at the service of the development of the pieces. The relatively long pieces are carefully written with a focus on narrative over duration. Instead of “dotted lines” structures where personal interventions would get stuck between two presentations of the theme, vast spaces were preferred: soloists and accompanists bring their discourse to life and evolve through movements in which choruses are also a means of penetrating further into the music. All the more so as, given the flexible and inventive background, we often have to deal with collective improvisation underpinned by the melodic line thus magnified.

The rhythm section is in this respect a model of reactivity and inventiveness, with the bassist and drummer in constant dialogue with each other and with others. Both unpredictable and obvious, the bass lines anchor the music, create succulent syncopations or place the ensemble in weightlessness with a leitmotiv as haunting as it is calculated (“Death does not exist”). They are constantly reinvented by a Marc Buronfosse who is always astonishingly accurate and elegant in his sound. Luc Isenmann shows an exceptional sense of colour and dilutes his efficient drumming in an ocean of nuances. His work on the cymbals, which is remarkable in every respect, contributes to establishing a collective sound that is both light and deep.

This moving pulse welcomes Marc Copland’s usually nostalgic cerebral playing, but enhances its warmest side. Each of his interventions is a little sunshine in itself. The choruses radiate, the counterchants distil subtle lighting effects, like the rays of the setting sun highlighting the landscapes of unsuspected reliefs by accentuating the contrasts. The piano spouts out, spreads out, suspends time, recovers the phrases of one another on the fly, responds facetiously to the soloists… and ends up occupying a central place. Proof that the encounter was relevant. The place left to him is representative of the generosity of the group. Michael Felberbaum’s discreet but indispensable performance is also to be commended. His guitar, although it doesn’t fulfil the harmonic role played by Copland, gives the sound amplitude (the themes are often played in unison by the guitar and the saxophone), smoothness and, on “The Window”, an essential bite.

Michel El-Malem, in addition to having had the good taste to bring this team together and to compose this beautiful repertoire, plays on a large scale. On tenor, the sound is powerful, the phrasing robust. In the soprano, there is room for sensitivity and beautiful phrases, sinuous and melodic. During a parenthesis in absolute solo (“Here”), he reveals a surprising ability to build a captivating world, in all simplicity. Each of his measured interventions has the double interest of being fascinating and of serving the eminently collective music born from his pen and nourished by the talent of his fellow musicians.
We can get lost in the meanders of interactions, focus on the rich parts of each one, let ourselves be carried away by the bluish atmospheres or the warmth of the sound, but the elusive glitter of these Reflections has not finished flooding us with light.
Olivier Acosta

Source: – March 26, 2012 edition