After its Classic Jazz and Swing Era heyday, the clarinet was basically left out in the cold during the bop revolution and its subsequent 'modernistic' offshoots, including the New Thing. But after years spent in the doghouse, it would find a new lease on life at the dawning of the postmodern era. Nowadays, clarinets of all sizes enjoy broad acceptance in the wider realm of improvised music, while finding ways back into more mainstream jazz practices, mostly as doubles for saxophonists.
The renewed interest in the proverbial licorice stick also stems from a handful of European musicians who have carried the instrument to the forefront of today's creative music. Two names that come to mind here are Michel Portal and Louis Sclavis. If one were asked to draw up a list of current-day clarinet specialists, the leader of this recent trio recording issued on the Not Two label need be included. A triple threat on bass, Bb and Eb clarinets (the latter not heard on this album), Christophe Rocher is part of a dynamic music community working out of Brest, a seaside port town on the French Atlantic coast. In recent years, his activities have expanded geographically thanks to the Bridge, an intercontinental touring project involving American and French improvisers.
This arrangement opened the door for him to collaborate with the stateside bass-drum team of Joe Fonda and Harvey Sorgen, both of whom provide impeccable backing for the reedist. In a little over an hour, the trio deftly lays down a dozen tracks that run a wide range of moods and occasional grooves ranging from the aggressive to the pensive, some tracks weaving both together in fresh and exciting ways. What's more, the clarinetist has a very focused tone in quiet and virtuosic passages alike, very much in keeping with the French school of playing, but he can go for the jugular with overtone squeals and conjure all sorts of extended techniques at the drop of a hat.
In almost equal proportions, the band tackles seven tunes, four by Fonda, two from Rocher and a cover of O. C's "Broken Shadows", inserting five group improvs along the way. The concise nature of the pieces (the lone exception being "Song for my Mother" at over 11 minutes) help greatly in holding the listener's interest. Both that and the resourcefulness of the musicians (technical and purely musical) are definite assets that contribute to the overall success of this outing. And when there are no lags in the music or that the listener's interest never ebbs, that is surely a good sign.
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