Soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien has been building a stellar reputation for himself in the European jazz community for the past decade, and his latest album might just be his best work yet. Louise is out this week via the Munich-based ACT Music and Vision label, and features a sextet composed of equal parts American and European musicians. Trumpeter Theo Croker, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Nasheet Waits make up the American half of the ensemble, while Parisien, guitarist Manu Codjia, and pianist Robert Negro represent the European portion. Despite the geographic separation, the ensemble is nothing if not locked in tight with one another, and sound like they are firing on all cylinders throughout the record.
In fact, Louise is an intricately composed record, and the group comes across as sounding much bigger than they actually are. The title track opens the album and consists primarily of a slow build. By the end of the tune, the group is full-throated and punching well above their weight. By the second song, “Madagascar,” we hear the trumpet and saxophone playing off one another while the others underpin their dialogue. The band starts to swing and the horns begin spitting out lines together. While they don’t sound like an old-school big band, they certainly produce a sound that is orchestrated and layered, almost danceable in its propulsive groove. Perhaps most surprising is the latter half of the tune, where the playing becomes almost fusion-like in its virtuosity. Codjia and Martin in particular nail a unison passage that is extremely impressive.
If compositional prowess and ensemble playing take center stage on Louise, it is worth noting that two players do seem to stand out and elevate this record from really good to great. The first is guitarist Manu Codjia. His electric tone, though smooth, adds just enough edge to the group’s overall sound to demand the listener’s attention. At times, he sounds like a more conventional Allan Holdsworth but at other times he’s reminiscent of Bill Frisell minus the twang. He’s particularly effective on “Memento Part I,” the first section of a trilogy. The song starts quite mellow and he provides a lot of texture with chords and effects. But as the tune builds towards a climax, he becomes the focus and provides a remarkable solo. Perhaps even more impressive is his work on “Il giorno della civetta.” A moody and atmospheric piece, Codjia opens by combining Frisell’s desolate atmospherics with what sounds like a version of Robert Fripp’s ambient Frippertronics, and returns mid-piece with another gorgeous solo.
Also rising above and beyond the call of duty is bassist Joe Martin. Parisien’s music moves through so many shades and colors, from almost conventional swing to avant-garde moments, that Martin is vital, as the glue that holds everything together. He provides old school walking lines on “Madagascar” and shifts gears into a Krautrock-ish ostinato for “Memento Part III.” Perhaps his best moment though, comes in the opening moments of “Memento Part I,” where he accompanies the horn lines, mirroring and expanding on their melodies. It is a beautiful piece of playing and when the group slides into a more conventional bit of late-night jazz, it is hard not to focus on Martin despite the fact that he’s just outlining the chord progression.
Make no mistake, everyone contributes to the triumph that is Louise. Emile Parisien has assembled a top-notch group and gives everyone a chance to shine. The music is both beautiful and swinging at times, while cacophonous and complex at others, but most of all it is utterly enthralling. One can only hope that despite the distances and obstacles involved, this group will come together again in the future and expand on this wonderful album.