Louis Sclavis Napoli's Walls Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Composer and saxophonist/clarinettist Sclavis with a suite inspired by artist Ernest...

Bill Tilland 2004

Inspiration for this new Sclavis disk came from the work of visual artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest, who spent eight years creating and attaching several hundred images to buildings throughout the city of Naples. While most so-called environmental artists (including graffitists) seem to be serving little more than their own ego needs, Pignon-Ernest's work is clearly cut from a different cloth, which is evident even from the small photographs incorporated into the booklet accompanying this CD.

He borrows from the representational art of antiquity, utilizing figures from Classical mythology and early Christian iconography, and he uses his source materials to evoke Naples' rich and tumultuous history, helping the viewer to connect with the emotional and spiritual strata of the city. Fittingly, Pignon-Ernest chose Naples for his project in part after hearing a French cultural documentary on Neapolitan music, and so with Sclavis responding musically to Pignon-Ernest's visual imagery -- which was in turn inspired by traditional music of the region -- the wheel comes full circle.

Like Pignon-Ernest, Sclavis employs a kind of psychic archeology to excavate the Neapolitan sensibility, studiously avoiding both historiography and post-modern pastiche. You won't hear any faithful renditions of traditional folksong on this CD, and very little in the way of gratuitous genre hopping. Instead, Sclavis creates his own variable synthesis of folksong, opera, jazz, popular music and even some beatbox percussion in the service of his vision.

He is assisted more than ably by members of his new group -- Vincent Courtois on cello and electronics, Mederic Collingnon on trumpet, voices, horn, percussion and electronics and Hasse Poulsen on guitar. Combine these instrumentalforces with Sclavis' own considerable prowess on clarinets and saxophones, and you have a musical aggregate that is literally ready for anything.

The graceful, unobtrusive use of electronics sometimes imparts a ghostly, surreal quality to the music, giving it qualities of dream, of elusive memory and on the opening track, "Colleur de nuit" (and elsewhere), a sense of foreboding. The use of octave dividers and other pitch control devices gives the quartet a surprisingly big sound at times without, one suspects, much need for conventional multi-tracking.

Collingnon is credited as the only vocalist, and if this is true, his vocal talents are impressive; a combination of Al Jarreau, Phil Minton, Pavarotti and an Italian sideshow barker. (His inspired glossolalia on the title track almost defies description.) He and Sclavis also make a lovely noise together on trumpet and clarinet, with Courtois' bowed cello frequently joining in as another contrapuntal voice. Courtois has an extraordinary range, pushing his instrumentquite comfortably into registers normally reserved for the viola and even violin.Poulsen's classical guitar chops are featured on "Les apparences", but when he switches to electric on other pieces, he can deliver a satisfying crunch.

Although Sclavis and company inhabit an expansive musical territory on this CD, nothing seems forced; nothing is out of place. Throughout, Sclavis manages to combine an impressive variety of styles, genres and influences, creating a nonpareil experience for the listener.

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