Vincent Peirani’s New Live Album Enigmatic But Fascinating

living being digipack 2CD neu

SWR NEW JAZZ MEETING 2013 / PEIRANI Cuba Si, Cuba No; Suite En V, Part IV; Choral; Some Monk; Mutinerie; Ballad; The Linden; Hypnotic; Is it G?; Throw it Away; Balkanski Čoček / Living Being Extended: Vincent Peirani, accordion; Mathias Eick, trumpet; Leïla Martial, vocal; Émile Parisien, soprano sax; Tony Paeleman, piano/Fender Rhodes piano; Julien Herne, electric bass; Yoann Serra, drums / SWR Jazzhaus JAH-458 [2 CDs] live, November 22-24, 2013, Karlsruhe, Tübingen & Mainz.

I have to admit up front that I was not previously aware of jazz accordionist Vincent Peirani or his group, Living Being, therefore I was unaware (at first) what “Living Being Extended” referred to until I read the promo sheet for this superb album. Apparently, Living Being is a quintet comprised of Peirani, Parisien, Paeleman, Herne and Serra. For these concerts he added trumpeter Eick and vocalist Martial, thus it is an “extended” version of this group.

In essence, Peirani is a jazz accordionist. The mere statement of this fact seems to place him in the lineage of Art van Damme and George Shearing (yes, that George Shearing; during his bebop years of the late 1940s, he played jazz accordion as well as piano), but Peirani eschews the usual linear mode of improvisation in lieu of a more diffuse method of playing. He somehow manages to retain the feel of French accordion music in his jazz, mixing in folk rhythms with a slight rock beat with a more diffuse sense of melodic-harmonic movement. In short, he plays modern jazz in a modern style, mostly tonal but also quite challenging in its layered rhythms and subtle use of color within the group.

In actuality the opening number, Cuba Si, Cuba No, is an anomaly in this set as a very uptempo and excitable piece. This is not Peirani’s style in most of the rest of the album, which is a sort of moody jazz with an underlying buzz cut of sound created by the according and the Fender Rhodes piano. Thus the second piece, Suite En V, Part IV is more in the vein of the majority of the music here, a slow-moving piece that nonetheless requires close listening so as not to miss the many subtleties going on. Here, for instance, trumpeter Eick plays in unison with the accordion, creating an amorphous melody in long lines. As I’ve said before in describing pieces like this, there is a certain debt to Charles Mingus, and the way Peirani and his musicians elongate the performance to a length of 11 minutes is slightly miraculous. Note, for instance, the introduction of an ostinato rhythm and the undulating buzz of the Fender Rhodes just before Peirani and soprano saxist Parisien double the tempo and take off into other realms. Eick plays a plaintive solo over the ostinato of Paeleman’s piano while Serra plays backbeats against the tide. Around the 8:30 mark, vocalist Martial comes in, singing wordless percussive obbligato, later switching to long lines of her own as Eick’s trumpet becomes busier and more agitated. A quick but telling key change upward at the 9:40 mark moves us into a more aigtated section, now with Eick playing an ostinato of his own beneath Parisien’s soprano sax solo. In this manner Peirani and his musicians create an almost hypnotic effect on the listener; this band is something like Chick Corea’s old Return to Forever group on acid.

It would be easy for an inattentive listener to hear this music as “ambient jazz,” but the level of complexity in each piece precludes this judgment for the serious jazz lover. That being said, Choral has a feeling much like the preceding number, except that here it is almost exclusively a showcase for what the leader can do on accordion. Here, Peirani almost manages to create a reverb effect onhis instrument through use of the bellows shake—a device, for those unfamiliar with schmaltz accordion playing, similar to that used by Myron Floren on the old Lawrence Welk Show when he played the “showstopping” tune Lady of Spain. The bellows shake gives the listener the effect that the sound is somehow going out of control yet still in control, like a singer who trills on every note. The difference is its use here as an artistic device. Peirani also creates some unusual effects using different stops and crushed chords (and also some sliding pitch drops—how he manages those I have no idea) in Some Monk, a tune in which the quirky melody is eventually joined by the electric piano and Martial’s wordless singing, all going together in a weird sort of unison. At 3:50 the whole piece seems to be flying in different directions, with accordion, trumpet, voice, soprano sax and electric piano tossing snippets of music up in the air to see where they might land. As it so happens, they manage to fall to earth together, just in time for a jolly but gentle solo from Paeleman with Serra excitedly jumping in backbeats all over the snare drum. As I say, the only thing that sems to keep Peirani’s music from being really avant-garde is its basis in tonality and use of regular scale work in its melodic construction. Otherwise, it verges on “outside jazz” most of the time, and in this particular number this is evident in Parisien’s rather wild soprano solo, eventually brought back to its C major base by the insistent singing and playing of Martial, Eick and Paeleman. Peirani plays a happy little French-sounding lick on the accordion while the others keep trying to disrupt the proceedings with wild licks—but Peirani wins out, his happy little accordion lick staying on til the very end.

Mutinerie is one of those pieces with a “slithery” melodic structure of the type I feel is influenced by Ornette Coleman. The tonal base here, however, has a slightly Eastern sound to it, and Martial’s eerie vocal effects heighten its strangeness. Eick and Parisien play rising, rhythmically excitable licks in round-robin fashion, sometimes in “chase” style and sometimes in canonic imitation. By 4:25 the tempo has suddenly become rollicking and a bit wild, brought quickly back to earth by piano, bass and drums—with Peirani’s according playing weird alien sounds above this base, sometimes with Martial sounding like a Martian. At one point Peirani holds a note while Martial creates bizarre sounds by playign around the same notes with her vocal cords. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more!

Ballad begins with some soft “swiping” sounds in the left channel, followed by ambient Fender Rhodes sounds and Martial making equally soft, eerie sounds with reverb in the right channel. No actual music emerges until Martial begins holding some notes (I say “some notes” because they are fluid in pitch, not fixed, sliding downward chromatically as she sings them), followed by either a foreign language I could not identify or gibberish; eventually she sings into a reverb box, creating strange shards that break up and scatter to earth. She then takes up (or makes up) a melodic line, if one could call it that, of an indistinct nature, during which Periani enters on accordion, followed by bass and drums. I wasn’t entirely happy with the suggestion of a rock beat in this piece—my readers know what I think of rock music anyway (90% of it is “musical” garbage, and I detest the modern rock beat), but happily it veers more into a jazz feel when Eick takes over on trumpet. Peirani and Martial re-enter together at full volume, ramping up the emotional as well as the decibel level as Eick’s playing coalesces into a more conventional melodic structure (and the tonality coalesces in D major). At this point, and to the end of the piece, the band’s playing reminded me of Chick Corea’s “Return to Forever” group of the early ‘70s (the acoustic version of the band, anyway).

The Linden begins firmly in C major, with Eick playing the home tone while Martial sings around it in English, “I wake up in the sunrise,” but her English diction is so poor that I couldn’t make out the rest of the words. (You see, folks, it’s not just modern-day classical singers who have no diction; it’s also your pop and jazz singers, too.) The tempo picks up slightly as Paeleman enters on a conventional piano with bass in the background; Martial drops out temporarily, then returns with some intelligible lyrics, “I am walking down the sidewalk in rush hour, slow, and in the windows your reflection lingers still,” before slurring more of her words. But this is largley a showcase for Eick’s lyrical side, and he takes full advantage of the opportunity.

Hypnotic is built around a double-time minimalist lick played by Peirani with Paeleman backing him in thirds on the Fender Rhodes. Bass and drums eventually come in. The piece doesn’t go much of anywhere, despite a few slight key changes. I suppose this is its “hypnotic” effect. Eventually, at the 2:12 mark, Peirani begins improvising and here the piece picks up in interest, but we then return to the repetitive phrase, later with Martial singing long wordless lines over it, to the end.

Is it G?probably refers to the key, though it is in G-flat. This is a whimsical piece, fragmented in a way that reminds one of the “free jazz” of the 1960s, though it eventually moves into a funky beat (and remains, mostly, in G-glat).There are some wild passages in which Martial sings vocalese over Eick’s trumpet, then a fine soprano solo by Parisien (who seemed to have dropped out of sight in the previous two pieces) as the energy level continues to increase. Peirani plays staccato chords on one and three as the music continues; Martial and Eick again perform in longer unison lines above the fray before everyone falls away except Peirani, playing repetitive staccato phrases, with bass and drums. Eventually Martial scats her way through an excited chorus, followed by trumpet, soprano sax, accordion and electric piano playing in unison for an eight-bar break. Eventually the tempo halves, the Fender Rhodes (in a distorted sound setting) comes to dominate, and the rest of the band slithers in and around him with long-held notes. Then more tempo shifting in a way reminiscent of the Boswell Sisters, eventually reverting to the Fender Rhodes with bass and drums before we get the ride-out with the full band. This is one wild ride!

Throw it Away begins with some nifty bellows shakes from Peirani, playing by himself for a while, adding soft drones with his bass buttons, then switching over to downward arpeggiated runs and a chorded tune with an almost tango-like rhythm. This is where Peirani sounds most like a typical French accordionist, so to speak, playing what can be defined as a “musette”-type melody. (One almost expects to see a French “apache” in horizontal-striped shirt, bandana, beret and a Gauloise cigarette dangling from his lip as the music continues.) By contrast the final selection, Baltanski Čoček, sounds like a jazz frahlich with asymmetric beat, the band whipping up the jolly c minor tune, switching to the relative A major in the middle but then introducing a diminished chord in the break with Martial singing wordlessly above the fray. We then shift to B diminished, the music getting progressively more excited, with Parisien’s soprano sax simulating a klezmer clarinet. This wild ride to the finish line concludes Peirani’s set.

I cannot say enough good things about this live set; my only complaint is that, at a little over 92 minutes, the timing is a bit short for a 2-CD set. But this is certainly one of the finest jazz albums of the current year.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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