François Lana’s “Cathédrale”

10 - Lana - Cathedrale

CATHEDRALE / LANA-IANNONE-BURGOYNE: Chaos Momentum. Cathédrale. LANA: Hillness (Tribute to Andrew). Der Turm. Divertissement. Black Socks, No Sugar. Weird Stuff. Nocturne / François Lana, pno; Fabien Iannone, bs; Phelan Bourgoyne, dm / Leo Records CD LR 884

François Lana is a French modern jazz pianist who has been working with this trio format for some time. According to the promo sheet for this release—but not in the liner notes of the CD—“each piece is inspired by a different jazz great, be it Thelonious Monk, Andrew Hill, Paul Bley, etc.,” but “this is not the music by the jazz colossi, it’s rather that their music” inspired them to “catch the spirit of the music rather than the notes.” According to the notes, Paul Bley inspired Divertissement, Herbie Nichols Der Turm and Andrew Hill inspired Hillness.

Taken on its own merits, however, the music contained herein is archetypal free jazz: an amorphous, hard-to-grasp pulse, with the drummer consciously working against rather than with the rhythm of the piano and bass, and the pianist playing any manner of freely inspired licks and chords while the bass works its way behind it. One feature that I found interesting was that Lana’s piano has a particularly bright sound, almost like a church basement upright or a spinet, which I found interesting. The opening track, Chaos Momentum, certainly lives up to its name, though there are moments of repose towards the end. This and the closing track, Cathédrale, were written by all three members of the group, while the remaining tracks were written by Lana.

I would guess that Hillness was inspired by Monk; it clearly sounds like a Monk tune, with its odd but not too outré harmonies and “Monkish” rhythm, yet in the booklet it says “for Andrew,” which I would assume is Andrew Hill. Lana comes as close to sounding like Monk himself as any pianist, American or foreign, I’ve ever heard, and this composition is wonderfully composed and laid out, showing that Lana can also think and play “inside” jazz when he wants to. In the booklet, Lana writes (in French, here translated):

Music is spirituality.
To surrender to it makes it possible to experience a deep feeling of truth. It then soothes, for a moment, the fundamental anxiety that inhabits us.

To my ears, the following selection, Der Turm, also has a Monk-like feel though the tempo is much faster. It is an excellent piece which is taken apart in the middle section before being reassembled for the finale. By contrast, Divertissement is a slow piece, a ballad in tempo but too unusual in form and structure to be defined as such. Here, the members of the trio really listen to one another and follow each other’s impulses with alacrity. Lana mostly ruminates here, often but not always finding really interesting and lyrical ways of continuing the musical discourse.

Black Socks, No Sugar opens with a loping, somewhat awkward bass lick which is then picked up by the piano in the bass line as the drums enter behind them and Lana’s right hand plays very high-lying chordal interjections. The tempo slowly and slightly increases as the odd, slightly menacing minor-key lick continues and then disappears as the trio starts to swing, though it continually returns as a sort of dark-sounding leitmotif. A very strange piece, which at the 2:38 mark suddenly shifts in rhythmic accents, then slows down to a crawl before the solo bass enters and the tempo picks up again.

Once again, the designated honoree of Weird Stuff doesn’t match the aural connection. This piece sounds, to my ears, exactly like a Herbie Nichols piece (for those of you hip enough to know Nichols’ marvelous Bartók-inspired music), yet the notes claim that it was Der Turm that was inspired by Nichols, giving no designation to this piece at all. But if this doesn’t sound like a performance by the Herbie Nichols Project, at least until the drum solo that temporarily drives the tempo into double time, I’ll eat the CD.

Nocturne is a really strange piece, opening with Lana playing repeated upper-register D-flats, before moving into a sort of medium tempo with drummer Bourgoyne playing an odd sort of shuffle beat under the piano (now playing a repeated chord) and bass. Somehow or other, the trio has also managed to make this piece sound as if there is some extra, other-worldly ambience going on in the background. And then, suddenly, at the 2:48 mark it changes to a sort of 12/8 for a while. I really liked this one a lot for its utter originality.

The album’s closer, Cathédrale, has an ominous ostinato drum pattern that propels the stark, dark music in the direction of atonality. Lana’s piano is so “wiry” here that it almost sounds like a clavichord or a “harpsipiano.” Yet it’s more of an ambient piece than one that really develops. The booklet tells us that its working title was Half Speed.

This is an excellent and eclectic album that will catch your attention and hold it throughout the entire program. Not a single piece is either too hard to grasp (if you have a musical mind) nor uninteresting. Lana has produced a truly great CD here, which I highly recommend.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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