By Michael Ullman
The new record by soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien is intentionally, and satisfactorily, international.
Emile Parisien Sextet, Louise (ACT)
The only time I saw French soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien, he was playing a duet with accordionist Vincent Peirani. They couldn’t have sounded more French, or what I heard in French. They were playing a kind of hip Gallic folk music closer to Django Reinhardt’s heritage than to that of Charlie Parker. (It helped that they were in Montreal.) But Louise, The Parisian’s new record is intentionally, and satisfactorily, international. It stars three Americans: trumpeter Theo Croker, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Nasheet Waits. (Croker is the grandson of legendary trumpeter Doc Cheatham and Waits the son of another esteemed musician, drummer Freddie Waits.) Parisian and guitarist Manu Codjia are French while pianist Roberto Negro, now Parisian, was born in Turin, raised in Kinshasa, and studied in Chambéry before settling in Paris. Parisien wrote six of the album’s numbers; Among the exceptions is “Jungle Jig” by Manu Codjia, a raucous piece whose boppish lines frame the group improvisations energized by the drums playing of Nasheet Waits.
The session begins solemnly with a deep note in the bass of the piano taken up by the trumpet. This is the title cut, “Louise,“ which is dedicated to the sculptor Louise Bourgeois, whose creations of spiders, large and small, made her famous all over the world. There is nothing spooky about this mostly dark composition. We can hear the guitar a little, but the background remains almost motionless as Parisien utters his written melody: everything seems to float serenely in this introduction, whether it is played by the saxophone or when Croker takes it. on. Then the rhythm section kicks in and the two horns together play the spellbinding main melody. The improvisations that follow, by Croker and guitarist Codjia, maintain the unperturbed lyricism of the overture, except that there is a characteristic Parisian ending: the horns begin to repeat part of the theme with increasing intensity until that the part expires. He likes to finish things suddenly.
2018 recording of Theo Croker Star People Nation has been widely praised, and for good reason. His playing as a sideman here is also to be praised for his beautiful tone and for what I will call his tact, his ability to always make the right move. This is the sensitivity I hear in his subtle entry behind the Parisian solo on Joe Zawinul’s “Madagascar”, ” which was first recorded on Weather Report’s Night passage. The Parisian is a fervent admirer of Zawinul. In 2008, the saxophonist performed in a group called Syndicate, which was designed to preserve the legacy of the Austrian pianist, who died in Vienna in 2007. On their version of “Madagascar, ” the neat interweaving of verses from Parisien and Croker works well in the improvised introduction, with Croker, at one point, almost spitting out a low note. Then the piece gains strength and the familiar melody emerges. The fastest and craziest piece here is the Parisian’s neo-boppish line in “Jojo,” which is dedicated to German pianist Joachim Kühn. Parisien plays a solo of attractive fury and he remains an eloquent voice throughout. At one point, Croker suddenly takes the piece out of beat. The contrast is striking – and the gradual return of the original tempo is thrilling. Probably best known for his work on Don Cherry’s Eternal rhythm, and for his New York Impressions (on Impluse), Kühn, now 77, undoubtedly salutes such a beautiful tribute.
The writing of the Parisian is often melancholy, as in the melody of the first of the three parts of “Memento”, dedicated to the saxophonist’s mother. The first sounds we hear are sharp metallic bangs, I guess, from the pianist. Then Waits enters on brushes and with moderate cymbal strikes with Parisien playing his softly drooping melody. It’s a haunting piece, simple in design and yet it offers what seems to be a striking feature of Parisian writing – an intensity of coming together. The tune opens when guitarist Codjia does a solo. The second part of “Momento” first presents the negro’s solo piano. His memory is cheerful… Negro almost stops right before Waits walks in with a wacky beat and the band makes all kinds of squeaks, bangs, bumps and squeaks around him before the written melody emerges. Part III is more fervent, with an obsessively repeated chord. Croker growls threateningly – he interrupts her with a few written bars. It’s a dark sounding track. The record ends, however, with the swollen phrases from Croker’s softly meditative song “Prayer 4 Peace.”. “ Parisien and Croker sound like they were meant to play together. At Louise, the saxophonist has assembled a superb group that is both disciplined and free – and dedicated to preserving the composer’s deeply lyrical sound.
Michael ullman studied classical clarinet and was educated at Harvard, University of Chicago, and University of Michigan, where he earned a doctorate in English. Author or co-author of two books on jazz, he has written on jazz and classical music for the Atlantic monthly, New Republic, High fidelity, Stereophile, Boston phoenix, Boston Globe, and other places. His articles on Dickens, Joyce, Kipling and others have appeared in academic journals. For more than 20 years, he has written a bimonthly jazz column for Fanfare Magazine, for which he also criticizes classical music. At Tufts University, he mainly teaches modernist writers in the English department and the history of jazz and blues in the music department. He does not play the piano well.