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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Kartet - Grand Laps [Songlines - 2014]

Kartet is a Parisian quartet with a long history of live performance and a discography including several albums of dense, cerebral albums of highly composed and technical jazz.

The melodies on "Grand Laps" are about as unpredictable, labyrinthine and complex as possible, undoubtedly the product of composers and musicians pushing themselves into uncharted realms of illogic in which no player could feel comfortable.  There's a disciplined and practiced feel to all of the music, suggesting the musicians hold the view that these odd ideas could only be allowed to properly their meaning if executed with deft precision, and thought given to where the accents must be placed, even within the strangest structures.  It's a more subtlety oriented and dynamic form of technical music than a lot of the musicianship driven metal these days.

I've had similar moments listening to Ornette Coleman or Eric Dolphy as I do with this album, feeling flabbergasted as an impossibly bizarre 13 bar figure begins to repeat for the second time, thinking first "how could that melody have been composed, and not improvised...?" and next "THAT is the head melody!?".  This album doesn't exactly have head melodies, eschewing classic structure, and being generally less improvisatory than any hard bop or 60's jazz, opting instead to pack a lot of complex parts within a shorter span. 

Like Dolphy and Coleman, however, Kartet toys with the verbatim repetition of meandering, oddly structured sections, thankfully allowing their details to be more easily processed, in my case.  That said, this is most definitely an album you'll have to play several times to get much out of.  The flipside to this is that nothing on the album will ever be fully processed, and thus couldn't ever become boring.

The smoky smooth tones of the players' instruments add a lot of expression and sweet musicality to the openly daunting sensibilities of the compositions.  It might also be said that the musicians have a preference for oddness, particular in the rhythmic sense, but not abrasion or dissonance.  The first track "XY" begins as a gamelan-esque polyrhythm and droning chime-like piano, but atop this, a wistful, descending saxophone lead is placed, which wouldn't likely offend many ears.

By the 2nd tune, titled "X", we get a taste of the album's wantonly disorienting side, starting with a saxophone melody containing so many drastic leaps in pitch I doubt anyone could associate it with a chord or scale, and solos that increase the density of notes to shredding levels.  Pieces like this could be described as musical descriptions of anxiety or hurry, and give the listener few examples of satisfying symmetry or resolution.  The slower section near the end of the track is inexplicable enough that it could hardly be said to be less disorienting.

Some will certainly be irritated by the band's constant refusal to meet expectations or provide the loungey flow and atmosphere of jazz.  Kartet knowingly plays with these ideas, particularly in a track called "You Dig", which takes traditional jazz ballad piano chords and spaces them at odd intervals, sometimes with uncomfortable silence between.  Dancing the tempo up and down, spidery drum files from the drummer succeed in extrapolating any conventional aspects of the structure into the equivalent of a fractured mirror.  It's simply not music that exudes bliss or relaxation, instead seeming nervous, and equally suspicious of both beauty and ugliness.  At its best, the band fully draws me into a groove I would not have thought existed.

Worthy of note is the aggressive, crystal clear 'pluck' of Hubert Dupont's impressively dextrous string bass playing.  With constant note-heavy runs up and down the scale, he may actually be the most active member of the band, and runs completely contrary to every stereotype of his instrument.  As many notes as he plays, there is no rattle or string noise, it's all perfectly smooth.

Though it will undoubtedly be infuriating for some, Kartet's "Grand Laps" is a marvellously deep record, and about the most perfect brain food any fan of technical music could want.  Considering the extreme density of the music, this hour long album contains a massive amount of material.  This is also further evidence that Song Lines is a truly remarkable label, as this is just one of a string of recent releases to rank among the best jazz I've ever heard in my life, also including Michael Blake's "In the Grand Scheme of Things" and Peter Epstein Quartet's "Polarities".

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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