Portraits are a fascinating form in painting and fiction. Someone's presence and personality can be conjured with a mere sketch or with an abundance of detail, while the inner world and sensitivity of the artist is demonstrated by what he chooses to observe. Music is often used as a medium for self portrait; what if it could also convey the personalities of others?
Portraits is an answer to that question, through the lens of Paris born and New York based drummer and composer Guilhem Flouzat. This sophomore album comes five years after his first release, One Way...Or Another, hailed by a French critic as "the work of a musical architect to which you can listen again and again". In five years he built a brilliant and steadfast musical family, with mentors such as Eric Harland, Ben Wendel and Dan Weiss. He has played and recorded with the likes of Steve Wilson, Lionel Loueke, Gilad Hekselman and Dave Liebman, honing a musical language expressive and unique, somewhere between the fire of the New York scene and the introspective lyricism of French composer Francis Poulenc.
When the opportunity came to join Sunnyside for his second album as a leader, Flouzat chose to honor his musical family, working for two years on a gallery of musical portraits, a thrilling aesthetic challenge for a young composer. Rather than dedicating finished pieces after the fact, he organized the writing process around his subjects: their musical influences and writing styles, favored harmonies and even personality traits were used in the making of the compositions. The process owes a great deal to sampling and impressionism, with all the tools of traditional composing: motifs, inversion, augmentation... The culmination of the project, however, was to invite the musicians, all of them part of the process from the start, to interpret their own songs. Improvisation completed the portrait, allowing for a new meaning with each performance.
Flouzat curated a series of nine songs with five different line ups, creating a unique gallery over the course of two studio days. More than just sidemen, the musicians are close friends of Flouzat, and a written portrait accompanies each song.
The opening composition, "Ben's Song," aims at conveying the urgency and infectious lyricism of Ben Wendel, who was already present on Flouzat's previous album. In "Where We Should Go", the subtle portrayal of a newborn love, vocalist Becca Stevens delivers a stunning performance of lyrics written by the leader himself. "Underachiever" is a gently ironic nod to young lion Adam Larson, an odd meter tour de force morphing into a hypnotic trio tune. "At This Juncture In Time" uses the haiku metric form, contrapuntal lines and rich modulations dear to altoist Jay Rattman to portray him. The one self-portrait of the album, the ethereal lullabye "A Dream" features interplay between Becca Stevens and the band that reaches telepathic heights. "Sleepwalk" is a brooding landscape designed for flautist Anna Webber, while "Truce" inverts one of pianist Laurent Coq's own compositions to honor his influence on Flouzat's music. The album ends with tributes to the two other members of the rhythm section, Can Olgun on the through-composed "What's Up Yourself", and bassist Desmond White on the songlike "Knight".
Portraits is at once invigorating and evocative, a compositional feast steeped in many art forms. Guilhem Flouzat's versatile playing is always at the service of a broader musical vision; the trust and emotional bond between the musicians is on display throughout. Led by rising stars Ben Wendel and Becca Stevens, the portraits' subjects add another dimension to this artistic statement of uncommon strength.
released October 2, 2015
Becca Stevens - voice (2 & 9)
Ben Wendel - tenor sax (except 3)
Jay Rattman - alto sax (4, 6 & 8)
Anna Webber - tenor sax & flute (4, 6 & 8)
Laurent Coq - piano (2, 5, 7 & 9)
Can Olgun - piano (1, 3, 4, 6 & 8)
Desmond White - bass
Guilhem Flouzat - drums