Life Between marks my very first meeting with the music of Angelica Sanchez, a pianist (doubling on Wurlitzer), composer and the consort of saxophonist Tony Malaby, the latter’s tasteful approach to a clever type of erudite interplay also featured here. The quintet is completed by guitarist Marc Ducret, double bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey. Sanchez’s writing tends to harmonic indeterminacy, permanent tonal centres practically absent or extremely blurred. Her itineraries on the keyboard, at all times informed by a sense of moderation that prevents the essential idea from going off course, are by some means redolent of certain moods of improvised jazz-rock of the 70’s (I’m especially thinking of an album called Jaco on the IAI label, a free quartet with then-puppies Pastorius and Pat Metheny aided by Bruce Ditmas and Paul Bley). Despite several touches of apparent contrapuntal turmoil themes are indubitably present, often stubbornly affirmed in between series of hardly committable-to-memory transitions, but the overall wisdom is explicated through self-directed restraint by the partakers, regardless of Ducret’s attempts to spice the whole with a few intrusions whose discordantly unkind temperament sounds perfectly complementary to the complex cuteness of the leader’s tunes. Gress and Rainey are evidently at ease in the generally not-too-nervous vibe, repeatedly taking centre stage almost unobserved to deliver the playing from any residue of schematic pachyderm-ism. To all intents and purposes, this is a well-designed record which definitely elicits gratification, although not really an innovative statement. But that’s not always a must.
Hufflignon is the result produced by a group led by Canadian saxophonist Peter Van Huffel and Belgian vocalist Sophie Tassignon flanked by trombonist Samuel Blaser and bassist Michael Bates. Van Huffel, in this instance on alto and soprano, is the owner of a sophisticated technique and a suavely faultless tone that Tassignon is all too eager to stimulate in scores including problematic dissonant lines that the couple approaches either in unison or in intertwining keenness. She doesn’t possess what one might define an immediately identifiable timbre, but is technically unyielding and, what’s best, tending to set the vocal parts at the service of the compositions instead of doing what the large part of jazz singers do, namely looking for sunny spots where worn out bebop trickery rapidly drowns the listener in thick tediousness. Blaser’s stout phrasing, in addition to his purposeful soloism, shifts the axis of the pieces towards more eccentric environments at times, while Bates’ bass is genuinely reactive to the changes in the general perspective, certifying the functionality of the quartet under any condition (never overly extreme, though). Except for a rendition of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Cum Dederit” which smells a bit of filling material (let me admit it – he’s not a composer I particularly love), the record reveals interesting manners for voice and reeds to work side by side in such a kind of framework. In spite of a not excessive degree of audacity in devising truly pioneering strategies, it constitutes a pretty convincing option against the abundance of rather irrelevant voice-based jazz recordings.