“At 50, with five ECM CDs recorded over the past decade, Louis Sclavis has become an increasingly uncategorizable light in European jazz, devoting as much energy to seamless composition as to extended improvisation, breaking down rhythms so that swing or rock or a kind of static Morse-code repetition are options designed to stimulate specific emotional grounding, and exploring the often neglected legacy of French music; he is staking out his own precinct from which to pursue the jazz muse…His bass clarinet work in particular is the most consistently impressive since Eric Dolphy’s …He has yet to repeat himself in the ECM cycle.” - Gary Giddins, The Village Voice, May 2003
Louis Sclavis has brought many new impulses to contemporary jazz and improvisation with his uniquely conceived projects, concepts and bands. “Napoli’s Walls” – the name of both a new quartet and his new programme – is the latest in a distinguished line which has included such important projects as “L’Affrontement des Prétendants” and “Les Violences de Rameau”, both documented by ECM.
“Napoli’s Walls”, a lively meditation upon the town of Naples, is perceived not only through the filter of the city’s past and present but also offering pieces and inspirations triggered by the artwork of radical French painter/interventionist Ernest Pignon-Ernest (born in1942 in Nice).
In the liner notes, Christian Rentsch writes that Pignon-Ernest “has been leaving behind traces of himself since the 1960s - in Avignon and Grenoble, in Charleville, Anvers and Lyons, mostly in France, but also in Italy and elsewhere. Between 1987 and 1995 he worked in Naples, where he excavated the city's overlapping and interwoven stony layers of Orient and Occident, of myths and religions, with their secret rituals of life and death, their conflicting images of women and especially of destruction, suffering, perdition.”
The music and the perspectives are kaleidoscopic. Pignon’s works are site-specific: in Naples he affixed dozens of drawings and paintings at strategic points throughout the city. His strangely beautiful pieces, inspired by his experiences of the town and its history (particularly its musical history, which embraces all options from Gesualdo to opera to popular Neapolitan songs and street cries) provide Sclavis with new musical cues and clues. As Sclavis says: “The work of Ernest Pignon-Ernest is like the script of an opera. In it one can find emotion, drama, all the dynamics necessary for music. I let myself be swayed by his images…We play here through a present and a past that are closely layered upon each other, in trails of noises, words, imperatives.”
Rentsch: “Many of the things one can say about the art of Ernest Pignon-Ernest also apply to Louis Sclavis. Sclavis' music is likewise concerned with the disparateness and variety of traditions and cultures. He, too, turns his listeners into trail seekers; he, too, creates projection screens that capture his own aesthetic reflection.”
Sclavis has a gift for assembling special bands, each with its own personality, and the new group is one of the most resourceful to date. Only cellist Vincent Courtois (who also shines on Yves Robert’s recent ECM disc “In Touch”) is retained from the ”Prétendants” Quintet. New in the group, marking a rare departure from the all-French line-ups of previous Sclavis ensembles, is Danish guitarist Hasse Poulsen. Well known on the improvised music scene, Poulsen has won numerous awards in Scandinavia, and played extensively with Phil Minton, Louis Moholo, Evan Parker, Joëlle Leandre, and other key figures of the free music community.
Pocket trumpet player, singer and effects man Médéric Collignon is an important presence on the new disc. A genuine maverick, whose past has included work in funk, rap and salsa contexts as well as jazz, improvised music and contemporary composition, Collignon’s multi-idiomatic grasp makes him the perfect choice for conveying hints of the range of music and noises to be heard within the walls of Naples.
Sclavis himself is one of the most important and influential musicians in European jazz, recognised as a masterful jazz composer and arranger, and held by many critics to be the most important clarinettist in jazz today. He has won major awards for his work, including the Grand Prix National de la Musique (awarded by the French Ministry of Culture), the “Django d’Or”, and the MIDEM/British Jazz Award (for Best Foreign Artist), and has just been nominated for the prestigious European Jazz Prize (which fellow ECM artist Tomasz Stanko won last year).
His previous recordings on ECM are “Rouge” (recorded 1991), “Acoustic Quartet” (1993), “Les Violences de Rameau” (1995/96), “L’affrontement des prétendants” (1999), and “Dans la nuit – Music for the silent movie by Charles Vanel” (2000).