September 2000

Benoit Delbecq 5
Pursuit
Songlines

On Pursuit, French pianist Benoit Delbecq abstractly arranges the various components of his quintet, and while the relationships between group members don't necessarily make sense close up, collectively each piece perfectly fits together. On the opener, "Strange Loop," for example, the different riffs played by Delbecq, clarinetists Michael Moore and Francois Houle and bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel, as well as the disjointed rhythms sketched out by drummer Steve Arguelles, seem utterly out of sync. That effect is heightened by the drummer's electronic manipulations of the reed instruments: he samples and reconfigures their lines, spitting them back out mid-improvisation. Between the softly articulated clarinet parts and the Paul Bley-like fragility of Delbecq's playing, however, the piece hangs in beautiful suspension as the various lines ultimately seem to caress one another in ballet-like gestures.
The addition of guitarist Marc Ducret only adds to the delicate sense of clutter on "u-turn," where impatient string scraping plays nicely against the rhythm section's off-kilter groove and some high-pitched harmonics from Houle. "A Lack of Dreams"'s Ornette-ish horn melody-Moore's alto sax playing is particularly lovely-creates an engrossing contrast with the soft-edged but kinetic attack of the rhythm section, which features Delbecq damping strings inside the piano, Arguelles meting out a circular rumble of quasi-gamelan swirls and Avenel quietly sneaking in between. There's an inescapable chamber quality to the whole affair, but Delbecq's carefully mapped out oppositions transcend the music's rarefied air.

Originally published in September 2000
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