Michel Lambert: Le Passant

Drummer-composer Michel Lambert’s title piece is a through-composed work for chamber orchestra, leavened by the inclusion of four top-rank improvisers: violinist Malcolm Goldstein, bassist Dominic Duval, tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and Lambert himself. Lambert’s stated intention was not to blend the improvisers and orchestra. The piece is, rather, “about the meeting of two forces, the contact, but mostly the resulting energy.” His approach creates a music not unlike the free-est free jazz, whereupon a group of strong individuals play with-and-against each other (the orchestra being an equal member), with only the most tangential of relationships holding things together.

As anybody who’s seen a performance of a Cecil Taylor-led ensemble knows, such a strategy can result in transcendent music. Duval knows about such things, obviously, and he shines throughout, as does Eskelin. Goldstein is a monster. He does riveting work. The orchestra is dynamic and well-prepared, interpreting Lambert’s ingenious composition with grit and excitement. The second half of the album consists of free improvisations. These tracks are satisfying, yet there’s something about the orchestra functioning as a single living, breathing entity, set alongside the improvisers, that makes the first half special.