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Francois Carrier: Travelling Lights

Jazz can use as many Francois Carriers as it can get: youngish free-thinkers who’ve absorbed the verity of what came before them without being hamstrung by it. Carrier is a thoughtful, one might even say “cool” alto saxophonist. To me, he occasionally sounds like Paul Desmond being channeled by Steve Coleman, though I hesitate to lay an “influence” rap on him. He’s his own man.

Play is an assembly of tracks recorded live by Carrier’s trio while on a 2000 tour of Canada. Six of the eight tracks are fully improvised; two more are Carrier originals. The band (Pierre Cote, bass, Michel Lambert, drums) is a smooth operating, dynamically prescient outfit. Cote and Lambert are quiet cookers. Cote’s lines are nicely elastic; Lambert excites without overwhelming, space- and volume-wise. Carrier knows how to build a solo and when to bring it down. Combined, they comprise a first-class free-jazz trio. Their work here is filled with dynamic and textural peaks and valleys. While I might wish the peaks were a little higher, taken as a whole, the landscape is quite attractive.

Travelling Lights is made up almost entirely of valleys-but, as you would expect, given the personnel, they’re some pretty impressive valleys. The album teams Carrier and Lambert with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Gary Peacock. You’d expect Carrier to be at least somewhat deferential to legends like Bley and Peacock, and indeed, it often seems as if the older men set the music’s agenda. Both Bley and Peacock need to be heard to be most effective-that means, keep the volume down, guys, which Carrier and Lambert have no trouble doing. The album’s eight pieces (each credited to a single group member, but, it seems, fully improvised) are “inspired” by geographic entities: “Americas,” “Oceania,” “Europe”-you get the drift. The conceit results in a cliche here and there: something sounding like a Native American shaker on “Americas,” for example; Varese-ian percussion and a studied avoidance of a tonal center on “Europe.” On the other hand, if you didn’t know the name of the track, it probably wouldn’t matter. Bley and Peacock keep the intensity level at a low simmer, but that’s hardly a problem-after all, subtlety is their game. Carrier and Lambert get along well with the older guys, though Lambert seems set so far back in the mix it’s like he’s in a different room. The entire record has a bit of a meandering, first-contact vibe. It does have beautiful moments, however. I’ll jump at any chance I get to hear Bley and Peacock together, and it’s an even bigger treat to hear them alongside a fresh voice like Carrier’s.

Originally Published