There are, very roughly speaking, two soprano saxophone schools. The John Coltrane school contains a shriek, perfect for waking the dead. The Sidney Bechet school contains luminous fluidity and is one of the prettiest sounds in jazz. Emile Parisien is from the Bechet school. When he solos here, as on the freebop burner “Jojo,” ideas pour from him, tumble over one another, and make sweeping statements. He is a special practitioner of his instrument.
But Parisien’s interest in solos is secondary. Louise is all about the ensemble. Parisien’s intricately arranged forms set up intense, concise interactions among the players in his new transatlantic sextet. He also likes to aggregate their sonorities into rich, unusual blends. On a piece like pianist Roberto Negro’s “Il giorno della civetta,” saxophone, trumpet and guitar are welded into a resonant, powerful choir. When band members get individual moments, they shine. Trumpeter Theo Croker gravitates toward measured, rapt, incantatory soliloquies. Guitarist Manu Codija is edgier and louder. He often creatively disturbs a tune’s initial moody atmosphere. As for drummer Nasheet Waits, it only seems like he is on half of today’s jazz records. His big beat puts a wicked, snaky groove under Parisien’s refined concepts.
Louise is ambitious and surprising. But here is one caveat in the form of a question: Why is it that the best track on so many current jazz albums is the only cover? The answer must be that almost all jazz musicians today think they are composers, but most are much stronger as interpreters. The original compositions on Louise (by Parisien and three of his sidemen) are competent, even sophisticated, but less compelling than the playing within them. The only cover is memorable, a ferocious eight-minute transformation of “Madagascar” by Joe Zawinul, who really was a composer.