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Guilhem Flouzat: Portraits

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Perhaps it is the diminishing importance of the compact disc as a medium for music that has led so many record labels to provide minimal information with CDs. There is a backstory to Portraits, but the CD has no liner notes, so you have to go online to find it (unless you are a journalist and receive press releases). The nine tracks were conceived as portraits of musical friends who play on the session.

Fortunately it is not essential to know the concept behind a concept album. Strong music stands on its own. Guilhem Flouzat, a Parisian now based in New York, is a drummer who operates within an ensemble like a sophisticated composer, because he is one. His songs are clean, stark, asymmetrical forms, activated by his diverse, intelligent drum energy. Eight young players, none famous but all capable, are configured into five different lineups. They execute Flouzat’s ideas precisely, then inject their own fresh, intense commentary. They are saxophonists Ben Wendel, Anna Webber and Jay Rattman, pianists Laurent Coq and Can Olgun, bassist Desmond White and vocalist Becca Stevens.

“Ben’s Song” is a representative Flouzat structure. Wendel’s intermittent tenor saxophone calls and Olgun’s obsessively repeated piano figure create a tight matrix from which Wendel releases into a series of startling solo ascents and sideways slants. Flouzat likes to assign specific roles in the ensemble as independent lines that aggregate to composite designs. Then players are set free to make spontaneous (but concise) interactive discoveries, such as the rarefied duo that Stevens and Wendel make on “A Dream.”

“Where We Should Go” is a stream-of-consciousness love song rendered by Stevens’ elusive yet come-hither voice. “Sleepwalk” features Webber’s ethereal flute. Both musicians sound deeply embedded in these compositions, which is appropriate, since Flouzat wrote them as portraits of Stevens and Webber, respectively.

Originally Published