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Michaël Attias: Échos la Nuit (Out of Your Head)

A review of the alto saxophonist's first solo album

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Michaël Attia, Échos la Nuit
The cover of Échos la Nuit by Michaël Attia

With a sound that gives off an after-hours feel and a command of his instrument that is both majestic and gritty, cultivated over a ballooning catalog, alto saxophonist Michaël Attias has long been a major player on the cutting-edge jazz scene. 2017’s superb Nerve Dance, credited to the Michaël Attias Quartet, manifested a ghostly aesthetic; he keeps up that ambience with his first solo album proper, which is something to marvel at. On Échos la Nuit, Attias assumes the role of multitasking wizard, improbably playing alto with his left hand and piano with the right. Meanwhile, he melds additional layers of sound into these minimalist improvisations, using reverberation from the room they were recorded in and “the sympathetic resonance of the piano strings set into vibration by the sound of the saxophone,” as he writes in the liner notes. The album is sui generis not just in its outside-the-box approach but also due to the fact that he pulled it off in one hour, with no overdubs.  

Attias proves a master of moods while delivering the sparsest of melodic passages on the 12 cinematic pieces that make up Échos la Nuit. Beginning with “Echoes I: Mauve,” he establishes an unsettling quiet. Switching off from blowing slow-burning phrases and tickling/stabbing the keys to playing both instruments in unison, he creates gripping and hypnotic soundscapes that are strangely catchy and thick with tension, usually at the same time. That’s evidenced by the playfully eccentric, nursery rhyme-like weirdness of “Trinité” and “Wrong Notes,” the lurching blues of “Sea in the Dark,” and the circular breathing-fueled rumble of “Circles,” which finds Attias adding clattering percussion to the fray. Completely improvised, Échos la Nuit is a one-man show of the highest order.

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