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Out Twice
Jazz Weekly
Ken Waxman
Michel Lambert is part of a burgeoning group of Canadian improvisers who remain domiciled in the Great White North, but whose playing opportunities and connections are international. A short list of others who have found they don't have to make the trek to New York or London to be involved in satisfying music include Montrealers, saxophonist Jean Derome and guitarist René Lussier; Vancouverites, cellist Peggy Lee and drummer Dylan Van Der Schyft; plus Toronto saxophonist Glenn Hall.

Quebec City-born Lambert, as his CD title proclaims, is different still. In his Canadian and foreign playing opportunities he flits between intelligent modernism and outright avant-gardism, having worked in Canada with mainstreamers like bassist Dave Young and early outside-flirters like guitarist Sonny Greenwich and trumpeter Herbie Spanier.

The 11 tracks here are pure improvisations, based, with a couple of exceptions, on drawings by Lambert -- who is also visual artist -- which he brought with him for that reason to the studios. Out Twice is also memorable because these abstract visual concepts prod peerless playing not only from the band including arch-experimentalist bassist Barre Phillips, but also the group with more conventional pianist Milcho Leviev.

For the Los Angeles sessions with Leviev, this is more apparent on "Gone Done," where the offbeat lines spurs the pianist to begin chording deep in the lower register, and bassist John Giannelli -- an unheralded nightclub mainstreamer -- to screech out arco addenda as if manipulating a high-pitched viola. All this doesn't stop the Bulgarian-born pianist, who played memorably with trumpeter Don Ellis in the 1970s and Art Pepper in the 1980s, to use pedal pressure to shift the tune back to a foot tapper by the end, though.

"Tiré au Sort" is similar. Here, the rolls from the drummer, who first worked with Leviev in 1983, gets the other two musicians to abandon their airy Brubeckian first take on the piece for something a bit darker. Playing with the stop-and-start rhythm, the bassist produces a huge resonating sound, while the pianist keeps sneaking into offside tones, dipping into the bass clef for emphasis and then turning the melody into a sprightly, harmonized, semi-bop romp.

Longtime American expatriate Phillips, who was playing outside music with saxophonist Archie Shepp and drummer Stu Martin as long ago as the 1960s, is a more expected partner in experimentation. But these tracks, recorded in France, are no throwbacks to that era's free jazz either. Instead, aided and abetted by Avignon-born saxophonist and former physics student Lionel Garcin, the three musicians attain a comfortable concord between atonality and swing.

"Vitrail pour Herbie," [Stained Glass Window for Herbie] has enough of those qualities to honor the late Spanier, who was advanced enough in 1958 to jam with Ornette Coleman and Paul Bley -- another later Phillips associate -- in Los Angles. Built around resonating bass lines, prolonged twirling sax interjections and a disfigured march tempo from the drummer, it evolves as knuckle pressure and bow-on-string percussion meet tongue slaps and harsh, overblown squeaks and trills from Garcin. At one point Phillips caresses so many of his strings at once, that it appears as if two bassists are in the studio. Sporadically, the pulses heard are so unidentifiable that they could come from any of the instruments. How's that for adding some colors to the window honoring the Canadian brassman who was playing beyond bebop before many musicians had accepted flatted fifths?

In other places Lambert hits the skins in such a way that it appears that much of the result is coming from the sticks rather than the heads; and Phillips double stops then drags out wide swathes of arco bass when needed.

Garcin is still an evolving player though as certain bitten-off trills seem to be, intentionally or not, tributes to John Butcher. Luckily, the reed squeaks and buzzing honks he breathes out on "Cul de Sac" fit perfectly with the initial arco drone, then the andante pizzicato undercurrent that the bassist contributes to the same tune.

Doubling his syncopation and force, Lambert's beat becomes more irregular as Garcin pecks out the equivalent of reed percussion and Phillips' heightened strokes seem to be extended along the strings from beneath the bridge and elevated from near the pegs. The lengthy piece is no dead end, but resolves itself from the roundabout into a new direction with resonated notes from the bassist and circular breathing from the saxophonist.

Some Québécois seem themselves as existing in the intersection between French and American culture. Insomuch as improvised music represents those cultures, Lambert has shown that utilizing both can create a deluxe mélange.

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