Alexis French – The Cut (Rattle/Ode) ALBUM REVIEW

field4RATTLE IS A label with a much, much better than average batting average of stunning talent, and exceptional releases. But no musical conduit can get it right all the time, and The Cut rather highlights a predisposition towards music school jazz that’s a little stultifying.

It gets boring reading interviews with musicians who have attended, and then fallen out with, music education establishments, just about all of whom maintain that whatever you learn, to move forward to your own thing, you’ve then got to unlearn. But the thing is, they do have a point. Music schools can teach you all kinds of useful things, but they can’t put into motion that one characteristic essential to genuinely innovative players and composers: risk taking.

Alexis French is a New Zealand trumpet player who completed his Masters in jazz at McGill University in Montreal, where this album was recorded with local hotshots. The blurb makes it clear that French has pretensions towards originality, and even sees himself ultimately making music that’s stands beyond jazz; something that’s uniquely of and about NZ.

Well, that’s all very nice, but The Cut is so very steeped in the last half century of jazz – and specifically that post-bop to cool jazz period between the mid-‘50s and the early ‘60s – that it’s hard to hear anything that isn’t over-familiar.

Sure, it’s always nice when you’ve got trumpet doubled with sax, and they do that thing where the melody comes round to restate itself just like in one of those fabulous Horace Silver pieces. And bass player Nicolas Bedard every now and then does his bit to get a groove going, but every attempt is sabotaged by particularly vanilla ensemble passages.

The_Cut_53827820865d8Another problem is the lineup. If French had really wanted some cool post-bop action, he could have added another horn or two to add some gravity to thematic content, but instead, the third instrument is the guitar, and Nicolas Ferron’s playing is of the noodly variety; and Ferron, like the others, gets plenty of time to noodle on, because these tracks run way longer than they warrant, with several around the 10-minute mark.

While it’s all pleasant enough, The Cut is about as innovative as a bunch of old jazzers providing the musical background to the traffic in a hotel foyer. I hope that Rattle’s recent purchase by Victoria University has made it a mandate to exclusively support this kind of less than gripping graduation project. It would be nice to think that even real world, non-university educated musicians, where appropriate, would get the Rattle seal of approval. GARY STEEL

Sound = 4

Music = 3

 

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