Hugues Mayot | L'Arbre Rouge Invocations
French saxophonist and clarinettist Hugues Mayot, an outstanding jazz musician in his generation, is releasing his second album, Invocations. The first CD by L’Arbre Rouge was also released on the BMC Records label in 2019, when the line-up consisted of two string players, both big names in the French jazz scene, Théo and Valentin Ceccaldi, alongside the stalwart members basoonist Sophie Bernado, and contrabassist Joachim Florent.
The current line-up of L’Arbre Rouge creates an overlap between the French “musical families” that have formed around BMC Records: the previous string section has been replaced by two members of La Litanie des Cimes, Clément Janinet and Bruno Ducret. (That trio’s album Woodlands was also released on this label.)
Mayot and Florent also play in Janinet’s quartet O.U.R.S., a BMC album which since September 2022 has picked up a series of glowing reviews, including Élu (Citizen Jazz) and Choc (Jazz Magazine).
The presence of various traditional elements is rather discrete in Mayot’s oeuvre, but clearly emphasized in Janinet’s projects, and as in the case of O.U.R.S, in the melodies of Invocations one can detect the influence of contemporary classical music and American minimalism.
In the acoustic strings-and-winds quintet of L’Arbre Rouge, there are no drums, guitar, or piano, so in spite of the relatively large ensemble, it has a chamber-music sound. Their beautiful, complex music is embodied in flowing pieces, spiced with a pinch of experimentation and psychedelia.
Hugues Mayot – tenor saxophone, clarinet, voice
Sophie Bernado – bassoon, voice
Clément Janinet – violin, voice
Bruno Ducret – cello, voice
Joachim Florent – double bass, voice
About the album
All compositions by Hugues Mayot
Recorded by Viktor Szabó at BMC Studio, Budapest on 9-11 January, 2023
Mixed and mastered by Viktor Szabó
Hugues Mayot plays D’Addario reeds
Artwork: Anna Natter / Cinniature
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Hugues Mayot – L'Arbre Rouge: Invocations
Saxophonist and clarinettist Hugues Mayot first came to prominence at the turn of the 2010s, though then his work was largely to be found in dense, resolutely experimental orchestral contexts exploring a wide range of hybrid forms, as varied as the projects themselves, between rhythms and sonorities borrowed from rock and even metal, and skilful organizational principles that place the tension (or even conflict) between writing and improvisation at the heart of evolving creative processes (think here of the group Radiation 10, spearheading the Parisian collective Coax; guitarist Marc Ducret’s mutating big bands Le sens de la marche and bassist Jean-Philippe Morel’s United Colors of Sodom; the Orchestre National de Jazz led by guitarist Olivier Benoit... ). More recently, his tastes and research seem to have directed him undoubtedly towards smaller formats and more acoustic timbres, both in his collaborations (the quartets Spring Roll and Shore Skipping with flautist Sylvaine Hélary; the O.U.R.S quartet with violinist Clément Janinet) and in his own work as a band leader.
An initial experience in 2015 saw him at the head of the What If quartet, exploring the meanderings of an eminently contemporary electric post-jazz, pulsating with the urban grooves of a powerfully organic rhythm section and traversed by the abstract sounds of the keyboards from the brilliant Jozef Dumoulin. In his subsequent projects Hugues Mayot has insidiously gone off on a tangent – with L’Arbre Rouge, presenting a quintet with an atypical orchestration devoid of any percussion instruments, in a kind of chamber (free)jazz of great delicacy in terms of both sound dynamics and timbre combinations; revisiting the evanescent forms and harmonic subtleties of early twentieth-century French music through the prism of jazz and improvised music, in the company of Sophie Bernado on bassoon and Rafaëlle Rinaudo on electric harp, as part of the collective trio Ikui Doki.
These orchestral and linguistic experiments, which trigger unprecedented encounters (collisions and fusions) between genres and musical traditions unaccustomed to exchanging their qualities and properties, possess an aesthetic continuity which forms the setting for this new album by the L’Arbre Rouge quintet. While the group’s instrumental configuration remains unchanged (a subtle and singular combination of the controlled vehemence of the saxophone, the jostling fragility of the bassoon, and the “classical” lyricism of a masterfully deterritorialized double bass/violin/cello string trio), the cast has been partly renewed, leading to subtle changes both in the colours and textures of the sound and in the collective balance. Whereas in the first edition of the band, the Ceccaldi brothers (Théo on violin and Valentin on cello) generated and disseminated energies that were drawn mainly from jazz and the contemporary field (particularly the minimalist repetitive tradition), their successors, Clément Janinet and Bruno Ducret, not only sound “in section”, but also contribute forms, timbres, and rhythms that are more akin to folk music and extra-European traditions, taking the ensemble into imaginary territories that are both powerfully sensual and dreamlike.
Taking as his starting point the chamber character adopted by his instrumental set-up, as refined as it is delicately balanced in terms of orchestral dynamics and impeccable combinations of timbre, Hugues Mayot proves himself throughout to be particularly skilful in the art of chiselling exquisite poetic miniatures, combining a goldsmith’s precision in the arrangements with great expressive freedom.
In this new repertoire, Hugues Mayot constantly treads the tightrope between the temptation to master form and his no less pronounced taste for the creative power of jazz and European improvised music, leaving unfinished patches in his skilfully staged compositions so that each musician in the lineup can contribute to the collective discourse through his own contributions.
Invoking the spiritualist heritage of John Coltrane in a sort of preaching, reaffirming the lyrical roots of his saxophone song in the Afro-American tradition (Apparition), he immediately ventures into more hybrid moods evoking the village dances of an imaginary Medieval era and the folk traditions of Central Europe (Refuges); wafted by the repeated strains of the violin on an immobile journey through a kind
of elegiac, melancholy landscape (Suspension), he then plunges back into the Dionysian intoxication of a pagan festival with a nod to repetitive music (Bacchus Dance); playing with the heady seductions of his tenor saxophone’s steamy grain in a lyrical composition of melodic purity that Carla Bley might envy (My Sweet Blue Lullaby), he subsequently once again indulges in the ethnic grooves of an improbable dance orchestra (Remembering Old Times) and, in a kind of apotheosis, takes off for Africa with the rhythmic effects, rebounding and interlocking, that serve as a backdrop for the singing of the magnificently “disorientated” bassoon and the velocity of the saxophone (Ataraxia). Playing to the full the tension between the archaic and the learned, the simplicity of his singing and the sophistication of his constantly stimulating writing, Hugues Mayot has fun throughout the tracks, blurring temporal and geographical boundaries, mixing influences and multiplying more or less subliminal references, without ever losing the coherence of his intention, or mastery over his orchestral palette.
From the high, lush foliage of his Red Tree, his view of the contemporary musical landscape is undoubtedly one of the richest and most exciting of the moment.
Translated by Richard Robinson
Many thanks to Laetitia Zaepfel, Shan, and Drac Occitanie.