Sylvain Rifflet | Jon Irabagon | Sébastien Boisseau | Jim Black Rebellion(s)
Rebellion(s) is the child of two outstanding saxophonists, Sylvain Rifflet from France, and Jon Irabagon from the US, and was born of their conviction that even today jazz can act as a megaphone for the most burning social issues of the day. The basis for these compositions are emblematic speeches from past and present, and they show the diversity of voices of resistance in various areas. The fiery words of André Malraux, Greta Thunberg, Emma Gonzalès, Olympe de Gouges, and Paul Robeson shake us up from the position of leisurely listeners, while in the tension of the music we hear the fomenting passion of John Coltrane, Sun Ra, or Ornette Coleman.
Sylvain Rifflet – tenor saxophone
Jon Irabagon – mezzo-soprano and sopranino saxophone
Sébastien Boisseau – double bass
Jim Black – drums
About the album
Compositions by Sylvain Rifflet (1, 3, 5), Jon Irabagon (4, 7), Sylvain Rifflet & Jon Irabagon (6), traditional, arranged by Sébastien Boisseau (2)
Recorded by Viktor Szabó at BMC Studio, Budapest on 22-24 January, 2020
Mixing: Julien Reyboz at Ohm sweet Ohm Studio (Paris)
Mastering: François Fanelli at Sonics Mastering (Marseille)
Artwork: László Huszár / Greenroom
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
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Louis-Julien Nicolaou - Télérama **** (fr)
Guy Darol - Jazz Magazine – CHOC (fr)
Matthieu Jouan - Citizenjazz - élu (fr)
Florent Servia - Jazz News (fr)
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Jean-Louis Lemarchand - facebook.com/academiedujazz (fr)
Daniel Yvinec - charlescros.org (fr) - Sélection Jazz, Blues & Soul 2020
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(x) - rts.ch (fr) - interview
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Sylvain Rifflet, Jon Irabagon, Sébastien Boisseau, Jim Black: Rebellion(s)
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“Sylvain and his daughter Héloïse walked across the Champs-Elysées. They looked at the statues and monuments and suddenly they realized that there had been so many people fighting on the right side of history. They are the ones we wanted to pay tribute to and in doing so remind people what they protested against. This music is angry and expressive, but it also carries hope, the hope that things will go well.” (Jon Irabagon)
The students that studied with him in the Paris Conservatoire said of Sylvain Rifflet, born in 1976, that he was a clever guy, he always had original ideas, a unique point of view and didn’t bother much with conventions. Even while still a student, Rifflet was active in large lineups such as the Orchestre National de Jazz and Le Gros Cube. As someone finding inspiration equally in Radiohead, Michel Portal, and Iannis Xenakis, for both albums with his first band Rockingchair, he mixed elements from rock and jazz to create an exciting hybrid. His work with his own lineups, such as Alphabet, Beaux-Arts, Re Focus, and ArtSonic, brought to light the work of one of the most original jazz composers and saxophonists in Europe. With his new album, his collaborative effort with Jon Irabagon, Rebellion(s), Rifflet carries on the commitment that we hear in John Coltrane’s Alabama, in Archie Shepp, Charles Mingus, or the Freedom Now Suite by Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln.
“When I’m composing, I work hard. I’m not talking about all the preparatory work; only from the moment when I begin to write things down. A gestation period of about six months is normal, and during that time I collect ideas and make notes in exercise books, or on the computer. I say to myself: you could transpose this or that; I actually verbalize pieces before I compose them.”
This verbalization has had a particular influence on the compositions in Rebellion(s) – without Rifflet knowing works by composers like Robert Ashley, or Scott Johnson’s vocal-sampling. His compositions on this disc have come into being according to the spoken language of the protagonists and in the old sense of the meaning of componere (= to put together).
“First of all, I always make myself a kind of ‘precise canvas’. Then I wonder what to do with these colours. I always think a lot about cinema and how you can utilize things from the other arts. I wanted to do something about the French and American revolutions, but then I realized it had been done thousands of times before. Suddenly I thought: Rebellions. Rebels are people that feel oppressed by the status quo. I spoke with Jon about it, but in the beginning it was just a vague idea, trying to get closer to these people and their texts. Then I proposed to Jon we should transcribe those speeches, note per note, enabling us to write a new music based on this material”.
Jean Moulin, the opening track from Rebellion(s), is dedicated to one of the great resistance fighters of our time. We experience the stirring voice of André Malraux, whose presentation style has an immensely musical effect. Rifflet knew immediately he wanted that speech for the record. Malraux was Minister for Culture in De Gaulle’s government, he was speaking alone in front of a wooden desk in the pouring rain to an audience with a large presence of the military. It was in winter 1964 at the transfer of the ashes of Jean Moulin to the Panthéon. Jean Moulin had organized the Résistance movement against the Nazis, and had protected France from civil war. He had both legs and both arms broken by Klaus Barbie’s torturers. Malraux speaks in unison with the saxophone, and a strange waltz sets in. We hear words like, “With a flag... the Gestapo... guns... prisoners... terrible, dreadful... those killed in cellars... at night in the fog.” The voice rises and falls together with the instruments while these words touch our ears. Rifflet’s and Jon Irabagon’s horns chant the memory of Jean Moulin. A unique man who parachuted by night over the south of France x times and in prison wanted to cut his throat with a shard of glass, when the Germans had accidentally caught him. We hear words like “the song of the partisans... in the Vosges, in Alsace...” and the recitation becomes a song, the composition following a trail. “It’s like a river. Malraux goes on and on,” explains Rifflet. “It gains an urgency, he seems to double up speed while articulating very precisely. He sings, he sings. This melody haunted me. Near the end it almost sounds like Ornette.”
Factory Girl is simply based on an Irish folksong. The tenor sax sings and dances with the double bass, they cuddle up together, move apart, embrace each other again and again. “Séb(astien Boisseaus)’s bass can create a wonderful closeness, an intimacy in which both brass instruments become songstresses,” says Sylvain Rifflet.
Greta T. is about climate justice. “You are never too young to make a decision... we must speak clearly about the bad ideas that got us in this misery... we need the emergency brake... Our civilization is being sacrificed to a minority of rich people.” The quartet accompanies the speech by Greta Thunberg, the founder of “Fridays for Future”. But this time things are different from “Jean Moulin” – here is a very different speaker. Her key sentence is: “Change the system”. Her last sentence sends a shiver up the spine. Before the grand finale by the band, Greta Thunberg says six words: “True power belongs to the people.” A tenor solo by Sylvain Rifflet follows and a highly stubborn-rebellious percussion performance from Jim Black accompanies it.
Nowhere is the reference to Ornette Coleman as apparent as in The Adults in the Room, written by Jon Irabagon, who had suggested the unforgettable speech by Emma Gonzalès, an outstanding voice in recent U.S. history. We are caught by this angry, almost tearful voice after the Parkland massacre in 2018, her denunciation of the N.R.A. (National Rifle Association) and the ascending cries of “We call BS”. “The guns have changed, but our laws have not.” She reveals that the N.R.A give financial support to politicians, and President Trump has allegedly received 30 million dollars. Both saxophones become increasingly active. Then the rhythmic intensity drops slightly, though the tension remains. “Politicians are lying to us.”
Olympe is dedicated to the women’s rights activist Olympe de Gouges, the courageous educator and human rights advocate during the French Revolution. In 1791 she wrote the Declaration of Women’s Rights. Olympe declared the constitution “as null and void if the majority of individuals composing the nation has not cooperated in its drafting.” It is her call for an association “in which you should deploy all the energy of your character” that Rifflet selected for this portrait of a rebel, read by the great singer Jeanne Added.
The almost biblical baritone voice of Paul Robeson breathes life into the following piece. After having known each other for more than twenty years and having formed a close friendship – Rifflet and Irabagon had collaborated on the album dedicated to Moondog – the Paul Robeson piece is their new collaboration as composers on this album. The singer tells of his family, his people, his country. Of Blacks’ just struggle for freedom and equality. Here as in Jean Moulin and Greta T., the voice becomes the singer of the group, blending perfectly with them: the rhythm of the language, the message, the emotions, the voices from the front line, integrated into a jazz quartet concept. Paul Robeson, his humanism and the power to deny all false accusations. The construction of the piece is astonishing and reveals itself more and more with each listening. The terror of the McCarthy Era, the atmosphere of constant suspicion and denunciation, paint a telling picture of today’s US and other oppressed parts of the world. How better to reflect on this musically more vividly and more admirably than in the language of jazz?
In the finale, again composed by Jon Irabagon, Jim Black drums as if he had six arms to the America: Daybreak in perfect combination with Sébastien Boisseau’s bass-playing. Some short bebop phrases eventually lead to Jon Irabagon’s sopranino solo, soaring like a lark. Amongst other things, the record sounds like a declaration of love to that great Ornette Coleman quartet with Coleman/Redman/Haden/ Blackwell. In many respects, these four instrumentalists carry forward the torch with their Rebellion(s), showing us the rebels they portray so hauntingly for our and future lives and times. On the other hand, with Rebellion(s), Sylvain Rifflet and Jon Irabagon also suggest what the role of improvised music can be in the struggle for change today: by making direct reference to the current affairs of yesterday and today. As in one of the record’s compositions, Emma Gonzalès puts it: “Fight for your life before it becomes someone else’s job”.
THE PLAYERS IN REBELLION(S)
“I want to break away from the clichés, also when it comes to the way I play instruments, to get away from the vocabulary of classical jazz, from post-bebop and all that. I’m looking at contemporary music too, I’m looking for a different approach to sound,” says Sylvain Rifflet. The French musician and composer graduated from the Paris Conservatoire after only three years, and in 2002 he won first prize in the field of jazz. In 2008 he composed the music for Dernier Maquis (directed by Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche,) which won him the award for the best film music at the Dubai International Film Festival. The poetic music for the albums Beaux-Arts and Alphabet (2011), which appeared almost at the same time, was born out of a genuine creative urge. Combined with an interest in what is known as Early Music, which only intensified Rifflet’s experiments with modal music. This gave rise to portraits of celebrated troubadours of the 11th to 13th centuries. Rifflet is like a Rimbaud of jazz with a sketchbook, who rushed through the world “with soles of wind”, constantly in search of a poetic quality where nobody else would suspect it.
“Out of sheer curiosity” he came up with the fourteen-part suite in honour of the American maverick Louis T. Hardin alias Moondog, the Viking from Broadway, says Rifflet. Moondog was a weird composer who had two gods: Johann Sebastian Bach and Charlie Parker. And a soft spot for primeval drumming. Rifflet also met saxophonist Jon Irabagon in connection with Moondog, who was honored with their joint album Perpetual Motion (2014). Jon Irabagon became famous through Mostly Other People Do The Killing, and is now Rifflet’s closest partner in the art of the dialogue on Rebellion(s). The saxophonist has played with Barry Altschul, Dave Douglas, Gordon Grdina, Mary Halvorson and many other leading artists and groups as well as leading several adventurous groups as a leader.
Here Rifflet and Irabagon set out with the considerable help and expertise of the bassist Sébastien Boisseau and the drummer Jim Black for a Jules Verne-type journey into the inner workings of what drives improvised music. They are at least as experienced in conquering unfamiliar musical paths as Rifflet and Irabagon. Sébastien Boisseau has been one of the greatest French bass players of contemporary jazz for almost twenty years. He is a classically trained musician, who in jazz follows the tradition of Jenny-Clarke, Bruno Chevillon, Claude Tchamitchian and others. Sébastien Boisseau can be heard on several CDs on the BMC Records label, and has been running Yolk Records in Nantes for 20 years.
What would modern drumming be without the contribution of Jim Black? He has used every means available to rebel against the boring, ubiquitous 4/4 measure. He was born in Seattle in 1967, studied at one of the most famous jazz institutions, Berklee College, and later set out on tour from Brooklyn. Even he cannot count the bands in which he has played. His own bands, formed in the 2000s were particularly explosive. In Jim’s active presence, every studio recording comes to life, becoming concert-like.
For years, the typical quartet format in jazz, with saxophone and a rhythm section, had left Rifflet slightly indifferent. All the more surprising, then, is the fresh sound of his new quartet in Rebellion(s). However, it is important to know that each album by Rifflet turns out differently to the others; recording a new one is like a “jump into cold water” every time, says the woodwind player. “In France it is a local New Year’s tradition to go and swim in the sea. Such tests of courage are very much to my taste.”
Translated by Richard Robinson