London Jazz Festival – African Flashback

African Flashback

Aldo Romano (drums)
Louis Sclavis (bass clarinet, clarinet & soprano saxophone)
Henri Texier (double bass)

Guy Le Querrec (photography)

Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith

Reviewed: 18 November, 2008
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke's, Old Street, London

Romano, Sclavis and Texier toured Africa extensively with photographer Guy Le Querrec, whom they see as the group’s griot and fourth member. The result was three albums, accompanied by lavish booklets packed with Le Querrec’s black-and-white photographs: Carnet de Routes (1995), Suite Africaine (2000) and African Flashback (2007). This concert comprised pieces from the first and third of these albums, to a slide projection of hundreds of photos (each lasted a mere few seconds) taken by Guy Le Querrec over some thirty years.

Back in March 2005 on the same stage, I heard Henri Texier providing a soundtrack to Bertuccelli’s film Remparts d’Argile with his son Sébastien on clarinets/saxophones and Christophe Marguet on drums: same stage, same instrument configuration, and both to a visual backdrop of Africa. Photographs provide a less obvious narrative structure than film, but it worked, Le Querrec’s unsentimental and naturalistic photos providing a perfect counterpoint to the stripped-down trio format.

The photos covered the gamut of human life: from fishing and football, to dancing and political rallies, to factories, skyscrapers and railways, to mountains viewed from an aeroplane. There were many touching and striking photos: a child asleep on his father’s knee, a bride splashing through the waves in her wedding dress, zebras seen beyond a wing mirror, shots through windscreens, photos as travelogue. Similarly, the music ranged from the most tender of melodies such as “Viso Di Donna” and “Three Children” to the mournful, such as “Dieu N’Existe Pas”; to the humorous such as “Surreal Politik”, on which strutting bass clarinet officiated over a marching rhythm, to the angriest free jazz, such as “African Panther 69”, on which primal screams from bass clarinet and soprano saxophone were thrashed along by ferocious bass and drums.

The many touchpoints between music and image suggested that considerable thought had gone into the arrangement of both, as if the photo selections were also improvisations returning to a theme: mournful bass clarinet and sparse bass on “Dieu N’Existe Pas”, ending with a photo of glum children under the rain in a shanty town; Sclavis’s beseeching saxophone playing over a photo of a room with John Coltrane on the TV; jaunty, dancing themes over photos of dancers. Guy Le Querrec earned his place on the stage, when he joined the band after the encores.

The musicianship was flawless, the slideshow an exhibition in its own right, and the two were perfectly melded. Magnificent!

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