So Jazz – October 2009
and largely unnecessary distinctions between genres : Andy Emler’s MegaOctet has since then never failed
to induce both surprise and rapture. Twenty years along the line, in spite of all the awards and prizes, it hasn’t aged one bit and,
to the disappointment of many, Emler has never been offered to lead the ONJ (French national jazz orchestra). In 2009, alongside the ever-faithful François Verly and Philippe Sellam, newer recruits have joined the band, all serious bandleaders in their own right and furious improvisers, all sharing the same unique sense of controlled freedom so typical of Emler. A mixture of tightly scored and more open sections, rock tendencies and almost impressionistic detours, touches of humour and moments of reprieve, this vision of jazz sets the world of music alight by embracing the full range of human feelings. All for the pleasure of our awakened senses.
Jacques Denis, So Jazz – October 2009
Jazz in XXL about “Crouch, Touch, engage“
By their own admission not a big band, rather an ensemble of ten musicians who,
thanks to their fervour and talent and the leader’s inventiveness
(revisiting the whole history of jazz, from Ellington to the present day, via Mingus, rock and Zappa), rivals the world’s greatest. The themes are delightful, for example the title track or “Funky Sickness”. Hard to beat !
Renaud Czarnes, les Echos
le Monde – June 2009
the MegaOctet of pianist Andy Emler, twenty years old (the group, not Emler, although…).
An instrumental ensemble, but one as vocal as an entire choir, the MegaOctet still amazes
with its ability to give the impression of a playfully improvisational music and spontaneous movement, when actually the writing is at times extremely sophisticated, at others – seemingly – very open. This is thanks to the pianist’s science of composition and arrangement as well as his fellow musicians’ total commitment. The listener is quickly taken onboard by Crouch, touch, engage, an album which at the same time, turns out to be the MegaOctet’s most accomplished recording to date. Particularly recommended listening : Funky Sickness and Go Down Swinging.
Sylvain Siclier, le Monde – June 2009
Jazz Magazine: about Andy Emler MegaOctet “Crouch, touch, engage“
Once again, the emlerian sense of joy makes itself heard, twenty years after the formation of the MegaOctet, which sounds alternately like two combined big bands and a chamber ensemble, with screenplays that always tell a story, epic and crazy solos, irresistible grooves and superb orchestral textures.
Jazz Magazine/Jazzman – June 2009
Citizen Jazz : Andy Emler “For Better Times”. Andy Emler
“An orchestral work for multiple pianos”. So says the description of For Better Times, Andy Emler’s
latest album to date for La Buissonne, the label of the famous recording studio, managed by
the no less famous Gérard de Haro in his den of Pernes-les-Fontaines.
Admittedly, piano is an orchestral instrument, especially when it’s, as is the case here, a Steinway Grand Concert in safe hands. But when this stunning device is hit like a percussion instrument, when its strings are dotted with objects and covered with metal charms, and when the whole is recorded multiple times and layered thanks to the wonders of multitracking, then the piano is not only orchestral – to describe the results, one would have to invent a new word combining pyrotechnics and polyphony… So it could be – welcome to the newborn… polypyrophonic.
Some might say it is thoughtless this reviewer to joke about music that is a little intimidating at first, and performed by such esteemed musicians. But then one would ignore Emler’s unrestrained love of life’s more grinning sides, a love that feeds his now famous MegaOctet’s joyful and unbridled nature.
However, any Mega lover reading these lines should be warned : Emler, like all fascinating people, cannot be easily pigeonholed. The success of the joyful leader and his crazy big band should not eclipse – in the case of an artist who, in his younger days, was involved in the high spheres of contemporary music, in the harmony, counterpoint and composition classes of Paris’s CNSM music academy – his taste for more ambitious music, and what this implies in terms of lesser accessibility. And then, at the end of the day, how to better sum up Andy Emler and his music than with words such as “diversity”, “mixture”, “crossbreeding” ? Beautiful words, incidentally.
When the delighted ear recognises a quote from Ravel’s “Tombeau de Couperin”, carefully inserted in “Fear No More, Suffer No More”, when the opening of “Speak Up! Tribune For Better Times” obviously recalls Messiaen’s “Catalogue d’Oiseaux”, it becomes plainly obvious how simplistic it would be to limit one’s view of Emler to his work with the MegaOctet.
This interest in more introverted, evocative, subtle music is nothing new. Remember, for instance, his duo with alto player Philippe Sellam, released confidentially on the PeeWee label. Apart from the fact that this overlooked jewel is still highly recommended listening, it also reveals certain processes at work here, from the piano-as-percussion approach to the interpolation of incantatory voices (in the duo’s “Non Mais”), to the groovy, energetic low-register ostinatos, which often serve as springboard for the pianist (“Crouch, Touch, Engage”), the same way they are used by the bandleader to punctuate and relaunch the MegaOctet.
While we’re at it, we should also mention the In Circum Girum label’s 2006 release A quelle distance sommes-nous? (Emler, Tchamitchian, Echampard) : this album also begins with “hand-drumming” on the piano wood, and continues with a quest for textures where the bow of the double bass plays a central role. These examples show how Emler’s musical identity is not only varied, but coherent as well. And while his tremendous big band has earned major recognition lately – and very deservedly so -, For Better Times is a useful reminder that lyricism and textural richness are equally important parts of his musical world.
As a side note, the recording itself is an absolute delight for audiophiles. Those who think the most beautiful music should be served by formal perfection will value the cleverness of both the composition work and track order : the changing atmospheres ensure an eventful musical journey, right to the long silence that precedes the “ghost” finale, seemingly emerging from the dream state the music immersed them into. – Laurent Poiget
Politis : REPRISE AND SURPRISE
Andy Emler is undoubtedly emblematic of the generation of jazz musicians who reached maturity in the Eighties.
His musical background isn’t limited to jazz, instead embracing European classical and rock, punk and non-Western sounds.
Andy Emler discovered jazz while studying at the Conservatoire national supérieur in Paris (where he won first prize for counterpoint), through fellow students who already played that music, while he performed mostly with rock groups. Informal apprenticeship in modern jazz thus came along on top of solid training in piano and composition, which would help him develop a very personal style when he finally decided to devote himself to jazz. From the late Eighties onwards, he played with well-known improvisers and soon formed groups of his own, culminating in the current MegaOctet line-up.
Bringing together eight remarkable soloists, this small ensemble sounds like a much larger one. But Andy Emler’s qualities as a composer and orchestrator go well beyond that. He organises his pieces around repeated modules, which he assembles and develops in order to create an atmosphere for listening where the memory of what is reprised is constantly confronted with what is in the process o changing. Exposing on the piano, in perfect symbiosis with the bass (Claude Tchamitchian) and drums (Eric Echampard), repeated phrases, on top of which other loops played by the instrumentalists, opens new spaces of freedom which, most notably, sax player Laurent Dehors and trumpeter-vocalist Médéric Collignon are quick to dive into. Whenever the piano comes to the fore, traces of romanticism are allowed to shine through, but quickly returns to a similar approach where the left hand builds moving foundations while the right hand can invent unexpected lines. And so the reprise is always full of surprises.
Le Monde : Andy Emler, the magic of nine The Basque stopover of the pianist and bandleader.
Anything can be expected of a concert that starts at three past midnight.
Anything from a MegaOctet consisting of nine musketeers. Andy Emler, composer,
pianist, bandleader, has for twenty years been at the helm of this troop with no flies on it. Tonight, it’s raining. On every position, a leader, all very well, but also a real person, unkempt, free, multiplied by nine.
Casting out nines. In addition to the leader and his pleasant jokes, Médéric Collignon (crazy cornet), Philippe Sellam (aspirated alto), Thomas de Pourquery (inspired soprano and voice), Laurent Dehors (tenor, impressive footwork), François Thuillier (trombone, valves, tuba), François Verly (percussion), Eric Echampard (drums), Claude Tchamitchian (sprinting double bass, excellent cook). Plus, on the encore, a stellar guest, master-builder of Errobiko Festibala, Beñat Achiary – poetic call.
Later, in the same hall in Atharri, on the mountain side, he will play A Poet in New York (Garcia Lorca, 1929) with Pedro Soler (flamenco), Kahil El’Zabar (historic Chicago drummer), Hamiet Bluiett (baritone, legend), etc.
Errobiko Festibala, in Itxassou, is all about this generosity, sense of hospitality, and Achiary’s modesty, only matched by Emler’s. Achiary is a past member of Emler’s group. If a complete list was ever to be drawn, it would include all the musicians who invented the sound, the spirit of free, funk, chamber, teasing, classical, delirious, tightly structured, of the last twenty years.
The current line-up declines, in always the same order, but in a formidable disorder that brings to mind the early jazz era, the repertoire of its latest effort : Crouch, Touch, Engage (1CD Naïve, Le Monde of June 29). On stage as in the studio, unusual games are played between the tutti and soli, sparkles and secrets, clownings and music taken literally. Not to mention the atmosphere : delightful, bracing, genuine (Emler’s fault). They not only hear each other : they actually listen.
Back to basic truths
The leader thanks his host. The MegaOctet in the dead of night is a pure metaphor of the festival : noise and fury, poetry and pastoral escapes, care for each other, elegant detachment, fervour and faith. Faith in what ? Andy Emler tells it with candour : in the limitless possibilities of art. Let’s return to basic truths. It’s high time. Music, this music, this groove, these people of flesh or no ego offer themselves as couriers. It would be crazy to ignore them. These are hard times. But you always get all worked up, some might say. No : I’m not talking about the rest. Right to the heart of the matter, Emler, Achiary, Lorca. May a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand MegaOctets bloom on the planet. Then all will be changed.
Francis Marmande, le Monde – juillet 2009
The pinnacle of April Jazz 2009 – Espoo – Finland
Andy Emler MegaOctet
The long performance by Andy Emler’s MegaOctet should be included among the best-ever moments in the history of April Jazz. It presented us with most of what rhythmic music of our time has to offer under the label of jazz excellence. Andy Emler’s visionary discourse, rooted in a multiplicity of styles but always personal, stems from a form of symphonic thinking which, served by virtuoso instrumentalists, naturally generates music that is both organic and full of surprises.
Like one is led to expect from the best bandleaders, Emler’s instruments are the musicians themselves, each with his unique personality and skills. In this specific case, each of them demonstrated true maestria. None could be content with an average performance, as Emler develops his works’ long movements, leaning successively on each of the soloists.
That music is a springboard for an alternation of astonishing lyrical episodes, brilliant reprieves, stupefying swing… Emler’s rock – even heavy – culture serves as a lever for the orchestra. The best rhythmic pair in Europe, Tchamitchian/Echampard, is there to transcend the beat with its magical power. And to top it all, Emler demonstrates, in a “renaissance” style, a clever sense of humour that hits the bull’s eye.
Jazz Magazine : Andy Emler – A Chef on the grill
himself to questions from the band’s members and sound engineer.
His answers are every bit as enthusiastic and energetic as his music.
François Thuillier (tuba): The MegaOctet’s concerts are very physical. Is it a sport?
Absolutely (laughs). Because it’s a very “rock” kind of energy, although I would also place the MegaOctet’s music in the realm of “serious” music, which stems from my classical training, and the magic of the “groove” and improvisers with a background in jazz. It’s a compromise as far as the language is concerned. In this respect the writing serves the function of a pulse and, with the pair of Eric Echampard and François Verly banging away at the back, a high level of physical presence and concentration is required. The collective commitment to carry a soloist to greater musical heights also often resembles what you see in collective sports, which incidentally some of us have practised at a high level.
JM: The soloists in the MegaOctet are often limited to one solo each. Does this have anything to do with this notion of concentration?
It’s a sort of principle, but not a fixed rule. Since we’ve been played together for a long time, I can write a piece specifically for a member of the MegaOctet. The parallel with a sports team supporting one of its members to help him score is also valid, obviously. Incidentally I hate it when a musician leaves the stage while the rest of the band is playing. I find that disrespectful, the opposite of team spirit. In any case, the MegaOctet also plays pieces with several soloists, and sometimes the tuba, for example, plays completely solo as a transition between two pieces of conflicting styles.
Thomas De Pourquery (alto sax): It was a beautiful gift you made to ask each of us to compose for the group. Aren’t you afraid this might make the band sound too different ? Or worse, better ? (laughs)
You are right to speak of a gift : the concept of composer, in the field of jazz, is not valued as much as it should in this country and often, when you apply for subsidies to compose, you get turned down. Yet French jazz has evolved and nowadays musicians write for their own bands, whether it’s Sixun or the MegaOctet. After writing four entire repertoires myself for this version of the MegaOctet, I thought I’d ask the members of the band, most of whom are also leaders of their own groups, to compose for us. They are free to write whatever they want, even though I suggested that they somehow write “in the style of” to avoid drifting too far away from the “MegaOctet language”. We’ll meet regularly to make sure the whole thing remains homogeneous and coherent, but mostly I won’t interfere.
Vincent Mahey (sound ingeneer): Between the original MegaOctet from twenty years ago and today’s band, what’s changed and what’s remained the same?
The main constant is the jubilation : we take the listener along and make him forget about everything else. Of course the language has evolved, but the energy, the enthusiasm, and the urge to give and receive from the audience, have remained. One of the reasons for that is that I always pick musicians who are generous and function in this dynamic. They are all people who have a visual approach to performing on stage, because like me, they have a rock background and think music should make people feel good. What’s changed is the writing. For my own part, I have always followed my instinct, without recipes, but today I have to acknowledge that these recipes exist as I see some composition pupils use them. In any case, it is obvious that the main difference between the two incarnations of the MegaOctet is that we no longer use electric guitar and keyboards. We are now an all-acoustic ensemble, yet there are constants at the harmonic level, chord sequences that somehow define a “MegaOctet colour”. More anecdotically, each of our records contains a quote from [the French traditional] “J’ai du bon tabac” hidden somewhere in the orchestration as a counterpoint, as a sort of private joke. When I include that sort of thing in my writing, it’s a sort of collective game, because it makes me laugh and I know it will also make the others laugh. This is part of the process of perfecting one’s own language. When Antoine Hervé – who has known me for a very long time – heard “West In Peace”, he sent me an e-mail saying “You’ve really found your language, it’s clear from the opening notes that it’s Andy Emler music”. Coming from someone with so much experience and clarity in listening, that was one hell of a compliment.
JM: What do you think of the way composition has evolved in French jazz over the past twenty years?
The notion of composing taking inspiration from such and such doesn’t enter the equation for me. When I begin the composition process, I am like a writer who writes his novel and throws away dozens of draught pages : I haven’t even started thinking about the instrumentation. Having been trained classically – harmony, counterpoint and fugue at music academy -, I like to use these special skills, this sophistication, in music that’s otherwise built on a few notes used as a basis for improvisation. Indeed there are more and more composers, like Antoine Hervé and Denis Badault, who come from a similar background. Others, like Marc Ducret, who has a rock background and is self-taught, somehow adopt a similar approach because they are knowledgeable and have listened to a wide range of music. Since the Eighties, a whole generation of “multicultural” musicians has emerged. They no longer have strictly blues or jazz roots. You can be a jazz musician and listen to Ligeti or Peter Gabriel, drawing from the immense heritage of music that’s happened since the second half of the 20th century.
JM: You were something of a pioneer in this respect…
Again, I think it has to do with the notion of generosity, not letting your intellect take precedence over the desire to give others pleasure : a very French attitude. You need to dare mix styles yet never compromise the quality of the writing. For me, Marc Ducret remains a great example of that with his “Sens de la Marche” project since, being self-taught originally, he ends up creating music I feel totally in tune with, using young musicians and accompanying their development. It’s the same principle as Django Bates with StoRMChaser, and it helps to ensure that the music remains fresh.
Beñat Achiary (singer in the original MegaOctet): What kind of fuel do you use to propel the rocket that is the MegaOctet?
If by “fuel” you mean the music I write for the band, I think a musician stays in a band as long as he finds the music put in front of him interesting. When that’s no longer the case, he leaves. Nearly every member of the MegaOctet is also a composer and leader in his own right, so they’re interested in my writing from that perspective. I try to come up with music that’s accessible to any listener despite its modernity. I took people from my village along to see us perform our programme with the Percussions de Strasbourg, and it took them a while to really get into the music, but they were very enthusiastic at the end although they couldn’t really “get” it. Many of them had never seen a concert in their life, and on this occasion discovered what “live” music really is. For my own part, composing is absolutely vital for me. I always have a block of paper about when I’m in a train or a plane, and when I compose, I do it for certain people – because they have a sound, something I like that makes me feel good. So there’s this constant triangulation between my own pleasure, that of the musicians, and that of the audience, and that’s where the “research” part of my work lies, well above striving for “modernity”.
François Verly (percussion): How many musicians do you reckon have passed through the ranks of the MegaOctet “laboratory”, as some call it?
[Jazz critic] André Francis came up with that word. It took him some time for our music to grow on him, and then one day at the Orléans festival he introduced the MegaOctet as a “laboratory for the new generation of French jazz”. These words might trigger the thought of an old professor with students parading in front of him, but that’s not at all where it’s at : we are more like a team of researchers. Over twenty years, I think about 45 musicians have been members, including deps. I had put forward the idea to the La Villette festival of composing a piece that would bring all of them together, but they weren’t interested. That’s a real pity, as it would have been a unique, incredible line-up of French musicians. The idea to do it is still in the back of my mind, so… any takers, let me know ! What I find strange, if you relate André Francis’s initial reluctance with La Villette turning down my project, is how we, “natural” musicians, can develop as artists with no particular concern for recognition from decision-makers. These past few years, the MegaOctet has received quite a few awards, and our concert schedule for 2009 is impressive compared to what it was before that. It’s as if the jazz world had suddenly opened its ears and become aware of our existence, although our “laboratory” has been active for two decades. Thankfully I’m not the only exception : André Minvielle, Manu Codjia or Géraldine Laurent have received awards from the Djangos d’Or, the Académie du Jazz and others who, until recently, only gave them to hard-boppers. To return to the MegaOctet’s personnel, in fact there’s only been two teams so far, but I’m happy that most of the musicians who were ever members or deps have been proud to mention it in their résumé since they left. It’s become a sort of reference.
Claude Tchamitchian (double bass): Why do you only play piano in the second MegaOctet, and no more electric keyboards?
Because I met you, Claude ! I was a rather electric musician until I met Claude Tchamitchian and Eric Echampard [members of Andy Emler’s trio as well as the MegaOctet], who are peerless musicians, both immaculate professionals and totally committed to the music, and perfectionists in their approach of tone and acoustics. This stimulated my own desire to explore acoustic piano playing, which I’d never really done before. But the other reason is that I no longer want to carry all these keyboards around, like I did for so many years.
JM: You told me some time ago that you weren’t really a pianist. Indeed you have a uniquely percussive approach to the instrument.
The vibrancy and harmonies of the instrument trigger an immediate physical impact on me, but my piano playing can be compared to the “prop forward” in rugby. My relationship to technique and virtuosity was defined by my work as pianist in improvisation. I never practised scales as such – I found that too boring! I’ve always practised the piano playing actual music, adding harmonies, a tempo over which I could play scales… The “butcher’s touch” complex, which I feel I have, is something I’ll never get rid of, but it’s the language you develop on your instrument that really matters. That’s why I didn’t want to record yet another solo piano album when I was offered to make one : I composed music for several pianos, and played them all myself.
Eric Echampard (drummer): How do you decide to give someone a call and ask him to play in the MegaOctet? What a great line-up! One might be tempted to think they are all recruited for their good looks (laughs).
I mostly choose musicians based on chance encounters. After playing together a few hours for a project, you know if the sound and playing of a musician is to your liking, and whether you’re going to get along personally. With someone like Médéric Collignon, once you’re beyond the “100.000 volts” aspect, you’re confronted with voice and trumpet sounds you’ve never heard before and want to use in your music. Another criterion is instrumental ability. It’s a bit like Frank Zappa, who always had virtuosos in his bands whatever style of music he was playing; similarly, the MegaOctet requires musicians with great mastery of their instruments.
Jazz Magazine, 2009
les Inrockuptibles : About “Crouch, touch, engage“
the epic breath of inspiration to blow out the candles of the twentieth birthday cake of his MegaOctet,
and a CD coupled with a DVD to add a visual dimension to his inventive music : Andy Emler, who defines himself as an organiser of pleasures, rises to the double challenge of an anomaly (leading some of the most inventive soloists on the European jazz scene in a medium-sized ensemble) and adventurous fever (improvisation as an absolute dogma). Andy Emler on piano, Médéric Collignon on flugelhorn, François Thuillier on tuba (and the others are just as great) jump into the music with both feet like slightly crazed Cosinusses. There are outbursts, a sense of adventure, and cries. The MegaOctet’s music (now performed entirely on acoustic instruments), for all its boldness, is never boring. Instead it flies in the face of conformity, like a narrow escape into the deep sea, like a game of cards between Claude Debussy and Frank Zappa, Maurice Ravel and Thelonious Monk, striking an ideal balance between pertinence and impertinence. Emler’s easy musicology requires that, when the orchestra licks its collective lips (the saxes really deliver the goods in La Régamuse), it does so without academism. And when it sets about reinventing the glowing asphalt of a city at night (Go down Swinging!), it doesn’t omit the various noises of human insanity. This music is precious, making the listener more intelligent and sensitive.
Christian Larrède, les Inrockuptibles
About “Crouch, touch, engage“
One idea could be to write a whole article without ever using the letter “E”, but that has been done elsewhere.
No, something a little more difficult : why not try to write a review using no superlatives.
In truth that’s a very bad idea, quite the mission impossible in fact.
Indeed once again Andy Emler, more prolific and productive than ever, returns with a new MegaOctet album that’s every bit as brilliant as its predecessors. Already praised highly in the press (Choc Jazzman, Disque d’Emoi and other similar awards), this latest effort by this band of jazz-mad-men is in itself excellent news : far from running out of steam, it’s as hot as ever. Indeed, Andy Emler, in this sort of jazz-cum-rock opera, derives great enjoyment from constructing and deconstructing the frameworks of his compositions, relying on his faithful, energy-filled troop. Furious unisons, gripping elations and moments of reprieve succeed each other as in love-making – or a kind of violent and loving session. From this molten magma, Andy Emler conjures the kind of jungle Ellington and Mingus would have roamed had they one day met Zappa. Each piece is a brilliant exercise in non-linear construction, like suites in several movements (Mail à Elise). And in this group dynamic, the trademark of large ensembles (although this one only has nine members !) appears in this balance between individual soloists and the collective, in this case inseparable. Both the former and the latter are imbued with a strong sense of humour, and even self-deprecation, at the instigation of the brilliantly unpredictable Médéric Collignon and crooner extraordinaire Thomas de Pourquery.
The DVD includes live footage filmed at Le Triton in September 2008. Julien Vivante’s remarkable editing work, using multiple camera angles and close-ups, allows the viewer to come closest to this company of these brilliant madmen yet never overlook the major achievement of performing this demanding repertoire on stage for the very first time. The bonus interviews are great fun too. Orgasmic !
Jean-Marc Gelin, Les Dernières Nouvelles du Jazz
Jazz Magazine Blog : 25° GAUME JAZZ FESTIVAL – concert
on this occasion including Christophe Monniot (alto sax, TTPKC & le marin), and Bastien Stil on tuba and trombone.
It was probably 9°C under the marquee, the haze rising from behind the stage was artificial but it was difficult to tell !
Andy’s music, as it appeared to us that night, is among those few that combine in exactly the right proportions tenderness, rage and glares of brightness, with a constant smile on their faces that fools no-one as to the solemnity of music that is able to be “superficial by virtue of its depth”, like Nietzsche said about the Greeks.
Philippe Méziat, Jazz Magazine Blog
Piano Bleu.com : Andy Emler - For better times An orchestral work for multiple pianos
In May 2008, the DVD by Andy Emler’s MegaOctet, recently awarded a “Django d’Or” as well as a “Victoire du Jazz 2008”,
“best band of the year” category, had given us a chance to witness the tight bond between the pianist
and his numerous “accompanying” musicians and the sheer power of his playing.
In a similar spirit of sound research, when Gérard de Haro, director of the La Buissonne label, asked him to record a solo piano album, the composer and leader… said yes, on the condition that he be allowed “multi-tracking”, so that the recording would be a true reflection of his personal approach to the piano : “a unique instrument to converse and create with”.
With no accomplices around him, Andy Emler is left alone to create this imaginary dialogue, but don’t even think of listening to this CD after 10 o’clock at night, or then only with headphones on, at the risk of being forced to another, difficult dialogue – with your next door neighbours. Indeed, far from a well-behaved reverie, it’s an often virulent discussion between various fictional characters which explodes on the outside (between father and son, a political leader and his fellow citizens, “experts” from an international authority and the conscience of mankind…).
Admittedly many composers have already created music that exploited the piano’s orchestral sound, but here Andy Emler multiplies them through the overdubbing allowed by the studio environment.
Rachmaninov’s “Bells”, even referenced in this suite for two pianos, sound almost gentle in comparison, for Andy Emler makes his piano speak and sound, whether prepared or not, with a vigour and resonance of extraordinary power, maybe he derives this musical energy from the rock groups he played in as a teenager or the church organ on which he first dabbled in music, in any case this is a disc that awakes, not just the conscience, with an original language, aggressive at times probably, but above all very convincing.
Beautiful, compelling melodies, but also brief and quiet reflexive moments that soothe the often angry and heady atmosphere with their surprising tones and developments. As a final surprise, you’ll find hidden in the last track, after two minutes and a half of silence, a splendid monologue that ends this orchestral adventure on a high note.
Jazz Magazine : ANDY EMLER For Better Times
“An orchestral work for multiple pianos”, or how to make a piano sound like a full orchestra,
it’s the tour-de-force that Andy Emler pulls off on this new effort recorded on
the Steinway Grand Concert of Gérard de Haro’s studio (La Buissonne).
Showing little concern for spectacular or flattering displays of chops – rather the contrary -, Emler has too much that’s truly essential to communicate to indulge in such futilities. There Is Only One Piano Left In This World : the case is stated right from the start, with a piece that unfolds in a spiral of evolving ritornelos, suddenly overtaken by the bashful groove of percussion imagined on a lacquered framework.
A tenacious pulse, a minimalist motif turned inexhaustible, a high-pitched bell : the tone is set or, more precisely, the flight begins, with this typically emlerian density-fluidity.
The rest of this humanistic ode further explores this vein of nuance and subtlety, from worn-down ostinatos to furious flurries soon softened by an unctuous paw. With this “inner ear” he talked about in Jazz Magazine in May 2006 (n°570), Andy Emler ploughs into the slightest tone but never dwells on it :
he exposes-explodes the harmonics of each basic frequency with prodigal intensity. Here and there traces of his early musical experiences in the light of classical organ are evident, in powerful roars or the wide range of tones, from extreme highs to the deepest lows. And still this free rock energy spontaneously channelled in a carefully articulated improvisational syncretism.
Far away, yet another voice makes itself heard, like the explicit echo of the various songs the pianist is careful to name in a sympathetic whisper : Father And Son, Speak Up ! Tribune For Better Times, Let’s Create Together… So “For Better Times” sounds and resonates like an insolent dream revealed by this solitary breakaway of 54 minutes (bonus track included).
ANDY EMLER : « For better times » La buissonne 2008
Is 2008 going to be Andy Emler’s year ? Most certainly, since the pianist has triumphed over all his “challengers”, outstripped all the pretenders, won hands down various prises, taking both the awards and his share of limelight. A well-deserved recognition with his wolfpack, the well-oiled MegaOctet, but also in trio with his superlative rhythm section (Tchamitchian, Echampard), the so aptly named TEE.
Only after this success has he finally resolved, egged on his “alter ego” and faithful accomplice at the La Buissonne studio, Gérard de Haro, to take the test of a solo work; to accept this difficult exercise, yet inevitable at one given point in a pianist’s career. This is where one confronts his demons, and unveils the depths of his imagination. For this solo record, which he rightly describes as “an orchestral work for multiples pianos”, Andy Emler has gone as far as presenting us with an entire orchestra of pianos.
The playing is fast, loud and deep. A lyrical, even spirited piano, abrupt in the low register, deafening at times, hard-hitting and percussive always. Mechanical and obsessive in his way of pressing the keys implacably, exhausting each note, Emler hammers unexpected, sometimes dissonant chords, effortlessly moving around in rebounds and accelerations, maintaining a very nervous pace.
Energetic music, elaborately constructed, rhythmically stressed, which promptly asserts an obvious sense of drama. A complex, deep music, dark and solemn, betraying a deep emotional involvement, crystallised in the titling of the pieces and of the album itself, “For Better Times”. They question the world order, echoing the political and social environment, all very ongoing concerns.
Ah ! Emler is obviously very fond of reprises, loops, echoes, passionate repetition of the same theme or phrase ! Not much melancholic acidity in Andy’s music, it sweeps you away like a torrent, sweeps you up like a ground-swell, except perhaps for the short piece that introduces a pause, a respite, of tender and impressionistic delicacy : “Father And Son” tellingly wasn’t written by him, but by Peter Gabriel, who Gérard and Andy have both admired for many years !
This album illustrates an art of the instant : finely polished, it evokes the masters of the instrument as well as classical musicians, offering intimate music that leaves behind a lasting resonance on La Buissonne’s marvellous piano.
Over an hour of poetic frenzy on a prepare piano, metallic at times like an African instrument, a piano that doesn’t take us for a languorous waltz, and yet dances around, far enough removed from jazz in the American tradition : Andy Emler has his own culture and background, and is of a generation which allows him to be emancipated from such references. A genuine composer, an indelible footprint. And a most endearing musical world.
Hats off to the artist !
Nocturne : “He had a dream“
Andy Emler’s compositions, which are so uniquely his and have left the MegaOctet’s
audiences breathless for the past twenty-five years, what are they made of ?
How are they born ? What do they say ?
Their author tells us about the nightmare of Urbanhof, the opening piece of his “Dreams In Tune” album. Interviewed by Thierry Quénum.
I particularly like the onirism which carried Urbanhof from its genesis to its realisation. Indeed, it all began with a dream. The MegaOctet arrives in a provincial town. We check into a hotel, then we are sent over to eat at the restaurant opposite, where Philippe Sellam and Claude Tchamitchian complain about the food and wine. Leaning against a slightly out-of-tune upright piano, a sardonic look on his face, the owner starts playing the theme heard at the beginning of Urbanhof. I have a habit of writing down my dreams, but it’s the first time a musical phrase was part of one.
It’s a theme in 19 beats, around which it occurred to me to superimpose in counterpoint the five wind players and the rhythm section, each one entering the proceedings in turn with his own melody : things quickly become crazy, going every which way, but it’s all very exciting. After the solo section where Marc Ducret seems to let the piece regain its breath, the agitation of the original rock pulse makes way for a sense of abandon and confusion : the rhythm section is still playing a complex pattern (educated listeners will count 21 beats), but it’s an African-style jazz feel, totally relaxed. Above all that floats a kind of orchestral haze, with a set rhythm but with each musician playing any note of his choice, while François Verly improvises on a twirling marimba. Then Laurent Dehors increases the pressure on the tenor, as only he can. The more relaxed moment that follows is typical of the MegaOctet : each player chooses notes from a set mode – a sort of pool of 7 notes – to invent the repetitive melodic ritornelos of their choice which he then loops against those of his bandmates.
There begins a long conclusion indicated by the tuba with yet another solo from Marc Ducret, following which the binary and ternary pulses finally join together, while François Verly uses his large rattle, which he shakes like a sieve. It is known as a maravanne in Mauritius, kayamb in La Réunion et French audiences are familiar with it from hearing it played by Danyel Waro and Ti Fock. After binary Europe and ternary Africa, he takes us towards the Indian Ocean. Finally, we return to the hellish counterpoint of the opening section, then finish with the initial theme in a violent and virtuosic tempo – a true “purple passage” for Eric Echampard’s drums and Verly’s percussion, being the concertante instruments of this frenzied finale.
The form was written in advance, but a few changes were made during the rehearsals. Incidentally, for the benefit of the curious who might want to prick up their ears, the quote from J’ai du bon tabac which I usually include in my pieces is played on the trumpet by Médéric Collignon. For me it is a kind of signature, like painters do in a corner of their paintings.
The piece’s dreamlike atmosphere is constantly relayed by the alternation of unusual grooves; tension and release; overlapping of improvisation and structures; relationships of opposition between the orchestral mass and acoustic guitar – an instrument Marc uses too rarely in my opinion. We have played occasionally as a duo, and I really like the way our respective sounds blend together. This reminds me of my heroes from the jazz-rock era, when Chick Corea and John McLaughlin would include an acoustic set in their electric records. Incidentally I am currently composing a piece for acoustic guitar and piano. As for François Verly’s performance on marimba, it brings to mind certain pieces by Frank Zappa.
The title, lastly – a contraction of urban and Bahnhof (“train station” in German) -, refers to urban music. It reminds me of people who go about in all directions, like you often see in train stations, and like the six counterpoints in 10 of the introduction.
Urbanhof from “Dreams in Tune” (Nocturne, 2004)