Michael Attias - Échos la Nuit

Label: Out of Your Head Records, 2019

Personnel – Michael Attias: alto saxophone, piano.


Saxophonist Michael Attias, a paragon of perspicacious playing and exceptional leadership, releases his first solo album, in which he plays two instruments, sometimes simultaneously. While his left hand holds the alto sax, a carrier of awe-inspiring tone colors, the right hand plays the piano, whose individual notes and chords work as melodic/harmonic pivots, promoting contextualization and, consequently, facilitating our reading of the music. Turning down overdubs, this recording takes you to a few singular places in Attias’ active musical mind. By tailoring a stripped-down aesthetic with distinctive approaches to each instrument, he proposes a sleek, sometimes undemonstrative distillation of timbres that can be more or less complicated to apprehend.

Two distinct versions of “Echoes” bookend the eleven tracks on the album. The first part, “Mauve”, enhances the beautifully contrasting colors between saxophone and piano, bright and poignant, respectively, within a cerebral mood. The second part, “Night”, offers a melodic reflection that often lands on a resolution. Still, the ambiguity of the piano and some spellbinding unison passages make us alert. The approach is low-key, unfussy and intriguing. Experimental, in a way.

Trinité” insists in unison ideas occasionally interpolated with intervallic surprises. The piano work is not as tantalizing or emotionally charged as in the introductory section of “Fenix III”, a snappy creation whose quirky chord has a strong connotation with Attias' former collaborator, the late Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi. Domineering cyclic phrases driven by pitch allure are balanced through prolonged notes replicated on the piano. Something like knotty explorations whose elements are in a permanent state of affairs.

The piano-less “Rue Oberkampf” feels like an incantatory chant brimming with slightly popping patterns inspired by saxophonist's early studies of the Schillinger technique. Great note choices are brought effortlessly with grandiose, mesmerizing shifts in timbre before three consecutive woodwind cascades bring it to an end. The reverberation is from the room and is even more noticeable over the course of “Circles”, where the intensity keeps fluctuating.

The nocturnal mood and fascination of “Sea In The Dark” are impressive, combining dark bass notes and delicate phrases for an illustrative intonation that coaxed me to search for more. Some other pieces, like the slow-moving diptych “Autumn”, justifies lethargic reactions through its vagueness and pallor.

Listening to this album was such an oddity. Each track feels like looking at perplexing pictures whose thin focus is on the closest object while the background keeps immersed in obscurity. Indistinctness means forever open and this very personal album is beyond style.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Echoes I: Mauve ► 08 - Rue Oberkampf ► 11 - Sea In The Dark

Michael Attias - Nerve Dance

Michaël Attias: alto saxophone; Aruan Ortiz: piano; John Hébert: double bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.


In his new release entitled Nerve Dance, saxophonist Michaël Attias focuses on a set of 11 exuberant originals (two of them by Hébert) in the company of pianist Aruan Ortiz, long-time associate bassist John Hébert, and drummer Nasheet Waits.
This is Attias’ sixth album on Clean Feed as a leader, after Credo (2005), Twines of Colesion (2008), Renku in Coimbra (2009), Spun Tree (2012), and Renku Live in Greenwich Village (2016).
As a sideman, Attias has been a regular choice of pianist Anthony Coleman and lent his engrossing sax lines for punctual works by Anthony Braxton, Paul Motian, Tony Malaby, John Hébert, and Eric Revis.

The chemistry of the quartet takes immediate effect on the first tune “Dark Net”, a crossroad between Andrew Hill and Steve Coleman. Attias throws in complex-yet-attractive phrases while Waits is constantly on the edge, defying the limits of stability and infusing all his rhythmic force, especially during and after Ortiz’s inventive improvisation. Hébert throbs along, assuring a resilient foundation from below and everything ends up in a groovy vamp with a sax ostinato. 

Nerve & Limbo” is clearly split into two sections. On the first one, the rhythm section prepares a modern-Latin pulse that waits for Attias’ ingress à-la Coltrane. This nervy rampage gives place to a minimalistic pianism to start the more reflective Limbo part.

There’s a sense of urgency in “Scribble Job Yin Yang”, which opens with Hébert plucking the bass strings heartily. The tune achieves an accordant balance between dark and light after some stormy inflections magnified by the bandleader’s rebellious attitude, Ortiz’s dancing chords, and Waits’s snare-drum gusts.

Variety is an important aspect in Attias’ body of work. Thus, significant differences can be found between “Moonmouth”, a floating ballad brought up with neo-classical intonations and a Threadgill-like approach, “Le Pese-Nerfs”, a deliberated experimental piece delivered with rhythmic displacements and bright-hued sax squeals, and Hébert’s “Rodger Lodge”, a post-bop portrayal with a charming thematic melody. 

All four members demonstrate an amazing sense of tempo and strong unity in the enigmatic and vindicatory “La Part Maudite” while in “Dream in a Mirror” we have beautiful solo incursions by Waits and Hébert for a start. Ortiz’s voicings delicately match Hébert’s notes and both welcome Attias’ Coltrane-influenced spiritual blows.
The record finishes with engaging reciprocities through “Nasheet”, a tune composed by Hébert and dedicated to Waits with whom he meshes so well. 

It’s inevitable to get stuck in this conceptual and textural web of sound and rhythm. Attias, stronger than ever, seems to have found his fabulous four.
Nerve Dance is a suburban ritualistic journey, an ear-opener, and an asset for any lover of contemporary jazz.

         Grade  A+

         Grade A+

Label: Clean Feed, 2017
Favorite Tracks:
01 – Dark Net ► 09 – Dream in a Mirror ► 11 – Nasheet