36th Vilnius Jazz Festival. 12-16 October, 2022

Louis Sclavis Quartet


Louis Sclavis – cls
Benjamin Moussay – p
Sarah Murcia – db
Christophe Lavergne – d

© Luc Jennepin

Louis Sclavis, one of the finest clarinettists of free jazz and avant-garde, celebrates his 70th birthday by touring with a classical jazz quartet, which he has re-joined after a long break. He first gathered these musicians in 2017 for the project Loin dans les Terres. This time he recorded his 13th album with them for the ECM label “Characters on a Wall”. It was inspired by the street art of Sclavis’ old friend, the artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest.

The traditional quartet line-up was chosen for a reason: Pignon-Ernest is also a classic amongst his peers: his art is distinguished by its elegance, subtle colouring and emotional drama. Pignon-Ernest’s works were previously the subject of Sclavis’ highly acclaimed 2002 album Napoli’s Walls. However, while the artist’s works for Naples were the creative impulse then, this time the music is inspired by the eight collages by Pignon-Ernest that decorate various cities, from Ramallah in Palestine to Rome in Italy: the jazz virtuoso has dedicated a composition to each of them.

Sclavis has always been attracted to the fringes of musical genres and styles, and to territories where ultramodernity and tradition meet. He was one of the first to combine French folk music and jazz. The music of this project’s quartet, which is closest to jazz, also has a strong classical flavour. “When I compose, I try to find the best way to express my inspiration, so sometimes the world of classical music feels appropriate,” said Sclavis.

“The Village Voice” in the US once called him the most consistently impressive bass clarinettist since Eric Dolphy. But he has proved many times that his true instrument is an ensemble. Sclavis has a wonderful way of communicating through a wide variety of combinations of instruments and players.

Louis Sclavis plays clarinet and soprano saxophone in ensembles ranging from free improvisation to contemporary academic music. He is also a composer and record producer.

He started playing the clarinet at the age of nine and played in local brass bands before entering the Conservatoire de musique in his native Lyon. Early in his career, his ensembles included the Henri Texier Quartet and Chris MacGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath. In 1982, Sclavis formed his own group, bringing together six musicians from different regions of France. He subsequently toured and recorded albums with his quartet, various trios and a septet.

In 2009, the clarinettist formed Eldorado Trio with Craig Taborn and Tom Rayney, followed by Atlas Trio with Benjamin Moussay and Gilles Coronado. He also set up a clarinet trio, inviting Jacques di Donato and Armand Angster to play with him, with whom he also interpreted contemporary academic music. Moreover, he was a featured soloist with Ensemble Amarillis in a baroque music project.

Sclavis keeps renewing and reinventing himself. However, his musical identity is best reflected in his collaborations with free jazz coryphées Evan Parker, Lola Coxhill, Tony Oxley, Peter Brötzmann, Trilok Gurt, Cecil Taylor, Aki Takese, Enrico Rava, Nguyên Lê and others.

Sclavis also composes music for theatre, dance projects and film, and has recorded with collaborators original music without improvisation. His work has received numerous awards, including the Django Reinhardt Prize for “the best French jazz musician” (1988), the First Prize of the Barcelona Biennial (1989), the British Jazz Award at MIDEM for “the best foreign artist” (1990, 1991), the Django d’Or for the best French jazz recording of the year (1993), the Grand Prix of the Association of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music SACEM (2009).

Pianist and composer Benjamin Moussay has been involved in Sclavis’ projects for more than 20 years to great acclaim. Early in his career, he was dubbed “the keyboards sorcerer”. Interestingly, he studied physics before turning to classical piano studies at the Conservatoire in his native Strasbourg.

Moussay eventually graduated in jazz piano from the Conservatoire National de Paris and was soon the winner of the Martial Solal International Piano Competition. He also was awarded second prize as a soloist in the La Defense national jazz competition.

Benjamin first appeared on record in 1994 with vocalist Maria Laura Baccarini. Over a quarter of a century, he has participated in 19 recording sessions with various artists. His solo album Promontoire was released by ECM in 2020.

Solo performances are his favourite mode of expression, although the stage has brought him together with a whole host of celebrities, including Marc Ducret, Daniel Humair, Tony Malaby, Steve Swallow, Michel Portal, Vincent Peirani, Airelle Besson, Glenn Ferris, Archie Shepp, Jerry Bergonzi, David Liebman, Vincent Courtois, Bernard Struber, Éric Barrett and Denis Colin.

Moussay also writes music for film and theatre.

Before making the double bass her instrument of choice, Sarah Murcia studied the piano and the cello for a number of years before graduating with a degree in musicology from the University of Sorbonne. She was awarded a prize in orchestration by the Schola Cantorum.

She has accompanied many singers and improvisers. Some of these encounters have developed into lasting musical partnerships. For example, the double bassist has worked on a number of important projects with the singer and musician Kamilya Jubran. Together they play in various ensembles.

Sarah realises her creative ideas with the quartet Caroline, which she formed in 2001. One of its latest projects was inspired by the prose of William Faulkner. In 2017, she formed a new quartet Eyeballing with Benoit Delbecq, Olivier Py and François Thuillier. She also leads the French quintet La tête de Lark with Sylvaine Hélary.

For the last ten years, she has played double bass in Magic Malik Orchestra and Las Ondas Marteles, and currently plays in the Magic Malik Quartet Base XP Requiem, as a duo with Fred Poulet, in Sylvain Cathala’s trio, in Pearls of Swines Quartet, and performs as a solo artist.

A versatile artist, she also collaborates with dance artists, writes music for cinema, arranges for television projects, and is involved in educational and pedagogical activities.

Christophe Lavergne is one of the most creative and unbridled drummers of his generation in France. After graduating as a percussionist from the Conservatoire de Nantes, he studied at the New School and the Drummer’s Collective in New York, where he worked with Billy Hart, Adam Nussbaum, Charlie Persip, Mike Clark and Marvin Smitty Smith.

Being one of the busiest drummers on the French jazz scene, Christophe is also a well-known artist in other European countries, playing regularly with Simon Spang-Hanssen and Mariane Bitran in Denmark; Ronan Guilfoyle, Michael Buckley and Tommy Halferty in Ireland; Julian Siegel in Great Britain; and Mauro Gargano in Italy.

The drummer played for several years in Guillaume Saint-James’s Jazzarium ensemble, participated in projects with Ravi Coltrane, Drew Gress, Chris Brubeck, and has played and recorded with Thôt, Le Gros Cube, Caroline, Emmanuel Bex, Stéphane Belmondo and Benoît Delbecq. He has appeared at the Montreal and Barcelona jazz festivals, L’Olympia jazz festival in Paris, Tokyo and Moscow jazz festivals. Lavergne’s drums have been featured on the soundtracks of several films. 

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