Christian Vander Quartet, Paris 2014

Christian Vander Quartet – Le Triton, Paris June 27, 2014

Friday june 27, a handful of listeners gathered at Le Triton (Paris), to witness the concert of the Christian Vander Quartet. The small but charming club is the hatchery of French progjazz and ’Zeuhl’- music, with yearly concerts by the legendary group Magma and its offshoots like Maison Klaus, One Shot, Benoît Widemann and so on. The concert on friday (part of the festival Tritonales) featured Vander as a jazz drummer, as always in tribute to his legendary masters John Coltrane and Elvin Jones.

From the beginning to the end it was a sustained vivacious musical trip, performed by utterly skilled musicians from the French jazz scene, leading to a standing ovation. Christian Vander (*1948) is a lifetime adept of the legendary John Coltrane. With his jazz quartet, Vander refers to the period 1960-1964, in which Coltrane pioneered the so-called ’modal approach’, accompanied by pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones. Using musical scales, pedal points and drones rather than the standard chord progressionss of the swing and bop lexicon, Coltrane reached for greater tonal flexibility, leading to unbounded, unending energy streaming ‘waves of sound’. Thus, exploring the possibilities of modal improvisation, jazz was given a greater freedom and was opened up to influences from music of India and even medieval Europe. It is known that the young Vander, born into a musical family and raised in an international jazz environment, was heavily touched by this new approach. Coltrane inspired him more deeply than any other jazz artist, although –as the story goes- it was Chet Baker who gave him his first kit. The death of Coltrane in 1967 at the age of 40, led Vander into a deep crisis and his eventual flight to Italy, out of which he resurrected to create Magma and Offering, music he is dedicating to his great spiritual predecessor ever since. The quartal voicings of McCoy Tyner found their way to Vander’s magnum opus (Köhntarkösz), on of his solos processed on the album Merci, Coltrane’s ‘sheets of sound’ are reflected in Vander’s characteristic falset singing and screaming, while Elvin Jones’ grooves and dynamics seem to be featured on all Magma albums…

But mainly it is Trane’s infinite spiritual force, that rings through all Vander’s music. No surprise, Vander’s jazz quartet is based upon the classic quartet of Coltrane from the early sixties. ’Songs’ from that time, like Transition, Naima, India, Impressions, Lonnie’s Lament, Body & Soul and of course My favourite Things, were in the repertoire. On drums, Christian Vander proved to be still the most inventive, unique, spiritual, adventurous and energetic drummer alive on earth. In style he is clearly a congenial ’fellow thinker’ of Elvin Jones, whose revolutionary style transformed the drums as a traditional time-keeping instrument, shattering the traditional time-keeper’s role and inspiring a whole new generation of drummers. His emerging, inventive playing redefined the role of the jazz rhythm section through the use of polyrhythms and metric modulations. The concert in Le Triton was dedicated to Elvin Jones, who became a personal friend of Vander untill his death in 2004.

Laurent Fickelson is a virtuoso master in modal jazz, clearly influenced by McCoy Tyner, unruffled by the rhythmical adventures of Vander, even when his fills and crashes come close to ”controlled demolition”. Fickelson is the newest member of CV Quartet. His own albums are released on the Seventh Records label, like Magma and Offering. Emmanuel Grimonprez (double bass) is a highly energetic and flexible bass player, who has been at Vander’s side for a long time. If there has to be one comment on the CV Quartet, it is the lack of volume of the acoustic bass. Grimonprez should pump up his amplifier in between the massive drums and piano. A true precursor to Coltrane’s modal jazz is found in the hands of virtuoso Jean-Michel Couchet, although he is an alto saxophonist and clearly has his own musical vocabulary. Couchet contributed with dazzling and sparkling solos, besides playing the themes with great awareness. His contribution -also on soprano saxophone- seems to embrace the whole history of jazz, while remaining individually modern and dedicated to the modal approach. He studied at the American School of Modern Music (Paris) and played in the early nineties with ’Welcome’, a septet led by Vander and drummer Simon Goubert. The latter was also invited on stage in Le Triton, to take Vander’s place on drums during Lonnie’s Lament. Goubert, although playing with more well-rounded wrists and less volume, is clearly a soulbrother of Vander, who kept an eye on stage from behind the curtains.