Like all the French-American ensembles that cross The Bridge for the first time, the members of this quartet have never played together, save for a few preparation sessions between each saxophonist and the drummer (Samuel Silvant first met Mars Williams during a recording with Larry Ochs, Julien Desprez, and Mathieu Sourisseau in April 2014 in Chicago, then Ernest Khabeer Dawkins at a concert in Nîmes, and finally Antonin-tri Hoang for a session in March 2015 in Paris). Mars Williams sums up the situation and gives the starting signal: “This situation is especially exciting and unique in that we are given the opportunity to explore and develop the music through an extended series of live concerts, and then document the collaboration in a recording. The language and diverse musical vocabulary that each musician will bring to the project offers endless and exciting possibilities for musical exploration.” This time, for this ensemble of three saxophonists (and clarinetists), there are many precedents, especially since ensembles structured around wind instruments have become common in the jazzistic field. A few years ago, Ernest Khabeer Dawkins was the driving force of the Saxophonitis Quartet (made up of, depending on the circumstances, Ari Brown, Edward Wilkerson Jr., Mwata Bowden, Vandy Harris, or Edward House), and his essential contribution to Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble needs no further proof. More recently, after his long participation in the Peter Brötzmann’s tempestuous Chicago Tentet, Mars Williams contributed to the creation of another quartet of Chicago saxophonists with Ken Vandermark, Dave Rempis, and Nick Mazzarella. In France, Antonin-tri Hoang collaborates with Watt, a quartet of clarinets and bass clarinets, with Jean Dousteyssier, Jean-Brice Godet, and Julien Pontvianne. Whether it’s spreading out large rhythmic fabric, unfolding then folding them back in more or less accented angles and curves; whether it’s following and feeding currents of energy, electricity, or reconsidering the instrument’s mechanics itself as a sound source, a wave emitter, or a vehicle for the unheard; whether it’s raising the interplay fever, stretching the dough of breaths, thinning their boom, making them spurt, scheme, or shine – all that matters is to be capable of anything.
It is thus not insignificant that Samuel Silvant, the ensemble’s drummer, a man of repercussions, is the one to recap: “What is ‘simpler’ than drums and reeds? We’ll be ‘free’ from the harmonic support of a piano or a guitar, from a bass; but also from electricity. Is it a return to fundamentals? To Freedom? Freedom, to me, is essential to the music we advocate for. I think about the origins, the drums accompanied by voices. I think about the marching bands, and the freedom to play in any circumstance… To explore repetition, counterpoint, and the various ranges of the saxophone, the different voices of my playmates.” Leading the drummer to evoke the reed sections of Count Basie’s or Stan Kenton’s orchestra as well as James Brown’s orchestra, the work on tones by Jimmy Guiffre or Steve Reich… Silvant could have also quoted the first incarnation of Bindu, the shapeshifting formation of Hamid Drake, who had then surrounded himself with wind instrumentalists, Ernest Dawkins among them. Three saxophones and one drum kit, a mountain range, torrents gushing down its hills, lava flows thickening its sides, and lifts that are anything but mechanical (the ascensions of John Coltrane); or as Antonin-tri Hoang puts so well: “the perfect opportunity to reinvent a sound, to once again be a child who discovers as he goes, who composes with the objects, beings, and landscapes that surround him. The perfect opportunity to find a music that would have no age or origin, but a tongue to babble, feet to move, and travels to grow up.”