Review: Hadouk Quartet, Paris

Michael Tucker draws in the musical perfumes of Paris in the spring, his visit crowned by a performance by the Hadouk quartet, mixing jazz and world sensibilities

A recent weekend trip to Paris yielded many a jazz pleasure. I just missed Ravi Coltrane and his quartet at New Morning, but there was much else to relish. Various anonymous but highly accomplished street bands, led by tenor or trombone, gave the banks of the mid-city Seine a special atmosphere, their now riff-fed, now free-coloured grooves coming and going on the clement night air and catching the attention of many a passer-by. A stone’s throw from the Seine, at the historic Café Laurent on rue Dauphine, the Martinique-born pianist Bibi Louison led a fine trio where the legacies of Monk and Jamal were in welcome evidence in a set as flowing and lyrical as it was blues-shot and muscular. Louison’s further elective affinities include Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan and McCoy Tyner and his engaging stage presence and relaxed mix of sinewy blues, Afro-Cuban colouring and harmonic depth gave the small but attentive audience a real night to remember.

Across the river, one of the key “world music” ensembles of recent years made its debut at one of Paris’s best clubs, the small but comfortable and very well-run Duc des Lombards. I’ve enjoyed some terrific nights there, from the likes of Philip Catherine and Biréli Lagrene, and this concluding set of a two-night engagement from the Hadouk Quartet was right up there, the sustained warmth of the response from the crowd prompting bassist and multi-instrumentalist Loy Ehrlich to thank them, and the club’s management, for what had clearly been a great experience all round.

After CODONA (the trio of Collin Walcott, Don Cherry, and Nana Vasconcelos) the Hadouks strike me as perhaps the most enjoyable and consequential of all the many groups who have ventured into the world music field(s). Sometimes their engagingly light modal grooves and textured melodic ornamentation can remind me of the Jimmy Giuffre of The Train And the River fame; sometime their pan-global, swirling colour and anthemic climaxes may conjure distant memories of Weather Report at their mid-1970s best. But whatever the part-precedent may be, the music of the Hadouks always strikes me as fresh, conjuring a post-Cherry dream world somewhere between (and beyond) Africa and Armenia.

They’ve changed from the trio which made such diversely arresting albums as Shamanimal, Utopies (with guest Jon Hassell), Baldamore and Air Hadouk (all recently reissued as a boxed set by Naïve) to the quartet which has just issued the fine – if unfortunately titled – Hadoukly Yours, again on Naïve. Drummer Steve Shehan has gone, replaced by Raphael Imbert associate Jean-Luc Di Fraya, an excellent percussionist of melodically attuned classical finesse and street-wise power and also able to contribute affecting counter-tenor vocalese. The Monk-literate guitarist Eric Löhrer, who guested on Air Hadouk, is now a permanent member of the band. He and Didier Malherbe – the ex-Gong man who along with Loy Ehrlich founded the group whose name derives from the (North African) hajouj bass played by Ehrlich and the (Armenian) doudouk oboe played by Malherbe – share a fine understanding, previously documented by Naïve on the 2010 duo sessions Nuit d’ombrelle, a two-CD release featuring a Monk-rich jazz songbook and a sequence of freely cast yet largely lyrical improvisations.

As Malherbe – who chiefly played flutes and the doudouk, restricting his etched soprano lines to the two encores – said to me after the set: “You know how life changes … the trio had been around for over 15 years, Steve wanted to develop other projects, and so we came to this line-up, where things are very different from before, even if the overall feeling or spirit of the music remains. Loy used to play a lot of keyboards and samples, but now he concentrates on bass, as with Eric and Jean-Luc, there are other, different possibilities for colour and dynamics.” Continuity in change was at the core of an intimate, mellow and thoroughly engaging set largely drawn from the new release. Malherbe’s bansurai flute work and Ehrlich’s bass were both outstanding on the gently rocking but ever-building Bora Bollo. At times, as on the ultra-lyrical Chappak, with its shades of both Ravi Shankar and Ornette Coleman, Löhrer turned to lap steel guitar to help conjure the sort of tenderness of mood also to be enjoyed in the opening of Shadow Maker and throughout the guitarist’s own Bittersweet Lullaby. While each of these musicians might be described as a virtuoso, virtuosity for its own sake was never a feature of a beautifully paced concert which ran from the old-time grooves and banjo-fed fun of Rouge Bamboo to archetypal call-and-response pieces of pitch-bending Hadouk folk-testifying such as the anthemic Danse Des Lutins and Suite Cabaline. Superbe!

Photo by Raswitha Guillemin

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