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Modern Jazz: Mathilde Renault, Simak Dialog, Theo Travis

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MATHILDE RENAULT: Overoceans (CD on Carbon 7 Records)

This release from 2007 offers 56 minutes of soft jazz.

Renault (on piano and voice) is joined by Caroline Snow (on violin), Stephan Pougin (on percussion), and Arne Van Dongen (on double bass).

Comfortable jazz without any pretensions or flash. The tunes are straight-ahead and deliberate, stemming from traditional influences.

Regal piano leads the ensemble, generating solemn chords and twinkling keys that shimmer with cerebral resonance. These complex riffs roll out with stately disposition, sometimes solemn, sometimes jovial, always engaging.

The violin provides splendid accompaniment for the piano, establishing lilting harmonies that balance the music's gentle sound with a classical demeanor. Aimed at a midground between melancholy and jovial, the delivery is delicate and often romantic.

The percussion is stable and nimble. Never overwhelming or bullying the tunes, the rhythms remain understated and crisp.

The basslines are sultry, temperate yet majestic.

There's a vocal presence in a few songs, but it is generally non-lyrical, exploring organic sounds that compliment the melodies.

Renault's compositions superbly evoke a smoky cafe filled with caffeinated intellectuals. The tunes resonate with old school flair, yet exhibit a subtle modern mien that is quite appealing. This is the type of music you listen to for its own sake.

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SIMAK DIALOG: Patahan (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2007 offers 74 minutes of sultry jazz recorded live in concert at Goethe Haus, Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 16, 2006.

Simak Dialog is: Riza Arshad (on acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, and synthesizers), Tohpati Ario Hutomo (on guitars), Adhitya Pratama (on bass), and Endang Ramdan (on Sunda kendang and toys), with Emy Tata (on Makassar kendang, ceng-ceng, kethuk, and vocals), Nyak Ina Raseuki "Ubie" (on vocals), and Marla Stukenberg (on poetry reading in German).

This music is keyboard driven, with an up-front piano describing languid tunes with strident key-strokes. Each note conveys a stolid message of resolve. Each chord is a construction of confidence. Each melody communicates idealism, the type of strength that is born within and blossoms to move hands to change the world.

The guitar utters cries of anguish, bent strings telling of agonies suffered within the cranial walls. There is nothing unpleasant about the notes, they wail according to unrealized desires, impulses ignored, loves lost and never to be reclaimed. Gradually, though, an edge of resolution creeps into the nimble-fingered riffs, asserting the determination to never again let such opportunities slip away. It's a very cathartic progression, one that marks the music with human courage.

Relaxed percussives pitter away in the background, establishing soothing rhythms that evoke the early hours just before dawn. Some of the devices are of ethnic design, generating soft impacts that transform simple beats into hushed grunts. As the songs unfurl, these tempos will grow more enthusiastic, pursuing a bright frenzy that can be infectious.

Somewhere along the way, scat vocals ebb into the mix, giving voice to the exultation brewing in the tunes. Later, there will be recitations honoring the spirits of joy.

These compositions are an interesting mixture of angst and jubilation. Through observation of pain, the music seeks to dampen that suffering with an escalating resonance of bliss. The listener is carried along by this sonic tide, transported to realms of glistening assurance; realms that spawn positivism that will linger long after the music has stopped.

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THEO TRAVIS: Double Talk (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2007 offers 66 minutes of elegant jazz music.

Travis (who has replaced the late Elton Dean on Soft Machine Legacy recordings) plays a variety of saxophones, flute, clarinet, and loops. He is joined by Mike Outram (on guitar), Pete Whittaker (on Hammond organ), and Roy Dodds (on drums and gongs). Robert Fripp is a special guest, playing guitar and guitar soundscapes on three tracks.

Expect straight-ahead jazz tuneage, the type of comfortably searing melodies one might find in a smoky coffeehouse. As with any decent jazz, the instruments blend to become a unified sonic entity. At the same time, each instrument is afforded its opportunity to shine in the spotlight with endearing solo performances.

The horns establish a vibrantly emotional tapestry, sometimes jubilant, sometimes melancholic. But even the mournful passages feature a sneaky subtext of optimism that will lift the spirits after a while. Meanwhile, Travis’ woodwinds evoke a woodland sympathy that tugs at the heartstrings, generating a borderland between oblivion and salvation.

The Hammond organ possesses a distinct sound that engenders slippery notes with a smooth veneer which excellently suits this music. The keyboards inject a liquid sparkle that is pleasant and engaging.

The percussion tends to be languid and dreamy, establishing rhythms of a gentle nature.

The guitar is decidedly modern, a crisp electric sound that functions as a nice balance for the introspective flair exhibited by the music.

Being otherworldly in their cadence, Fripp’s guitar soundscapes superbly enhance the music’s balmy character.

These compositions are generally temperate and relaxing, yet the melodies contain a subtle vitality that creeps sideways into the listener’s psyche and stimulates a sense of personal encouragement.

The release features a wistful version of the early Pink Floyd song “See Emily Play.”

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