Clarinet Attack

Double Trio des ClarinettesItinéraire Bis (Between the Lines, 2014)

Source: eMusic; click to go there
Source: eMusic; click to go there

It’s an all-clarinet sextet! And the results are anything but monochrome, with the players darting and weaving around one another, building up sound in criss-crossing orbits.

You get a taste of the group’s playfulness with “Almost Twenty-Eight,” which opens with all six men chanting in scripted, syncopated lines before launching into a bouncy, swooping clarinet piece. I can’t understand what they’re saying, but it sure sounds fun.

The album combines two European groups: The Clarinet Trio (Jürgen Kupke, Michael Thieke, and Gebhard Ullmann) and Le Trio des Clarinettes (Jean-Marc Foltz, Armand Angster, and Sylvain Kassap). They’re all expert in that European jazz sound: classical technique adapted to a polished mix of jazz, modern composition, and free improvisation, with a touch of silliness.

On many of the tracks, you’ve got the group playing a serious (or semi-serious) composition while one member solos intensely, showing off jazz chops and joyous abandon. On this segment of “Bizarre,” you can hear the buildup of polytonal parts for each member, finally giving way to a solo:

Many elements of the Double Trio’s approach also apply to Clarinet Thing, the all-clarinet quintet led by Beth Custer. But Clarinet thing feels more tune-oriented to me, with a vocabulary rich in traditional jazz forms — although Jimmy Guiffre is also a heavy influence. (It’s great stuff, by the way, and I compared Clarinet Thing to even more sax/clarinet types of groups in a 2009 writeup.)

Hat tip: I got tuned into this album by the March 24 edition of Taran’s Free Jazz Hour.