Hurdy-Gurdy Man

Gilles Chabenat & Alain Bonnin -  Trame
Gilles Chabenat & Alain Bonnin – Trame
Gilles Chabenat & Alain Bonnin

Trame (independent release)

The piano played a pivotal role in the history of jazz. Many jazz pianist luminaries such as Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington come to mind. However, with a few exceptions, the traditional French instrument, hurdy-gurdy has not played a starring role with jazz ensembles. When I performed a web search on the hurdy-gurdy’s role in modern jazz, three performers’ names appeared including Matthias Loibner, guitarist/hurdy-gurdy player for the Austrian jazz/rock/folk fusion ensemble Deishovida, a Swiss musician-composer Mani Planzer and Gilles Chabenat of the jazz duo Trame. Certainly a case could be made for the versatility of the unusual French instrument which fits in equally well in jazz and traditional or folk-roots music. Yet when it comes to jazz, it takes a bit of imagination and a lot of musical technique to pull this fete off. Fortunately, French musician Gilles Chabenat brings those qualities to his instrument and to his

French pianist Alain Bonnin and Trame’s other half also brings his musical gifts to the table. Alain and Gilles met while recording with the Corsican vocalist I Muvrini (another musical innovator). Alain and Gilles realized that they had many musical things in common and formed Trame. And although Alain wrote 4 of the 14 tracks that appear on the duo’s self-titled CD, it’s hard to tell where one musician ends and the other begins. The instrumental tracks often veer off on tangents similar to a person embarking down one street then changing their mind and racing off to another street. The music here is quite complicated and exasperating at times, yet in the end listeners are taken to a new place and one they probably hadn’t even considered. It’s as though the musicians’ intuition works over time and this instinctive quality colors this recording.

Alain’s Septembre comes off as a warm jazz standard. But his track, saccages takes on a faster pace with hurdy-gurdy ripping through Alain’s carefully anchored piano and the musicians venture into a funky territory. Similar to other tracks, le fil/Mab feels melancholic and reminds me of a desolate snowy scape and recalls music by Finnish accordionist
Maria Kalaniemi and other Nordic jazz composers. On the whimsical couleur par couleur the piano and hurdy-gurdy weave a musical tapestry with each instrument representing its own unique color and texture.

La pierre tres-unie features Gilles performing a solo piece which fuses John Cage-inspired experimental music with the feel of a French circus troupe. And Gilles explores every nook and cranny of his electric instrument. Alain solos on terre et fer and les pays decouverts while uncovering a variety of musical themes. Noir animal alternates between the heaviness of rock music and a light lyrical mode, but again veers off in a new direction, growing darker and dissonant then returning to the light lyrical mode.

It takes a lot of brain power to compose intricate music, yet, the duo render their music seemingly with little effort. Although at first the music might sound familiar, it does take a few left turns and spins its listeners around. It is music for brainy and intuitive people alike, with plenty of Gallic charm to spare.

Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music.

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