Friday, July 6, 2018

Alain Mallet's Mutt Slang

Alain Mallet's one of those musicians who has been around and worked with the best. This French pianist and composer has played with the likes of Madeleine Peyroux, Phil Woods and Paul Simon, and his compositions have been recorded by everyone from Gary Burton to Paquito D'Rivera. His music constantly reflects many approaches at once and seems to beg that cliched question--what are your musical influences, Mr. Musician? That, of course, is a question that should no longer be asked by anyone who truly loves jazz--you should just know by listening unless the artist is eager to tell you. That's the only time the answer matters. In this case, Mallet grew up listening to Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson. His lush style on the keyboards tends to pay tribute to the former, but in Mutt Slang, his first solo album, he breathes it all in, his lifetime of experiences and emotions, and casts them out of his body in a generous 2-CD set of swirling and complex jazz.

Contemporary jazz tends to either celebrate the past or work toward something new, and Mallet seems to be doing both at once. His compositions have that relaxed European flair to them, mixed in with subtle Brazilian beats, a mood that's far more genuine friendly than fey. There's a lighthearted cinematic feel to the tunes here, a romantic caper or sophisticated comedy about international characters who speak several languages and always know the wittiest responses to any situation. It's quite a thrill to hear these cultural markers come at you out of the ether, sometimes two or more at a time, and for a moment or two your brain tries to sort it all out as if this music is a beautiful puzzle that doesn't have to be solved that quickly. This is my favorite type of music, full of new ideas that still allow you to clear your mind and appreciate the sound one layer at a time.

While Mallet's creativity and almost Zen-like approach to composition is the glue that holds this expansive work together, his large and varied ensemble helps to create that spirit of universal appeal. 14 musicians play more than 25 different instruments, which gives the music an effortless feel--effortless in the sense that any mood or rhythm can be achieved since the resources at hand are so plentiful. The Latin rhythms stick in my memory, of course, but there are also touches of eastern and African influences such as Layth Sidiq's souful violin solo in "Adama" or percussion instruments such as the xekere, pandeiro and congas. We also get a variety of beautiful vocalists such as Veronica Morscher, Song Ji Yeon, Tali Rubinstein and Mallet himself who vividly bring their own lives and experiences into the songs they sing.

Those constant international flavors and they way they mix is what makes Mutt Slang continually surprising. Mallet explains it as an "idea that so much of our music is the product of a unique mix of seemingly unconnected influences, when, in reality, they emanate from that untethered spiritual expanse that we all tap into." I generally agree with that old saying about music, writing and architectural dancing, but Mallet really hits the nail on the head with this single sentence. This is what you think the entire time you're listening. Mallet's music is consistent in its energy and flow, but it's almost startling in its role as a travelogue. Oh, the places you'll go when you hear this.

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