REVIEW: Émile Parisien and Vincent Peirani at Kings Place (2016 EFG LJF)

Émile Parisien and Vincent Peirani
2014 (c) ACT / Grosse-Geldermann


Émile Parisien and Vincent Peirani, (Kings Place Hall One, 11th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Alison Bentley)

At last- a London premiere for accordionist Vincent Peirani, with fellow Frenchman, saxophonist Émile Parisien. The latter is no stranger to London Jazz Festival audiences, and it was wonderful to hear the two as a duo- they’ve developed a particularly strong rapport since meeting in bassist David Humair’s band in 2009, and have received numerous prestigious awards.

From the start, they won the audience over with their humour- relaxed but poised ready for anything. ‘We’ll start the concert with our first piece!’ said Parisien: Sidney Bechet’s 40s tune Egyptian Fantasy, (from the duo’s 2014 CD Belle Époque.) Parisien leaned forward like a snake charmer, as if practising tai chi with his soprano, his notes as fluid as his movements. His sax seemed to be leading him and the audience into their musical world- bringing into Bechet’s music modern and free jazz, as well as classic French valse-musette accordion. In Temptation Rag, Peirani crouched low, brandishing his bare feet as he stretched the accordion out lazily, bending the notes into the blues. He brought counterpoint lines from Bechet’s original, keeping its playfulness and accuracy. Peirani played like a whole band; sometimes hinting at the harmony, sometimes drawing all the lines together over powerful bass notes, with an immaculate sense of rhythm. His notes swarmed behind Parisien’s graceful, oriental-influenced lines, before they dropped back into ragtime. An unnamed waltz unwound gradually and exquisitely, like a musical box.

Peirani began Schubertauster with notes running eerily together like electronic distortions (‘It’s about Schubert and oysters,’ Parisien told us.) The sax vibrato was gorgeous, as delicate as a kaval, fluttering like the sound of Peirani’s fingers flickering across the accordion buttons. Parisien slid dramatically up to the notes with a smudge of Ornette Coleman (one of his recordings is called Yes, Ornette!) A rockier section developed, almost cajun and swampy. Both seemed fused with their instruments as they drifted into a Schubertian melody, ending in dark breaths from the accordion.

Peirani’s 3 Temps pour Michel P, from his Thrill Box album, was next: ‘3 beats for -clarinettist- Michel Portal’. Spectacularly fast unison triads melted into atonal lines and quirky notes tripped up the tune; the accordion buttons chattered percussively in Balkan flurries. (Peirani toured for several years with an Eastern European band.) He sang with perfect intonation along with his complex, fast solo- which seemed to liberate something new in his improvising. ‘I’m always singing inside. Sometimes I just open my mouth, you know, and it gets out!’ he said, self-deprecatingly in an interview.

Bechet’s Song of the Medina (Casbah) had a North African feel, the warm melancholy of Parisien’s multiphonics echoing naturally in Hall One’s sympathetic acoustic. He harmonised two notes at once, fusing Bach-like triads with the blues. You felt as if the notes cost him something. Workshops as a teenager in the South of France with Wynton Marsalis taught him the importance of playing expressively- and you could hear that in every note. Peirani heated up into fierce, buzzing grooves behind the uncompromising wild angles of the sax- they seemed possessed by the music.

The delicate waltz feel of Kate Bush’s Army Dreamers was their unexpected encore, played with folk-edged winsomeness- a tribute to a British musician. A standing ovation- the audience thundered their approval. The music was unfettered, not despite but because of their great technical skill- you felt they could play anything. Joyful, maverick music to lift the spirits.

Support was from excellent London pianist Nikki Yeoh, playing works from her new solo album Solo Gemini. She played meditatively, with hints of Abdullah Ibrahim, in The Healer and Elderflower and Ivy, the latter almost scouring the keys in shimmering tremolo. Others were playfully spiky, like the Satie-esque Dance of the Two Small Bears (which exploded into free improv) and What Kind? This Kind! with its rumbling right hand. It was unusual to see a pianist rely on a powerful technique, rather than using prepared piano or electronic effects- and her compositions were original and imaginative.

LINKS: Interview with Émile Parisien
Interview with Vincent Peirani

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