The Art of Cafe Society

Latest release from the excellent Neither/Nor Records operating out of Brooklyn. Today’s offering is a single piece of live improvised music performed by the international group Diaphane. Paris (n/n 018) was recorded at the Cafe De Paris in November 2019, and I see our good friend Jean-Marc Foussat, the French-Algerian improviser who has been recording free improv since the 1980s, provided his technical skills for this occasion. Those in the seats are the Fnerch-Japanese violinist Frantz Loriot, the Swiss pianist Raphael Loher, the German tuba player Carl Ludwig Hübsch, and Carlo Costa (N/N label owner) on percussion.

Like certain other entries in this label catalogue, the record is a long-form 36:03 minute piece, presenting an intense one-take, real-time, exploration of music; unlike other entries, which have sometimes inclined towards slow and quiet musical meditations, Paris is quite maximal and busy. A lot of that detail and richness is due to the non-stop chatter of Loher on his prepared piano; when he gets into that zone, and is afforded the space to let fly, he’s as busy as a coffee-fuelled typist with an old Smith-Corona portable. Likewise Loriot, who is attacking and sawing his instrument with a frenetic vigour that is, at times, somewhat alarming – an impression which is furthered by the vaguely panic-stricken tone in his melancholic notes.

Underpinning these two squabbling locusts, the tuba of of the German contingent breathes many indulgent sighs and roots the music with the sheer gravity of his lower-register tones. Costa works hard to find spaces in the continuum, and when he does he inserts himself with grace and subtlety. I particularly like the way his bass toms act as punctuation points, if I might be allowed to extend the “typewriter” metaphor. The great success of this piece is that we can listen to and enjoy the entire work without feeling any sense of “improv fatigue”; the players are pacing themselves, and though there may be occasional energy-bursts where the actions reach a temperature of roughly 85 degrees, it’s not exhausting. Furthermore, not everything is playing at once, and the very natural and instinctive laying-out and restraint exhibited by the players creates a spontaneous dynamic, which makes for a very satisfying listen. With cover photography by Loriot and Cesare Baccheschi which seems to find abstract art in the splodges of colour on a white wall.

Another fine addition to this splendid label’s discography and a top-notch example of intense, collaborative, and intelligent improvisation. From 8th September 2021.