Thursday, July 2, 2009

FIJM 2009 - Baptiste Trotignon Quintet at Gésu

by David Ryshpan

French pianist-composer Baptiste Trotignon played to a small yet receptive crowd at Gésu on Canada Night. Commencing the evening in trio with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, Trotignon's aptly titled First Song (which also kicks off his album, Share) displayed his delicate touch and lush harmonies underneath a diatonic melody. Trotignon got a round sound out of the instrument, and he has a vocabulary in line with what has been termed the "modern mainstream," with bursts of ragged bluesy trills, like Don Pullen polished smooth.

Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner joined the group for the second piece, Flow. Seemingly unhindered by his power-saw injury of November, his opening cadenza displayed his characteristic motivic development, delivered with an earnest sense of emotion. The head was a looping ostinato underneath a busy melody harmonized by Turner and Trotignon. Hutchinson proved to be a tremendous colourist - an underrated pioneer of the contemporary mainstream drum vocabulary alongside Brian Blade. Augmenting his kit with bells, shakers and tambourine, switching seamlessly between brushes, sticks and mallets, Hutchinson was the driving force of the group, along with Penman's woody bass sound. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt completed the quintet, playing mostly flugelhorn with a warm, airy tone.

The centrepiece of the set was an untitled five-part suite, featuring all the group members at length. Throughout the course of this suite, Trotignon's playing seemed to match the level of intensity of the rest of the band. The hook-up between Hutchinson and Turner was especially strong, as was Pelt's energy on anything swinging. Trotignon's vocabulary is wide and versatile but he never really dug into his bluesy phrases with the attack and intention they needed. Hutchinson's broken straight eighth note feel was so potent, it rendered the transitions into swing anti-climactic. Pelt's trumpet was unfortunately overmiked in the house, and he sounded best when he backed off the mic and ate the swing feel for breakfast. The transitions between the movements of the suite were smooth and well-executed, blending into each other with the requisite amount of space. Hutchinson's samba feel of the fourth movement was highly enjoyable, and it was here that Trotignon's improvising hit its apex, digging into his phrases the way Penman had on his preceding solo.

There are many great moments in Trotignon's playing and writing. It seems that touring with such estimable company will only further his craftsmanship.



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