Name at least two improvisers and one poet from Catalonia. Hmmm? Well, at least from now on you will be able to. For Arc Voltaic, singer Carles Andreu and pianist François Tusques have joined forces to put to song a selection of poems by Joan Salvat-Papasseit, an avant-gardist icon of Catalan futurism who died in 1924 at age 30. The texts are sung in the original Catalan. French translations are provided in the booklet. Andreu and Tusques go a long way back to the latter's Intercommunal Free Dance Music Orchestra in the mid-'70s. For this album, they put together a quintet with Danièle Dumas on soprano saxophone, Denis Colin on bass clarinet, and Didier Petit on cello. But most of the focus remains on Tusques' playful lines and Andreu's warm, powerful voice. Tusques often perverts classical forms to shape the pieces, giving the project a "modern lieder" feel, although Colin, Petit, and Dumas' contribution pull toward less-idiomatic music. At times, it feels like one of Léo Ferré's poet-inspired song cycles (especially in the "Sonnet de JV Foix I Ara No Es Fa"). Other songs are much more complex and disarticulated, to fit some of Salvat-Papasseit's calligrams and concrete poems ("Plànol," "Cal-Ligramma 2"). In most of them, Andreu finds a way to make listeners forget about the difficult nature of both poems and music, his voice taking us through image-filled journeys up and down his wide register. His expressive singing tells its own poem, reinforced by Tusques' allusions to Spanish dances and classical forms ("Nocturn per a Acordiò" [or "Nocturne for an Accordion"], for instance). Arc Voltaic offers a surprisingly effortless (and engaging) listen for such demanding music. Recommended, but don't expect the kind of avant-garde jazz or free improvisation Colin and Petit are best-known for.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture