A Sei Voci / David Chevallier

David Chevallier: Gesualdo Variations

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French composer and guitarist David Chevallier has a varied musical background but has devoted most of his career to free jazz, and he brings that sensibility and aesthetic to these arrangements of six late madrigals by Gesualdo. A vocal ensemble performs the madrigals, sometimes singing sections exactly as written and sometimes with the individual lines deconstructed and then reassembled in new ways. Chevallier adds a layer of new material played by an ensemble consisting of saxophones, viola, cello, violin, and guitars, including electric guitar. In spite of the unconventional makeup of the group, Chevallier deploys it like a traditional free jazz ensemble, with plenty of opportunity for improvisation. The sound is often fresh and imaginative, and allows the listener to hear the Gesualdo filtered through an intensifying contemporary perspective. Some of the pieces suffer, though, from a sameness in structure; many begin with the singers undergirded by the instrumentalists who expand the harmonic vocabulary of Gesualdo's already eccentrically chromatic harmonies and add new contrapuntal activity, followed by a mostly improvised jazz break for the instrumentalists, then returning to a mixture of all the performers together. The most effective pieces are those that break that pattern, like Itene, which opens with the instruments alone, and Moro, lasso, which begins with the voices singing the madrigal just as written, with the instruments gradually adding textural complexity. Io pur respiro is also persuasive in the way the text drives the instrumental contributions; the ending, a long chromatic spiraling down into despair, is especially evocative. Members of the French vocal ensemble A Sei Voci sing beautifully and do an amazing job holding their own in the midst of the sometimes dense thicket of added instrumental harmonies and textures. The instrumentalists perform with warmth and with sensitivity to the original material. This release is an excellent example of well-executed jazz/classical crossover and should be of interest to fans of that genre. Zig Zag Territoires' sound is clean, warm, immediate, and well-balanced.

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