Pierre Cartier

Dis, Blaise..." Chanson du Transsibérien

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It takes so long for Pierre Cartier to complete a project, but it is worth the wait. After a song cycle on poems by Yves Bonnefoy, he surpassed himself with Dis, Blaise... Chanson du Transsibérien. This work is a setting of Blaise Cendrars' 1913 poem Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (The Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Jehanne of France). Written in a very advanced form of free verse, it depicts the journey by train of a teenager from Moscow to Siberia. Dark and desperate, the poem seems to have foretold the first World War and the impact it would have on a whole European generation. Cartier, a bassist trained in plainchant, wrote Gregorian-like melodies and avant-garde jazz arrangements to accompany the words. The tension between medieval melodies and avant-garde music is held beautifully. The clash between eras and styles (classical, jazz, rock) produces something very different from third stream's easy answers. Cartier is accompanied by alumni from the Ambiances Magnétiques stables: saxophonist Jean Derome, viola player Jean René, guitarist Bernard Falaise, trombonist Tom Walsh, and drummer Pierre Tanguay. The irregularity of Cendrars' meter forces a few strange twists in the vocal parts, but in general Dis, Blaise... Chanson du Transsibérien pleases the ear, despite the audacious arrangements and occasional free jazz outbreaks. There are a few overlong passages near the end, but otherwise the work is uplifting and very touching at times. Highlights include the voice, double bass, and viola trio in "Mon Berceau" and the heartbreaking "Dis, Blaise...," where desperation becomes palpable as the delicate melody is overturned by a growing jazz-rock vamp (like a locomotive approaching dangerously). French-deaf listeners are strongly encouraged to locate a translation of Cendrars' poem (easy to find) to fully experience this marvelous album, Cartier's most ambitious.

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