French drummer François Merville released his first CD with his quintet, La Part de l'Ombre, in late 2000. The drummer wrote all of the material especially for this rather unusual instrumentation: two alto saxophones (Guillaume Orti and Sébastien Texier, also doubling on baritone sax and clarinet, respectively), cello (Vincent Segal), tuba (François Thuillier), and of course drums. This lineup is somewhat similar to Claude St-Jean's L'Orkestre des Pas Perdus (minus a few horn players, plus cello) and both men's compositional styles largely intersect: tightly written melodies backed by infectious funk grooves. But Merville allows more room for free improv. Unlike St-Jean, his pieces do not follow rigid song structures. In that, his music conjures up Jean Derome et les Dangereux Zhoms -- there are similarities between the two's use of lightly off-unison heads too. This Derome influence is best heard in the festive "Rumeur Défiante" and the contrapuntal build-up early in "Le Sud du Haut." Other highlights include the opener "One More Tim," a complex piece in three parts, and the moodier "Le Songe du Miroir," which features one powerful baritone solo. Segal's playing is a pleasure to follow. On standard cello he either assumes bassist duties or provides a lower range to the melody while the tuba keeps the groove alive. On his electric cello he takes a more prominent role. Fans of the early to mid-'90s material on Ambiances Magnétiques (René Lussier, Jean Derome, Claude St-Jean) or even devotees of the avant-prog stylings of Cuneiform acts like Forever Einstein and Volapük will find much to enjoy in La Part de l'Ombre. Recommended.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture