Here is another lavishly packaged disc in the Romano, Sclavis, and Texier trio's African tour series. This one is a studio date done in 1999. It's a single disc about an hour in length boxed with a 60-page booklet of photographs by the band's spiritual director, photographer Guy LeQuerrec. This is a suite composed of selections written by individual members. By now, anyone familiar with this trio knows that there is a thoroughly modern jazz that has at its considerably large heart a global vision. Certainly Suite Africaine was influenced in its entirety by the group's tours of that continent, but the influences that came before and have been attached to their playing since then are also in the mix. First, there are heavy syncopated rhythmic melody lines that crisscross in "Hauts Plateaux," the Arab-Israeli melodies that intersect in two separate yet inextricably linked harmonic intervals in Romano's "Soweto Sorrow," and the crazy percussive semantics -- where even Sclavis on bass clarinet gets into the valve on valve drumming -- in "Bois Crosses." As for the improvisation in this recording, it is kept to a minimum, though what is here is profoundly immediate and angularly imaginative (it has to be since such a weight is placed upon it by its lack of structural space), because, after all, this is a suite. There are 15 segments, all moving toward the center of something that remains unspoken until you look at the photographs in the booklet, and then it becomes unmistakable. It is impossible to convey in words except to say that as an entity, this trio plays differently, has changed irrevocably as a result of these tours. The music still swings -- "Giraffe" -- and challenges boundaries, as in "Soul Is Free" and "Windhoek Suite," and conveys humorous lyricism such as on "Guy Danse" or "Ombrellas." But a shift took place in the way the trio composes and performs its material. While they may have kept their European sophistication approaching harmony, interval, textural ambience, they've lost their cool distance from their music and from their audiences; they've gained a more complex yet grounded sense of rhythmic and melodic invention, and a sense of integrated modality -- and that exists in no other jazz or improvisational trio on the globe. There aren't enough platitudes for this band or its photographer. If you purchase no other jazz recordings this year, pick up the Romano, Sclavis, and Texier African recordings -- they're worth whatever you pay for them.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek