Francois Tusques et le Nouveau Jazz Francais
What looks like one of the heaviest line-ups of free jazzmen one could conceive ofMurray, Silva, Tusques, Guerin, trumpeter Al Shorter, alto saxophonist Steve Potts (who would later join the Steve Lacy quintet), bassist Bob Reid (of multinational improvising quintet Emergency) and percussionist Louis Armfieldwas, in fact, completely unexpected. An insistent, driving and minimal theme is voiced by the ensemble, leading into one of the most memorable 'free' alto solos these ears have heard, Tusques alternating between rhythmic repetition, roiling bass soundmasses and anthemic Maoist folk melodies, the unrehearsed group surprisingly empathetic to Tusques' drive and whims.
Yet Tusques increasingly began to find free improvisation a musical "dead end and found it necessary to search for other, more integrated approaches to improvisation. In addition to playing and recording a number of solo piano expositions (released to great acclaim on the Futura and Le Chant du Monde labels), Tusques formed the Intercommunal Free Dance Music Orchestra in the early '70s, a meeting of French and African musicians that would yield to a "popular appeal, something that could get both social and artistic concerns out to a number of music listeners of all stripes.
"The name comes from these things: Intercommunal, like French and Africa together; Dance, so people can feel the music; and Free, because it was a free approach to traditional music of the world. The group included a number of African percussionists, like Sam Ateba, Cheikh Fall and Guem, as well as the great alto saxophonist from Guinea, Jo Maka; French jazzmen like trumpeter Michel Marre; German trombonist Adolf Winkler ("he could play everythingone minute J.J. Johnson, the next minute Tricky Sam Nanton! ) and Spanish orator Carlos Andreu ("he was a revolutionary poet; he would get up and pick random passages from Leftist texts, improvising upon them in concert ).
African and Latin American folk themes yield to lengthy improvisational passages filled with more ebullience than severity in this contextthere are even pieces that successfully hedge dub as much as they do Breton music or kwela. The orchestra lasted throughout the rest of the decade in various guises and on into the 1980s, recording nearly ten albums for vanguard French labels including Le Temps de Cerises and Vendemiare (a subsidiary of Palm), before eventually disbanding.
Since the mid-80s, Tusques has co-led a trio with Noel McGhie and Paris bass clarinet wizard Denis Colin, in some ways an heir apparent to the altars of Portal and Sclavis, albeit with an entirely bop-based sensibility that dips into the same spring as Dolphy. This trio recorded Tusques' Blues Suite for Transes Europeenes in 1998, and it remains his most regular working group (Tusques picks his gigs with the utmost care, so this group might not work as much as followers of his music would like).
Tusques, in collaboration with his partner, actress/vocalist Isabel Juanpera, and members of the Parisian improvisers' community like Colin and Vitet, has previously expanded upon the "Blues Suite in works like Blue Phédre (Axolotl, 1996) and Le Jardin des Délices (In Situ, 1992), adding an operatic (and quite possibly cinematic) scale to his already colorful small-group music.
In what might seem a departure, one of Tusques' major projects is in collaboration with architect and visual artist Jean-Max Albert, in which Monk's compositions are investigated visually. Numbers are applied to thematic fragments, and each number has a corresponding shapethese become surreal diagrams that retain perfectly the gravity and whimsy, the yin and yang of Monk's music, at times like a painting of Mondrian, at times like a Miró. It his hoped that a concert version of this work can be performed, with Tusques performing the pieces surrounded onstage by the visual images. Such a multifaceted view of Monk is, in many ways, a perfect analogue for the music of François Tusques: an assemblage of insular phrases yields a colorful and multi-directional oeuvre, a never-ending film of freedom, culture, and social engagement. Intercommunal, indeed.
Thanks to François, Jean Rochard and Sarah Remke of the Minnesota sur Seine Festival, and Guy Kopelowicz for making this article possible.
Minnesota Sur Seine 2005: Intercommunal Music on the Mississippi
François Tusques, Blues Suite (Transes Europeens, 1998)
François Tusques, Blue Phedre (Axolotl, 1996)
François Tusques, Intercommunal Free Dance Music Orchestra (Vendemiaire, 1976-1978)
François Tusques, Intercommunal Music (Shandar, 1971)
Clifford Thornton, The Panther and the Lash (America, 1970)
Sunny Murray, Sunny Murray (Shandar, 1968)
François Tusques, Free Jazz 1965 (Moloudji/In Situ, 1965)
Photo Credit: Guy Le Querrec