Andre Fertier's Clivage is one of the most impressive, unheralded, French ensembles. Finding themselves in no-man's land betwixt Indian music, jazz, drone and progressive rock styles, the ensemble created three fascinating albums well worth the attention of those who seek music that falls in the cracks between genres.
The group's debut album is probably their signature statement. Featuring four long tracks, Regina Astris sets the stage for this ensemble's mesmerizing music. Instrumentally, the rhythm section is based on Armand Lemal's perucssion and Patricio Villaruel's tablas, upon which Fertier (guitar and keys), Jean Pierre de Barba (sax), Claude Duhaut (bass), and Mahmoud Tabrizizadeh (violin) weave a spellbinding tapestry, a sound that is reminiscent of Shakti, Archimedes Badkar, Oriental Wind, Aktuala and other similar groups where jazz meets the east. The drone stylings of the raga-esque music give the overall feel a trancy atmosphere where a drone is set up, and over the course of each piece, a build up slowly emerges where the instrumentalists improvise over the rhythms, continuing to advance the intensity of each piece. It ends up being over all too quickly, a virtual delight transcending several genres that should appeal to fans of east-meets-west music.
The group's second album, Mixtus Orbis, continues from the first while expanding the line-up to incorporate a much wider instrumental palate. Jean Querlier joins on oboe, sax and flute, as well as two string bass players, two celloists, second tabla player Michel Delaporte, drummer Claude Salmieri and soprano Brigitte Toulson. The large ensemble infused a more classical symphonic feel to the music which, strangely enough, reminds me of Gil Evans work with (and without) Miles Davis merged with Visions of the Emerald Beyond/Apocalypse-era Mahavishnu Orchestra. The move away from the trance/drone states of Regina Astris is, perhaps, less transcendant and absorbing than the prior effort, but, at the same time, it is good to see Fertier move the music into completely new directions. But, for Side 2, and the three-part suite "Fatoum Astris," familiar territories are once again visited with a return to the tabla-impelled trance structures. The finale, "Youssoufia," combines chanting, vocals and virtuoso oboe to point at the ensemble's final release.
Clivage's third album was recorded about five years after the group's second album and by this time, they had moved to shorter pieces and a smaller ensemble of Fertier, Quelier, Tabrizizadeh, Villaroel and bassist Christian Gentet. They still show the penchant for bringing in multi-ethnic influences, although there is a strong move towards concise and jazzy structure, and while the tablas are still involved, they seem less of a driving impetus. There are some vocals, singing and chanting, and quite often the band reaches the peaks of Regina Astris, although not as consistently. The greater presence of fretless bass adds a different timbral presence, especially close to the middle of the album's nine tracks. It is perhaps the album's instrumental diversity that is its strength, as the long, trancy compostions of the early years have been totally refined here. While Regina Astris remains the band's finest moment, all three albums are worth checking out. The different variations of the east meets west mosaic on these is a pleasure to behold. (Mike McLatchey)