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In consecutive seasons, French clarinettist Louis Sclavis returns himself to the drawing board. Contemporaries may have long since settled upon a single instrumental style, or a congruent ensemble approach refined over the years, but Sclavis (b. 1953 in Lyon) keeps looking for different angles from which to view improvisation, composition, and musical interaction. In a major interview in France’s Jazz Magazine, looking back over an unorthodox 40-year career, Sclavis allowed that each of his recent ensembles could be considered a “little laboratory”, and perhaps most especially the newest one…

The trio with Gilles Coronado and Benjamin Moussay “features an instrumental formula [with electric guitar, piano, clarinet] previously unexplored by me and it has made me question all my compositional reflexes. I have written things for this project which have brought me into regions in which I have never journeyed and in which I’ve had no certitude about direction. But, wanting to play with these musicians, I had to invent music which might ‘justify’ the association.”

Initial response to that music was puzzlement. “When I presented it to them I saw a huge question mark rising above their heads. Even I was unsure whether we’d be able to play the pieces. Then we got down to work and collectively once again the music took shape. It doesn't resemble anything else, it’s really music conceived for this group and which couldn’t exist until we’d played it. Now I find that the more we play this repertoire live the more we explore the countless pathways it opens up, the more freedom we find despite its formal rules, and the music gains in consistency and coherence. But this wasn’t clear from the outset. It’s one of the most original groups I could have imagined both in terms of orchestration and aesthetical orientation... It is as if the group nourishes itself upon its structural reduction and it is always reaching out for greater concentration and rigor in expression. There is no moment of ‘reprieve’ while we are playing it because you have to be constantly alert... Yet at the same time, because we have found the way of travelling together, it's a formation in which every member has the possibility of finding expressive freedom.”

The Atlas Trio is clearly a group that has found its own language with a global reach of reference. Chamber-improvisation, polyrhythmic grooves, minimalistic pulse patterns, enveloping ambience, rhapsodic piano and funky Fender Rhodes, distorted guitar, clarinet soliloquies, contrapuntal themes, free group playing, and much more. An open-form aesthetic applies in multi-facetted music simultaneously exploratory and involving. Recorded in the South of France last September, the album – Louis’s ninth for ECM – features a programme of new Sclavis compositions, plus a concluding piece by Gilles Coronado and is issued in time for tour dates including showcases at the Europa Jazz Festival in Le Mans and Berlin’s Jazz D’Or Festival and dates at Paris’s Sunside-Sunset club.