Boston Globe, September 25, 2011
NEW YORK – One of them played at Woodstock. The second got his doctorate in physics at age 24. They found their third member in a small town in France and the fourth working as a personal trainer at an Equinox gym.
Behold: A jazz quartet.
Of course, more than serendipity connects trumpeter Lew Soloff, bassist Francois Moutin, vocalist Anne Sila, and dancer Courtney Giannone, the multigenerational group whose one-of-a-kind music, dance, and video project “Evidence: A Jazz Creation” has its premiere tomorrow night at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.
Soloff, a tireless worker and enduring name in jazz whose work spans straight-ahead, avant-garde, and fusion styles, has played with everyone from Ornette Coleman and Blood, Sweat and Tears (there’s the Woodstock connection) to his great mentor, Gil Evans.
In recent years he has worked frequently with Moutin, a brilliant acoustic bass player (and, yes, erstwhile physics and engineering whiz) who has carved out a stellar reputation on the New York scene for his range and emotion.
Moutin, in turn, met singer and cellist Sila – who is only 21 – last year while conducting a master class with his brother Louis, a drummer, in Valence, France, and immediately recognized a rare talent worth taking under his wing.
As for Giannone, she is a contemporary dancer with a background in extreme and acrobatic techniques and an interest in experimental combinations of dance and film. Though now based in Southern California, she first met Soloff as his trainer at the gym.
What do these four have in common? In a conversation at his apartment in Chelsea alongside Moutin and Sila, Soloff has a quick answer.
“Creative freedom – it’s as simple as that,” he says. “We don’t think of it as jazz, we think of it as conversation. Our personalities match up, and we have a lot of respect for each other’s music. I feel like I’m playing with absolute top-of-the-line people here.”
The aspect of conversation was amply evident in a recent performance by the three (Giannone was still in California) at the 55 Bar here, one of the remaining casual downtown spots where musicians can work out ideas before an interested audience.
Playing material from their upcoming album, also titled “Evidence,” they switched roles and traded the lead with the ease of old friends. Moutin, the bassist, scatted behind Sila. Moutin lay out – and once switched to keyboard – while Sila played the bass part on her cello. Even Soloff sang a few syllables and at one point, pulling off the mouthpiece, blew a bass-like thump-thump through the horn.
Sila’s comfort and versatility were remarkable. She sang standards and the Leonard Cohen masterpiece “Hallelujah” with barely a trace of a French accent, but also French classics by Serge Gainsbourg and Georges Brassens. Her wordless vocals and scatting were the evening’s highlight, breathtaking and delivered fearlessly.
“I’m really impulsive,” Sila says. “When I play with them, I’m thinking about what I feel right at the moment that I’m playing. With them, it seems like it’s really easy to play this music. I don’t know why.”
Her bravura was apparent from their first meeting in France, Moutin says. “She calls a tune and after two bars my brother and I are looking at each other, like, wow, that’s something,” he says. “Even from the way she was singing the head, the whole boldness and freedom and musicality. And the solo was even more like that.”
As if it were not enough to introduce a whirlwind talent such as Sila to the American stage, “Evidence: A Jazz Creation” goes a step further by integrating video and dance in a way that only amplifies its conversational and lead-switching character.
At one point, the three musicians will improvise to a nine-minute dance-based video featuring Giannone. At another, Giannone will improvise to their lead.
“I try to keep it pretty experimental,” says Giannone, who has worked in many contemporary dance settings including Elizabeth Streb’s adventurous “extreme action” technique. Though she had yet to meet Sila before their rehearsals, she has based her approach to “Evidence” on what she learned by watching Soloff and Moutin play.
“I’m thinking of choreography from seeing their body language,” she says. “Francois leans over his instrument. Lew has one foot in front of the other. The way they make eye contact reminds me of talking. And I go with the idea of movement as my first language.”
The mingling that “Evidence” promises, with all the players moving on the same stage, is a far cry from the orchestra-pit (or prerecorded) accompaniment more common in dance performance. The idea that the musicians become dancers extends the physical rapport they form as they play – a notion that Giannone says she finds fascinating.
“As a dancer I’m interested to merge with musicians more regularly,” Giannone says. “I don’t see why that doesn’t happen more often in less traditional ways.”