published in Jazz Forum (Warsaw) 93 (April 1985)
One of the most interesting new record companies in France, Nato rhymes with gato and its logo is a couple of cats. Whose cats? Jean Rochard’s probably, and they’re doing a fine job producing many of the more innovative musicians in Western Europe, especially from France and England.
Nato is initiating its fourth year with four new releases. André Jaume’s Incontru (nato 194) finds the saxophonist from Marseille engaging his quartet with a Corsican vocal sextet, the Groupe Tavagna. Whether they are roots or new shoots that he is tapping, Jaume has again brought forth a rich Mediterranean-inflected music in which jazz is the thinking. It’s a different look on “the tradition,” recalling Italian bassist Marcello Melis’s wonderful record with a Sardinian vocal group and a jazz quartet (The New Village on the Left), and Jaume should be heard beyond the borders.
Alan Hacker’s Hacker Ilk (nato 214) opens with the gentle Ralph Vaughan Williams composition “Six Studies in English Folk Song,” and follows through an adventurous program of eight works for clarinet solo and with piano, by composers such as Berg, Cage, Stockhausen, and Peter Maxwell Davies. Three of the pieces were written specifically for Hacker, who is a specialist in Mozart and early music. He works extensively with contemporary groups as well, particularly in England, and contributed one of the variations on Satie in the earlier album Sept Tableaux Phoniques Erik Satie (nato 59). Hacker hears the spaces, that’s why he’s on Nato.
On the 10-inch disc Love Plays Such Funny Games (chabada OH6), The Melody Four in the form of Steve Beresford, Tony Coe, and Lol Coxhill take turns crooning ballads, their own and standards, with their own lush accompaniments. The brandy, the fireside, and that very special one are all that’s missing, when these gents get in a romantic mood.
Like the Satie album, Nato has produced another thematic collaboration on Six Séquences pour Alfred Hitchcock (nato 304). It’s almost like having six new film shorts from the spook himself, with the group British Summertime Ends’ recounting of a Hitchcock childhood anecdote, done in a haunting music-hall style; the atmospheric imaginary soundtracks of Jac Berrocal and Denis Levaillant; the clever linguistic constructs of vocalist Annick Nozati; and the improvisatory mind movies of trombonist Alan Tomlinson and bassist Joelle Léandre. This record is fun.
Special note should be made not only of the fine album covers but also of the company’s good taste in consistently employing recording engineer Daniel Deshays, whose name is appearing with greater frequency in innovative dates in France. Hats off to Nato.
published in Coda (Toronto) 208 (July 1986)
Nato is hot. The cats at Jean Rochard’s place are full of bright new music, sounds to play with, let your mind roll. Nearly ten new releases in the first half of this year, what a gas. Rochard’s got courage.
A lively quartet of horns on Radu Malfatti’s Formu (nato 175) lifts and folds the music with a tension that is nearly tactile. Not tense except in its fluency of time, held together by that invisible bridge between the improvised and the composed. Features Malfatti and Johannes Bauer on trombones, and Dietmar Diesner and Heiner Reinhardt on soprano saxes and clarinets. Wow.
The Maarten Altena Quartet’s instrumentation on Miere (nato 235) is equally challenging: Altena on bass, with Maud Sauer on oboe, Paul Termos on alto sax, and Wolter Wierbos on trombone. How do you balance that, where do you put the top or bottom? Which is part of the point in semi-free ensemble playing as practiced especially in Europe, less of an anchor sought than of something that holds. Again, the tension, how it holds light. More spaces on this album, much quiet playing, all underlined, stitched, and drawn out by the bass. The music holds.
Horns toujours on Fred Van Hove’s KKWTT (nato 355), a long composition in several parts, for brass quintet and improvised piano. Van Hove’s quicksilver playing teases and charms the horns, tamping out widely various terrains. From inside the piano even, he seems to pluck the brass voices into being. Hard to grasp the piece as a whole at first, it keeps moving.
On Barium Circus (nato 382), Denis Levaillant has put together a riproaring band. With the leader on piano, there is Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, Tony Coe on saxes and clarinet, Yves Robert on trombone, Barre Phillips on bass, and Pierre Favre on drums. This group juggles and flies, does back flips and ogles the moon. In fact, the music is not so circus in the end, these musicians just really like to play.
On 10:02 (nato 439), Lol Coxhill’s lush, sinuous, and daffy sax is teamed with the sonic landscapes of ace recording engineer Daniel Deshays, who doubles here as a metamorphic musician of electronics. No time to lose, this is high speed travel on Coxhill’s ninth date for Nato. The mind opens its doors, memories float out like strange birds. Coxhill talks right through his own overdubbed horn duet on “Tea for Two” and it works! He’s a funny guy.
Of course, there’s always room for Alterations. In My Favourite Animals (nato 280), you don’t know where this quartet will turn next. Like a poet’s theater of musical threads, Alterations is a constant regrouping of elements and instruments, with Terry Day on percussion, piano, trumpet, and reeds; David Toop on flute and guitar; Peter Cusack on guitar and bouzouki; and Steve Beresford on nearly everything. They know how to paint with the most diverse sounds, hearing (and singing) their way through one crazy bestiary.
In a truly hip world Kahondo Style’s My Heart’s in Motion (nato 469) would be the hit of the year at least. The group includes Peter Cusack again, plus Clive Bell, Max Eastley, David Holmes, Sianed Jones, Stuart Jones, Alan Tomlinson, and Kazuko Hohki’s vocals that enchant with a sort of Japanese duende (Andalusian soul, magic). Kahondo Style often sounds like a small village orchestra in an odd way, rippling with an unidentifiable ethnic lyricism. There are traces of Greek, Russian, Japanese, jazz, and European influences, but a lot of others, with a mixing of instrumentations to match. The imagination embodied by this group is one of the most encouraging signs in new music today. My own favorite is the title tune: at the height of summer I had to play it every day.
Nato never fails to provoke—but not aggressively. A bold undertaking it was to present Ulrich Gumpert’s renderings of Trois Sarabandes et Six Gnossiennes d’Erik Satie (nato 410). Gumpert, who is a noted interpreter of Eisler and Weill as well as of jazz, went back and really considered Satie’s original instructions for his piano pieces. The compositions on this record are performed at half the speed they’re usually heard, more reflective, brilliant, and shimmering, with an intimate poise. Satie specialists have praised these interpretations; Gumpert lets the music float more. And how it does.
If it weren’t for the music in these albums, I’d put them up on my wall (if I had the walls). Pierre Cornuel’s bright resourcefulness matches the music each time out, with cover art that tells you stories. I wish Nato a long life. They’ve put out thirty-two records already.
published in Jazz Forum (Warsaw) 113 (Aug. 1988)
If Nato did not exist, man would have had to invent it. The world was sorely aching for its appearance. Fortunately for us, Jean Rochard foresaw this need. He created a record company where the first word in the book is “playful.”
So, what sort of creatures has the cat caught this year? Not only does Nato play, it also has a sense of theater. Pull the curtain and British Summertime Ends, in Pop Out Eyes (nato 707), marks its own record debut with verve, song, and chacha. Well, not chacha but an old chestnut like Phil Spector’s “Be My Baby.” The trio consists of Clive Bell, Sylvia Hallett, and Stuart Jones; they blend a sort of neo-music hall style in their marvelous two original songs with a pan-traditional approach as explored even more in their other tunes. Their variety of instruments and instrumentation is constantly recombined through composed and improvised settings that give the amazing effect of going on a trip with Marco Polo. Or one hip traveler, at any rate, the kind that can see. British Summertime Ends (and the related group Kahondo Style) distinguishes itself as part of the new postcolonial aesthetic that may save Britain (and the world) yet.
In an entirely different direction, from outside to a sublime studied inside, Nato presents two new records from the excellent clarinetist Alan Hacker. Performing Mozart’s Gran Partita (nato 1132), Hacker conducts the thirteen members of The Music Party playing original instruments from the composer’s time. Recorded in a church in York, England, the serene bounce and balance of this music sets the troubled soul aright. And somehow the old instruments sound particularly fresh. On Hacker Ilk 2 (nato 1180), the clarinetist performs in duos with pianist Karen Evans a repertoire of three contemporary pieces written for Hacker alternated with works by Schumann, Debussy, and Ravel. As in the previous album of this kind, Hacker demonstrates great range of expression mixed with smart taste and honesty. All of Hacker’s work is a gift and a lesson and this no exception.
I should probably admit that only John Fahey has ever made me appreciate Christmas music (with his blue modal carols on guitar), so it was a real delight to drop my resistance from the start with the Nato Christmas album Joyeux Noël (nato 1382). In this fantastic cornucopia of original and traditional tunes, every morsel is a gem. Perhaps the most unusual (of course) is John Zorn’s terrific composite “Blues Noël,” which follows directly from his masterful contribution to the Nato anthology album around Jean-Luc Godard. Also marvelous are The Melody Four’s “Silent Melody,” Cooper & Lefebvre’s “Meet Me in Hawaii for Christmas,” Achiary & Doneda’s “Drigiling Dron,” British Summertime Ends’ “I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus,” Tabley Bellows’ “Sussex Carol/Foom Foom Foom,” and so are all the rest.
Kahondo Style has another hit in their second album, Green Tea & Crocodiles (nato 1279). Featuring vocalist Kazuko Hohki again, who has also recorded an album of Brigitte Bardot songs for Nato’s sister imprint Chabada, the octet stirs a world of flavors (Asian, North African, Greek, American . . . ) into their own special musical perfume. The songs are hilarious and wise, while the band spins a tapestry of swinging expanse. Improvisations sparkle with imagination, and the compositions breathe a reverie of foreign climates. For their song “Survival,” I nominate them for knighthood.
Another musician covering great distances, Steve Beresford is featured on two new Nato releases. In Directly to Pyjamas (nato 1330), Beresford teams with Han Bennink to dream up a music of cocktail romance and free flying adventure. Beresford’s main instrument is piano, though he also pokes about on pocket trumpet and Casio synthesizer; percussionist Bennink, long a leading figure in European improvised music, picks up the trombone and violin as well. Humorous and alert in their playing, they animate the movie in your head. Beresford is a wizard of animation, in fact. Besides his wonderful collaborations as part of the Melody Four, he wrote the enchanting set of tunes for Anne Marie Beretta’s fashion show, all released by Nato. Now he has also written film music, for French-Albanian director Liria Begeja’s first feature-length film, Avril brisé (cinénato ZOG1). Performed by Beresford, Alan Hacker, and instrument maker Max Eastley, the soundtrack is an evocative journey of hearty Baltic inflections.
In the Melody Four’s latest treasure chest, Hello! We Must Be Going (chabada OH16), Beresford is joined by colleagues Tony Coe and Lol Coxhill in a rollicking tribute to the Marx Brothers. From their succulent variations of the old movie classics to their own snazzy original tunes, these fellows are having more fun than a barrel of monkeys on a banana boat. Check out Lol’s crooning on “Tenement Symphony” and “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” and don’t miss their dazzler in honor of Mama Marx, “Thanks to Minnie.”
Lol Coxhill offers to warm your little chestnuts with his own show of old and new magic on Before My Time (chabada OH17). Reaching back to New Orleans with tunes like “Victory Walk,” and then “Sidewalks of New York,” and other undying flames from the early jazz era, saxophonist Coxhill shuffles in a handful of bright originals by himself and versatile Victor Brox. In true old-time spirit, the band here blows a modernist celebration of days gone by and still to come.
Did someone mention Hawaii? Mike Cooper & Cyril Lefebvre awoke one day to the curious crosswinds that gave them Aveklei Uptowns Hawaiians (chabada OH18). In the tradition of the old slide guitar classics, with some of their own hybrid tunes, this music is ripe for more than just a party by the pool and sipping coconut milk with a straw.