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Hit Couleurs JAZZ

Saxophone/vibraphone duos are few and far between in jazz, and without having done any in-depth research, I’d venture to say that while this one is not absolutely unprecedented – it was preceded by another duo by Franck Tortiller with baritone saxophonist François Corneloup – it remains a rarity.

All the more so as it pairs a well-known French musician with a German blower, a rare occurrence in France, which seems to be generally blind to what’s happening on the other side of the Rhine (see my article “With Our Neighbors across the Rhine on

But Franck Tortiller, who released another fine duo with guitarist Misja Fitzgerald-Michel a few years ago, has never let borders stop him. He was once a member of Austria’s prestigious Vienna Art Orchestra, and has continued to play with European and American instrumentalists ever since. Such open-mindedness – which can be heard, for example, in one of Tortiller‘s friends, my main man Michel Godard (tuba, serpent & electric bass) – is sufficiently rare to merit mention and congratulations.

Tortiller knows Alexandra Lehmler well, unlike me, who’s discovering her here, and it’s an understatement to say that this discovery is an enchantment. This saxophonist, who mainly plays soprano and baritone, is a first-rate musician who also contributes almost a third of the repertoire on this fine disc, where her inspired writing is a marvel. Her sound on the straight sax is particularly remarkable: fruity, magnificently timbred, in osmosis with a ductile phrasing of the highest order. This blower is first and foremost a melodist, and her consistently cantabile playing is one of the highlights of this recording.

No wonder she and her vibraphone accompanist wanted to include a Puccini aria in their repertoire: lyrical and melodic to perfection, like everything the Italian maestro composed in the 19th century, as well as a theme from a composition by Jean-Philippe Rameau, that great master of Baroque harmony and melody. Add to this a song by Serge Gainsbourg, and it’s clear that this duo is above all concerned with making their instruments sing.

Franck Tortiller, who composes and/or arranges most of the repertoire, is not to be outdone in this respect. His vibraphone sounds essentially melodic, and although it’s a percussion instrument, his lyrical flights and the support he gives the saxophonist are incomparably mellow, both in the beautiful chords he plays behind her and in the inspired solos he launches into without ever pulling the rug out. It’s a perfect partnership, and the baritone sax is not to be outdone when it comes to singing in full voice, all the while maintaining the duo’s intimate aesthetic.

This album – whose title “Aerial” aptly evokes the airy atmosphere that characterizes it – is a pleasure to listen to again and again, and its beauty never lapses into prettiness, never sounds anecdotal, but is a primal song that comes from the heart and guts, never venturing into the territory of cerebral, sterile technical virtuosity.

Absolutely remarkable!


Line up:

Alexandra Lehmler: saxes

Franck Tortiller: vibraphone

Aerial was released by Label MCO on May 2023.

©Photos Philippe Groteloh

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