This may be too personal a way to start a review, but I was listening to this album when I got word that John Prine had died. In particular, the haunting, elegiac cover of French film composer Philippe Sarde’s “Chanson d’Hélène.” I’m afraid that bit of music may be forever etched on my psyche as my own personal remembrance of mourning for a great songwriter lost to the coronavirus.
Every one of the dozen tunes on Jean-Louis Matinier and Kevin Seddiki’s Rivages is just as evocative of a mood or a feeling. The music here ranges from Gabriel Fauré’s “Les Berceaux” to the traditional “Greensleeves” alongside compositions and improvisations by both musicians. Influences abound, from film music to cabarets to ancient hymns to flamenco and Parisian cafes.
Accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier has been recording for ECM and another label or two for 20 years. He first studied classical music but has since expanded into jazz, avant garde, and world music. He’s played on a couple of recordings by one of my all-time favorites, Algerian oud player Anouar Brahem, as well as with saxophonist Louis Sclavis and others. French guitarist Kevin Seddiki, who makes his ECM debut here, has just as wide a range of musical tastes and experiences. He studied classical guitar with Pablo Márquez, and has also worked with many improvisers across the spectrum from jazz to transcultural projects.
This is the first time these two have worked as a duo. The accordionist and guitarist first met almost a decade ago, and Matinier was subsequently part of a group Seddiki assembled with percussionist Bijan Chemirani, vocalist Maria Simoglou and viola da gamba player Paolo Pandolfo. Later, Matinier and Seddiki performed in trio with Chemirani. “The more we played together the clearer it became that we had to go into a deeper musical conversation in duo, exploring sounds and colors and orchestral possibilities of our instruments,” Matinier says. They’ve met and played in various places over the past few years, slowly building up a repertoir and ideas about how to adapt disparate pieces to their instruments.
“We might read through a piece for voice and piano, like ‘Les Berceaux’, or build up a composition around one rhythm and texture,” Seddiki says. ” ‘In C’ is an example of this.”
Along with the somber, atmospheric “Chanson d’Hélène,” “In C” is one of my favorite pieces on this album. You really get a glimpse of Sedikki’s rhythmic approach to playing the guitar, which is informed by his study of the Iranian hand drum the tombak, or zarb, which he also plays in concert. The opening track “Schumannsko” (which draws on a Bulgarian traditional melody and a theme from Schumann) also features this percussive style that hints at flamenco and also at progressive rock.
Their adaptation of Fauré’s “Les Berceaux” finds Seddiki in classical guitar mode as Matinier’s squeezebox sighs out the sweet but sad melody – although both players find brief moments for improvisation. On the etude-like “Après La Pluie,” Sedikki plays a series of arpeggios, and for the second half of the tune Matinier improvises a gaily melancholy tune over it. Their jointly composed “Rêverie” finds them switching roles, Matinier accompanying the guitarist on a classical-style melody.
Their co-written “Miroirs”and “Feux Follets” and Sedikki’s solo guitar piece “Derivando” all are improvisations. The playful “Feux Follets” finds Sedikki exploring the percussive possibilities on the instrument’s body and strings – and both delve into various harmonic ideas on this one as well. Their arrangement of the traditional “Greensleeves” seems the most jazz-influenced to me, the tune reshaped and improvised upon both melodically and rhythmically.
Rivages is an extremely engaging excursion by two musicians at the top of their form.