October 31, 2003
WILL LINDNER, Music Correspondent
Le Bon Vent features original music derived in part from what ensemble director Jeremiah McLane has learned about traditions in rural France as well as from Paris, where musicians from Auvergne (a once-isolated mountainous region in central France) migrated and where their music underwent a sparkling metamorphosis when it ran into hot jazz from America during World War I. McLane has brought together musicians with exalted bona fides and a startling array of interests. These include James Falzone, a college-level lecturer on music from Illinois, on clarinet; Seattle-based fiddler Ruthie Dornfeld, who has studied, performed and taught diverse musical traditions in many parts of the world; and inventive percussionist Taki Masuko and soprano Cristi Catt, Boston-based members of Hourglass, a vocal and instrumental ensemble that revives and reinterprets ancient forms of music, largely from the area now encompassed by Spain and Portugal. Adam Larrabee is a master of fretted instruments and well versed in a wide range of musical styles including in jazz, celtic, and bluegrass.
Vermonters fond of traditional music and folk dance know full well the influence of Quebecois bands like La Bottine Souriante and Le Vent de Nord. They represent a strain of French music that overlaps the Celtic traditions of Ireland, Scotland and Brittany, which took firm root in the New World in the Maritime Provinces. The fiddle made that transatlantic leap, as did the accordion and the accompanying piano (sometimes replaced by the guitar). But the clarinet, as a folk instrument, did not. "The French have always had a love affair with the clarinet," says McLane. They are not alone. Wailing like a windy version of the fiddle, the clarinet is central in ethnic bands from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. It appears not to be found in the music of Auvergne, where the cabrette takes on a similar role, but McLane says that it's common in the other region he studied, Brittany. He has found a place for this lovely instrument in Le Bon Vent.
But what of the music of this ensemble, which no one will have heard until their debut Friday night? "I don't think it's going to be like anything anyone knows," says the composer. "There's a level of improvisation that's unheard of in classical or folk music. You find it in jazz," he acknowledges, but the French-derived music performed by Le Bon Vent retains its connection to dance. McLane further describes his new music exciting and exuberant. Yet it is also modal at times, with a texture based not on chords but built above drones. "As the melody moves over the drones it creates the appearance of harmonies that American ears would recognize," he says, "but they are shifting, ambiguous. You think you hear a chord but then it's gone."
Jeremiah McLane had an opportunity other artists crave: to immerse himself in an exotic form of expression and then emerge from it free to create and imagine, and even depart from it. Le Bon Vent will blow briefly this weekend. Who knows where it will go?