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This reviewer treasures the memory of a concert series in Rome which, in 1992, featured both Catherine Jauniaux and her late partner, cellist Tom Cora, an enormously respected artist who disappeared too soon from this planet. After that unfortunate event, Jauniaux herself had been consistently missing from the main scenes of improvisation until recently, and one could think of the record’s title as a reference to this absence. Recorded in November 2008 at Les Instants Chavirés in Montreuil, this set brings us back the Belgian virtuoso in excellent shape, tight as a blade indeed.
Her companions in this trio need no introduction: Ned Rothenberg’s reeds (two clarinets, shakuhachi and alto sax for the occasion) are a well-known quantity as far as the interaction with a female voice is concerned — I’m thinking of the impressive work with Sainkho Namtchylak — and the almost preposterous similarity of the chirping whirlwinds and overtone circulations of Rothenberg’s clarinet with Jauniaux’s exceptionally precise, stinging pitches is at times scary. Barre Phillips may represent the third of a perfect pair in this circumstance, yet his ability to look forward to upcoming events is special. Even when the participants appear a tad uneasy during (rare) momentary lapses of initiative, the bassist seems to hold the reins tightly enough not to overwhelm anyone; an equally essential, though less explicitly in-your-face contribution to the overall texture.
If something prevents the music to be filed in the “not to be missed” archive, that’s probably its somewhat episodic character. Certain combinations are utterly spectacular, able to transfix the listener in a “how-in-the-world-they-do-it” kind of awe. On the other hand, a few impromptu theatrics — including recited snippets that occasionally hinder the improvisational flow — might be difficult to digest for those whose concentration is capricious. In truth, a couple of sections do sound a bit tiresome, as opposed to amazing moments like the opening of “First Things First”, where the intensity perhaps sets expectations so high that we don’t easily accept the following, fortunately infrequent moments of ordinariness.
This should not detract from the absolutely pristine technical quality of the interplay. These are three artists who, at worst, are remarkably talented, ever-interesting to listen to and learn from. Still, there is a creeping sense of lingering coldness that the brilliance of the performers can’t succeed in erasing completely.