« Louis Minus XVI is a French-sounding name from a quartet that’s in fact from France (Lille) but its mindset is found with the Swede Mat Gustafsson, the German Peter Brötzmann or perhaps more often, across the ocean to Pharoah Sanders and his mentor John Coltrane with a dash of the punk nihilism of Black Flag.
A two-sax front line (Adrien Douliez, alto sax; Jean-Baptiste Rubin, tenor sax) backed by an often thunderous rhythm section (Maxime Petit, electric bass; Frédéric L’homme, drums), they recently followed up on their Birds and Bats debut with a second long player from Atypeek Music, Kindergarten. In it, they remind us that being “free” doesn’t necessarily equate with being “dissonant”.
So sure, heavy metal drums and bass lead a stomping march on “La Marche”, and both Douliez and Rubin launch full lung attacks, blasting away within loose parameters, but the song evolves in a logical fashion and they all come together at the end on a simple parade march theme. For “Columbine’s Twin”, a bass riff is introduced and as both saxes weaves around it, the klezmer heritage of this song unfolds. In another twist, Petit’s bass improvises as the dueling saxophones set the harmonic backdrop, then the bass and a sax swap roles as another figure is introduced. It’s way more sophisticated than what’s normally heard from free form noise jazz outfits.
Also revealing are the softer numbers. “More Friends” commences with just Douliez and Rubin harmonizing with each other against a scant backdrop of a hint of cymbals. Petit’s bass eventually enters without any fanfare as the cymbals recede, creating an even more peaceful, wistful mood. A barren contour for “Bain Atlas” is formed by L’homme’s tom-toms layering in the tension and gradually quickening the pace. Sax ruminations turn into trills as they climb that scalar ladder and then recede back into silence.
A record that defies stereotypes about punk, free jazz, spiritual jazz, Eastern European folk forms and experimental music overall, Louis Minus XVI’s Kindergarten is easier to like because it’s harder to pin down. »