|Recorded and mixed at the Triton on 1 February 2002.
Arc Voltaic is a suite based on texts by the Catalan Futurist poet Joan Salvat-Papasseit (1894-1924). Salvat-Papasseit is barely known among English readers, and escapes even the capacious Joris/Rothenberg anthology "Poems for the Millennium", but according to the liner notes he is "the most sung of Catalan poets"; the poems range from sonnets to playful calligrammes, often bursting into excited ALL-CAPS lettering when they touch on emblems of modernity like Edison, Chaplin and trolleybusses. A helpless monoglot, I'm stuck with the single extant book of English translations and with the CD booklet's French versions, but enough rubs off to give an inkling of the power of his love poetry, its eroticism shadowed by the poet's intimations of early death: "The earth only turns because I am here and I am a BUFFOON who is dying". Singer Carles Andreu, whose background ranges from flamenco to free improvising, has turned to settings of these poems in an effort to "create a new music free of all influences"; even if he's not achieved that lofty goal he's nonetheless created a genuinely uncategorizable album. Andreu goes in for neither Dada lunacy nor expressionist melodrama, the two favourite options of contemporary improvising vocalists. He has a big voice, is often very funny, sometimes stirring - and he can chill you to the bone: listen to his fearful, half-sung-to-himself rendition of "Missenyora La Mort": "Milady Death / would visit me / in the four walls of my room / entombed...." The album is co-credited to pianist François Tusques, one of the founding figures of France's free-jazz scene (In Situ has also reissued his pioneering Free Jazz, 1965, as significant as Astigmatic, Free Form and Machine Gun in the annals of early European free jazz), and it also features the fine work of soprano saxophonist Danièle Dumas, bass clarinettist Denis Colin and cellist Didier Petit. Though this isn't an improv disc (unlike Phil Minton's Mouthfull of Ecstasy or the Westbrooks' projects, it's basically through-composed), there's a spryness and spontaneity to proceedings that make it equally hard to categorize as chamber music. But whatever generic label you apply to it, it's extraordinary music: graceful and charmingly loopy, but with a trembling uncanniness that intensifies with every spin of the disc. It comes strongly recommended, and I look forward to Andreu's next project, based on the work of Fernando Pessoa.—ND