This is a rather intriguing release from the French flugelhorn player Alex Tassel. It’s actually a two-disc set—one acoustic, one electric. The difference lies mainly in the rhythm section, with pianist Laurent De Wilde switching from piano to fender rhodes and synths, while double bassist Diego Imbert makes way for electric bassist Daniel Romeo on the plugged-in set. The horn players (Tassel and four saxophonists) and guitarist Christian Brun play acoustically on both discs, so while there’s not a radical contrast in terms of the overall soundscape, the musicians are able to explore and exploit additional sound colors and textures. Contributing to the homogenous feeling is Tassel’s decision to basically use the same set of tracks in both settings. The tunes, all Tassel originals save for one Django Reinhardt number, are agreeable if not particularly memorable, serving mainly to establish a distinct mood and tempo for the soloists. And make no mistake, it’s the solos that give “Heads or Tails” its character, which is perhaps best described as an updated version of Miles Davis’ mid-sixties modal phase. Happily, though, Tassel doesn’t try to imitate Miles. He’s very much his own man, displaying a gorgeous tone, lyrical phrasing and heartfelt emotion, if not a particularly adventurous spirit. The sax players (Rick Margitza, Guillaume Naturel, Jacques Schwarz-Bart, Olivier Temime) provide sympathetic and imaginative support. For my money, the acoustic set works better, as the synth washes on the electric tracks occasionally steer the music towards smooth jazz territory. Although one could perhaps wish for a little more daring and grit at times, the performances are consistently rewarding, and reveal new layers and nuances with repeated listening. If this recording is anything to go by, the jazz scene in France is alive and well. “Heads or Tails” is definitely worth a listen.
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