Some kinds of jazz need gizmos and tricks, other types predicate spirituality yet sound so hackneyed that one prefers spending evenings by revisiting James Taylor’s discography (no irony here). Spiritual Lover, a fruit of the empathy between double bassist John Hébert, keyboardist Benoit Delbecq (on piano, clavinet & synth) and drummer Gerald Cleaver, is an album that — as strongly rooted in the jazz idiom as it is — gives an idea of lucidity in terms of instrumental interconnection, and unambiguousness of intent as far as concision and directness of the tunes are concerned. The interplay is clear-headed, to the point, romantic when necessary (“Cajun Christmas”), timidly revealing influences without necessarily allowing for direct reference.
Quite frequently the central figure appears to be Delbecq, who alternates befuddling investigations and flowing progressions, switching to tasteful counterpunching when the rhythmic component comes to the fore, as it happens in “Ando” — perhaps the most nervous piece on offer, sort of a clash of divergent African beats and a twitchy Paul Bley figure layered upon an ostinato pattern. Whereas Cleaver’s prowess is also perfect for suffusing a structure with a degree of unexplained whispering — his work with brushes totally masterful — both the expert compositional hand and the sober technical virtuosity shown by Hébert are enough to maintain the level well above average, frequently transporting the listener into a world where impertinence and excessive permission are replaced by the kind of discipline that certain fringes of contemporary music often lack. He makes those bass lines count!
Thus, even a strange tune like “Guacamole” — brooding piano underlined by the distant chattering of the ghost of a clavinet, until the whole turns into sour freeform — works well as a logical course of action, letting us enjoy creative brightness while reminiscing about places we won’t be visiting again, but whose mental image delineates our melancholic memories (“Le Rêve Eveillé”).