Rene Lussier – Quintette

(Circum-Disc)

The unyielding excellence of René Lussier’s output over several decades causes a lot of head scratching to this reviewer; in fact, the feeling here is that the Quebecoise composer, guitarist and daxophone virtuoso is still criminally underrated. A founding member of the equally unsung Conventum, one of the finest ever groups of RIO rootage, the man has been releasing rather extraordinary records such as Le Corps De L’Ouvrage and, especially, Le Trésor De La Langue. Add the partnerships with Fred Frith, Jean Derome, Robert Lepage, Chris Cutler, Tom Cora, Gilles Gobeil to mention just a handful. In spite of this curriculum — not to mention the music’s sharpness — Lussier’s name is rarely mentioned in the (admittedly foolish) “best of” discussions most everywhere.

But fear not, Lussier keeps working hard and — judging from this very album — having a lot of fun, which translates into unconditional gratification for atypicality-seeking ears. The Quintette features a peculiar orchestration: the leader on guitar and daxophone, plus Julie Houle (tuba, euphonium), Luzio Altobelli (accordion), Robbie Kuster and Marton Maderspach (drums, respectively on the left and right channel of the stereo field). Imagine a small conspiratorial fraction of a military band evicted from its original context, and entirely rewired to capitalize on odd meters and quirky melodic materials.

The ten tracks explicate the concept through arrangements that startle at every turn. Space for improvising is evidently allowed, but never in unjustified abundance. For what I’m able to detect there’s no trace of decisive influences, the scores seemingly dictated more by natural events and sudden flashing bulbs than precise “stylistic” choices. A folkish tune may get shattered into serialist smithereens; reposeful interludes act as preambles for subsequent outbursts of lucid madness; Lussier’s distorted tones join contrapuntal pirouettes that few instrumentalists could recreate. “Migrations” begins with a somewhat droning introduction, then it turns into “drunk Ennio Morricone” thematic wavering, ultimately ending into another festival of East-European accents shifting amidst limb-entangling tempos.

Got it? René Lussier is a goddam genius.