The adventurous trio Chat Noir has for the past 12 years defied easy categorization with its organic mix of ambient music, electronic textures as well as chamber music and jazz. Their singular approach to the piano trio, cinematic in scope and startlingly beautiful, has garnered critical raves throughout Europe.
On Nine Thoughts for One Word, their sixth recording overall and second for London-based RareNoise Records, the two founding members, pianist Michele Cavallari and bassist Luca Fogagnolo, are joined in their further explorations by electronic/ambient music composer and producer Jan Peter Schwalm (Brian Eno, Eivind Aarset). Together they make a conceptual leap on what a piano trio can be, with the invaluable input of Schwalm's studio magic.
This delicate balance of electronic experimentalism with acoustic piano and acoustic bass has been evolving gradually from the group's initial release in 2006, Adoption, and continued on 2007's Decoupage through 2008's Difficult to See You. 2011's Weather Forecasting Stone and 2014's Elec3Cities. Their collective experimentation continues on the evocative Nine Thoughts for One Word. "Experimentation has always been a fundamental part of our work," says bassist Fogagnolo. "We would describe our journey as a ship adrift. If jazz was our starting point we've always felt free to explore different languages."
From the dramatic peaks of "Eternally Tranquil Light," grounded by the resonant, woody tones of Fogagnolo's upright bass, to the lyrical delicacy of Cavallari's piano on "Fundamental Mind," from the throbbing techno vibe of "Blinking Neon" to the Indonesian gamelan flavored introspection of "Detuning Leaves" and the mesmerizing trip-hop of "Uneven" and "Soft Ground," Chat Noir explores myriad musical languages on Nine Thoughts for One Word. They also offer a very pleasing vocal number, "Momentarily Continual," which is underscored by the pure, resonant tones of Fogagnolo's upright bass, and they close out the program on a gentle note with Cavallari's sparse piano work on the hymn-like "Crystallized Flow."
"This album has more spatial sound and compositions, which in turn may sound (paradoxically) more 'acoustic'," Cavallari explains. "'Crystallized Flow' is pointing towards this different, more spacious dimension, which is also linked to the new lineup and to the role that J. Peter in particular had in our project."
Though Schwalm trained as a drummer, he is now playing mainly electronic instruments and music. "We met him at a festival in Norway (Punkt 2008) and immediately fell in love with his style," Cavallari recalls. "As we rearranged our lineup about one year ago, we decided to ask him for collaboration. For Luca and I, it was a natural choice to abandon the classic piano-bass-drums format and try something different, but in line with the evolution of our style, which incorporated more and more electronic textures over the years. Peter brought in his experience with sound processing and treatments, as well as his personal taste as co-producer of the album. Given his strong background in ambient music, his participation in the project sound-wise contributed to the very spacious dimension of the album, in line with the already ethereal vibe of the compositions."
As for his longstanding musical relationship with Fogagnolo, Cavallari says, "Luca and I are good old pals. Our friendship and music collaboration informs one another. On the one hand, music made our friendship even stronger. On the other hand, we can rely on shared ideas about music, and even more generally about life, when playing together. It's a constant dialog of spoken as well as unspoken words.
"We often have similar taste for music," he continues. "But more importantly, when coming from different musical references and preferences, Luca and I have contributed even more to each other's musical ideas and ways to perform."
Cavallari adds that his method of playing and recording together with Fogagnolo changed radically four years ago when the two Italians relocated to different countries -- Michele to the United States and Luca to Germany. "Our rehearsal room changed from being a shared space, where we used to physically meet quite often, to a virtual place. Nine Thoughts for One Word is our second album recorded through cloud-based sharing of music ideas and sessions. This wouldn't have been possible without a long-term relationship. But somehow the distance helped to develop even more our personal taste, before sharing ideas for new tunes as we've always done. In the process of developing new tunes, we can count on a strong shared basis, established throughout our long collaboration, as well as on a naïve attitude and openness towards different ideas, and potentially surprises."
He further describes the group's modus operandi on Nine Thoughts for One Word: "Our approach is to try to understand where the composition is pointing to and to give meaningful contribution to it, by either contrasting or corroborating the original idea. Basically, the process we follow to compose and play together is grounded in the root of two essential and mutually reinforcing aspects: friendship and freedom."
Cavallari also explains that he and Fogagnolo have joint experience working on soundtrack recordings, which may explain why so much of their music has such a cinematic quality. "We did work on movie soundtracks in the past. Some of our tunes were featured in Cristina Comencini's films - Don't Tell (nominated for best foreign language film category at the 78th Academy Awards) and Black and White - as well as Francesca Comencini's documentary In Fabrica. Our music has often been associated with cinematic features. Rather than thinking visually when composing, I guess we approach compositions in away that has similarities with film direction. We try to develop 'stories' and 'plots' through melodic lines and sometimes more abstract parts that overall follow a dynamically organized flow.
"As to the our way to approach compositions, either one of us usually 'plants the seed' of a new tune on his own. Then, from the original basic idea, we let the other totally express himself without limitations. Sometimes we go through multiple iterations of sending music ideas back and forth between us, as additional contributions can inspire new direction of the tune. It never happens that we don't like what the other brought in terms of contribution to the song. In this sense we are totally connected."
It is easy to see how such kindred spirits continue to collaborate and thrive, even when living on separate continents. And together with ambient mixmaster Schwalm, they travel to some wholly new musical territory on Nine Thoughts for One Word, the most transcendent Chat Noir release to date.
"Chat Noir is definitely one of the most refreshing forces in the current European new jazz / modern hybrid music movement." -- Igloo Magazine
Eternally Tranquil Light