Hot jazz on a cold night
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 16, 2004) – Not many braved the sub-zero, bone-chilling temperatures, but those who did were warmed by the red-hot playing of the members of the Moutin Reunion Quartet, a French jazz group that performed at Club Helsinki on Thursday night.

Led by twin brothers and composers Francois Moutin on bass and Louis Moutin on drums, the group, which also featured Rick Margitza on tenor saxophone and Pierre de Betman on piano, played a contemporary style of fiery bebop, updating the genre with hints of state-of-the-art drumbeats drawn from modern nightclub music, although the presentation was entirely acoustic and organic.

While most of the numbers were original compositions, several drawn from the group’s terrific new CD, “Red Moon” (Sunnyside), there were hints of recognizable melodies and allusions to other players and styles. On “Sailing Through the Clouds,” Margitza seemed to quote “If I Only Had a Brain” from “The Wizard of Oz” in his first improvisation, which saw him and de Betman playing in delicately precise unison, hitting stop-chords at exactly the same moment.

“New York Silly,” the second number, opened with a virtuosic solo by Francois Moutin, who played single-note lines and also strummed his instrument like a guitar, before Margitza came in and tossed off short phrases that eventually elongated in full-octave lines that Moutin echoed on bass. De Betman picked up where Margitza left off, using the grammar and vocabulary that he had established, but then adding his own accents, which included fully-voiced chords and lightning-fast, cleanly articulated right-hand runs that alluded both to ragtime and Thelonious Monk.

“Red Moon” began with Louis Moutin playing an a cappella solo on bass, sliding notes upwards and plucking juicy chords in figures that sounded like power-rock riffs. The band kicked in with a bright saxophone melody over popping drums and harsh, irregular funk chords. The number never went far, however, and wound up sounding like Bruce Hornsby on steroids.

“La Mer” was a playful duet between the twin-brother musicians. The song was followed by a dark, stormy piece that began with noirish chords on bass, alarms blown on saxophone, heavenly notes plucked inside the piano, and skittery, brushed cymbals, all answering each other as if they were feeling their way through the dark, guiding each other into the light of the resolved piece.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on January 17, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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