sales rectangles - vieux carré picGuillaume Belhomme (words)
Daunik Lazro (baritone saxophone)

Remember when all music came in some kind of physical format? Some sort of disc or tape? However convenient it might be to have your tunes zapped to your hard drive at the click of a key, the physical format does provide an extra avenue of creativity. One that Lenka Lente (publisher? record label? both?) is exploiting to create its own niche: a small, high-quality book with literary contents that comes with a 3-inch CD (that’s about 7.5cm, metric readers).

One recent release is “Sales Rectangles / Vieux Carré” by Guillaume Belhomme and Daunik Lazro respectively.

Vieux Carré is a Joe McPhee tune, the title referring to New Orleans’ French Quarter. I don’t know the original but the ‘liner notes’ helpfully point to McPhee’s “Hat Hut” album from 1978, plus a couple of other recorded versions, including a previous one by Lazro. This solo baritone sax version was recorded in a book shop in Rouen, during the 2011 Jazz à Part festival. There’s an initial hesitance as Lazro almost shyly begins; nicely offset by the occasionally abrasive edges of his pure tone. We’re led into the piece with simple notes, climbing a structure, repeatedly dipping low and re-climbing. There are hints and references to the ‘old’ New Orleans jazz, lulling us with a tease of familiarity. But having laid out the tune, Lazro begins to push the boundaries a little, subtly, with notes stretched a little too far for pure tradition, or time is ever-so-slightly truncated, or maybe a hint of multiphonics… nothing harsh at all, just regular tiny pointers that this is not the French Quarter from generations previously but a Rouen bookshop in the 21st century.

Here’s a sample:

“Sales Rectangles” might mean ‘dirty rectangles’ but I wouldn’t like to bet on it; my French studies are now three decades behind me. However, it is possible… During Lazro’s bookshop performance of Vieux Carré, one can hear the faint beeping of barcodes as sales are made. This inspired Belhomme to create, as he puts it, “a kind of cut-up in which I sometimes quote my own books about jazz, or literature, poetry…” And sure enough, inside the book are 91 barcodes, each accompanied by a short text extracts – most in French, with a splash of German, and a seasoning of English.

The text and music are matched in that you could probably read the book in the 10 minutes it takes Lazro to take us through the tune.

Overall, it’s a beautiful package, an exquisite concept and a glance at the Lenka Lente website tells me that there are numerous other intriguing pairings. For the music-lover, the book fiend, and the collector in me, it’s a dangerous temptation…