December 1, 2005
To call Michaël Attias a cosmopolitan would hardly do him justice. The saxophonist was born in Israel to Moroccan parents, and divided his formative years between France and the Midwest. Although he cut his teeth in Paris with the Monkish group Four in One, he has lived in New York for over a decade now, and it’s a downtown sound, above all else, that defines this domestic solo debut.
Renku is named after a Japanese poetic form—an extension of the more familiar haiku—and it serves as an apt characterization of the album, which includes a handful of four-minute songs and even a pair of one-minute sketches. It also captures the shorthand resourcefulness of Attias’ trio, with bassist John Hébert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi.
Sparseness is a guiding principle on the album, along with elasticity and angularity. The compositional model is decidedly post-Ornette Coleman; Steve Dollar’s liner notes also rightfully mention Tim Berne’s Paraphrase. But Attias’ alto, soprano and baritone sound less searing than inquisitive, and even the hairy moments have a light touch. One exception is the title track, which literalizes the metric rigors of a renku; it’s a mathematical exercise that undercuts the ensemble’s perfect poise.
– Nate Chinen