March 24, 2019
Michaël Attias’ new album échos la nuit [. . .] evokes an iconic midnight Manhattan of the mind: rain-soaked streets, sax player on the corner alone, desolate phrases echoing into the darkness.
What’s different about the record – Attias’ first solo release – is that he plays both alto sax and piano, often at the same time. But where so many horn players will tickle the ivories a little while soloing, just to show off, Attias pairs the instruments for misterioso moods. It’s amazing how seamlessly he makes it work. A biting bhangra riff and variations are central to the brooding ambience. [. . .]
He opens the album with the title track, that catchy, arresting bhangra horn phrase and variations over still, starry, minimalist piano, followed by a pensive solo sax passage which he ices with cautious piano harmonies. The minute deviations in tone and pitch throughout the somewhat hesitant sax/piano harmonies in “Trinité” add a deliciously uneasy tinge.
Attias sustains his notes further in “Grass”, a solo sax piece with some acidic duotones and an unexpected return to that opening bhangra hook. “Autumn I”, the first piece of a triptych, is a synthesis of the album’s earlier tropes, but without the Indian spice. But Attias brings it back, calmly, in “Autumn II”, juxtaposing flutters and resonance, then winds it up with “Fenix III”, Satie-esque piano contrasting with melancholy, circling, enigmatically agitated modal sax.
His solo sax in “Circles” shifts from echoey minimalism to a long, catchy, cantering crescendo. Attias follows the playful, insistent bhangra variations of “Rue Oberkampf” with “Wrong Notes”, a coy miniature.
The album’s most epic number, “Song for the Middle Pedal”, seems to employ that useless thing in between sustain and damper, although it’s mostly carefully spaced, allusive sax phrases. Attias finally decides to work a grim low/high dynamic between piano and sax in “Sea in the Dark”, the album’s most dynamic and intricate piece. He closes with “Echoes II: Night”, hinting at a bluesy ballad but never quite going there. Although this record doesn’t remotely offer any hint of Attias’ formidable chops, it may be the most vivid album he’s ever made.