Closing out the evening at the National Arts Centre Studio Series was Ensemble en Pièces, a quintet led by pianist Alexandre Grogg and saxophonist/bass clarinetist Philippe Lauzier. The ensemble stretched the potential of classical composition, finding opportunities for more interpretive improvisation within a generally defined structural form. Its chamber-like approach, while sometimes atonal, was never sharp or hard on the ears.
The drummer (not Thom Gossage, as advertised in the festival programme) clearly referenced British free drummer Tony Oxley with his flurried approach and use of found objects; rhythms were rarely directly stated, being more about implication and colour than a traditional approach to the kit. Likewise, double-bassist Christophe Papadimitriou left much to the imagination, adding occasional counterpoint and carefully selected phrases rather than any kind of forward motion. Trumpeter Andy King demonstrated a Dave Douglas-like approach to the avant garde material, like Papadimitriou finding the right note or the right phrase to inject into Grogg and Lauzier’s oblique compositions.
The front line of Lauzier and King tended to dominate thematically, with Grogg layering abstruse harmonies underneath, but Ensemble en Pièces was less about soloing in the traditional sense-and more about everyone finding ways to augment the writing, which was generally abstract but did contain clearly-delineated melodies. After the relatively straightforward post bop of saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar the first night and guitarist Andrew Scott’s completely mainstream set the second, Ensemble en Pièces explored the kind of forward-thinking experimentation that the Studio Series is renowned for.