Ensemble en Pièces are a jazz quintet about whom information is kind of tough to come by. However,as their liner notes — such as they are — are en Français and Jardin d’exil was financed by a Canada Council for the Arts grant, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that they hail from somewhere in Quebec. With all this talk of the Montréal scene, Americans seem to have overlooked Canadian musicians who actually speak French. But as Jardin d’exil contains no vocals, it doesn’t make a difference what language the players speak… unless you’re talking’ about the universal language of music, baby.
Jardin d’exil is a very well put-together record, from the interestingly designed package to the production to the music itself. At first listen, Ensemble in Pièces are the kind of inviting, noninvasive jazz group that undeservedly evokes thoughts of coffeehouses and college-freshman poetry slams. They delicately tread the line between composition and improvisation, usually remaining calm and soothing. Repeated spins of the disc reveal a high level of skill at both performance and emotional manipulation. The train-station wistfulness of For Tomasz is one example. Another is a certain piece of Alborada I: Andy King’s pristine trumpet solo is gradually joined by freely played autoharp and kalimba (lending an interesting world-music feel for a second), double bass, piano and drums, with a variation of the trumpet figure being picked up by sax and the whole quintet traveling in magical tandem for a short time. It’s one of the album’s most engaging sections.
Jardin d’exil isn’t an especially challenging record, especially if you’re into jazz. There’s very little of the avant-anything here…just some very nice playing.