Amongst all the machine-linked metaphors used in the history of large groups in jazz, that of Alban Darche’s Gros Cube (literally “Big Bike”) is unusual, but absolutely perfect for describing this brand new band. It can purr, snore, or roar in turn; it can even gleam and sparkle, but it never goes over the top. The impression it leaves is less one of a Formula 1 engine than that of a gleeful ballet of bikers out for a good time, swept along in a masterly choreography. Alban Darche succeeds in inventing the most improbable combinations of instruments out of the strictly classical instrumentation of the typical Big Band; he’s constantly putting sections together then dismounting them, as if it were all a musical meccano and he’s a child “screwing” the new sounds together with his particularly gifted hands.
Each of the 17 members of the band – all soloists – seems galvanised into action by a strong sense of liberty, thanks to the roaring breakaways the coherent and spectacular orchestration allows them. As for the collective harmonised parts, they all show an outstanding “vocal” quality that is virtually unknown in current instrumental jazz.
INTERVIEW Alban Darche / Thierry Mallevaës, 2020
Le Gros Cube, number 2 ?
Number two, because there was a number one. In the wake of Le Cube trio, in the early 2000s, I gathered a large ensemble, Le Gros Cube (14 piece band). The first album La Martipontine was released in 2005, followed by Polar Mood, Le Pax, with Philippe Katerine and Queen Bishop with a greater Gros Cube (piano, second drum set and three singers). It lasted about ten years.
Since 2012, I 've pursued with reduced ensembles as L'Orphicube (9 musicians). With this lighter orchestra, I was able to explore the field of chamber music.
Why do you consider this a rebirth ?
With big bands, the special things emerge with the audience. That experience is something that I always cherish. I also wanted to work with a traditional instrumentation.
On the first Gros Cube , I had a specific instrumentation, with incomplete sections. For Le Gros Cube #2, I chose an American-style big band: five saxs, four trumpets, three trombones, a tuba, and a rhythmic piano, guitar, double bass and drums.
I wanted to play with this tradition. The big band is like a string quartet in classical music: an ideal setup for bringing music to life. This traditionnal ensemble is common to this day because it works best, it's got a great balance. To stay with this tradition, I also decided to record it “live”, everyone in the same room.
And the music itself, American-influenced ?
I try to give my own twist for sure, keeping this historical background in mind, with a rooting in the big band sound. In the orchestra, I wanted a few American musicians to share their knowledge and practice: Jon Irabagon and Loren Stillman (saxes), John Fedchock (tbn lead). They've always been doing it forever, that's how they learned music. And many of them play and have played in the greatest big bands in the world, Woody Herman, Maria Schneider, the Liberation Music Orchestra, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
Can you tell us more about the musicians ?
Two Swiss with whom I have already carried out several projects: Samuel Blaser (tb) and Marie Krüttli (p), and other familiar faces like the belgian Jean-Paul Estiévenart (tpt). There are also new collaborators like Joël Chausse on the lead trumpet. The other musicians are all long time companions: Sébastien Boisseau (db), Christophe Lavergne (dr), Matthieu Donarier (sax, clar), Jean-Louis Pommier (tbn), Geoffroy Tamisier and Olivier Laisney (tpts), all soloists.
Among all these soloists, where did Alban Darche the saxophonist stand ?
Exactly, it was not easy. There's no need to invite musicians of this caliber, to write for them and not to let them play, taking all the solos myself. I opted for the tenor. I'm not the only tenor but it allows me to express myself the best. This stand in the middle of the sax section is central and remains a good place to direct. Entrusting the lead alto to Americans immediately gives the right balance to the sound of the orchestra.
So what is to expect from Le Gros Cube #2 ?
It is a collection of unpublished pieces and re-orchestrated pieces. With Le Gros Cube #2, I know that I have a fully functional orchestra at my disposal, the set up will make the audience feel at home, giving more space to include more demanding pieces.
That's what interests me: coming from common ground to bring more sophisticated ideas. Offering very personal echo in a familiar landscape, or building a complex landscape with obvious tones.