Courtois, Erdmann, Fincker: Love of Life

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Courtois, Erdmann, Fincker: Love of Life

Vincent Courtois photo by Christophe Charpenel.

Saturday June 29, 8pm
Town Hall
1119 8th Ave


In their “Love of Life” project, three vaunted European improvisers call on the spirit of Jack London, a famed American novelist, pioneer of commercial magazine fiction and science fiction, and radical journalist.

Bringing such a project to the U.S. is a brave undertaking, but the results do more than justice to the daring. French cellist Vincent Courtois composed the pieces; joining him are two tenor saxophonists, Daniel Erdmann, from Germany, and Robin Fincker, a Franco-English player who doubles on clarinet.

From his early classical training, Courtois brings exacting technique to structured improvisation, and in Erdmann and Fincker he has perfect foils. The cellist says that part of what appealed to him about his two collaborators is that they play instruments that fit within the cello’s musical sphere. As he told Jazz Halo, “the tenor saxophone is for me the brother of the cello” and the same can be said of the bass clarinet. “You can play the cello like a violin, a little bit like a guitar. The bass clarinet can be sometimes a bit like a bass. Sometimes the clarinet takes the melody or the rhythm.” A trio of allied instruments can be, he said, “like an orchestra.”

When Courtois began to play the cello in jazz and improvised music, when he was 18, “there were only a few cello players around and they were outsiders,” he told Jazz Halo. But the cello, he countered, can “claim a very important place because you can open up a different world of sounds.”

He had been a cellist since the age of five, but began using the instrument in jazz settings only from his late teens. It was then that he stumbled onto the jazz section at a music lending library, and came home with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. It is, he maintains, “still the most important album considering my life as a musician.”

Courtois fell away from classical playing for a decade. “When I started to play jazz, I didn’t want to hear classical music any longer,” he says. “I played the cello with a bow and I wanted that it sounded like jazz music, like [violinist] Jean-Luc Ponty.”

But a decade later, a performance at the New Jazz Meeting in BadenBaden changed his outlook. He played with violinist Dominique Pifarély and pianist Joachim Kühn, two other European masters with a classical touch, and “it was,” he recalled in 2016, “like a Schubert Trio but with free and improvised music.”

That set him on a path of performing and recording with small, chamber-music-like groups. His trio with Daniel Erdmann and Robin Fincker is as remarkable as any of those due to the soaring, intuitive communication among its members.

Since studying with Gebhard Ullmann at the Academy of Music Hanns Eisler, Erdmann has recorded with his own bands Das Kapital (guitar, drums, sax) and the enchanting Velvet Revolution (violin, vibes, sax), as well as the likes of Aki Takase, Heinz Sauer, and Henri Texier.

On both British and French jazz scenes, Fincker leads many bands in varied styles. He has collaborated with a range of individualists from guitarist Bill Frisell to the most intrepid of British improvisers including saxophonist Evan Parker.

Courtois says in that writing for his trio, he aims for jazz that is “lively and not dead music.” Jazz, he says, “has always been influenced by everything. Now and then I get the feeling people play jazz inspired by jazz but that doesn’t work. Jazz has to be inspired by various music genres.”

He puts that in another way that expresses the shifting, bewitching output of the improvising jazz-like trio: “I am from Brittany and I am truly a fisherman. I like to be out in the sea. I am sailing in my boat and there are some dangerous places you have to pass to arrive at another spot.”


–Peter Monaghan


$20 adults, $18 Earshot members & seniors, $10 students & military. Supported by the French Embassy in the U.S.