Laying the groundwork for an entire movement of European Jazz that would emerge over the coming decade, channeling majestic scenes of Africa and various modal traditions from across the globe, it's a truly stunning artifact that rests at the boundaries of spiritual jazz, the pastoral, and experimental improvisation. Over the last few years, the seminal French jazz imprint, JMS, has been mining their archives, bringing forth beautifully produced vinyl reissues of some of their most striking gems from the 1970s and 80s. Having launched the initiative in 2019 with Henri Texier’s three seminal LPs for the label - Amir, Varech, and A Cordes Et A Cris, all of which they’ve just repressed after selling out fast and we’ve done a special restock of - now they’re back with some serious fire from a brilliant trio of Daniel Humair, François Jeanneau, and Texier, Akagera, originally released back in 1980 and receiving its first ever vinyl repress. Regarded as a founding cornerstone of a new movement, aesthetic, and ethic of French jazz, 40 years on it remains as creatively breathtaking as the moment it was made.
At the time that they entered the studio together in 1980 to record Akagera, Daniel Humair, François Jeanneau, and Henri Texier were regarded as some of the most important and visionary voices in European jazz. The Swiss drummer, Daniel Humair, in addition to his efforts as a leader, had, since the late 1950s, played with nearly everyone on the global scene, notably Jean-Luc Ponty, Chet Baker, Michel Portal, Dexter Gordon, Gerry Mulligan and Eric Dolphy, among countless other. Presenting a striking counterbalance, the French saxophonist, François Jeanneau, had carved a remarkable path, across roughly the same period, within some of the most radical gestures of improvisation of the era, working in the bands of Jef Gilson, François Tusques, Jacques Thollot, and Saheb Sarbib, as well as a member of the seminal progressive rock outfit, Triangle, that ran between 1967 and 1974. Henri Texier requires slightly less introduction. The session that produced Akagera followed hotly on the heels of his three widely celebrated solo LPs for JMS, but his work across the 60s and 70s with countless forward reaching projects - Jef Gilson, The International PS Jazz Orchestra, Phil Woods, Art Farmer, Lee Konitz, Catherine Ribeiro, etc - shouldn’t be overlooked. They had made him of most highly regarded and sought-after bassists on the continent.
While arguably their definitive statement, Daniel Humair, François Jeanneau, and Henri Texier had crossed paths within different and similar configurations before the recording of Akagera. Jeanneau and Texier had worked together under the leadership of Jef Gilson as far back as the mid 60s, both Texier and Humair had contributed to Jeanneau’s 1977 LP, Éphémère, and the trio had come together formally once before for a self-titled LP issued in 1979 by Owl Records. Existing within the great French tradition that unifies the moving image with the forefront of contemporary music, Akagera was conceived to be the sonic accompaniment for a documentary focused on the lives of animals in Africa that was directed by Gérard Vienne and broadcast in 19 episodes of 52minutes each on a French national TV. The album's title, like that of the documentary, is drawn from the name for the Nile at its origin in Rwanda, within a land of a thousand hills on the Tanzanian border. Featuring Humair on drums, percussion, and syntoba, Jeanneau on sax, various flutes, bass clarinet, and synth, and Texier on double bass, oud, and percussion, as well as brief intervention by Gordon Beck on piano, Akagera unfolds like a dream, channeling majestic scenes of Africa and the Savannah into its core, while each musician, working in perfect harmony with the next, incorporates various traditions of modal music from across the globe into a stunning culmination at the borders of spiritual jazz, the smoother temperaments that were emerging during its moment, and experimental improvisation. Stunning and immersive from start to finish, Humair, Jeanneau, and Texier’s long-overlooked, visionary collaboration, Akagera, is pure gold and a highpoint in each of their respective careers. Building on diverse elements and the singular voices of each artist - all forces to be reckoned with - not only did it foreshadow so much of what was to come in the global context of jazz, but it stands the test of time and sounds as prescient today as it did at the dawn of the 80s.
An absolute must that can’t be missed. Grab it fast while copies lost, and while you’re at it, don’t forget to grab the represses of Henri Texier’s three seminal LPs for the JMS - Amir, Varech, and A Cordes Et A Cris - they’re as good as it gets.