Theo Girard

Pensées Rotatives (Nov 5th, 2021)

Release: 5th Nov 2021

As we edge closer to the end of 2021, jazz fans around the world seem to crave that ‘live’ experience more and more. 

Renowned French bassist Theo Girard captures the mood perfectly with ‘Pensées Rotatives(Nov 5th) – a joyful, optimistic and colourful album recorded in front of a live audience at the 2019 Jazz Sous Les Pommiers festival in Coutances.

The thoughtful bandleader brings together ideas, motifs and musicians from his 20 year career into a masterful outing which showcases the excitement and energy of this group. 

At the core, alongside Girard, is long-time collaborator Sebastian Rochford (UK) on drums and trumpeter Antoine Berjeaut (FR). Around them – both figuratively and, on live shows, literally –  is a ‘crown’ of 12 horn players, many of whom have featured alongside the bassist in various constellations over the last 20 years. 

Gently dancing between sensitivity and intensity, Pensées Rotatives presents a real meeting of minds between friends old and new in the form of an impressive collection of improvisers. 

Surprisingly for a recording of all original music, it could well be described as a cover album: each track takes one of Girard’s previous tunes before twisting, turning and expanding it for this 15-piece line up

The horn section (4 altos, 4 tenors & 4 trumpets) are, at times, used as a single instrument. At others, they are splintered into individual personalities which each bring their own unique sound and timbre to the pieces.

Above all, though, Pensées Rotatives is a lively reminder of what it was like to be in a room full of people experiencing the excitement of live music.

Theo Girard Pensées Rotatives

Theo Girard | double bass, compositions
Sebastian Rochford | drums 
Antoine Berjeaut | trumpet
Julien Rousseau | trumpet
Simon Arnaud | trumpet
Jérôme Fouquet | trumpet
Nicolas Souchal | trumpet
Basile Naudet | alto sax
Martin Daguerre | alto sax
Adrien Amey | alto sax
Raphaël Quenehen | alto sax
Théo Nguyen Duc Long | tenor sax
Morgane Carnet | tenor sax
Nicolas Stephan | tenor sax
Sakina Abdou | tenor sax

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Liner notes (by Sebastian Scotney)

There are those very special events… you only realise afterwards how much you would have liked to have been there. Richard Lee, writing for LondonJazz News about the memorable concert from the 2019 Coutances Festival which has been vividly captured on disc here, wrote: “The arrangements put me in mind of early Mike Gibbs: quite joyful and optimistic, punctuated with some jauntier, occasionally menacing motifs recalling Fables of Faubus or Kurt Weill. For me this was one of the highlights of the festival.” 

Matthieu Jouan of Citizen Jazz was completely captivated by the presence of the trio at the centre of the action, with the wind and brass groups circulating: “The effect was surprising, the music beautiful, full of colour and breath.” 

A great performance like this is an experience to be savoured in the moment, but it is not something that happens by accident. The performance recorded here is the summation of years of thought and the planning. Bassist and bandleader Théo Girard stands out as a thoughtful and genuinely effective leader who has had the powerful imagination to conceive the original idea. He has then taken a courageous vision, and brought it to fruition. As he says: “The idea took form in my mind after some musical workshops I had run with non-musicians. Welcoming and convivial, the circular shape became the working arrangement of the group and I soon began to dream of an orchestra in the middle and an audience that would be able to bask in the experience.” 

The concept of “Pensées Rotatives” is perhaps above all about the music, but Girard’s concept has visual and dramatic aspects too. There were three players at the centre of the action in the centre of the hall in Coutances – Girard himself, drummer Seb Rochford and trumpeter Antoine Berjeaut – with groups of wind and brass players rotating around them and moving up close to the audience. And what is truly remarkable is how compellingly the live experience comes across on this album. 

Girard sets the tone right from the start of the opening track “1993”. His sound and presence on the bass are strong, positive, authoritative….this is the unmistakably the voice of a leader. Alongside him Seb Rochford achieves that remarkable feat of propelling the rhythm but also creating a wealth of texture and subtle timbres, while never crowding out any other sounds. And we also have the first glimpse of the fluency and virtuosity of Antoine Berjeaut. Starts with walking bass. 

This is an album which can be enjoyed on many levels, mainly because of Girard’s feeling for dramaturgy and contrast. There is an ever-present tension between, on the one hand, the music of fellowship, of beauty, of civilised harmonising, and on the other the rough-edged, the daemonic. There are references that make the listener imagine they are at a fairground…or is it a funeral parade in New Orleans…or is it a military parade? 

The whole album grows in interest with repeated listening, but “Interlude” feels like a masterstroke. It starts as if in nature, with voices trying to find each other. The intensity grows. Then, as if from nowhere, there is suddenly rhythm, propulsion, from Girard and Rochford. They are taking us somewhere…the piece as it evolves plays with that contrast between freedom and control, the search for companionship and the purposeful journey. 

If some live albums run the risk that the applause following a performance can be off-putting, that is not the case with “Pensées Rotatives”. The audience reaction always sounds sincere and appreciative. The warmth of their response feels like a part of the experience. And it is a poignant reminder – the release is happening while pandemic restrictions are in force – of how precious the experience of live music in front of a truly appreciative audience can be. Let “Pensées Rotatives” be a reminder of the good times. 

Sebastian Scotney

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