French electric guitarist Marc Ducret’s most recent release L’ombra di Verdi, is a hard-nosed calling card for his impending visit to the city. (Mr. Ducret plays with Tim Berne in both the trio Big Satan at the Knitting Factory’s Old Office, Feb. 17 to 20, and in the quintet Composure at Tonic, Feb. 17.)
Mr. Ducret’s sound owes little to the plummy, single-note melodies of Wes Montgomery, still the template for most jazz guitarists. Mr. Ducret’s single notes sting like nettles and his strummed chords, distorted by the usual electronic gadgets, generate fields of sound that he’ll cut through with a blues or a power-rock lick. Or not. He’s a great believer in waiting for a composition to reveal itself. “Dialectes,” the first cut on the trio album, L’ombra di Verdi , opens with a mournful banging of the cymbals, which gives way to a simple, repeated guitar figure that builds in aggression, inviting a rock-style drum flurry. Any number of musical events unfold in the course of the next 15 minutes, not all of them riveting.
Not to worry, though. Fans of the over-the-top rock guitar solo will hear hooks they can hang on to, that is, if they’re willing to forgo the steady beat and accept drummer Eric Echampard and acoustic bassist Bruno Chevillon’s more abstract conception of time. O.K., the names don’t exactly scream rock, but on the album’s third cut, “Description du Tunnel,” the lads truly burn. Conjure up the intensities of Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun,” the cool of early electric Miles and then add a third element, for want of a better word, “classical.” Mr. Chevillon bows some elegant bass lines in the quieter sections of “Tunnel.”
Mr. Ducret isn’t the first guitarist, jazz or rock camp, to try to collapse stylistic boundaries into a black hole of pure, omnivorous music. But Bill Frisell, the most inventive guitarist of the current jazz generation, has lately settled into the luxurious rootsiness of albums like Nashville and Good Dog Happy Man , so somebody else has to do the heavy lifting for awhile. Nothing on Mr. Ducret’s airy, pretty first album, 1987’s La Théorie du Pilier (Label Bleu), suggested it would be him. But in 1988, Mr. Berne met Mr. Ducret on a European tour, heard something raw and untoward latent in his sound and brought him into the band. (That’s his guitar on early 90’s Berne albums like Pace Yourself and Diminutive Mysteries .)
By ’96, Mr. Ducret had the chutzpah to record a solo acoustic album ( Détail ), for Winter & Winter-44 minutes of chiming strummed chords without the safety net of a classical guitarist’s virtuosity. (I’m not quite Zen enough for it, myself.) In 1998 he made his Screwgun debut, Un Certain Malaise , another solo effort, but this time with the electric guitar’s fuzz and fury. Now we have the recent L’ombra di Verdi and the trip to New York, all in all, a fairly rapid metamorphosis from ax apprentice to Django Reinhardt-style French American-jazz guitar hero. (Sean Penn should get his autograph.) Who knows how to explain it-the influence of rough American company or, conversely, European distance on American jazz fashion, or just Mr. Ducret’s reward for following his own ornery heart? Whatever. Not for the faint of heart.