One of the finest clarinetists in free jazz and avant-garde, Louis Sclavis plays improvised music with unusual clarity and precision. And while his technique is huge, it doesn't overshadow his musicality; Sclavis is a most expressive player. Sclavis began studying clarinet at the age of nine. He played in a local brass band before entering the Lyon Conservatory of Music. From 1975-1982, he played with a variety of ensembles, including and most notably the Henri Texier Quartet and Chris MacGregor's Brotherhood of Breath. He formed his own band in 1982, Le Tour de France, comprised of six musicians from different regions of France. He also played and recorded with a number of prominent free jazz musicians, including Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Tony Oxley, and Peter Brötzmann for the FMP and NATO labels. In 1984, he recorded Clarinettes, a solo album for the Ida label. That year, he also formed a new quartet; the band would record a pair of albums, Chine (1987) for Ida and Rouge (1991) for ECM. In 1987, he founded a septet, which would also record for Ida. In 1988, he was awarded the Prix Django Reinhardt as French jazzman of the year. That year, he also founded the Trio de Clarinettes with Jacques di Donato and Armand Angster; in addition to playing improvised pieces, the group also played works written by its members and such classical composers as Brian Ferneyhough and Pierre Boulez. Around that time, he met choreographer and dancer Mathilde Monnier and they collaborated on several performances. Sclavis' renown grew during the next decade; he won a British Jazz Award in 1991, and recorded often for FMP and ECM. Projects included a trio with Aldo Romano and Henri Texier, and also recordings and performances with his clarinet trio, septet, percussionist Trilok Gurtu, and a Cecil Taylor large ensemble. Besides his jazz-related activities, Sclavis also composed for theater and film. His 2002 release, Dans la Nuit, was a soundtrack for an antiquated French silent film. 2004 saw the release of Napoli's Walls, Sclavis' first attempt to provide a soundtrack for visual art. He recorded a series of pieces based on the history and culture of Naples as interpreted by the work of the French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest, who lived and worked in the city for a number of years. Phare appeared a year later, followed by two ECM-issued offerings -- Imparfait des Langues and Les Violences de Rameau with his sextet and L'Engrenage with Le Quatour Habanera on the Alpha label -- in 2007.
Sclavis released only one album in 2008; Moitie Du Monde was a collection of pieces written for theater and cinema released by JMS.
Though he is known as one of the great jazz improvisers, Sclavis focused on his written music for 2009's return to ECM with Lost on the Way. He was accompanied by saxophonist Matthieu Metzger, electric guitarist Maxime Delpierre, electric bassist Olivier Lété, and drummer François Merville. That same year, Yokohama, a duet album with pianist Aki Takese, was released by Intakt, and Piffkaneiro, a long-form suite with the Swedish new music group Koj, was issued by Between the Lines.
Sclavis took to touring and playing the festival circuit followed by a well-deserved vacation. His next recording, Sources, with his Atlas Trio (keyboardist Benjamin Moussay and guitarist Gilles Coronado) appeared from ECM in 2012, followed by a global tour.
In May of 2014, 3+3, an album that showcased two trios, Sclavis, Texier, and Romano with Enrico Rava, Nguyên Lê, and Bojan Z., was issued by Label Bleu. It was followed in August by Silk and Salt Melodies on ECM, which added percussionist Keyvan Chemirani to the trio that appeared on Sources. ~ Chris Kelsey & Thom Jurek