Paris-based French pianist, composer and film scorer Olivier Calmel designed Empreintes to be a concept album. Formed around the more modern classical composers Calmel has been inspired by, the music seeks to express their influence on him as translated into elements of jazz fusion. Some of the composers Calmel calls upon for inspiration in this project are Anton Dvorak, Johannes Brahms, Paul Dukas and Igor Stravinsky.
One cannot hear the opening accordion strains on the first track of Calmel’s recording and not catch in it the stereotypical lovely and lush French cabaret style. The opening "Prologue" shifts between a sweet and moderately slow waltz in three and a slightly waltzish and lyrically driven five (subdivided into three plus two) to create a tableau of what is to come. The influence of Parisian life and classical music fundamentals is obvious, lively and charming.
The great variety exhibited on this recording is shown brilliantly in "Traveling Mafate." It opens with a Jean-Luc Ponty fusionish melody performed by the acoustic ensemble. Their non-pulsive take on a driven melody moves into a quasi-Eastern inspired modal section giving Frederic Eymard room to stretch out. Then a hard-driving vocalized and accordion augmented technically difficult section recalls the opening fusion section before a loose and freely rubato ending wraps it all up splendidly. The sectional nature of the composition plays well into the hands of these experienced musicians like warm butter spread on toast; they cover all the crevasses and make the amalgamation more than the sum of its parts. Least one think the entire disc is full of lighter fare, "D’humeurs changeantes," has part of its sectional structure, a hard swinging section offering a wonderful bass solo.
Throughout the disc Calmel interposes small and short, about a minute or so long, soloistic asides from various band members that serve to break up the longer compositions in much the same way Chick Corea used Children’s Songs on his early recordings; they offer repose and freshen the mind to receive the longer and sectionally driven tracks that follow.
As a composer Calmel has all the traits of young composers, many ideas and only a selected amount of time to get them out. The ensuing segmented compositions that arise from this thought process tend to leave the listener a little disjunct; just as a section gets grooving the composition changes into something else. While this keeps things interesting for the performers, listeners are left feeling a little cheated that more of the many good things Calmel presents don’t get developmental periods.
As a performer Calmel excels. He has ample technique and the good taste in knowing how and when to apply it to best effect. He solos in long phrases that enchant and never seems to run out of improvised ideas. Watching and listening to the further developments of this artist will be exciting.