Théo Girard is a double bass player, composer and independent record label owner based in Paris who has been involved in a multitude of musical projects over the years – from the Gypsy/Jazz/Klezmer collective Bratsch co-founded by his father Bruno Girard in the mid-1970s to various Mayola rock bands such as G!rafe or Trans Kabar and more recently his own trio and quartet formations.

Released on his own Discobole Records label on 5 November 2021 last and recorded live in May 2019 at the prestigious Jazz sous les Pommiers festival in Coutances, Normandy, Pensées Rotatives features Théo Girard on double bass, the hugely versatile trumpet player Antoine Berjeaut (who recently recorded the excellent Moving Cities with American drummer Makaya McCraven) and bandleader and drummer Seb Rochford (Polar Bear & Pulled by Magnets). On the recording, the trio is playing in the middle of an unusual circular layout which includes an additional cast of 12 brass instruments (4 trumpets, 4 tenor saxophones and 4 alto saxophones).

Théo Girard - Pensées Rotatives (2021)
Théo Girard – Pensées Rotatives (2021)

It is no secret that jazz music thrives as a live act. The best jazz recordings over the years were more than often captured in front of a live audience. Even though most jazz musicians will record their music in one take when in the studio, the interaction with the public is missing. In order to fill this synergetic gap, bands like the Snarky Puppy collective have brought in for instance a select audience in the middle of the studio while recording (and filming) live performances.

On Pensées Rotatives – which can be loosely translated as “revolving notions” or “rotating thoughts” – Théo Girard experiments further with this idea by introducing the novel concept of the staged circular orchestra. With the trio at the centre of the concert hall, concentric circles of audience members and musicians fill in the space, thus diffusing the overall sound. At the same time, this atypical layout is also a way of challenging the traditional convention of positioning the musicians on a stage facing the audience.

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 music on Pensées Rotatives therefore involves the re-composition of an existing repertoire already recorded and performed by his trio or quartet – on 30 Years From (2017), the Interlude EP (2018) and Bulle (2019) – with the idea of the circular layout in mind and the resulting dissemination of the ensemble’s sound. The expanded cast features Julien Rousseau, Simon Arnaud, Jérôme Fouquet and Nicolas Souchal on trumpets, Basile Naudet, Raphaël Quenehen, Adrien Amey and Martin Daguerre on alto saxophones and Margane Carnet, Nicolas Stephan, Théo Nguyen Duc Long and Julien Pontvianne on tenor saxophones.

“What do audience members hear?” asks the bass player. Depending on their position in the hall, audience members will undoubtedly experience a distinct version of the live performance, thus resulting in a multitude of exposures and perceptions.

Such a versatile and multifaceted ensemble summons of course endless orchestral permutations. The 15 musicians can sometimes be viewed as a trio and 3 quartets taking a turn at improvising between themselves or trade solo sections within their own bubble. Sometimes a small section will play in unison and generate the harmonic chords that are absent from the initial trio formation. There are endless call and response conversations too. All soloists are composers or bandleaders of various collectives themselves which has the liberating effect of unleashing a wonderful flow of creativity. The energy constantly ebbs and flows between muted drum and bass interludes and the bursting intensity of the orchestra in full swing over 7mn (“1993”) to 15mn long compositions (“La Traversée du Pont Par le Chameau”).

Under the impeccable leadership of Théo Girard, Pensées Rotatives is a thrilling recording, an electrifying “Roller Coaster” whereby the circular orchestra becomes at times a Balkan fanfare, a traditional Dixieland jazz band, a free jazz ensemble, a big band or even a hip-hop groove-driven outfit.