The State of Sound


Monteverdi: an unexpected marriage


I recently discovered a delectable album recorded by Michel Godard in 2011: “Monteverdi, a touch of grace”. This album will, without a doubt, beautifully accompany many an idle summer moment.

Michel Godard is singular musician for many reasons, not the least of which is his instrument of choice: the serpent, the ancestor of the tuba. Since 2002, he has been a serpent instructor at the National Superior Conservatory of Music of Paris. However, his musical background is also unique, because he is among the few musicians who have pursued careers in both jazz and improvised music and classical music (in his case, the Baroque tradition).


Michel Godard and his serpent

Godard, who is passionate about ancient music, brought together a trio of baroque musicians and a trio of jazz musicians to pay tribute to Monteverdi; the result was recorded at the Noirlac Abbey (an ancient Cistercian monastery near Bourges, France).

Michel Godard is accompanied by, among others, Gavino Murgia, an incredible Sardinian singer whose bass range is simply stupefying, and Steve Swallow, a bass-player who is well-known to jazz aficionados (and who notably long gained renown at Carla Bley’s side). Swallow’s bass-playing is so distinctive that it adds a unique music texture to the whole production.

Although connoisseurs of ancient music and jazz will recognize landmarks from their respective musical realms, those who wish to identify clear musical borders will quickly find themselves lost. Quite frankly, it is enough to lose one’s self in the calm poetry of Monteverdi played with flair, abandon one’s self to the beautiful musical exhalations in the magnificent natural acoustics of the Noirlac Abbey, where the sound recording process becomes splendidly tricky.

The secret of this unexpected marriage lies in Michel Godard’s familiarity with two musical cultures, which was indispensible in bringing the two distant worlds together, a choice that he also justifies given the similarities in the work being done in the two traditions. “There are many commonalities between a musician from the 16th century and a musician of modern-day jazz, which is how I came up with the idea of bringing together musicians who are specialized in Renaissance or Baroque music and jazz musicians who are open to other musical traditions. The idea is not that each musical group work on its own, jazz musicians playing improvised Monteverdi, but rather that they understand each other’s musical language, forge links between the two worlds, find a common language”, he asserted when his album came out.

522758_301073200004245_1767535624_n Michel Godard’s ensemble in concert

The result of this union is simply sumptuous. The serpent’s airy presence is as surprising as it is captivating and imbues the production with subtle poetry, an echoing reminder of the Italian composer’s original work that is both generous and skilled. This musical exercise is far from being a soulless mimicry of individual musical traditions, or worse, a jazz version of Monteverdi. I have had a few experiences in this vein that were deeply unsatisfying; in particular, pianist Keith Jarrett’s interpretation of some of Bach’s pieces left me quite skeptical.

On this album, the two sets of trios are so well-matched and the vocals and instruments so well-melded, that it is impossible to distinguish the ancient from the modern, the Baroque from the jazz. The union of these two universes cannot help but give birth to a musical state of grace.

▪    Michel Godard: serpent

▪    Guillemette Laurens: vocals

▪    Gavino Murgia: saxophone and vocals

▪    Fanny Paccoud: violin

▪    Bruno Helstrofer: theorbo

▪    Steve Swallow: bass


I invite you to watch this short video that was made while the album was being recorded: it is 3 minutes of pure joy. The album is also available at Qobuz, both in CD and Studio Master quality.

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