Twin brothers Francois and Louis Moutin are in sync with jazz
Reaching one of the leaders of the hot international jazz quartet Moutin Reunion is not particularly difficult, it's just a bit confusing.
The group's manager told me that the drummer, Louis, pronounces his name the French way: Louie. Then he gave me a New York City phone number.
I called and asked for Louis, pronouncing it perfectly.
"Do you mean Francois?" said a female voice, laughing.
Moutin Reunion is fronted by identical twins Louis and Francois Moutin and even their manager seems a bit confused. For the record, Louis lives in Paris; Francois, the bassist, lives in New York. They were born three minutes apart, but as a rhythm section they are as together as it gets. In fact, critics have called their stage communication "telepathic."
"When you grow up with a twin brother you play every game together and you beat the shit out of each-other," says Francois. "We shared so many things together that everything became a game and music was probably the deepest of them all."
A favorite at the 2005 Rochester International Jazz Festival, Moutin Reunion will be returning Friday, September 8, for a show at WaterStreetMusic Hall. Saxophonist Rick Margitza and pianist Pierre De Bethmann round out the quartet.
The Moutin brothers, 44, grew up in the suburbs of Paris and were immersed in jazz. Their parents, both of whom worked for fashion magazines, were big fans of the genre.
"We had an exhaustive record collection, from the early players, Jelly Roll Morton and Bix Beiderbecke, to John Coltrane in the 1960s," says Francois. Their mother played piano and a little guitar.
Those two instruments became the twins' first; Louis on piano, Francois on guitar. But that didn't last long.
When they were 7 their father took them to see the blues singer, Memphis Slim.
"Louis was drumming on the table where we were sitting," says Francois. Memphis Slim could have said, 'Hey, please don't play,' but I think he just had fun playing with that 7-year-old kid. At the end of his set, he walked over to our table, shook my brother's hand and said, 'Hey man, you're a drummer.'"
By the age of 9 the twins were fans of Oscar Peterson. When Francois discovered that his trio was coming to Paris, he asked if they could go. His father got them first row seats.
"Of course Oscar Peterson was great, but when we saw them play live, what Ray Brown was doing on the bass really struck me. Oscar was leaving him a lot of space to solo."
As teenagers and into their 20s they progressed as bassist and drummer, but music wasn't their only interest. The twins were no slouches academically. Francois eventually earned a doctorate in physics. He insists that his brother Louis, who has a masters degree in mathematics, is even more gifted in physics.
"We did that by passion too," say Francois. "The common point would be intuition; jazz, physics and math all involve a lot of intuition."
Francois is aware that he could be making more money if he had pursued a career in physics. He also knows he's having a more satisfying life because he did not.
"Each of us had to decide on his own whether he was going to do music or physics, math or science. But I think the fact that there were two of us helped us make the right choice, which was to do what was more risky, but to choose what we would have regretted all of our life if we hadn't chosen it."
Although there have been many exceptions, including drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach and, more recently, bassist Dave Holland, it is not common for bassists and drummers to lead groups.
"For us it's very exciting," says Francois. "It would be easier to be sidemen, with people calling you once you are established. But you don't get to write your own tunes."
Every Moutin Reunion album includes one track that is simply a bass and drum duo. If that sounds non-melodic, you haven't heard the Moutins. On the Red Moon CD there is a beautiful rendition of "Beyond the Sea." On the latest, Something Like Now, it's "Bird's Medley," a wonderful compilation of Charlie Parker tunes.
The album's title tune, "Something Like New," by Louis, is a complex composition written in a manner that recalls Dave Brubeck's time signature experiments of the 1960s.
"Louis is able to play two tempos at once; six bars of one tempo equals eight bars of the other. He practiced that and thought, Maybe I can write something with this. He found that a Joe Zawinul-like melody fit perfectly."
The album is also filled with wonderful solos by the other two quartet members.
Before joining Moutin Reunion tenor saxophonist Rick Margitza had played with Miles Davis and recorded eight albums as a leader, three on Blue Note. He encountered Francois at a late-night gig.
"We were doing rhythm experimentation that most people were scared of, but he brought his sax and usually played the third set with us. He was pretty much the only one who could really handle it. When our saxophonist quit, I went to Rick and asked him to join," Francois says.
Pianist Pierre De Bethmann has recorded six CDs as a leader, four of them on Blue Note. His introduction to the group also came through musical communication.
"I was at a garden party, cooking some things on the barbecue," says Francois. "I started improvising a Charlie Parker thing and this guy starts singing behind my back and we sort of jammed for a while. I lost contact for many years, but next time I heard about him he was leading a trio, Prysm, and recording for Blue Note. He has great energy, musical and human. When our last pianist left Louis and I both agreed to ask him."
Moutin Reunion is the first of a series of jazz shows at WaterStreetMusic Hall. All of the jazz shows will have seating.
Moutin Reunion Quartet plays Friday, September 8, 8 p.m. at WaterStreetMusic Hall, 205 North Water Street. $20 in advance, $23 day of show ($10 discount with student ID). Tickets at ticketmaster.com or Aaron's Alley (no service fee). 546-3887.