Europa is an amazing big-band jazz project led by Olivier Benoit during his years conducting the Orchestre National de Jazz. It resulted in four must-have albums that we will explore in this article: Paris, Berlin, Rome, and Oslo.
The Orchestre National De Jazz (or ONJ) [Discogs] is a French jazz orchestra created in 1986 via the initiative of the Ministry of Culture, with the intention to bring to life and renew the repertoire of the great jazz orchestras. The orchestra is directed by an appointed conductor and is renewed every 2-5 years. This is a state-subsidized formation and has the means to produce, distribute, and present its creations worldwide.
Olivier Benoit conducted the ONJ from January 2014-December 2018. Born May 6, 1969, Oliver Benoit is a guitarist, composer, and conductor [Discogs]. Benoit first attended a conservatory before studying at the University of Lille. In 1996, he moved to Paris, where he performed with musicians such as Philippe Deschepper, Jacques Mahieux, and Joëlle Léandre. He formed a duo, was a member of Paolo Damiani’s edition of the ONJ, conducted the large-scale ensemble La Pieuvre, and became part of the Circum collective. He was appointed Conductor of the 11th ONJ for the EUROPA project:
“Motivated by the desire for an intergenerational orchestra open to multiple stylistic registers, the new artistic director has surrounded himself with 10 musicians with rich and unique backgrounds, all involved in strong personal musical research, thus giving birth to an ONJ specific to take all possible aesthetic directions and to achieve its ambition of opening up and decompartmentalizing the genres that are at the heart of its project“
— Orchestre National de Jazz
The initial intention was to record 4-5 albums, but the cycle stopped with Oslo, making it only four.
“[EUROPA] is a quadriptych—or even a pentaptych—that will pertain to various European cities, such as Paris, Rome, Berlin, and others to be defined.”
— Olivier Benoit
Chicago was also musically explored by Olivier Benoit during his time at the ONJ. This project—involving the one and only Mike Reed—resulted in the creation of The City Was Yellow: The Chicago Suite (see the video teaser), which is obviously not counted as part of EUROPA.
Thus, the quadriptych created by Olivier Benoit while leading the Orchestre National De Jazz is:
You will find hereafter the details of each album.
Europa Paris (2014)
“The EUROPA Paris project that we are currently recording comprises pieces that I wrote and that were inspired by the city. It is about the flow, the bustle, the population transfer, all these people who go from here to there to get to work, who ride the subway, walk, and move about.”
— Olivier Benoit
This is exactly why Europa is so mesmerizing. The music goes deep inside the experience one has of the city, its life, and its pulse. It ignores clichés to really dive into the city as it is lived by its inhabitants—not tourists—in relation to its architecture, structures, and the behaviors that it provokes. The result is as intense and beautiful as it is complex, singular, and original.
“In a series of paintings that give shape to these more or less sustained rhythms and these multiple cadences, Europa Paris plunges us into a teeming universe where compositions and free improvisation mix with masterful jazz, rock, minimalist, and contemporary music. Like a living photograph of the megalopolis boldly interpreted by the orchestra’s musicians who participated in this urban inspiration, the score of this original repertoire alternates between prodigious energy, gentle melancholy, and hypnotic rhythms that reveal its incomparable structure but also the lines of force generated by each of its elements, and it ultimately captures the secret poetics of Paris in its entirety.”
— Orchestre National de Jazz on EUROPA Paris (2014), translated from French with Google Translate
Jean Dousteyssier: clarinets; Alexandra Grimal: tenor & soprano saxophones; Hugues Mayot: alto saxophone; Fidel Fourneyron: trombone, tuba; Fabrice Martinez: trumpet, flugelhorn; Théo Ceccaldi: violin & viola; Sophie Agnel: piano; Paul Brousseau: fender rhodes, bass synthesizer, effects; Olivier Benoit: electric guitar; Bruno Chevillon: double bass & electric bass; Eric Echampard: drums
Release date June 2, 2014
Europa Berlin (2015)
“Declined in denseDense compositions combine the steel of powerful crescendos with the lightness of ethereal composition, this musical portrait of Berlin questions the various ways in which the Germans have had to confront their recent history. Olivier Benoit captures the heterogeneous spirit of the city with contrasting music that brilliantly exploits all the orchestra’s resources. By staying faithful to his compositional singularities and associating dynamic timbres with a true sense of architecture in movement, and a hypnotic, rhythmic pulse, the composer opens Europa Berlin with new perspectives in both sound and form, which also draw on the different musical currents that inhabit the German capital: minimalist music, free jazz, progressive rock, and electronic music.”
— Orchestre National de Jazz on EUROPA Berlin (2015), translated from French with Google Translate
Jean Dousteyssier: clarinets; Alexandra Grimal: tenor saxophone; Hugues Mayot: alto saxophone; Fidel Fourneyron: trombone; Fabrice Martinez: trumpet; Théo Ceccaldi: violin; Sophie Agnel: piano; Paul Brousseau: fender rhodes, bass synthesizer, effects; Olivier Benoit: electric guitar; Bruno Chevillon: double bass & electric bass; Eric Echampard: drums
Release date April 27, 2015
Europa Rome (2016)
“Through two original pieces specifically written for the orchestra, the composers Benjamin de la Fuente and Andrea Agostini allow us to hear their very personal vision of Rome, imbued with memories, awakened emotions, and an intimate relationship with the city. Two contrasting works oscillate between boosted flights, implacable orchestral masses, and melancholy and minimalist tracks, in which improvisational jazz and explosive rock capture the city. Europa Rome is a new album that certainly blurs the lines of the musical genre!”
— Orchestre National de Jazz on EUROPA Rome (2016), translated from French with Google Translate
Jean Dousteyssier: clarinets; Alexandra Grimal: tenor & soprano saxophones; Hugues Mayot: tenor saxophone; Fidel Fourneyron: trombone; Fabrice Martinez: trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo; Théo Ceccaldi: violin; Sophie Agnel: piano; Paul Brousseau: fender rhodes, effects; Didier Aschour: electric guitar; Sylvain Daniel: electric bass; Eric Echampard: drums
Release date October 21, 2016
Europa Oslo (2017)
“Olivier Benoit closes his Europa project by heading North with his musicians, towards Oslo, an atypical city nestled in the heart of a triumphant nation, which constantly pursues its architectural and cultural transformation between ancient traditions and incredible modernity, a city that set the tone for new artistic conceptions at the end of the 20th century. To set the Norwegian capital to music and draw a subjective portrait of it, it was first necessary to immerse ourselves in it and to live according to the rhythm of its seasons, an essential source of inspiration, and a starting point for the compositions.”
— Orchestre National de Jazz on EUROPA Oslo (2017), translated from French with Google Translate
Maria Laura Baccarini: voice; Jean Dousteyssier: clarinets; Alexandra Grimal: tenor saxophone; Hugues Mayot: alto saxophone; Fidel Fourneyron: trombone; Fabrice Martinez: trumpet, flugelhorn; Théo Ceccaldi: violin; Olivier Benoit: electric guitar; Sophie Agnel: piano; Paul Brousseau: fender rhodes, bass synthesizer; Sylvain Daniel: electric bass; Eric Echampard: drums, electronics
Release date April 28, 2017
The EUROPA cycle is a key release by one of the best European jazz orchestras of the last decade. You can listen to the four albums—Europa Paris, Europa Berlin, Europa Rome, and Europa Oslo—on this Spotify playlist