In the very beginning, however, Debrulle's ambition was not music. After high school, he studied social sciences in Leuven. He very soon found himself working for the university's Cultural Committee, where he was scheduling concerts. This was the start of his urge to form his own group: a friend on drums, him on congas. He gave up his studies, moved to Liège and had lessons with Johnny Peret, who had also taught Bruno Castellucci. Very quickly, he discovered that he was a drummer, though by no means specialising in congas: he decided to learn the drums. He took lessons at the IACP in Paris. Tired of long train journeys, he made an offer to Henri Pousseur, Director of the Liège Conservatoire, to organise some improvised music lessons. After a variety of traineeships, Pousseur brought in the American, Garrett List, through whom Debrulle met tuba player Michel Massot and saxophonist Fabrizio Cassol, with whom he founded Trio Bravo. This "smallest big band in the world" would be invited to all major European festivals and even New York's Knitting Factory. Following an introductory trip to Africa, however, Cassol decided to change direction: he left Liège and founded Aka Moon.
The two Michels wanted to continue their pursuit as a trio, so they went to look for a third member with a similar original talent. Massot suggested the name Laurent Dehors, who crossed Le Normand with Andy Emler's MegaOctet: "The orchestral formula of Trio Grande is the same as that of Trio Bravo but they are different worlds. Laurent has a broader sound register than Fabrizio: he can play bass with the bass clarinet and, well, I find it easier to do solos. The sound is different: poly-instrumentism pushed to the limits."
Thus began the adventure of a new western musical, with a very wide range of sounds. Dehors says: "We very often play on stamps, which means that we can multiply instruments: trombone, tubas, drums, Binche bass drum, saxophones, clarinets, plus the Jew's harp and bagpipes. I also get the chance to play two clarinets at the same time.” Trio Grande's music has a very clear festive nature and really communicative appeal, as it originates from popular traditions. After a series of concerts in clubs and at festivals, the trio recorded its first album, simply entitled Trio Grande for the Igloo label: nine compositions by Michel Massot and three by Laurent Dehors. Accompanied by the pulse of the drums, the trombone, sometimes muted, euphonium or bass tuba, communicates with an Ayler-style tenor (Etrange), a mutinering clarinet (Galatée), a lively soprano (Menuet) or a skittish bass clarinet (Bihorel).
From festival to festival, the repertoire was enriched with new compositions, but it took several years for a second album, Signé Trio Grande, to be released, this time on the WERF label. The original repertoire was, again, essentially written by Massot, with flagship titles such as L'Acrobate or Voltigeur, with Circassian paces. The album received good press; invitations multiplied, both in Portugal and Great Britain.
In 2005, when they were at the Brecon Jazz Festival in Wales for the second time, the three accomplices were impressed by British pianist Matthew Bourne. A year later, they were given carte blanche at the Gaume Jazz Festival and invited Bourne to play: "Matthew plays very rhythmically. He of course found his place and brought harmonious colours which we were not used to" (M.Debrulle). This new project attracted the WERF label and in 2008, Un Matin plein de Promesses was released, with twelve original compositions, six by Massot, five by Dehors and ‘Le Bossu de Rossignol’ by Bourne. The album would be followed by a tour of Belgium and France, and was awarded the 2008 Octave de la Musique prize. Three years later, the album Hold the Line came out, in which, with its constant breaks of rhythm, the British pianist perfectly integrated into the trio's light madness.
After these two albums with Matthew Bourne, Trio Grande returned to its basic format with the latest album Trois Mousquetaires (WERF 2016), as a way of re-establishing its purpose. A real breath of fresh air.
Photo © Massimo Municchi