Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Melbourne Recital Centre
Saturday, January 19

WHEN France's Orchestre National de Jazz was founded in 1986, several of its current members were yet to be born. Artistic director Daniel Yvinec is creating new musical pathways for the state-funded orchestra, and youthful energy is one of its key ingredients (the average age is now 28).

Unconventional repertoire is high on Yvinec's agenda, and Saturday's program fitted the bill perfectly: a jazz-oriented exploration of the songs of Robert Wyatt, drawing on the band's album, Around Robert Wyatt, which featured the voice of the British art-rock icon along with several other singers.

In concert, these singers appeared as disembodied ''ghosts'', as the 10 musicians wove lush webs of sound around the prerecorded vocals. The absence of live vocalists emphasised the otherworldly quality of the songs - especially those sung by Wyatt, whose fragile voice is imbued with touching vulnerability.

Vincent Artaud's imaginative arrangements favoured understatement, while close harmonies, extended instrumental techniques and subtle electronic effects created mysterious atmospheres, enhanced by the projected images of filmmaker Antoine Carlier.

The band's finale (The Song) was perhaps the most potent - with Wyatt's vocals drifting over pulsing wind instruments, and a swirling sax echoing the spinning coloured threads on screen.