Reviews that mention Sophie Agnel

March 16, 2019

Sophie Agnel/John Edwards/Steve Noble

ONF Records JF010

Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger


Intakt CD 318

Cécile Cappozzo Trio

Sub Rosa

Ayler Records AylCD-153

Breathing new life into the standard Jazz piano trio are three sets of players who try to shift the genre’s strictures in such a way to highlight their own voices. Notably two of the ensembles are concerned with group composing, while Punkt.Vrt.Plastik is a vehicle for compositions by each member of the group. MORE

February 11, 2018

Atlantique Jazz Festival 14

Brest, France October 10 to October 14, 2017
By Ken Waxman

Did the first Black American music heard in France arrive with the African-American troops of the American Expeditionary Force, who landed in the port city of Brest in 1917?

This thesis is the basis of Nicolas Nogue’s film Quand le jazz débarque/Sammies in Brest, which was shown to a sold-out house at the mammoth Le Quartz theatre on October 12 as part of Brest’s 14th annual Atlantique Jazz Festival (AJF). While a syncopated score by pianist Christofer Bjurström mixed with appropriately descriptive noises from Vincent Raude’s electronics accentuated the silent archival newsreels, the few shots of soldiers singing or dancing didn’t make much of a case for jazz’s dissemination in France. More credible Yank-Gallic jazz admixtures were live festival performances by several American musicians who exhibited a profound rapprochement with their French counterparts. MORE

January 6, 2018

NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

2017 Ballot
Ken Waxman

This year’s 10 best New Releases listed in descending order one-through-ten.

1. Sophie Agnel/Daunik Lazro Marguerite d’Or PâleFou Records FR-CD 21

2. Jason Kao Hwang Sing House Euonymus EU 03

3. Alexander Hawkins Unit[e] AH 1002/3

4. Heliosonic Tone-tette Heliosonic Toneways Vol. 1 ScienSonic Laboratories SS10

5. Tiziano Tononi & Daniele Cavallanti Nexus Experience Nexus!Rudi Records RRJ1035

6. Arashi Semikujira Trost TR 146

7. Harris Eisenstadt Recent Developments Songlines SGL 1620-2 MORE

October 6, 2017

Trouble Kaze

Helix LX 009

What do you do to change things around when you’re a constantly experimenting improviser, part of a long-running French-Japanese quartet consisting of two trumpeters, a pianist and a drummer? Well if you’re collectively the members of Kaze, which has been well-received in this format since 2011, you further enlarge the band. But like the biblical tale of Noah who had animals march into his ark by twos, Kaze arranged for the continued evolution of the band by adding an additional trumpeter and another drummer. Now called Trouble Kaze, the group’s unique configuration of Japanese trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and French trumpeter Christian Pruvost now includes concurrent timbres from French pianist Sophie Angel alongside Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii; while Didier Lasserre, another French drummer joins his countryman Peter Orins in the percussion section. MORE

May 8, 2017

Festival Report

Artacts ‘17
By Ken Waxman

One of Austria’s ski resorts abutting the Alps, St. Johann in Tirol also attracts music fans during the annual artacts Festival. Attendees March 10-12 could be forgiven for being smug. While warm weather limited optimal ski conditions, music fans’ experience was elevated without using chair lifts. Case in point was the DEK trio, which opened the festival at the comfortable rustic Alte Gerberei performance space. While American tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Vandermark is wedded to jazz, Austrian drummer Didi Kern is involved with rock and Graz-based pianist Elisabeth Harnik at home in notated music, the resolution of these contradictions gave the performance its bite. Kern’s paddled beat lent veracity to Vandermark’s bar-walking sax honking, while Harnik’s pastoral patterning added emotion to abstract altissimo clarinet twists. Harnik’s attack could be brawny as well, extending her dynamic range by pounding darker phases from the lowest-pitched keys and plucking, rubbing and twanging inner piano strings. Although teaming with discordant touches, DEK’s sound never lost its sense of swing. MORE

March 1, 2017

Sophie Agnel/Daunik Lazro

Marguerite d’Or Pâle
Fou Records FR-CD 21

Not as potentially world-altering as François Fillon’s – as well as Donald Trump’s – budding bromance with Vladimir Putin, a Moscow audience’s rapt attention to this superior improvisational program here indicates more favorable axioms. Consisting of six tunes performed by French improvisers, saxophonist Daunik Lazro and pianist Sophie Agnel, Marguerite d’Or Pâle confirms the universality of music, despite the post-Soviet-Gallic political climate. More crucially, in this case, it confirms the high standards of committed French musicians that are recognized by international audiences. MORE

February 11, 2015

Orchestre National de Jazz

Europa Paris
On Jazz Records 24444

Taking France’s prestigious Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ) in a new direction, plus dealing with a complete change in personnel, is the ONJ’s new artistic director, composer and guitarist Olivier Benoit. Know for experimental small group work as well as writing for and sometimes playing as part of large ensembles such as La Pieuvre and Circum Grand Orchestra, Benoit is certainly no one to pursue a course of reinterpreting so-called Jazz classics. This sprawling six-part, two-CD magnum opus demonstrates this handily. Ambitious, Europa Paris is designed to paint a sonic portrait of the city of light via the solo and interactive skills of the 11-mmber ensemble. MORE

November 26, 2014

Sophie Agnel & Olivier Benoit

Césaré 14/02/15/1

Staccato string aerobics are the attraction here. That’s because French improvisers, pianist Sophie Agnel and guitarist Olivier Benoit rip through two mid-length tracks in order to reveal novel sonic underpinning rampant with smoldering stimulus. Now colleagues in the 11-piece, Paris-based Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ), which Benoit also directs, the two also maintain this on-going duo to explore a miniature if no less incisive program than with the ONJ.

Agnel’s kinetically cast key pummeling and Benoit’s equally spiny string variations allow the duo to construct a highly original and shifting interface before the CD’s initial two minutes have passed. Soon afterwards, the pianist moves from her initial percussive and chiming sequences. Most frequently found in cooperative small group situations, Agnel’s textural variants, running the gamut from faux-romantic key chording to subdued rumbles from the soundboard centre the improvisations. Meantime Benoit, known equally for his incisive combo work as well his years with the Circum Grand Orchestra, picks out slack-key motifs as well as muddying the interface with potent tone reverb which creates what sounds like a jittery electro-magnetic field between the two instruments. “Reps 1” peaks with galloping key pressure alternating with ululating, amplified echoes of Benoit’s guitar distortion MORE

August 1, 2014

Festival Report

Jazzdor-Strasbourg-Berlin 2014
By Ken Waxman

The KulturBrauerei’s music space Kesselhaus in East Berlin was a fitting site for the eighth annual Jazzdor-Strasbourg-Berlin (JSB) festival June 3-6. With jazz and improvised music’s universality now a given, a festival presenting mostly French jazz taking place in what had been one of Berlin’s oldest breweries, now repurposed from industrial to artistic use, doesn’t seem that much of a stretch.

Overall its all-inclusive musical theme was confirmed by the programming of JSB’s artistic director Philippe Ochem and his team, which already host Strasbourg’s annual Jazzdor festival. Over four nights, JSB presented musician from different parts of Germany, Belgium and the US plus proudly delineated Basque and Corsican players, all of whom worked with improvisers from France’s major musical centres. MORE

November 28, 2013

Sophie Agnel/John Edwards/Steve Noble

Clean Feed CF 272 CD

Craig Taborn Trio


ECM 2326

Satoko Fujii

Spring Storm

Libra Records 203-034

Probably the most respected of all Jazz configurations from all parts of the modern spectrum is the archetypal piano, bass and drum trio. Just because it’s the standard modus operandi for stylists ranging from Keith Jarrett and Oscar Peterson to Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal doesn’t means that the end product has to be the same. Especially evident in this trio of disc involving American, French, British and Japanese players is that originality results when the expected hierarchy of the piano-and-rhythm-section is shattered. In each of these discs creation is among equal partners. MORE

December 10, 2011

Benjamin Duboc

Primare Cantus
AYLCD 098-099-100

Burkhard Stangl

Hommage à moi

Loewenhertz loew 020

Howard Riley

The Complete Short Stories 1998-2010

NoBusiness NBCD 21-26

Roland Keijser & Raymond Strid

Yellow Bell

Umlaut UMADA 2

By Ken Waxman

Traditionally, holiday time gets people thinking about CD box sets as gifts. But merely offering multi-disc best-of collections hardly shows originality. Instead the most valuable multiple CD sets are collected because, like the talented players featured here, the musicians literally had more ideas than could be expressed on even two disc. Take Paris-based bassist Benjamin Duboc for example. Probably the busiest and most inventive player of his instrument in French improvised music circles, Primare Cantus AYLCD 098-099-100 (7320470141892), a three-CD-set, highlights a different facet of his work on each side. A treat for double-bass fanatics the solo work on Disc 1, demonstrates that by also by using his voice, and extended techniques the spatial program not only expresses the fascinating bass timbres but does so in a way that the resulting sounds seem electronically processed although thoroughly acoustic. Meanwhile Disc 2 and 3 are equally excellent showing how his mature style adapts to input from radically different ensembles. Accommodating his jagged bowing and hearty string smacks to the vibrations from saxophonists Sylvain Guérineau and Jean-Luc Petit plus cunning percussion asides from Didier Lasserre, results is concentrated sounds that are as accommodating as they are opaque. The fifth untitled track for instance, perfectly matches low-pitched double bass arpeggios; while track 9 climaxes with majestic glissandi from both reedists mated with Duboc’s speedy string scrubbing that completes the initial challenge between the bassist’s strums from and subterranean snorts from Petit’s baritone plus fortissimo bites from Guérineau’s tenor. Pascal Battus’ guitar pick-up and the subtle introduction of field recordings give Disc 3 more of an electronic cast. Overall, with Sophie Agnel concentrating on fishing out unexpected note clusters from her piano’s internal string set and Christian Pruvost mostly propelling pure air from his trumpet, the thesis is timbre expansion not swing. For instance, the bassist’s concentrated ostinato underpinning Battus’ bottleneck flanges, the trumpeter’s strained grace notes and Agnel’s mallet popping on the strings creates mercurial dynamism. Additionally suggestions of billiard balls being racked or magnetic tape reels reversing provide unexpected tinctures in a sound field otherwise consisting of agitated bass licks, quivering piano strings and squealing brass. Overall, an aviary explosion from Pruvost, shaped by Agnel’s metronomic pitter-patter and Duboc’s pedal point is as exciting as anything recorded by Roy Eldridge with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. MORE

November 15, 2011

Sophie Agnel/Bertrand Gauguet/Andrea Neumann

Spiral Inputs
Another Timbre at39

When is a piano not a piano? When it’s reduced to its basic frame and paired with live electronics, as Berlin’s Andrea Neumann does on this CD. At the same time, the input from Paris’ Sophie Agnel own piano further muddies the definition of the venerable instrument since she mostly prepares the strings with objects, stroking and stopping them as often as she plays the keyboard. Not part of this discussion-definition, but contributing mightily to the improvisation is Mulhouse’s Bertrand Gauguet, who in his turns, reduces his soprano saxophone interface to microtonal puffs, disconnected air expelling, flattement and whispered squeaks. MORE

July 3, 2010

Densités Festival

Fresnes-en-Woëvre, France
October 23 to 25 2009

A rural French hamlet in the Lorraine countryside isn’t the setting you imagine for a world-class festival of unadulterated Electronic and Free Music. Yet the Densités Festival in Fresnes-en-Woëvre – population 500 – about 80 kilometres from Nancy, is that. During three days in late October, the 16th Edition presented a sonic banquet of unstoppable Free Jazz, minimalist improv, sound installations, electro-acoustic meetings, poetry recitations and interactions between instrumentalists and dancers. MORE

March 8, 2010

Quatuor Qwat Reum Six

Live at Festival NPAI 2007
Amor Fati FATUM 017

With sonic textures and timbres often as inscrutable as the band’s name, four of France’s most accomplished improvisers explore non-idiomatic sounds. This continuous, though segmented, performance is not only tonally mesmerizing, but also one which, through the use of extensions and techniques negate the differences between acoustic and electronic instruments.

A self-described “outlaw in jazz”, baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro has followed his own muse for decades, Here, his nephritic timbres and unexpected upward twists produce as many oscillations as the static loops and patches exposed from Jérôme Noetinger’s table-top electronics. Meantime, while Michael Nick’s string shaking, shuffle bowing and spiccato patterns extend the violin’s range, Sophie Agnel hardly touches the piano keys, preferring to create her own aesthetic with resonation, thumps and clanks available when internal strings are first prepared and then plucked, strummed or stroked. MORE

November 12, 2009

Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon

Ulrichsberg, Austria
April 30 –May 2, 2009

A site-specific performance that took into account the dimensions and machinery of a still-functioning 1853 linen factory; resounding interface between pulsating electronic and acoustic instruments; and a full-force finale involving a mid-sized band were among the notable performances at 2009’s Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon.

Remarkable as well as the consistently high quality of the 11 concerts that took place during the 23rd edition of this three-day festival, is the location: a farming and small manufacturing village of fewer than 7,000 people about 60 kilometres west of Linz, Austria. MORE

October 11, 2009

Sophie Agnel

Capsizing Moments
Emanem 5004

Accomplishing almost everything imaginable with her instrument’s keys, strings and construction short of capsizing the object, French pianist Sophie Agnel offers up a dazzling recital of solo prepared piano in three parts here. Nearly 51 minutes in duration, the three-part invention is neither edited nor transformed with any sort of electronic interface.

Paris-born and with extensive traditional and jazz education, Agnel’s raison d’etre is improvisation. A frequent playing partner of acoustic improvises such as baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro, she also partners wave-form manipulators like electronics specialist Lionel Marchetti. Agnel’s achievement on this CD is creating an original interface by mixing the microtonal and noise-making properties of New music with the aleatory freedom gained through improvisation. MORE

July 2, 2008

Sonic Geography: Mulhouse, France

For MusicWorks Issue #101

During late August when some streets in Mulhouse, France take on a decidedly other-directed character associated with the Jazz à Mulhouse (JAM) festival, it’s likely neither visitors nor locals realize the symbolic roots of the celebration, an integral part of the city since 1983.

Known as France’s Manchester, industry in this city of about 112,000 people in the Haut-Rhin region has been involved with the textile industry since 1746, when four locals founded the city’s first textile printing works. Annexed by France in 1798, Mulhouse was formerly a free republic associated with the Swiss Confederation. In the late 19th and early 20th century Mulhouse’s factories remained world leaders in the manufacture and marketing of printed cloth for both home and apparel, while students from around the world studied at the École nationale superieure des industries textiles. MORE

January 9, 2008

Jazz à Mulhouse gives a loving French kiss to Improvised music

By Ken Waxman
For CODA Issue 337

Impressive saxophone and reed displays were the focus of the 24th Edition of Jazz à Mulhouse in France in late August. Overall however, most of the 19 performances maintained a constant high quality. This may have something to do with the fact that unlike larger, flashier and more commercial festivals, Jazz à Mulhouse (JAM) is an almost folksy showcase for improvisation.

Located less than 20 minutes away by train from Basel, Switzerland, Mulhouse is a mid-sized city of 150,000 in eastern France long known as an industrial textile centre. Low-key, JAM is rather like the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV), with better restaurants. MORE

February 21, 2005

François Couturier/Jean-Marc Larché/Jean-Louis Matinier

Music for a while

Sophie Agnel/Christine Wodrascka
Cuerdas cinq cent trente-cinq

By Ken Waxman
February 21, 2005

Ni l’une ni l’autre -- neither one nor the other -- is the French phrase that most readily comes to mind when listening to these two piano-intensive CDs.

Like many other musicians, neither the Couturier/Larché/Matinier trio nor the duo of pianists Sophie Agnel and Christine Wodrascka want to limit themselves to any one style of music. The strands of other sounds they choose to import into the overall jazz-improv interface of these discs are what make them distinctive and memorable. MORE

April 12, 2004


New World # 80607


Orchestral and monochordal at different times, the piano is the cornerstone of Western music because of its versatility. But this versatility sometimes limits its adaptability to more experimental music.

Over the second half of the 20th century composers and pianists decided that one way to overcome the keyboard’s innate conventionality was to prepare the strings with different objects. These two CDs -- one American and one French -- show how these preparations can be used in the context of improvised music. Each is vastly different. American Denman Maroney’s quintet is strongly allied to jazz, whereas the Parisian duo of pianist Sophie Agnel and guitarist Olivier Benoit leans towards free music and electronics. MORE

March 29, 2002


Rouge Gris Bruit
Potlatch P401

For4Ears CD 1343

Acceptance of electro-acoustic impulses seems to characterize much of the more interesting 21st Century European improvised music. Yet like the best sounds produced by influence-accepting free music, its hoary half-brother, electro-acoustic improv is most absorbing when it’s a hybrid. Too acoustic and it lacks the futuristic sounds of electronics; too electronic and it becomes an exercise in science or physics, not art. MORE