For 4 Ears CD 1138

It's too bad the wooly-haired, proto-hippies associated with so-called New Age record labels have given ambient music such a bad name. For long before it was turned into a sort of comforting white noise for the fireplace and rustic cabin set, "ambient" was conceived of as legitimate way to perceive and utilize quieter sounds.

Fortunately, the textured intonation created on this CD relates more to the proto-ambient, experimental, improvised music that comes from unclassifiable ensembles like AMM than the color-coordinated designer ditties of berobed New Agers.

Don't be frightened by the instrumentation either. Although in other hands a program of harp, saxophone and guitar instrumentals might be viewed as a short cut to velvety boredom, Breschand and Doneda from France and Zbinden from Switzerland manage to use their equipment in a much more original way. "Espace Champs," for instance, which starts off as a moody pastoral piece, soon develops all sorts of sharp edges with saxophone peeps, harp string twangs and electric guitar buzzes

Elsewhere, as in "Octogone", the three seem to revel in the metalic sounds that can result from their instruments, with even the usually pastoral harp attacked like a powerful, many-stringed guitar. It's as if a 18th Century chamber orchestra in powdered wigs and ruffs suddenly pulled out Kiss masks and began transmitting heavy metal chords.

Then there's "Stase", the longest piece, which seems most concerned with pure sound. Doneda comes out with short bursts of bird-like notes, while the other two produce a textural, rhythmic background. The sound map created is so varied, in fact, that it often seems as if the trio has gained extra members on drums, bass and other horns. This doubling and redoubling of the sound goes on for more than 27 minutes until the whole thing abruptly fades away.

Conventional ambient or New Age or Smooth Jazz fans would be wise to stay away from this disc. But improv followers interested in seeing what can be done with this instrumental combination will be well satisfied.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Stasse 2. & Souffle 3. Espace Champs 4. Temps Nodal; 5. Octogone

Personnel: Hélène Breschand (harp); Michael Doneda (soprano and tenor saxophone); Gérald Zbinden (electric guitar)