CHRISTOPHE BERTHET/VINZ VONLANTEN

Effect Papillon
Unit UTR 4135

How should you interpret the title, translated as the Butterfly Effect in English, of this CD by two Swiss musicians? Butterflies are elegant and multicolored, all right. Yet the only so-called effect you may associate with the flying insect is the understanding that its beauty is delicate and fleeting. Perhaps that’s a metaphoric description of this improvisation by a guitarist and a woodwind player. In order to create musical magnificence, the two must be precise enough in individual output so that the precarious structure of any of the 12 tunes here isn’t upset. That they succeed so well on their first duo disc is a tribute to a commonality of thought and technique.

So far unheralded beyond the confines of the Swiss confederation, each arrived at this point by different routes. Guitarist Vinz Vonlanthen, from Bern, has spent time in Paris, Brazil and West Africa, written music for film, theatre and dance, toured extensively with his band Urban Safari and played with musicians such as trombonist Yves Massy and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier. More of homebody, Geneva’s Christophe Berthet, who plays soprano saxophone and bass clarinet here, has worked with folks like Massey, pianist Michel Wintsch and drummer Lucas Niggli.

On EFFECT PAPILLON the two appear to drawing inspirations from many source: European improvised and electronic sounds; the note bending advances of jazz and rock music; and, perhaps as a direct result of Vonlanthen’s travels, echoes of Third World ethnic and ceremonial musics. None of these influences are “pure” however, which is what makes these improvisations so memorable.

Take “Australian Mood”, for instance. Although the guitarist’s hyper-electronic screeches and whines are almost painful in execution, when they don’t have that reverberating mandolin-like hillbilly tenor, his picking takes place on top of a continuous basso ostinato from the bass clarinet that resembles that coming from an Aboriginal didjeridoo. Maybe that’s the origin of the title. On the other hand, “Kyobo L’intrépide”, despite an Oriental suggestion in its title, exhibits a different soundscape. Berthet manipulates his large licorice stick in and out of polka territory, when he’s not deep into split tones. Meanwhile the guitarist is shooting off heavy metal flares when he isn’t producing the chunka-chunka beat of a classic rock rhythm guitar.

“Abîme” or abyss in English — an odd title for the number — features Vonlanthen producing notes from what appear to be deliberately loosened guitar strings for maximum discordance. In contrast, the soprano saxophone creates a Panpipe-type melody, with Berthet sounding as if he was manipulating an Arabic ney, rather than the highest-pitched of Belgian Adolphe Saxe’s inventions. These ghostly Maghreb-like sounds reappear with flutter tonguing and key pops from the horn on “Taragarh”, met with either amp buzz or guitar flat-picking. Since a belly-deep clarinet tone is there as well, you start to wonder if perhaps overdubbing figured in some of these pieces.

“La Longue Marche” — surely too offcentre a tune to be honoring Mao’s procession — bring out the same technical question, especially as echoing, high-pitched guitar lines seem to appear at the same time Vonlanthen is using his lower strings to approximate a bass. When a set of electrified fuzztones are heard as well, the mystery is deepened as Berthet then showcases his version of saxophone circular breathing.

These BritImprov-like, strained squeaks also are on show before the saxophonist reorients himself to ballad style, while the guitarist appear to have rediscovered bluegrass master Earl Scruggs’ talking banjo tricks.

Such instrumental wizardry that also encompasses Japanese gagaku hints as well as a swing number, turning the two were a futuristic Charlie Christian-Benny Goodman pairing, confirms the open-mouthed wonder that result from this butterfly effect.

Both men deserve kudos for this outstanding disc. Considering many of their innovations are done on the same instruments preferred by such smooth jazz stylists as Kenny G. and Earl Klugh, this session is even more remarkable.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Nyoko L’affamé 2. Effect Papillon 3. Australian Mood 4. British 5. Abîme 6. La Longue Marche 7. Taragarh 8. Kopakabana 9. Bleu 10. Kyobo L’intrépide 11. Onirik 12. White Spirit

Personnel: Christophe Berthet (soprano saxophone and bass clarinet); Vinz Vonlanthen (electric and acoustic guitars)