Métro Pré Saint Gervais
Chloë 002

The Basement Tapes
Durtro 063CD

You really can’t argue with the title of the more than 64-minute slice of musique concrète on MÉTRO PRÉ SAINT GERVAIS. That’s because Eric La Casa took his mics into the bowls of that Paris subway station and recorded French alto saxophonist

Jean-Luc Guionnet and British violinist Dan Warburton improvising in real time right on the subway platform.

As the disc rotates you see how well the two improvisers react to the found sound around them, including the noisy arrival and the departure of the Métro trains, buzzes of mechanized noises, announcements blaring from the sound system, passing footfalls and crowd noises and snatches of cross talk from the passengers — men, women and children, French and foreign.

Found sounds characterize THE BASEMENT TAPES as well, but here they’re human: the unique musical personality of second generation New Thing saxophonist Arthur Doyle. Birmingham, Ala.-native Doyle, who recorded with drummer Milford Graves in New York and was bassist Alan Silva’s Celestrial Communication Orchestra in Paris, was also unjustly jailed for five years in France for a crime he didn’t commit. In prison he wrote a songbook and since his release, his performances include him tonelessly vocalizing as well as playing. Recently, his most frequent playing partner has been pioneering New Thing drummer Sunny Murray, although he’s joined by Warburton and drummer Edward Perraud on the six selections here, recorded direct to DAT in the drummer’s basement, a month before the MÉTRO CD.

Warburton, Perraud and Guionnet plus bassist Francois Fuchs recorded a CD called RETURN OF THE NEW THING in 1999. These two sessions surely prove that singly and together they’re helping to propagate that initially revolutionary genre as well as the equally activist épater le bourgeois sonics of French post-Second World War contemporary music.

Not official musique concrète, by not eschewing instruments, MÉTRO also shares characteristics with so-called ambient music, if that description hasn’t fallen into disfavor after too many anemic genre CDs. Warburton and Guionnet aren’t bloodless by any means, though the blend of their instruments’ tones is often given a unique bathroom resonance by the ghostly subway acoustics.

Most of the time it’s the violinist’s arco La Monte Young-style drone that serves as the leitmotif. String sounds also underline loudspeaker announcements, and comment on passing conversations or turning subway wheels.

Arrangements become livelier in the CD’s second and longer section as hearty taps on the fiddle front plus arco lines meld with saxophone tongue slaps and wide, dissonant split tones to outline in bolder relief the pitches created by the hiss of air brakes as trains arrive and depart. Buzzing vibrations from the train cars become ancillary percussion as Guionnet adds key popping to his tongue slaps and Warburton begins triple stopping high up on the strings. Repetitive multiphonics from both parties soon allow the ghostly resonating tones to fade into métro sounds with the whistle shrills at door closing producing yet another pitch. Appropriately the dual improvisation winds down after the disembodied voice announces that the station will soon close for the night.

Fascinating in its audacity, the CD’s only drawback is its length. As regular commuters can tell you, spending more than an hour in one subway station can rapidly lose its appeal.

Also underground, but homier, Doyle’s basement session is more than 20 minutes shorter. But its drawback is Bedlam rather than boredom. Warburton’s violin playing is even more versatile than on the first disc and Perraud holds his own, but you have to make a conscious effort to separate the saxman’s playing from his, for-lack-of-a-better word, singing.

For instance “Street Player” starts off as forceful and highly rhythmic as any of Albert Ayler’s later R&B-influenced melodies. Doyle’s tenor saxophone honks and squeals are roadhouse powerful, Warburton slices out tough accompaniment that belies his instrument’s delicate reputation and Perraud beats out proper time. Playing in a coherent straight line the saxophonist gets first the fiddler to follow him — dampening the strings as his pitch ascends — and then the drummer. The tune even survives its diminuendo as Doyle yells, whoops and repeats the title phrase.

Elsewhere, though, on “Birthday Song for Edward”, the mouth sounds resemble what you would expect to hear from someone undergoing electro convulsive therapy — and its aftermath. Doyle moans, hollers and wrenches guttural tones from his throat. He speaks in tongues, laughs maniacally and literally shrieks. Someone briefly toots on a flute as the violinist saws away on his highest strings, with a sound that is still less atonal than Doyle’s vocalizing. Then the tune peters out.

Or consider “A Prayer for Peace”. Starting off with some (faux?) primitive wood flute from Doyle and press rolls from the drummer, the violinist then creates song-like Oriental-like tones as if his instrument was a Chinese erhu and this was Japanese gagaku rather than secular music. Perraud adds to the mood by shaking bells and chains, and the spell is only broken when Doyle begins mumble-vocalizing again.

If you can block those voiced cries from your organ of Corti there’s much to like here. Incarceration and age hasn’t diminished Doyle’s tenor playing. Using what sounds like a very hard reed, his stuck-pig squeals and split reed chirping make even Ayler’s explorations sound like Stan Getz emulation. Plus his example spurs the violinist to legato double stopping and the drummer to vary martial tempi, chain rattling and extended cymbal soundings. Additionally, Doyle’s vigorous flute work is as gritty and intentionally non-pretty as anything heard since Rahsaan Roland Kirk left this vale of tears. Additionally, on the tune named for Graves, Perraud is prodded into off-kilter tom and snare work with ride cymbal accents that goes beyond what Graves brought to Ayler sessions. Later, sax, flute tone and the odd spittle-fuelled mumble spur Warburton into staccato triple stopping with his bow and a short pizzicato part that can compare to banjo flat picking.

If you’re already a Doyle follower, you’ve already accepted his idiosyncrasies and revel in — or at least accept — them. But if you haven’t yet made his musical acquaintance, be forewarned that among the powerful music there are some unsettling, perhaps disturbing vocal asides.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Métro: 1. Métro Pré Saint Gervais Part 1 2. 1. Métro Pré Saint Gervais Part 2

Personnel: Métro: Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto saxophone); Dan Warburton (violin); Eric La Casa (microphones)

Track Listing: Basement: 1.Noah Black Arc 2. Birthday Song For Edward 3. Milford Graves 4. A Prayer for Peace 5. Homo 6. Street Player

Personnel: Basement: Arthur Doyle (tenor saxophone, flute, recorder, voice); Dan Warburton (violin); Edward Perraud (drums)