HUBBUB

Hoop Whoop
Matchless MRCD 53

RETURN OF THE NEW THING
Traque
Ayler Records aylCD-010

Proof once again that improvising musicians can thrive in any circumstance, no matter the label, is provided with these two, mostly in-concert, CDs.

HOOP WHOOP is a refined slice of microtonal EuroImprov by five questing French musicians captured at a festival in Vandoeuvre-les-Nancy. In contrast, TRAQUE is a hell-bent-for-leather slab of ferocious Free Jazz/Free Improv recorded by three French and one British players live and in the studio.

Yet two of the most conspicuous improvisers — saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet and drummer Edward Perraud — are the same on both discs. Putting aside the psychiatric diagnosis of schizophrenia, the simplest explanation for their dual personalities is that most sound explorers hate getting stuck in a rut and look for many creative opportunities. More profoundly, despite the mania for categorization that exists in the jazz/improv world, the seeds from one genre can frequently germinate in another.

One continuous, nearly 53-minute creation, HUBBUB’s CD is most concerned with the textural and polyphonic qualities the musicians’ instruments can bring to a soundscape, while barely raising the listening range above piano. Don’t read the booklet notes while experiencing the music however. They provide new evidence to the supposition that the French invented obfuscation.

Most of the time you have to supply your own interpretation of the program and decide to which instrument to link each sound. Overall, an electroacoustic drone appears to fade in and out of the program, similar to the continuum that exists in AMM performances. This is probably the result of string manipulation from guitarist Jean-Sébastian Mariage.

Guionnet who is interested in electronica and has recorded live in a Paris subway station for quasi-musique concrète effects, and Denzler who performed in a formation with Günter Müller on electronics and mini discs, concentrate most of their efforts within a narrow range of expression. Favored techniques include small breaths, reed chirps and squeals; gradually introduced key pops, tongue slaps and reed kisses; flattement, false fingerings and exaggerated lines that occasionally turn into the hiss of colored noises.

One — or both — is a fine mimic as well, since what sounds like the gibbering and whistling of monkeys appear at various times, as does the cawing of crows. As a matter of fact, these sibilant aviary squalls are sometimes so clangorous that you could be listening to an aural souvenir of feeding time at a zoo’s ornithology exhibit. Something approaching a yawn also emerges at points, though it’s probably a unique extended technique rather than a comment on the proceedings.

While all this is going on, Perraud confines himself to equine clip clops from the drum heads, single flams, drags and irregular ratamacues, not to mention portions of the tune when it literally appears as if he’s wiping the tops of his drum heads with a cloth. There’s also what has almost become the sine qua non of this music: the scrape of a drumstick on cymbal reveling in the overtones and vibrations it creates.

With four of the five musicians involved with polyrhythm and polytonality going their separate ways, only pianist Frédéric Blondy, who has recorded a duo session with percussionist Lê Quan Ninh, seems to cleave to the course and plow on, no matter what’s happening around him. From initial restrained, chordal pressure that almost sounds like equal temperament, he keeps his noodling to the minimum, instead he sounds different parts of the keyboard to complement reed vibrations. Similarly there are places where he too turns his instrument into a resonating percussion source.

Not exactly prepared, it still sounds as if extra dampers on the hammers are altering the soundboard’s output, as Blondy repetitively clinks the ivories on the keyboard. Hammering on the instrument’s side and striking the strings with a bow seems to be another strategy as well as letting loose a moving object — perhaps a ping pong ball — within the instrument’s innards.

A close approximation of Hubbub’s strategy also appears on Return of the New Thing’s “Scent”. The piano played by British writer/violinist Dan Warburton also sounds prepared when he isn’t using it to unleash irresolute fantasias. Guionnet’s low-key, diffident split tones are held as long as humanly possible as piano chords circle around him, François Fuchs barely taps on his bass strings and Perraud’s moves are suitably restrained. Before the more than 15½-minute track is completed though, the drummer has moved through banging away like Sunny Murray to creating an unvarying beat along with the bassist, while the reedist honks out circumscribe freebop à la Julius Hemphill.

If restraint is found on the other disc, than excess is order of the day on this one. But while there’s plenty of excitement on tap, the four also fall victim to the most common failing of the initial New Thing — excessive length. On “Trictrac”, for instance, three-quarters of the way through the tune, Guionnet follows a scratchy, jagged outlay in the highest tone he seems able to produce with prolonged silence as if he had shot his wad and was drained. But, hounded by Warburton’s high-pressure keyboard pummeling and the crashing drums, he starts up again, snorting out arpeggios and multiphonics. The climax features Perraud smacking his snares like a parent punishing a recalcitrant child and the pianist advancing a stiff martial tempo. It’s a more satisfying ending than the original one would have been, but why did it have to arrive at the end of nearly 20 minutes of playing rather than earlier on? Versatility had almost been exhausted before Guionnet’s jagged outlay appears, with the saxophonist trilling duck-like cries and pig squeals, the bassist scratching the upper reaches of his strings and Warburton alternately producing dramatic impressionistic piano flourishes, Cecil Taylor-powered chording and for a brief period, Billy Bang-like violin string sawing.

Even more trying is the first cut, a studio effort that goes on for more than 29 minutes — or the length of most first generation ESP-Disk LPs. Warburton unleashes some piano key clipping, Perraud hits anything percussive that doesn’t move and Guionnet appears to be blowing both his saxes at once for a more-dissonant, wider, Aylerian result. Fuchs is only heard when he joins in with a rapid, sawing arco line, sounding more like a gypsy fiddler than a New Thinger.

Living up to the band’s title, there are times the four appear to have climbed into the wayback machine set for 1964, as the saxman blows klaxon-like bent notes with a bit of a burr and double tongues the reed past altissimo. Warburton seems to be going past Taylor’s 88 tuned drums to frantically treat the keyboard like a pounding board and Perraud’s rat-tat tats seem never to stop. Electricity may be in the air — and under he laser — but exhaustion starts to set in before the track ends.

As proof that the uncompromising New Thing has never left the building, TRAQUE offers a heady shot of adrenaline to the listener. But , besides that, the compositions could have been better shaped, focused and condensed. They do serve as a antithesis to the output on HOOP WHOOP, though, and a definition of some improvising musicians’ versatility.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Traque: 1. Traque 2. Trictrac 3. Babil 4. Scent 5. Vloo

Personnel: Traque: Jean-Luc Guionnet (soprano and alto saxophones); Dan Warburton (piano and violin); François Fuchs (bass); Edward Perraud (drums)

Track Listing: Whoop: 1. Part I 2. Part II 3. Part III 4. Part IV

Personnel: Whoop: Jean-Luc Guionnet (soprano and alto saxophones); Bertrand Denzler (tenor saxophone); Frédéric Blondy (piano); Jean-Sébastian Mariage (guitar); Edward Perraud (drums)