Port of Saints

Raymond Boni/Luc Bouquet
The Listener Writer
Improjazz PRLB 002

Taken with Free Music in the 1960s, Toulon (France)-born guitarist Raymond Boni has spent the subsequent years melding his background in traditional, jazz and Roma styles with the challenges of improvisation.

Someone whose associates have included other advanced Gallic soloists like flautist Jèrôme Bourdellon and bassist Claude Tchamitchian, his interests have included writing for dance, especially since he returned to the south of France a few years ago. These recent CDs however are only terpsichorean by inference. Instead they showcase him in two equally sympathetic situations: as part of a quartet with three Americans, and in a duo with French drummer-writer Luc Bouquet.

Dating back to 2000, Port of Saints reunites the guitarist with upstate New York’s multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee – with whom he has now collaborated for about a quarter-of-a-century – plus New York-based bassists Dominic Duval and Michael Bisio. During the course of the 51-minute title track and the less-than-14-minute lagniappe of “The Snake, the Fish (and Things)” the four manage the difficult task of saluting uncompromising Energy music with no drummer and McPhee’s tenor saxophone the only horn.

In truth, the shorter track is a better showcase for Boni, since his interaction with McPhee is the main event. Relegating Boni and Duval to a cushioning harmonic framework – although the two add some slurred arco licks at the finale – the guitarist and saxophonist concentrate on batting tones back-and-forth.

Outputting prolonged and elasticized patterns, McPhee offers up double- and triple-tongued growls and wiggles plus rolling squeak tones. For his part Boni ranges among quivering banjo-like frailing, metallic chiming and finger-picking runs. If, at points, the saxophonist’s renal vibrations sound as if he’s exposing his stomach lining more than his lips or throat, then the guitarist counters with ratcheting pedal distortions and string clouts that make it sound as if bottle caps are attached to his finger tips.

Double bass timbres predominate on the longer track to such an extent that McPhee doesn’t make his entranced until about 15 minutes into the tune. At that point his striated split tones and exaggerated vibrato finally affect a rapprochement with the strings. Until then, both bull fiddlers have gradually accelerated from largo to moderato, with the knife-sharp string buzzes differentiated as one thumps lower-pitched rasgueado, and the other shrill, broken-chord extensions.

As Bisio and Duval continue rumbling like a ground-shaking tremor below, the saxophonist unleashes bent, convoluted multiphonic cries that almost bounce off the studio’s stone walls. With multi-syllabic yelps and falsetto cries contrapuntally challenging the bassists’ sul tasto emphasis, Boni’s slurred fingering gets more intense as well. He expands his licks so that his flanging creates the sort of actions you’d expect from the double bass’s bow manipulation. Playing quickly, he showcases under-the-bridge clicking and the sort of harsh finger-nail scrapes and wood tapping wallops associated with flamenco stylists.

Combining in quadruple polyphony, the bassists’ percussive bounces and pops, Boni’s low-pitched, rough-and-ready picking and McPhee concentrated glossolalia and growls confirm this interlocking partnership. Authoritative, in its climax the nephritic interplay prove that the uncompromising ideals of Free Jazz still resonate – on both sides of the Atlantic.

If Port of Saints features no official percussion, then the six tracks on The Listener Writer, recorded five years later, make up for it in the person and the drum kit of Bouquet. On the other hand the chanson and gypsy echoes in Boni’s guitar playing have been expanded with harmonica timbres so deliberately discordant that they would be deemed primitive on a Fat Possum recording session.

Early 21st rather than early 20th Century, however, textures from the Boni-Bouquet duo would never be confused for performers in a country blues session. For starters, the drummer’s technique relates to recitals and reductionism, not the roadhouse, and the harsh scratching of his drum stick on a cymbal is nowhere near the standard shuffle beat. Throughout, Bouquet’s mode d’emploi is often cymbal chiming and, vibrational drum top pulses that subdivide into popping and scattering note shards. The guitar’s song-like asides are dealt with effectively, perhaps because the drummer also performs with Turkish vocalist Saadet Türköz.

For his part Boni relies on distorted amp quivers, triggered bent-note licks, descending chordal runs and the occasional un-bluesy bottleneck whine. His prepared guitar timbres seem to result from items placed on top of the strings, rather than slid along them. Plus his sound abrasions are sandpaper rough enough to always reflect the strings’ heavy gauge. With staccato motions, he introduces slurred fingering when he’s not creating Heavy Metal-like runs with treble-to-bass tone reverberations. Polyrhythmically, Bouquet adumbrates steel drum and kettle drum pulses, while avoiding direct strokes, expressing movement with unexpected beats.

Together the two build up to the climatic “No Weapons…Instruments…Only”, where Boni’s discordance gives way to POMO Roma and chanson-style interjections. Following a period of prolonged silence finger-picking legato sweeps and slides are showcased, and then the plectrumist leaves room for the drummer to hammer out voluminous, circular tones in the final variation.

Earlier droning strokes give way to vocalized cries from the guitar, as if it was Bluegrass master Earl Scruggs’ “talking banjo”. That is until Bouquet’s rim shots and wood-quivering patterning propel him into the harmonic role, as Boni’s frailing becomes faster, louder and more intrusive.

Bouquet’s harmonica sounds are best skipped over however. Even with the instrument evidently shoved right against the mic, the resulting reverberations take on a faint electronic quality without any of the descriptive color that masters such as Williamson, Junior Wells or Sonny Terry could coax from this “Mississippi saxophone”.

For a full, satisfying experience, Port of Saints would seem to be the preferable disc. Still those interested in the guitarist’s constant evolution could benefit from hearing The Listener Writer as well.

— Ken Waxman


Track Listing: Port: 1. Port of Saints 2. The Snake, The Fish (and Things)

Personnel: Port: Joe McPhee (tenor saxophone); Raymond Boni (guitar) and Dominic Duval and Michael Bisio (basses)

Track Listing: Talk: 1. Talk About 2. How Much For Your Soul 3. La route d’Uzés 4. No More Crazy Woman 5. (Until) The Last Shout 6. No Weapons…Instruments…Only

Personnel: Talk: Raymond Boni (guitars and harmonica) and Luc Bouquet (drums)