nmperign

Ommatidia
Intransitive INT 035

Michel Doneda/Olivier Toulemonde/Nicolas Desmarchelier

Le Terrier

MonotypeRec. Mono 028

Masking, altering and subverting the acoustic properties of familiar instruments has been a preoccupation of musical experimenters for more than half a century. The value of CDs such as these however is that the improvisers involved confirm that reducing or amplifying sonic parameters doesn’t depend on controlled laboratory conditions or advanced scholastic degrees. D-I-Y timbre-shattering sets, the results can be realized at home.

Still, just because some of the sounds are home-made doesn’t mean that they’re not profound as well. In fact, Americans, trumpeter Greg Kelley and soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey – who perform as nmperign, note the lower case letters – plus the French trio of saxophonist Michel Doneda guitarist Nicolas Desmarchelier and percussionist/sound manipulator Olivier Toulemonde have all developed distinctive microtonal strategies.

Members of Bourg-en-Bresse’s Collectif Ishtar, Desmarchelier and Toulemonde define themselves as sound researchers, while – possibly because of his instrument(s)’ tradition – Paris’ Doneda link to the Free Jazz and Free Music tradition are stronger. Stretching collective adagio sequences to their logical extremes, the three make a complete if somewhat unconventional trio. Together Desmarchelier’s few straightforward guitar chord and finger-picked flanges, Doneda’s tongue pops and staccato chirps plus Toulemonde’s percussive rattles, strokes and echoing rebound confirm their partnership.

Timbral experimentation doesn’t have to mean solipsism however, and while the blurry sounds here may evolve at an understated and guarded pace – separated by protracted silences – this doesn’t preclude deeper connections. For instance, right from the beginning, reed properties which often resemble a flat-line air leak or shrilling by carrion-seeking fowl, are mated with gamelan-like pings and sandpaper-like friction from the percussionist as well as loosened acoustic guitar strings roughly frailed or stabbed with sharp objects. If anything, the affiliated crepuscule tones are as dense as those created by a symphony orchestra’s crescendo or resulting from the use of a room full of ring modulators and sequencers.

Patches of amplified object grinding and snapping string pressures manage to keep the movement chromatic, even if the linear saxophone line is unaccented. Fortissimo and fluid or distracted and discordant, the reed properties are sequenced among granular synthesis, although the occasional barks or cries testify to the saxophone’s presence.

Le Terrier’s early climax arrives with “galerie 2” as Doneda’s full-force air expelling is strengthened by gong-like resonance plus yawning scrapes, whistles and rustles. Once staccatissimo chirps and peeps from the reedist reach an upsurge of curlicue drilling and split-tone flutters, the diminuendo final section downshifts under stick and clave patting from Toulemonde.

Extended fortissimo outbreaks aren’t part of nmperign’s game plan, although Doneda and Rainey have more in common than a shared reed instrument. They recorded together in Toulouse in 2002, alongside fellow soprano saxist Alessandro Bosetti. Not that there’s any hint of a John Coltrane-Pharoah Sanders or Lester Young-Paul Quinichette saxophone stylistic linkage between Doneda and Rainey either. Each developed independently and on Ommatidia – which are any one of the numerous cone-shaped eyes that make up the compound eye of some arthropods – Rainey’s reed identification is less pronounced than the French saxophonist’s. His overriding strategy is timbre-melding with Kelley, with the result the creation of an ommatidia-like compound sound.

Smacking parts of their instruments against the microphone for added reverb, both the saxophonist and the trumpeter avoid distinguishing brass or reed timbres throughout to the extent of not depressing valves or pressing keys. Only at the very end of certain tracks do recognizable trumpet grace notes or reed vibratos appear and combine for skewed double counterpoint. Not that it’s apparent as well, but in other circumstances the trumpeter plays raucous Free Jazz with the likes of saxophonist Paul Flaherty.

Watery glissandi and growls plus pinched yawns and cricket-like peeps sometimes reach a crescendo of sorts on these tracks, but just as the absence of theme and variation is notable, missing too are anything resembling solos or attempts at showiness. Among the flat-line vector-shifting though are occasional reed split tones and a passage where Kelley seems to be sounding a bugle-like reverse.

Loosing up by the final track, Rainey and Kelley’s double counterpoint includes tropes such as inchoate mouthpiece osculation from the saxophonist and Donald Duck-like chortles from the trumpeter. Eventually when barely-there burps and groans are succeeded by breaths forced through the trumpet bell plus diaphragm-pushed body-tube humming, rasps give way to a lowing grace note from Kelley. This is the improvisation’s official conclusion. Although the trumpeter can’t resist a final duck quack as a coda.

Neither easy listening nor simple swinging sounds, these interludes of microtonal friction and protracted silences demand as much from the listeners as the performers. Those willing to make the commitment will be amply rewarded.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Ommatidia: 1. Glass 2. Variation II 3. Prey 4. Fault 5. Variation V 6. Dalton

Personnel: Ommatidia: Greg Kelley (trumpet) and Bhob Rainey (soprano saxophone)

Track Listing: Terrier: 1. galerie 1 2. galerie 2 3. galerie 3 4. galerie 4 5. galerie 5 6. galerie 6 7. galerie 7

Personnel: Terrier: Michel Doneda (sopranino and soprano saxophones); Nicolas Desmarchelier (acoustic guitar) and Olivier Toulemonde (amplified objects)