Magda Mayas/Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour

Teeming
OlofBright OBCD 28

Pascal Battus/Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour

Ichnites

Potlatch P110

Probing the furthest reaches of saxophone texture and timbre has been the preoccupation of altoist Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour’s improvising during the past few years. Recorded within a month of one another, Teeming and Ichnites capture two significant performances by the Paris-based reedist.

Together they’re notable sonically and sociologically. Sonically the atonal fragmentation of breath, reed and metal in which she specializes is presented in different duo contexts. All-acoustic, Teeming teams Abdelnour with Berlin-based prepared piano explorer Magda Mayas. On the other CD, her partner is Paris’ Pascal Battus who uses motorized components from old walkmans as exciters, vibrators and resonators on cymbals and objects made of, among other substances, plastic, paper and cardboard. Sociologically, Abdelnour who is of Lebanese background, and who in the past has mainly played and recorded with improvisers on the Beirut-Paris axis, here establishes her own style with new partners, who while equally non-traditional in their playing, share similar creative DNA with her.

Although elements of blended translucent sound layers mask rigid tone identification on both CDs, the pianist’s and the saxophonist’s musical persona are clearly defined on their disc. Chiaroscuro textural extensions and pointillist strategies are so prominent on Ichnites however that categorically ascribing certain resonating tones to one or the other is almost impossible and nearly pointless.

Battus in the past has worked with players such as guitarist Camel Zekri and bass trombonist Thierry Madiot. Here his strategies vacillate between those in which he pushes his motors to create a vacuum cleaner drone that dominates the entire aural air space to the creation of less obtrusive ragged splinters and ratchets which either pulse in isolation or complement the saxophonist’s trills in double counterpoint.

For her part Abdelnour unleashes a trick bag full of extended techniques which range from bird-whistled squeaks and high-pitched yelps to segmented breaths, split tones and vibrating tongue stops. These reed gymnastics stretch the narrative tessitura next to the rotating, band-saw like turns, unyielding drones and harsh, oscillated hums from Battus’ contraptions. During the CD’s five tracks, individual agitated pitches arte converted into definitive sound assemblies, confirming the impossibility of ascertaining where one person’s contribution ends and the other’s begins. Alongside this are enough pressurized, fortissimo roars which appear and vanish so frequently that they further muddy identification.

Especially notable are the reflective abrasions created by rattling objects or pressing them against equally unyielding substances, the sounds of which characterize “reliefs de repas”. Soon mercurial pitches swell to almost pipe-organ-like reverberations without revealing whether the centrifugal forces propelling them are the result of the high-pitched friction from Battus’ implements or the multiphonic air rammed into the dual improvisation from Abdelnour. Although the two also evolve in perfect symmetry on “fouilles et rongement”, the separation is clearer. The clattering and chirping smacks from rotated surfaces of polystyrene and cardboard can definitely be attributed to Battus. Still, the saxophonist’s windstorm of animal yowls and thin, sharp trills vibrate enough altissimo flattement to almost mirror the other’s ragged efforts.

Created by another bravura duo, Teaming is less sonically baffling, since during the CD’s three extended improvisations the identifiable characteristics of the piano and the saxophone are never in doubt – although some timbres do come close at times. Mayas, who has recorded with drummer Tony Buck and guitarist Michael Renkel among others, has as advanced a command of prepared and non-prepared piano techniques as Abdelnour has of saxophone styling. Among the strategies Mayas reveals are ricocheting soundboard snaps, strummed action and plucks, mandolin-like twangs; plus the sounds of loose objects rolling among the internal strings. In polyphonic opposition, the reedist introduces choked whistles, blurred growls, staccato licks, unaccented trills and watery bubbles.

Evidently created in real time, the tracks accelerate in intensity and freedom. By the time “I could only watch it happen”, the final track, rolls around, its title describes the nearly paranormal qualities sometime present in profound improvisations. Following the sequences of thickening staccato pressure that have been building through side-slipping tones that encompass node-stretching friction, resonating strings, clipped keys, tongue stops and unrestrained reed glossolalia, the climax explodes into multi-dimensional variations.

Working together, the intertwining double counterpoint stretches out and becomes more intense. The pianist seems to be scraping the end of a sharpened screwdriver against the soundboard, action and speaking frame to produce jagged tones, while at the same time revealing contrasting dynamics on the keys themselves. Meantime the saxophonist spews out growls and spittle-encrusted bubbles plus fore-shorted reed squeaks. Eventually a sequence of meditative chording from the pianist signals a final variant that includes clanking keys and metronomic rumbles on Mayas’ side with moderated tongue slaps that narrow to strident peeps on Abdelnour’s. As the saxophonist throat growls and tongue pops while shaking her horn’s body tube for added textures, Mayas’ contrapuntal single timbres accelerate to wood-shaking internal piano pumps, before both sound streams shrink to silence.

New aural essays on the further liberation of saxophone timbres, these CDs outline the contours of Abdelnour’s evolving style. They also demonstrate how she attains it through careful cooperation with two stylistically different, but sympathetic, fellow sound explorers.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Ichnites: 1. égrenages & pelage 2. fouilles & rongement 3. estocade & coulées 4. reliefs de repas 5. voies & allures

Personnel: Ichnites: Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour (alto saxophone) and Pascal Battus (rotating surfaces of motorized components, vibrators and resonators on paper, cardboard, cymbals etc.)

Track Listing: Teeming: 1. Understory 2. Tiny shadows as if through glass 3. I could only watch it happen

Personnel: Teeming: Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour (alto saxophone) and Magda Mayas (piano)