Michel Doneda/eRikm/Jérome Noetinger

Dos d’ânes
Ronda RND12

Benjamin Bondonneau/Daunik Lazro

L’Arbre Ouvert

Le Châtaignier Bleu No #

When it comes to French improvisers who bridge the gap between forceful Free Jazzers of the 1960s and that country’s newest generation whose approach is catholic and non-hierarchal, two saxophonists stand out. Soprano saxophonist Michel Doneda, 55, and baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro, nine years his senior, are perpetual reed explores, melding Jazz, ethnic and non-idiomatic sounds into separate personal methodologies and, in the face of changing fads and fashions, have done so for the past 30 years. Each saxophonist is featured on an exemplary CD that serendipitously demonstrates how distinctive abstract improvisations can be in settings that are as dissimilar as can be imagined.

Paired with fellow reedist and visual artist Benjamin Bondonneau – 30 years his junior – Lazro helps create a sonic portrait of the trees of Dordogne, mostly recorded in the fields of that French département. As mechanized and urban-sounding as L’Arbre Ouvert is organic, the three improvisations on Dos d’ânes were recorded in a city settings and feature Doneda’s soprano and sopranino saxophones paired with electronics maven Jérome Noetinger and CD manipulator eRikm. Equally fascinating, neither session sounds remotely like the other.

L’Arbre Ouvert is packaged in a perfect-bound volume about the size of a quality trade paperback. It includes an essay placing the idea of wood and trees within modern art history as well as full-color reproductions of 22 representative art works, paintings and assemblages, mostly in wood and acrylic.

In a case like this Bondonneau’s and Lazro’s playing would seem to be an afterthought. But the eight spatial improvisations, literally recorded off the Dordogne forest floor include the sounds of song birds plus the voices of humans wandering or working in the area. Bucolic but not pastoral, the improvising from Bondonneau on Sib [Eb] clarinet, contrabass clarinet and trompes [blast apparatus] plus Lazro on baritone saxophone and rubber hose, add agitato swells, glossolalia and stretched pulsations to the aural landscape. The only other harsh timbres heard are those produced by lumberjacks’ cross saws.

In contrast, Doneda’s vibrating undulations, tongue stops and reed maneuvering are the only true acoustic sounds on Dos d’ânes. During the CD’s three tracks, eRikm and Noetinger separately and together create capacious motor-driven, signal-proceed and droning static pulsations. Altogether the tripartite timbres add up to an abrasive and discordant aural replication of many metropolitan spaces.

Rousing and exhilarating, Dos d’ânes reaches its highpoints when each man’s textures are intermingled for the greatest effects. Aleatoric and pure, the saxophonist’s body tube vibrations on “Il fait nuit dans la tête” undulate then narrow until eye-of-needle thin as the other two create a signal-processed environment that explodes and diffuses with the primeval violence of a thunder and lightening storm. Bright electronic-pushed whooshes and flanges make rattling rapprochement with Doneda’s broken octave pitch vibrations, staccato tongue slaps and key percussion. By the conclusion when his flat-line trills overlay the others’ output, eRikm’s and Noetinger’s the sonic creations have replicated the ratcheting sounds of a busy factory complete with fan-belt slapping, repetitive hammer pounding plus scissor snips and bites.

Naturally more grand in performance, “Grandueur Nature” multiples the oscillated squeezes, blurry cross tones and granulized drones from the electronics as Doneda’s strident split tones equally accelerate. Reaching a crescendo where the electro and the acoustic impulses are almost identical, the interaction divides into gong-like ring-modulator expansions on one side and segmented altissimo reed squeals on the other. As Doneda continues to blow intensely, the electronics-manipulators reconstitute their timbres into splutters that individually could come from the random turning of a radio dial, factory whistles shrilling, two-ton trucks driving on rain-soaked highways or humans whistling. Aviary cries and static meld into a solid drone at the track’s climax, which concludes with the sound of footfalls walking away.

Footsteps can also be hard in the Dordogne forests, but more prominent throughout are the naturally lyrical asides of different nestling birds plus twigs snapping, as well as on “Dans ce haut souvenir” the cries and gurgles of a toddler reacting to the chattering and contrapuntal textures produced by the reedists. These pitches range from slide-whistle like shrills to internal echoing puffs to percussively propelled bullfrog-like snorts.

L’Arbre Ouvert is one of three CDs designed to capture and celebrate the sounds of the local landscape – the other two are published by Amor Fati – however this is actually the second volume of Lazro’s and Bondonneau’s sonic expression. While the other disc also featured bassist David Chiesa and drummer Didier Lasserre, on their own here the two concentrate on individual and unison responses to the forested landscape. Their descriptive onomatopoeia encompasses broken-octave chirps and breath exhalation as well as concerted harmonic pitch-slides and pointillist smears.

Sonically describing the countryside, they don’t fall into false romaticism either. Motors and electricity are as common in France’s rural areas as they are in the urban landscape. “On abat un grand arbe” (“We cut down a large tree”) for instance, begins with a pre-recorded speech about the proper treatment of forest land and then alternates between the low-pitched flattement, cross tones and diaphragm vibrations from the reed players with the squeals of a tree being felled in the forest itself. Appended at the finale is the snatch of a pop song with the vocalist intoning “au revoir”.

Nevertheless, since this CD is not an audio documentary on wood lot management, but a chance to hear accomplished musicians play, the key tracks are those such as “Cherchez, cherchez oiseaux” and “Tant qu’il murmure encore” alive with striking improvisations. The latter involves knife-edge mercurial split tones sharing space with harsh altissimo squeaks that gradually sluice into an opaque concordance. Before the piece concludes with rolling double counterpoint from both low-pitched reedists, one – probably Lazro – growls deeply while the other quickens his line to staccato shrills. Birds make only guest appearances on “Cherchez…”. However the polyphonic timbre search encompasses abrasive metallic runs, jagged vibrations and chalumeau-register wild boar-like snorts. By the finale, aviary chirps complement the horns’ wide-vibrato multiphonics.

United in their quality, these CDs give you a chance to hear two Gallic reed improvisers in top form in unusual circumstances.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Dos: 1. Grandueur Nature 2. Il fait nuit dans la tête 3. Nervures

Personnel: Dos: Michel Doneda (soprano and sopranino saxophones); eRikm (CD manipulations and electronics) and Jérome Noetinger (electronics)

Track Listing: Arbre: 1. La place de vos nids 1 2. Cherchez, cherchez oiseaux 3. La place de vos nids 2 4. On abat un grand arbe 5. .La place de vos nids 3 6. Dans ce haut souvenir 7. La place de vos nids 4 8. Dans la forêt sans heures 9. Tant qu’il murmure encore

Personnel: Arbre: Benjamin Bondonneau (Sib [Eb] and contrabass clarinets and trompes [blast apparatus]) and Daunik Lazro (baritone saxophone and tuyau [rubber hose])