Michel Doneda/Jonas Kocher/Christoph Schiller

Grape Skin
Another Timbre at42


The Cigar That Talks

Collection PiedNu PN0110

Like many other peripatetic improvisers, French soprano saxophonist Michel Doneda spends his time in many different locations playing with a variety of improvisers. These CDs find the resourceful reedist a member of particularly sympathetic trios: in The Cigar That Talks, with veteran British stylists and on Grape Skin with two younger, Swiss-based players.

In fact, after more than a quarter century, Toulouse-based Doneda, whose associations are with dancers as well as other minimalists, could almost be thought of as being part of the mainstream – of Free Music that is – on the first CD. Alongside percussionist Roger Turner and guitarist John Russell, both Londoners, Doneda’s playing on the five selections is upfront and sometimes clamorous, unafraid of exposing piercing textures in contrast to the others’ more rhythmically oriented charctersitics.

Grape Skin’s two improvisations on the other hand take the opposite tack. Reductionist and understated as often as they’re discordant, the lengthy tracks encompass hearty helping of silences along with inchoate pulsations. Tellingly enough though, when Christoph Schiller orients the tones from his “prepared” spinet in certain ways and Jonas Kocher similarly maneuvers his accordion and objects, it’s as if the saxophonist is improvising with a guitarist and percussionist again.

From the beginning however it’s Doneda’s tsunami of multiphonics plus radio-created static that defines this interchanges. Schiller, a member of the improvising vocal ensemble Millefleurs, provides the coloration, mixing dobro-like plucks from his instrument’s internal string set with bottleneck-like guitar frails, single key plucks and staccato slides. Meanwhile Kocher, who has played with electronics manipulator Joke Lanz and pianist Jacques Demierre, rarely exhibits legato comping or bellows-undulations from his accordion and objects. More likely to push his instrument to produce solipsistic drones or strident whistles, only mid-way through the second track does he create an ostinato out of familiar rasping pulsations, which then accelerate to mid-range vibrations.

By that time Doneda has already turned from flat-line peeps to lip-bubbling reed buzzes, the better to mix with Schiller’s string glissandi and near-wood cracking. Climatically the saxophonist advances from concentrated hollow breaths to circular-breathed trills and individual reed bites. Eventually though, his timbres are saturated with intermittent accordion drones and spinet string scrapes, in the process, all become indistinguishable from the one another.

There’s no confusion as to which sounds arise from which instrument on The Cigar That Talks however. Turner and Russell, who first recorded together more than 30 years ago, have singly or together faced such distinctive saxophonist stylists such as Lol Coxhill, John Butcher and Evan Parker, so Doneda’s quirky strategies are easily taken in stride and given a place within the improvisation.

Echoing trills which result from reed mastication plus lip-burbling from the saxophonist make common cause with Russell’s ruminative twangs and circular rasgueado plus Turner’s skilful slides from drum top wipes and delicate, knitting needle-strokes to drags and pops which emphasize his percussion kit’s metallic qualities. By the time “Tous Toux” rolls around, scraping friction and bass drum pounding plus the guitarist’s slurred fingering isolates their roles within the improvisation when the combination of flat-line whistling and reed-shrilling that is Doneda’s solo threatens to suck all the available air out of the meeting.

By the time the extended “Eyes on Oncle”, which complete the set rolls around, intermezzos of pastoral finger-picking from Russell and a similar sequence of clattering bounces and drags from Turner methodically push Doneda’s solo stridency into narrowed, bell-muting, vibrations. Comprehensive triple counterpoint is the congenial result.

These sets add to the collection of memorable CDs featuring one of France’s most questing and idiosyncratic saxophonists. That high standard is reached because Doneda’s playing is satisfyingly matched by the concepts of two contrasting yet erudite duos.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Grape: 1. First Membrane 2. Second Membrane

Personnel: Grape: Michel Doneda (soprano saxophone and radio); Jonas Kocher (accordion and objects) and Christoph Schiller (spinet and preparations)

Track Listing: Cigar: 1. Miss Antoinette 2. Les brumes 3. Palming 4. Tous Toux 5. Eyes on Oncle

Personnel: Cigar: Michel Doneda (soprano and sopranino saxophones); John Russell (guitar) and Roger Turner (snare drum, tom, cymbals and metal)