Michel Doneda/Nils Ostendorf

absinth Records 023

Michel Doneda /Jonas Kocher/Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec/Tomaž Grom


Zavold Sploh/L’innomable ZAS CD 005

Like apocryphal secret agents, committed improvisers frequently travel from country to country, inserting themselves into new musical situations with unfamiliar partners, and then move on. French soprano and sopranino saxophonist Michel Doneda has been one of those peripatetic sonic travellers for more than a quarter century, and these CDs find him improvising alongside habitual or new associates.

Rather than novelty or comfort however, the main differences between Udarnik and Cristallisation is numerical. Although on the latter CD Doneda and Berlin-based trumpeter Nils Ostendorf, who frequently plays with trombonist Matthias Müller, appear to be working through 10 short, acoustic improvisations, the tracks were actually distilled from more than four hours of music recorded in a chapel in Tanus, France, with only interactions and phrasing preserved. Recorded live during a festival in Maribor, Slovenia eight months later, in contrast Udarnik matches Doneda’s reed strategies with the juddering tones of Swiss accordionist Jonas Kocher, with whom he has previously recorded, alongside the Slovenian duo Tilt, consisting of bassist Tomaž Grom and computer manipulator Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec, both of whom are involved with creating temporal, spatial and electro-acoustic sounds. However “Konstrukt”, the final track, was created and recomposed by Milan-based producer Giuseppe Ielasi from material recorded by the other four in Maribor.

If anything though, “Konstrukt” sounds more physical than the other tunes since the track constructed by Ielasi is awash with time-stretched, granular and signal-processed textures that are as fortissimo as they are flanged. Audible are quivering bellows pulses, pedal- point reed breaths and disconnected string twangs, along with fiction created by scrapping metal against unyielding objects, plus a distended combination of sounds relating to lip-raspberries and flatulence.

Throughout the other tracks the intermittent pulsating that moves from straight lines to undulating rhythms defines the four-way improv, whether the result is high-pitched and strained or stentorian and thumping. Although lines may as often splinter and bounce as unify, defiant harshness doesn’t interrupt the flow. In fact, the concluding “Udarnik 4” may serve as a demonstration in miniature of the suite’s exposition and resolution. Grom’s staccato and col legno plinks contrapuntally tie together computer wave forms, reed mastication and the accordionist’s tremolo growls. After the cascading lines swell and reach higher pitches due to the saxophonist’s reed stridency and Kocher’s pulsing delays, the resolution finally unites Doneda’s lip-pressured vibrato and the squeeze box player’s glissandi into a single tone cluster, underlined by computer signal processing.

Without electronics, Doneda and Ostendorf attain the same sort of sound meld and exposition, helped in part by the viscosity of the walls of the Chapel of Las Planques in which Cristallisation was recorded. With the harmonies dependent on mercurial nuances that can be discordant or melodious in turn, the two explore a variety of tones and textures with voicing that range from fortissimo to near-inaudible. “Guiffres” and “Oeillet” for instance, which follow one another, almost become a single sequence, with two sound lines advancing in double counterpoint. After Ostendorf’s forward-motion oscillations pick up added color from the chapel’s architecture, brassy grace notes and reed bites are succeeded by flutter tonguing and circular breaths, finally exposing bell-like timbres. Although there are episodes of more supple timbre construction involving reed kisses, reverberating grace notes and flutter tonguing, rough ambiguity is more common. There are instances in which both players sound as if they are improvising by pressing an inflexible metal sheet against their horns’ bells. Other variants force air through both body tubes so that the resulting air almost seems fried.

Fortissimo, cascading and often sounding as if humans aren’t involved, the timbres throughout are layered and contrasted rather than blended. “Adernes” for example floats on thick, aggressive tones that encompass dog-whistle-like shrilling from Doneda and watery bubbles from Ostendorf. The final “Fares” adds key percussion and strident vibrations to the mix. The resulting polyphony narrows the output still further to climax with supplementary abrasions.

One doesn’t know when or how often traveller Doneda will pass by these spots again. But on the evidence of these discs, defining CDs have been left behind to mark his sojourns in both places.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Udarnik: 1. Udarnik 1 2. Udarnik 2 3. Udarnik 3 4. Udarnik 4 5. Konstrukt*

Personnel: Udarnik: Michel Doneda (soprano saxophone); Jonas Kocher (accordion and objects); Tomaž Grom (bass); Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec (computer) and Giuseppe Ielasi (recomposition)*

Track Listing: Cristallisation: 1. Saline 2. L’etier 3. Bossis 4. Guiffres 5 Oeillet 6. Ladure 7. Trémet 8. Vasière 9. Adernes 10. Fares

Personnel: Cristallisation: Nils Ostendorf (trumpet) and Michel Doneda (sopranino and soprano saxophones)