Christine Abdelnour/Bonnie Jones/Andrea Neumann

As: Is
Olof Bright OBCD 35

Mayas + Abdelnour

Myriad

Unsounds 30U

An important early 1960s disc by alto saxophonist Jackie McLean is called One Step Beyond, and when it comes to 21st Century saxophone sounds, Paris-based alto saxophonist Christine Abdelnour is involved with taking that proverbial step. Although she plays the same instrument as McLean, her reed experimentation as nothing to do with the Freebop practiced by McLean and others in the last century. Instead, as these absorbing CDs attest, her saxophone is a means to an end as a method of sound projection. Accepting as given the microtonalism and extended techniques practiced by reedists like Bertrand Gauguet and John Butcher, she improvises in an idiosyncratic manner which is more about tone synthesis then virtuosity.

At the same time, Abdelnour, whose musical partners have ranged from dancers and poets to drummer Michael Zerang and guitarist Andy Moor, is a contented group improviser, as are her partners here. Berlin-based pianist Magda Mayas, who often works with drummer Tony Buck, uses extended techniques, protracted silences and inner-piano forays in her duo CD with the saxophonist. On the other CD, fellow Berliner Andrea Neumann, who has worked with among many others, turntablist Ignaz Schick and trumpeter Axel Dörner, plays a specially designed inside piano, extending the core with electronics and novel techniques. Baltimore-based Bonnie Jones, the third part of As: Is, works in many contexts with electronic music and text.

A few pre-recorded sounds and voices do enter some of the seven tracks on the trio CD, but for the most part the selections are purely instrumental, mixing electronic cackles, buzzes and drones from Jones with Neumann’s reverberating piano strokes and low-frequency chording plus Abdelnour’s harsh interface of sliced notes, flat-line breaths, tongue slaps and throat gurgles. Most tracks are like “Movement imported into Mass”. During the exposition of unaffiliated tones, long pauses bisect the narrative which otherwise features rubbed and scraped piano strings, segments of found sounds and patched-in hisses, snores and oscillations from Jones and the saxophonist volume-swelling recorder-like peeps and vibrating split tones. Such is the reedist’s skill though, that at one point a certain processed hum from Jones is replicated acoustically by Abdelnour.

This dualism is stressed elsewhere as spittle-encrusted reed buzzes adjoin crackling granular synthesis or soundboard reverb and balanced chording from Neumann construct an addendum to the saxophonist’s agitated un-pitched trills. Overall however the interaction is between electronics and reed timbres. A harsh reed bite cuts off a protracted episode of electronically propelled crowd noises on “Despair” for instance. Juddering flanges and textures accompany buzzes, whistles and puffs on “Ganzfeld”, while the un-segmented tone Abdelnour creates by blowing transversely into her horn is matched by door-stopper resonations plus continuous static drones from Neumann on “And Transport”.

Among this cacophony the pianist’s main contribution is string-stretching, however on the other CD Mayas is more upfront with broken-octave interface. This may relate to the fact that Myriad is a live CD, mostly given over to one extended improvisation. But even on the more concise and concentrated “Cyanide”, unique patterns from Abdelnour that suggest watery squeals from a bubble pipe are appropriately countered by Mayas’ keyboard strokes and string plucks.

On the nearly 28-minute title tune subtle equilibrium is maintained throughout, albeit with nothing as upfront as call-and-response. Instead string action scrapes and simple key clicks complement singular reed tones or flat-line blowing. When Abdelnour’s lines become almost completely aviary, Mayas produces responsive tremolo tones by bowing on her string set and allowing balls to bounce on the strings. Created by pedal pressure and rings and keyboard smashes tones, her own narrative is compromised by the saxophonist’s downward strident abstraction. Eventually the genuine physicality of the pianist’s playing uses rattling chords, string scrubs and keyboard punches to fill out the ellipses left by the saxophonist’s warbles and puffs.

Having demonstrated that she can create appropriate “one step beyond” saxophone techniques on each of these discs, Abdelnour has also found appropriate partners to participate in these sound explorations.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Myriad: 1. Myriad 2. Cyanide

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

Track Listing: As: Is: 1. Hauts-reliefs et bas-fonds 2. Movement imported into Mass 3. 520 -1,610 4. Ganzfeld 5. Despair 6. And Transport 7. Hair idioms

Personnel: As: Is: Christine Abdelnour (alto saxophone); Andrea Neumann (inside piano and mixing board) and Bonnie Jones (electronics)