Thomas Tilly & Jean-Luc Guionnet

Stones Air Axioms
Circum-Disc LX 005

The Fish

Moon Fish

Clean Feed CF 254 CD

Jean-Luc Guionnet may not be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but the opposing musical personalities he reveals on these and in other situations suggests this duality – at least in a sonic sense. Paris-based and a members of the microtonal Hubbub quintet – hm, we could be getting into Three Faces of Eve territory here – on his own Guionnet can be the very epitome of the go-for-broke hard blowing Free Jazz saxophonist, as he demonstrates on Moon Fish. However his other persona is that of a composer/performer of New music.

Stones Air Axioms captures this role. Trained as an organist, Guionnet, together with Thomas Tilly, a specialist in site-specific sound installations, mapped out the spatial qualities of St. Pierre Cathedral in Poitiers. This on-site metric measurement later allowed the two to merge textures generated by Guionnet improvising on two scores simultaneously played on the cathedral’s pipe organ, while a white-noise sine-waver generator captured the standing wave form retorts that bounced off massive stone walls of the edifice’s cruciform structure. Reconstituted with studio wizardry into four sections, dealing with one aspect of the relation between sound and architecture, the filtered timbres were expanded to encompass the sonority of the empty building.

In all honesty for the layperson, the differences among sections aren’t that pronounced. Throughout as the concentrated textures are propelled from flat-line quivers to resounding crashes and multiphonic drones, the layered results don’t necessarily appear to reflect air and stone as much as approximate machine-generated tones. Only on “SAA3” does the previous seemingly impenetrable thudding response separate enough to reveal spiraling timbres and whistling tremolos that can be attributed to the organ itself. These interludes are brief however. Most of the time crackling static layered with watery laps against indistinct objects, create a result so tonally solid that any variations are infinitesimal. Without formal beginning and end there also appears to be no climax or finale. However scrapes, shuffles and a motion undercurrent are layered into the variants of phase, speed and volume already exposed.

Significant perhaps as an electro-acoustic exercise, Stones Air Axioms lacks the raw emotion that animates Moon Fish. With Guionnet are fellow Hubbuber Edward Perraud on drums, plus Benjamin Duboc, one of France’s most accomplished bassists, who works in similar configurations with other adventurous reed plays like Daunik Lazro. Recorded live in Fundão, the three selections are as close to Energy Music as you can hear in the 21st Century.

Like saxophonists such as Peter Brötzmann and Charles Gayle, Guionnet seems to put the horn in his mouth and blow and blow until he stops. The comparisons to Gayle and Brötz are apt as well, for while the reedist is listed as playing alto saxophone his frenetic tone extensions frequently dip into the tenor register. Evocatively the first two selections are actually one of a piece with the third an encore. Throughout Perraud’s cymbal shatters plus knocks, rolls and rebounds evolve at the same febrile pace as the saxophonist’s reed-shattering lines. With the two often threatening to push the entire performance past the point of no return, it’s Duboc’s thick pumps and scrubs, as well as one suspects, sheer force of will, that moors the others to terra firma. Exhilarating in his improvising that’s staccato, shrieking splintered and spluttering all at the same time, Guionnet doesn’t ignore any extended technique from flutter-tonguing to split tones. Renal cries and pressurized growls are repeated over and over again until the bassist’s solid thump signals the end.

Although the trio appears to pick up where it left off, “Moon Fish 3” is superior to the previous tracks. More cooperative and with more brevity and balance, space is made for a couple of upfront stentorian sound extensions from the bassist as well as a finale of rumbles, pops and flams from the drummer. Mixing bugle-like spetrofluctuation with dips into his horn’s lowest register, the saxophonist piles notes upon note, phrase open phrase, then splinters and splays what he’s created. Although it could be that the “William Tell Overture” is alluded to for a brief sequence, the staccato cries are all his.

For sonic excitement at the same level as a pioneering New Thing session Moon Fish can’t be beat, however the more scholarly committed to that sort of sound may prefer Stones Air Axioms. Whichever is chosen the fact that’s obvious is that Guionnet has made his mark on contemporary improvised music. Of course which of his playing stances is Dr. Jekyll and which is Mr. Hyde depends on your musical orientation.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Moon: 1. Moon Fish 1 2. Moon Fish 2 3. Moon Fish 3

Personnel: Moon: Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto saxophone); Benjamin Duboc (bass) and Edward Perraud (drums)

Track Listing: Stones: 1. SAA1 (air volume) 2. SAA2 (for standing waves) 3. SAA3 (for standing waves, disturbances) 4. SAA4 (close, bells, architectural remains)

Personnel: Stones: Thomas Tilly (sine-wave measurement and recording) and Jean-Luc Guionnet (measurement and pipe organ)