Lol Coxhill and Michel Doneda

Sitting on your Stairs
Emanem 5028

An instance of what was and what could have been, this CD captures the initial – and final – dual improvisation on record by two uncompromising Free Music soprano saxophonists. Although France’s Michel Doneda and Britain’s Lol Coxhill each specialized in uncompromising improvisations their individual approaches were so dissimilar that this combination of tones features no more uniformity than if it was the product of musicians playing vastly dissimilar instruments. Nonetheless, the experiment will never be repeated. Coxhill (1932-2012) died about 18 months after this recording.

It’s odd that the two never recorded together before, despite having made discs with many if not most of the other important figures in Free Music since, in Coxhill’s case, the early 1970s and in Dioneda’s the mid-1980s. Yet a global career divergence is what makes each man’s improvisations unique. Born in 1954, Doneda has only been involved with improvisation, featuring affiliations with the likes of baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro and percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani. Coxhill on the other hand has done everything from outdoor busking to accompanying R&B and punk singers and never let his affiliation with the atonal fringes dull his appreciation for and playing of standard material.

None of his standard-reinterpretations are featured here, but during the four duets which make up most of this live CD hints of legato forms illuminate his contributions. Doneda in contrast is an out-and-out sound man. While most of the time the two improvise in parallel double counterpoint, his contributions are more barbed. Wisps of sound forced through his horn usually echo in solitary timbres. Tremolo flat lines are sourced with key motion or angled and roughened to create guttural grit. Not that Coxhill would ever be confused with Kenny G or Grover Washington, but the latter’s buoyant squeezes and puffs possess an underlying structure. At junctures hints of subtle rococo ornamentation are reflected in his moderato tone as well

Globally the challenge posed and pleasure taken from the dual improvisation is a dawning understanding of how the saxophonists’ lines circle, intersect and move up and down the pitch and harmonic scale. Bending notes while producing buzzing multiphonics and jittery staccato reed colors, the two expose all the colors of the scale as timbre undulation, plus slaps and squeaks differentiate one man’s work from the other’s. Experimental in that lines are stretched as far as they can go, the results are never uncomfortable or obtuse because the basic shape is unbroken.

Reaching a state of unfragmented reed mastery and expression, the two ultimately – and unfortunately with never to be repeated finality – confirm the conclusion that in the right hands two improvising saxes are better than one.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing 1. Last Duet 1 2. MD Solo 3. LC Solo 4. Last Duet 2 5. Last Duet 3 6. Last Duet 4

Personnel: Lol Coxhill and Michel Doneda (soprano saxophones)