Michael Doneda/Jonas Kocher

Le Belvédère du rayon vert
Flexion Records flex 007

Crafting a whimsical aural portrait made up of individualized responses to the site-specific environment in which they recorded, Swiss accordionist Jonas Kocher’s and French soprano saxophonist Michael Doneda’s challenging improvisations also probe instrumental limits and limitations.

The site in question is a crumbling, half-abandoned art deco hotel located in Cerbère, France near the Spanish border. In this instance, Kocher and Doneda, who individually or together have matched wits with improvisers of many stripes, use their instruments’ distinct reed textures to reflect and meld with the spatial properties of Le Belvédère. Throughout the CD, one key desire on the saxophonist’s part is to let unaltered air flow through his horn with almost no (e) motion. Subsequent coloration comes partially from Kocher’s drones and partly from the voluminous ambient sounds emanating from the old building and surrounding landscape.

At the other extreme, the most overt reconstitution of the environment occurs on “Cinéma 2.” Here the players’ broken-octave quivers are preceded by male and female voices speaking French (perhaps from a radio broadcast), as well as atmospheric textures, all of which eventually vanish under the breaths and bellows movements of the two improvisers. Organically connected, Kocher’s warm tremolo pumps add hissing continuum to the interaction, as Doneda sharpens the proceedings with key percussion. Satisfying in its blended narrative, the track also confirms the kinship between blown-and-vibrated small and large reeds. Many tones as likely to arise from one instrument as the other are in the end, virtually indistinguishable from one another.

This sweeping strategy of subordinating individualism to a nearly unsullied sound picture is memorable in its audacity. True to the source, the heard action of a door opening and closing is given as much weight as the saxophone’s peeps and chirps or squeeze box undulations and growls. Still while thematic development may seem subservient to ambient textures, the two improvisers are too canny to let that supposition stand. Without sucking all the air out of the program, Doneda and Kocher subtly order the improvisations. Frequently as well the shape of the improvisations alters due to chromatic oscillations and the gradual bolstering of conflicting timbres. By the very end of the session tremolo pushing and solid reed bites make their presence audible enough so that when the program fades, vague echoes still resonate.

Existing in an individual world away from routine accordion and/or saxophone projects, Le Belvédère du rayon vert isn’t for everyone. But those who wish to take the aural voyage to rural France will likely be rewarded.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Chambre 11 2. Cinéma 1 3. Cinéma 2 4. Cinéma 3 5. Patio

Personnel: Michael Doneda (soprano saxophone and radios) and Jonas Kocher (accordions