Lol Coxhill and Michel Doneda

Sitting on your Stairs
Emanem 5028

Michel Doneda/Jonas Kocher

Le Belvédère du rayon vert

Flexion Records flex 007

Michel Doneda/Joris Rühl


Umlaut Records umfrcd 07

By Ken Waxman

European Free Music now has such a history of its own that a sound explorer like French soprano saxophonist Michel Doneda, who turns 60 this month, has never played anything else in public. Based in Toulouse, Doneda has over the years collaborated with most of the major figures of EuroImprov including fellow Gallic innovators saxophonist Daunik Lazro and percussionist Lê Quan Ninh. Concurrently, he’s always ready to face challenges from younger improvisers.

These recent sets demonstrate his multi-generational adaptability. Sitting on your Stairs is a final meeting between Doneda and venerable British soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill (1932-2012) who died the next year. Linge and Le Belvédère du rayon vert match the saxophonist with two improvisers many years his junior, Swiss accordionist Jonas Kocher (b. 1977) on the former and French clarinetist Joris Rühl (b. 1982) on the latter.

Doneda has long had an affinity for recording alongside other reedists and the interactions with Coxhill and Rühl outline unique applications of this formula. Coxhill, who during his storied career did everything from busking to playing in proto-punk bands, adds tinctures of legato tones to his side of the equation. His contributions to these aptly titled “Last Duets” are structured so that his moderated lines maintain buoyancy along with a bit of traditional ornamentation. Improvising alongside, the French saxophonist is preoccupied with sounds. Pricklier than the Briton’s output, his acerbic timbres appear forced through his horn’s body tube, becoming progressively guttural as they’re toughened with key percussion. Barbed or bucolic, the two players’ tremolo output demonstratively excites since they’re figuratively painting as broad a canvas of soprano saxophone effects as possible. Eventually the buzzing multiphonics, bent notes and staccato bites blend enough to suggest most colors of the sonic rainbow. Uncompromising, but never obtuse, the CD’s four duets – and two solos – satisfy because beneath the experimentation remains a basic commitment to story-telling, no matter how post-modern the vehicle may be.

If story telling is the leitmotif of Sitting on your Stairs, than architecture informs Linge. Recorded in an overheated old barn in the east of France, the seven sequences take full advantage of the edifice’s spatial properties. Weathered wood, old hay and abandoned wasp nests influence the improvisations, which despite extended techniques become more organic than otherworldly. Concentrated in the highest registers of the reeds’ sound spectrum (s), the buzzing, often altissimo lines are as frequently created from parallel blowing as intermingled timbres. Manipulating air currents more than reed and key properties, the two harmonize to such an extent that some results are nearly identical to plainsong produced by a boys’ choir. Fancifully recreating the wind whistling through the structure, the reeds’ flat-air interludes are interrupted so that lip-burbling and throat gurgles add a percussive bottom that complements the textures above. On the penultimate and final tracks with additional sonic imput from Doneda-manipulated radio waves, there’s finally a satisfying resolution. Not only does the saxophonist concentrate on tremolo buzzing and the clarinetist animated lyricism, but faintly audible church bells confirm the conclusion.

Spatial considerations also play a part in Le Belvédère du rayon vert since Kocher and Doneda recorded their meeting in different rooms of Le Belvédère, a crumbling, half-abandoned hotel located in Cerbère, France. With the accordion’s expanding bellows fully taken into account, the site-specific program travels a path from the nearly inaudible to the palpably in-your-face. To a degree, voluminous ambient sounds emanating from the ancient building embroider the five improvisations alongside instrumental textures. Although the existing atmospheric wind echoes or creaky door movements are swiftly subsumed by reed peeps or squeeze box undulations, these effects help shape the tracks. On “Cinéma 2” for instance the players’ broken-octave quivers are preceded by male and female voices speaking French, likely sourced from Doneda’s radio. Organically connected, Kocher’s warm pumps add hissing continuum to the voices as Doneda spikes the resulting textures into a staccato interface using key percussion. As experimental as the other sessions this CD also has a whimsical side Overall, the saxophonist and accordionist confirm the close kinship between blown-and-vibrated small and large reeds with timbres are often virtually indistinguishable. Finally, following the integration of tremolo button-pushing and concentrated reed slurps within the aural landscape, the instrument’s reverb remains after the sound fades.

Doneda’s dispassionate reed approach may sound peculiar to those whose ideal soprano saxophone tone focuses on the passion expressed by stylists from Sidney Bechet to John Coltrane. But like the modern surgeon who performs operations using laparoscopy rather than sizeable incisions, his technique is just as profound, but without exposing blood-pumping procedures.

Tracks: Vert: Chambre 11; Cinéma 1; Cinéma 2; Cinéma 3; Patio

Personnel: Vert: Michel Doneda: soprano saxophone and radio; Jonas Kocher: accordions

Tracks: Linge: 8:00; 3:14; 8:476; 5:22; 5:02; 8:24; 8:10

Personnel: Linge: Joris Rühl: clarinet; Michel Doneda: soprano saxophone and radio

Tracks: Sitting: Last Duet 1; MD Solo; LC Solo; Last Duet 2; Last Duet 3; Last Duet 4

Personnel: Sitting: Lol Coxhill: soprano saxophone; Michel Doneda: soprano saxophone

—For The New York City Jazz Record November 2014