Sophie Agnel & Olivier Benoit

Césaré 14/02/15/1

Staccato string aerobics are the attraction here. That’s because French improvisers, pianist Sophie Agnel and guitarist Olivier Benoit rip through two mid-length tracks in order to reveal novel sonic underpinning rampant with smoldering stimulus. Now colleagues in the 11-piece, Paris-based Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ), which Benoit also directs, the two also maintain this on-going duo to explore a miniature if no less incisive program than with the ONJ.

Agnel’s kinetically cast key pummeling and Benoit’s equally spiny string variations allow the duo to construct a highly original and shifting interface before the CD’s initial two minutes have passed. Soon afterwards, the pianist moves from her initial percussive and chiming sequences. Most frequently found in cooperative small group situations, Agnel’s textural variants, running the gamut from faux-romantic key chording to subdued rumbles from the soundboard centre the improvisations. Meantime Benoit, known equally for his incisive combo work as well his years with the Circum Grand Orchestra, picks out slack-key motifs as well as muddying the interface with potent tone reverb which creates what sounds like a jittery electro-magnetic field between the two instruments. “Reps 1” peaks with galloping key pressure alternating with ululating, amplified echoes of Benoit’s guitar distortion

If the first track is kinetic and tone-crowded, then the pianist and guitarist seem intent on making “Reps 2” its opposite. Augmented from the ringing of distant single notes from the guitar plus rubbed and plucked prepared strings near the piano’s speaking length, at one juncture it’s the guitarist who consolidates the multi-directional tones into a solid drone of undifferentiated amp reverb. Notably the CD has features a profoundly anti-climatic climax, Rather than reaching a crescendo, both partner’s timbres remain half-masked and half-foreground. Only as the resulting sequence recesses from vaguely heard to complete silence does the realization that the piece has ended finally sinks in.

With this program Agnel and Benoit establish an interaction that is equally fascinating whether hushed or vociferous. Momentous in execution for many, the unwary however should be warned to put aside any memories of piano-guitar duos like those of Bill Evans and Jim Hall before listening.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Reps 1 2. Reps 2

Personnel: Sophie Agnel (piano) and Olivier Benoit (guitar)