Peter Kowald/Daunik Lazro/Annick Nozati

Instants Chavirés
Fou Records FR-CD 05

By Ken Waxman

Known for her long-time collaborations with other free music avatars like pianist Fred Van Hove and trombonist Johannes Bauer, Annick Nozati (1945-2000) indefatigably demonstrated that remarkable vocal improvisations didn’t necessarily have to come from the jazz tradition … or even music. For the French chanteuse’s spontaneous vocal mutations were just as closely allied to her work in experimental theatre plus her pointillist blending of textures and colors as a painter.

Recorded about five months before her death, this CD is evidentially the only time the singer recorded with contemporaries, German bassist Peter Kowald (1944-2002) or French baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro (b. 1945). In duos, trios and one Nozati solo, the seven tracks are as open to appreciation and speculative interpretation as the abstract canvases of Jackson Pollack or Franz Kline.

A capella on “L’invisible”, Nozati’s unique combination of whispering, davening and yelping arises spontaneously from her actorly persona. Emoting in an imaginary language, she appears to be playing all the dramatic parts herself, exposing a heroine’s soprano and a villain’s growls. Tellingly, her duets with Lazro are frequently so perfectly balanced between horn and throat that Billie Holiday’s sympathetic work with Lester Young is brought to mind. That is if you can accept a Lady Day whose shamanistic exposition moves from bel canto sweetness to off-centre yodeling and a Pres whose accompaniment zigzags from altissimo shrills to rhino-like snorts. More rhythmic, following the bassist’s woody strums and fleet triple stopping, Kowald’s macho power on “Kow Noz” find the vocalist subordinating human emotions to use her multi-register voice as an affiliated instrument.

Both aspects of her work echo on the trio tracks. While the bassist’s voluminous string plucks and scouring create an ostinato that preserves motion, both Gallic improvisers express a multitude of technical feats. Lazro’s reed sophistication seconds this jagged cooperation with motifs ranging from delicate puffs to (in) human altissimo screams. Referencing sounds ranging from rooster crowing to gargling reflux, Nozati’s chameleonic verbal role playing challenges the others as it completes the aural picture with the equivalent of final brush strokes in a painting. Meanwhile, Lazro’s and Kowald’s one duet is both more buoyant and less pressurized. Improvisational smarts and instrumental skills impress as each man sounds two distinct sonic parts from each of their instruments. Instant Chavirés is a jaw-dropping celebration of the cohesive talents of two departed improvisers and one still very much alive.

Tracks: Laz Noz; Kow Laz Noz; L’invisible; Laz Kow; Kow Noz; Noz Laz Kow

Personnel: Daunik Lazro: alto, baritone saxophones; Peter Kowald: bass; Annick Nozati: voice

—For The New York City Jazz Record December 2014