Rodrigues/Guerreiro/Gauguet

Early Reflections
Creative Sources CS 258 CD

Bertrand Gauguet

Shiro

Herbal Concrete Disc 1405

For the past decade or so, French alto saxophonist Bertrand Gauguet has developed a reed strategy that involves hushed microtones, yet also uses amplifications to create a distinctive presence in group and/or solo situations. Following time in Japan studying the honkyoku repertoire, plus cementing links between improvising and meditation, Gauguet’s expanded agenda is exhibited here. Ironically, except for volume, novel reed techniques have become so internalized, that he can produce uniformly consequential work with or without electronic saxophone extensions.

The differences among the eight solo tracks on Shiro for instance, lie more in what is being created rather than how. Consider, for instance the variances and consistency that exist between “Yügen”, where the saxophone is amplified with feedback; and “Sabi”, where the electro-augmentations come from a guitar amp; with “Jo-ha-kyü” and “Bloc noir” which are all-acoustic performances. Featuring loud, dissonant and disjointed timbres, the textures on “Sabi” could as easily have been produced by a guitar. But while that pumped-up program encompasses jet-plane-like buzzing and fuzzy oscillations, guttural reed tones may be non-specific, but preserve their identity. More crucially, there’s an emphasis on breath control and chromatics remains on “Yügen”, despite swelling flanges and intermittent pings take up most of the foreground. By the finale a secondary ghostly line plus buzzing feedback has been shoved sideways to create context for a distinct alto saxophone tone.

Lacking plug-ins, the all-acoustic “Bloc noir” still manages to willfully inflate the alto’s sophisticated tone so that its parameters are undeniably established. The track also highlights Gauguet’s facility as an acoustic reedist. As expressive, but likely amplified by placing a microphone in the saxophone bell “Jo-ha-kyü” is bellicose and stentorian. As staccato asides swell into harsh whistles and fire-bell-like timbres a narrative strategy that is also magisterial is delineated.

Deliberately less individual, Gauguet’s hushed reed microtones blend with undemonstrative string motions from violist Ernesto Rodrigues and the compressed processing from Ricardo Guerreiro’s computer on Early Reflections. The result is two extended improvisations all of piece that exist without demarcated beginnings(s) or end(s). Part of Lisbon’s quietly burgeoning circles of committed free improvisers, the two and especially Rodrigues have been involved with similar mind melds with other international sound explorers. If there is criticism about the CD, it’s that the violist is so committed to nearly opaque group creation that only rarely are characteristic fiddle tones audible.

Evolving incrementally “Wood” for instance, comes in and out of aural focus as unaccented air or tongue murmurs from the saxophone mix with grainy ring modulator-like signals to expose one impulse at a time. By the final sequence, minuscule clicks and swizzle-stick like strokes are looped into a low-pitched continuum, which wispily rotates to an ending. “Stone” is similar, although midway through, the processed exposition that appears to be equal parts electronic flanges and hushed lip burbles increases in loudness like an inner tube exploding. The resulting strident multiphonics bring forward spiccato string pops to make up an unfolding narrative that also takes color from granular machine-affiliated static and metallic overblowing from the saxophonist. Only startling, in this context, the strategy identifies the subtle sound layering that goes into creating a program such as this.

Gauguet’s cerebral experiments won’t give him any traction among Kenny G or David Sanborn fans. But those fascinated by advances in reed techniques would be advised to seek out these sessions.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Early: 1. Wood 2. Stone

Personnel: Early: Bertrand Gauguet (alto saxophone); Ernesto Rodrigues (viola) and Ricardo Guerreiro (computer)

Track Listing: Shiro: 1. Le temps de sable fin chante dans mes bras 2. Shiro 3. Yügen 4. Bloc noir 5. Sabi 6. Jo-ha-kyü 7. Kuro 8. Anitya

Personnel: Shiro: Bertrand Gauguet (alto saxophone, acoustic and amplified with feedback and guitar amp)