Bertrand Denzler/Antonin Gerbal

Heretofore
Umlaut UMFR-CD 12

Michel Doneda/Lê Quan Ninh

Aplomb

Vand'œuvre vdo 1542

Unbridled yet relaxed discs from two French reeds-percussion duos, these CDs also indicate how deeply the concept of pure improvisation is embedded in Gallic musical consciousness. Like a succulent plant that only has to be fertilized occasionally, this commitment to musical spontaneity has now lasted several generations. Soprano and sopranino saxophonist Michel Doneda and percussionist Lê Quan Ninh have been involved with aleatoric sounds since at least the mid-1980s, while tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler –who is actually Swiss – and drummer Antonin Gerbal are part of the crop of improvisers who have come to the fore in this century.

If you’re keeping track Denzler appears to be involved in smaller and smaller formations. A founding member of the Hubbub quintet, more recently he was part of the Zoor trio with Hubbub guitarist Jean-Sébastien Mariage and Gerbal, who is also part of the Peeping Tom quartet. Doing a sonic striptease down to fundamentals, like the equivalent actions from a dancer, can provide pleasurable exposure. That’s what Denzler and Gerbal do on Heretofore’s one, almost 34-minute, track. Perfectly attuned to each others’ strategies like dancers in a pas-de-deux, the two work through unique methods of expression. Expressing feathery yet abrasive altissimo timbres following his initial watery multiphonics, Denzler’s output is met by intermittent snare patterning which sounds like eggs frying on a skillet as well as constant rumble and pops.

By mid point the program hardens to become more rhythmic and rasping, with the saxophonist displaying torrents of tremolo tones. Eventually though Denzler’s timbres ripen like fruit brought to its seasonal height, as at the same time as these now distant reed puffs are enhanced with near-soundless percussion thuds. These final tom-tom-like and alphorn-like flutters confirm the originality of the program as well as its links to experimental Jazz.

If the fulfillment of the Denzler-Gerbal duo’s labors is savory sound passages that expand the improvisational language, then the duo on Aplomb moves past the tonal and connective to almost pure abstraction. Along the way the physical resemblance of Doneda’s horns to toothpaste tubes takes on added significance: textures are squeezed out, creating a healthy set of sonic molars that bite as they savor the program. Mixing circular breathing, pressurized honks, near-static respiration and chalk-against blackboard screeches, the saxophonist creates tones that at different times resemble those of a string-set or an aviary flock. Using only an over-sized horizontal snare, Ninh advances as many resonations as if he had a full kit. Doneda’s peeps aren’t singular either. On a track such as “Froid Du Ciel Cru” , he works out a call-and-response pattern that could come from two sax players’ output; one –mellow, one ragged. On other tracks such as “L’Air, Une Chose” his air exposition hovers like heat on a savannah. Ninh’s contrapuntal rhythms usually break up the horn(s)’ stasis or bravura playing so that a dialogue of harsh timbres eventually melds softens then subsequently vanishes.

“Les Dehors” the final track is also Aplomb’s climax. As solid reed vibrations move forward it appears as if elevated whistle-tones are being doubled and resonated back from drum heads. A respite occurs when Ninh’s swats resonating thunder-like rumbles at the same time as his strokes appears to be breaking apart his kit, Doneda’s foghorn-like lows blend with drum cross slides to construct an ending that’s both characteristic and concise.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Heretofore: 1. Heretofore

Personnel: Heretofore: Bertrand Denzler (tenor saxophone) and Antonin Gerbal (drums)

Track Listing: Aplomb: 1. Sol Pied À Pied 2. Froid Du Ciel Cru 3. L’Air, Une Chose 4. Halo D’Apparences 5. Pour La Durée Du Dessous 6. Les Dehors

Personnel: Aplomb: Michel Doneda (soprano and sopranino saxophones) and Lê Quan Ninh (percussion)