Benjamin Duboc/Alexandra Grimal

Le Retour d’Ulysse (Promenade)
Improvising Beings ib 32

Double-Basse

This is Not Art

Clean Feed CF 334 CD

Pop music may deal in fads and fantasies when it come to universal accolades directed towards one player’s talent; another one will supplant him or her soon enough. Reputations in creative music on the other hand arise from a durable mix of talent and adaptability substantiated in many situations. That’s likely why for the past half-decade or so, when it comes to Free Jazz in France, Paris’ Benjamin Duboc has become the go-to double bassist of choice. Like Paul Chambers or Ron Carter in the 1950s and 1960s or William Parker in New York today, Duboc is a sympathetic accompanist, as he has proven in sessions featuring dissimilar stylists such as pianist Eve Risser, saxophonist Daunik Lazro or trumpeter Itaru Oki. Meanwhile he is always ready to express his own perceptions solo or in various-sized formations.

Reflecting his Janus-faced talents, but maintaining challenging reductionist situations, Le Retour d’Ulysse (Promenade) and the sardonically titled This is Not Art find the bassist involved in with either a veteran or an up-and-coming reed player. Reduced to skeletal essentials, both sets are of a uniformly high quality with the two duos constructing salient contemporary structures from the fundamental bricks and motor of uncomplicated improvisations. Fitting for a two-CD set, the younger saxophonist, Alexandra Grimal, who is also a member of the Orchestre National de Jazz, divides her Le Retour d’Ulysse contributions between soprano and tenor saxophones. With adornments varying from fife-like flutters from the higher-pitched horn to ribald snarls from the tenor, these extrusions blend with Duboc’s widening arco and pizzicato strokes to figurative furnish the dwelling they initially build. Recorded three months previously, This is Not Art finds the grunting chalumeau pressure of Jean-Luc Pettit’s contrabass clarinet join meeting vigorous pick-axe-like strokes from Duboc’s bass. Figuratively the two lay the two-track foundation on which Duboc and Grimal build and renovate the dozens of musical rooms of the dwelling that makes up the other CD.

Pettit, who formerly played saxophones as well as the oversized clarinet spends most of the extended “Craftsmen I” burbling low pitches from his horn that become more sonorous the closer to the sub-basement they shift. With the synchronized dexterity of a building trades craftsman, Duboc’s band-saw-like strokes join Pettit to unearth subterranean dual improvisations which shine gold-nugget-like as they’re brought to the surface. Judiciously adding col legno string smacks at the end of that track, the two are able to blend rubber-band-like string twangs and nail-gun-like echoing tongue motions into a tremolo ostinato which is massive enough to anchor a skyscraper. A stark edifice of deep tones is established by the finale of the concluding “Craftsmen II”. As Petit echoes multiphonics that appear to come from a bottomless hole, while soaring minimalist glissandi from Duboc blend, the duo’s sonic contributions become as indistinguishable as bungalows in a suburban subdivision. That is until Petit’s low murmuring vocalizes alongside his reed output.

With the musical ground work symbolically laid out by Duboc and Petit, Grimal and Duboc proceed to frame one dozen sound erections on their own. Since the saxophonist’s dual textures are as multi-hued and pitch elevated as the chalumeau clarinetist’s are consistently toned and bottom-pitched, the dwelling she and the bassist symbolically construct follow a variety of architectural styles. While “La Danse des Puces (avant la Pluie)/After the Rain”, with its megaphone-extended smears from the saxophonist and string rumbles from Duboc is an obvious link to Free Jazz – especially when a John Coltrane composition is pasted onto the end – “Empreintes” is also connected to Energy Music. Here Grimal’s rugged theme variations are fully reminiscent of John Coltrane, while Duboc sounds intense Jimmy Garrison-like strokes in response. Distinguishing the building’s suites, the title track finds the saxophonist in breathy Ben Webster-like mode, “L’Homme qui court” showcases her circular breathing ability and the “Entrelacés” model is characterized by straight-ahead reed snorts and snuffles plus a telephone wire-thick vibration from the bassist. The two are also attuned enough to each other skills to pick up and amplify new construction techniques. For instance, foghorn-like timbres from the tenor saxophone on “Chemins” are jollied into snarky swing variations after Duboc sets out the parameters of a romp as if modifying original architect’s drawings.

Long term though, the exemplary tracks are those such as the final “Isha” or “La Forêt”. On both Grimal is able to express the full range of her saxophone prowess, with notes fluttering from the top of the instrument’s range to its very bottom, with variations encompassing chirping textures, smears scooped from within the s-curve and tremolo pacing. On the final sequence of “Isha”, the floor-plan is rebuilt as a near-intermezzo, with Grimal reaching rococo flute-like tones with her soprano and Duboc’s arco movements airy as a cello’s. “La Forêt” – which after all is filled with trees or pre-house-construction material – includes col legno slaps on Duboc’s part, and crow-like cawing from Grimal’s horn, but the completed edifice – er, tune – is filled with airy, moderato color.

Working in tandem with Duboc each of these reedists has constructed an instance of musical architecture you may want to visit for an extended period.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Retour: CD1:1. Rencontre 2. L’Homme qui court 3. Empreintes 4. Amibes 5. La Forêt 6. La Danse des Puces (avant la Pluie)/After the Rain CD2: 1. Gaïa 2. Chemins 3. Entrelacés 4. Ithaque 5. Le Retour d'Ulysse 6. Isha

Personnel: Retour: Alexandra Grimal (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Benjamin Duboc (bass)

Track Listing: Art: 1. Craftsmen I 2. Craftsmen II

Personnel: Art: Jean-Luc Petit (contrabass clarinet) and Benjamin Duboc (bass)