Sophie Agnel/Daunik Lazro

Marguerite d’Or Pâle
Fou Records FR-CD 21

Not as potentially world-altering as François Fillon’s – as well as Donald Trump’s – budding bromance with Vladimir Putin, a Moscow audience’s rapt attention to this superior improvisational program here indicates more favorable axioms. Consisting of six tunes performed by French improvisers, saxophonist Daunik Lazro and pianist Sophie Agnel, Marguerite d’Or Pâle confirms the universality of music, despite the post-Soviet-Gallic political climate. More crucially, in this case, it confirms the high standards of committed French musicians that are recognized by international audiences.

Decades of Soviet Realism decrees doesn’t seem to have dulled locals appreciation for the unusual, and except for applaud at the completion of the program, audience members are as quiet as you would find in any Western arts space. Like properly constituted soft drinks offered to consumers only familiar with imitation pop, sophisticated Angel and Lazro are the real thing(s) able to emphasize lines ranging from energetic swing to the most arduous timbral probing with the same off-handed skill. A member of the Orchestre National de Jazz, the pianist has also worked with everyone from guitarist Olivier Benoit to drummer Steve Noble. Meanwhile Like similar Gallic iconoclasts in film and literature, tenor and baritone saxophonist Lazro has gone his own way since the mid-1970s, working with figures such as Joe McPhee, Joëlle Léandre and Carlos Zingaro.

This time, the two present a program that begins with the equivalent of sprinters pacing and stretching before a race. Working their way up from key ruffling and smearing tones at the top of “Avec Ki” the pianist is soon investigating the insides and outsides of the piano with the vigor of a child at day care. Meanwhile the saxophonist squeezes out unexpected textures from his horn with toothpaste-like consistency and layering. Key clipping or sounding a reflective continuum, Agnel can match Lazro cry for cry and resonation with resonation, or choose to be a bystander, offering random encouragement via singe note squeezes besides the saxophonist nephritic vocalizing, altissimo screams and tone warping.

Relaxing into a sonic harvest of ripened piano movements coupled with saber-sharp baritone signs on the concluding “Ochi Chorye” the two invest the recital’s climatic centre section with every manner of strategies and surprises. Deep breathing and gobbling eruptions from Lazro on “Ma-Ox-Am” find Agnel’s playing as ferocious as if she was practicing mixed martial arts, culminating in stops, plucks and pricks of the piano strings that segment sax trills into even thinner mewls. Ultimately the penultimate “Bbystro” creates a whole cloth of sonic judders that are equal parts top-of-range reed moos and gasps and soundboard thwacks plus kinetic key slides that usher in the mellow conclusion.

Agnel’s and Lazro’s perceptive real-time invention certify their designated skills. Concurrently the idea that musical barrier breaking may overcome national difficulties is suggested.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Avec Ki 2. Avec Ka 3. Cat’s Shoe 4. Ma-Ox-Am 5. Bbystro! 6. Ochi Chorye

Personnel: Daunik Lazro (tenor and baritone saxophones) and Sophie Agnel (piano)