Bertrand Denzler / Jean-Sébastian Mariage / Antonin Gerbal

May 29, 2014

Volumes a+b

Umlaut Records umfr-cd08

Although it consists of two members of the minimalist-propelled Hubbub quintet and one from the Bop revivalist Peeping Tom group, Zoor is a more distinct proposition. Putting aside their microtonal tendencies, Hubbub’s tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler and guitarist Jean-Sébastien Mariage join Peeping Tom drummer Antonin Gerbal to create two dense extended improvisations permeated with undercurrents of menace and doom. Augmenting the textural thickening, the drummer also trades specific modern Jazz-like ruffs and rim shots for an accumulation of plops and ruffs, which sometimes appear to clot into unbreakable rigidity.

A reed empiricist who has explored different musical styles, Denzler’s intensity is unmatched on these volumes, with his most common default setting harsh, undulating overblowing. He also widens his vibrato to such an extent that most of the time every note’s partials and extensions can also be heard. While the resulting fallback may appear to have a tone midway between fog horn and alp horn, it’s a tribute to the saxophonist’s skill that distinct graduations are also audible. Just as there can be many shades of black – and Black Metal – Denzler’s reed multiphonics includes, slurs, spits and honks.

Adding to this scene-setting are Mariage’s slashing, clanking flanges and Gerbal’s heavy-footed thumps, often pumped out with such drive that the result appears to be part of a single undulating mass. Still the mammoth – nearly 40 minute –“Volume a” includes episodes of unanticipated delicacy as the guitarist’s downward slashes open up into a fluid filigree of shuffles and plinks and the saxophonist reveals subtle variants in the aural color wheel. The basic flow is maintained throughout however; plus the finale is practically an earth-shaking blast.

Solidly gelled into organ chord-like glissandi from all concerned, the slightly briefer – 30 minutes – “Volume b” too alleviates its tension with sonic asides from both Denzler and Mariage. The former briefly reveals a breathy Coleman Hawkins-like burr at points, and the other lets wire-cutter-like sharp plucks interrupt his slurred rasgueado. Likewise Gerbal’s stentorian throbs decelerate into bell-like pealing as the narrative decompresses.

Overall though, Zoor’s accomplishment is not that the trio keeps the listener’s attention from flagging with these deviations from it thickened drones, but that the band’s gelled three-part improvisation is so commanding in itself.

Its name may start with the last letter of the alphabet, but on the evidence here, the ranking of the band’s talent is more oriented towards the first letter.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Volume a 2. Volume b

Personnel: Bertrand Denzler (tenor saxophone); Jean-Sébastien Mariage (guitar) and Antonin Gerbal (drums)