Benjamin Bondonneau

December 18, 2008

Amor Fati Fatum 016

Sans Bruit sbr004

Like many nations in Europe, France has a long-established, fully-developed and significant jazz and improvised music scene. Unlike players elsewhere however, in general French musicians appear most comfortable gigging within the country’s borders and collaborating with locals. Thus, to our detriment, appreciation for significant French talent is somewhat limited. However, these fine sessions could help rectify the situation.

For instance, Bordeaux-born drummer Didier Lasserre – featured on both discs – is inventive, technically adroit and a sympathetic accompanist. Over the years he has played with improvisers a different as American trumpeter Roy Campbell and French pianist Frédéric Blondy. Powerful bassists Benjamin Duboc (on Nuts) and David Chiesa (on Humus) have collaborated individually with reedists such as Jean-Luc Guionnet, Michel Doneda and Xavier Charles.

Instructively, while these sessions are built on this bass-drum rhythmic foundation, each gains its distinctive colors from other participants’ contributions. Unhurried and concerned with microtonal undulations, Humus showcases the sonic interpretations of veteran baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro – who has worked with most major Euro improvisers – and tyro bass clarinetist Benjamin Bondonneau, who is also a painter.

More brassy, with jagged, discordant timbres and purposely incomplete textures, Nuts features a bass-drum team plus three expatriates who now make Paris their home. St. Louis-native Rasul Siddik, who has recorded with David Murray, and Kobe-born Itaru Oki, part of Japan’s first experimental musical unit in the late 1960s, both play trumpets and miscellaneous instruments here. Makoto Sato, a member of both jazz-rock band Marteau Rouge, and an off-beat Butoh dance spectacle with Oki, is the other drummer besides Lasserre.

Displaying earth-moving reverberations but in microtonal spurts, the four players on Humus work in an adagio tempo and soothingly puff through or scrape along the outsides of their instruments more frequently than they create conventional lines. Throughout, rim shots cracking and crunching hand pressure and buzzes on drum tops plus bass drum thumps interlace with dark, deep rubs and sul ponticello friction from Chiesa. Meantime staccato tones and counter tones from Bondonneau and Lazro reflect back upon each other’s aspirations, with basso runs sharing space with sudden altissimo shrills.

By the suite’s final variation, a sonic edifice of unison abrasions is erected. Multi-floored, the thickening interaction is built up from cymbal friction, sawed strings and colored air forced through the horns’ body tubes. Most spectacularly, at certain points both reed players blow with such force that partials and overtones are as noticeable as the root notes. Bronx cheer-like drones burble from the bass clarinet, while Lazro contents himself with tongue slaps and stops plus reed biting. The shape, material and fabrication of the horns are so involved here that the interpolated and expressed pitches appear to take on the character and viscosity of the instruments themselves. With the baritone saxophone’s vibrato gawkily perambulating within the spaces untouched by Bondonneau’s bass clarinet whistles, lip pops and fowl-like shrilling, the rhythm section provides concordance. This takes the form of cementing the horn warbles to swelling sul tasto string runs and unvarying rebounds, nerve beats and rattling rim shots.

More brutal and fulsome is the quintet interaction once the trumpeters turn from faint grace-note buzzing and intermittent silences caused by seed shakes and inner tube resonating. Soon the centre shell of Nuts is cracked with a steady, marital beat from both percussionists. While Duboc’s swaying bass slaps and Lasserre’s and Sato’s slashing cymbal timbres create a rubato beat, Oki and Siddik expose parallel brass interpolations. As one trumpeter snarls from his open-horn, the other peeps with a muted bell.

Half-way through the first track, as the tempo accelerates with percussive press rolls and ratamacues, one trumpeter – probably Siddik – introduces slurred air ripples. Responding with a faux-bull fight melody, the other brass man – Oki? – rends the air with roistering squeals and shrilling yelps. Beneath Lasserre’s rat-tat-tats, the bassist’s short bowed passages pull together the others’ ever-shifting tones, eventually downshifting the tune into a finale of grace notes and simple breaths.

Briefer but more roughhewn, “Nuts Society” features cymbal and side clipping beats from the drummers, plinks and plunks from the bassist and braying plunger lines and guttural smears from the trumpeters. After one brassman approximates “To the Colors”, with a bugle-like exposition, a contrapuntal response in the form of a martial march comes from the other four.

Reaching a defined crescendo, Duboc’s shuffle bowing mixed with horizontal stops and runs provides the perfect underpinning as trumpet tones divide again. With one man sounding a delicate wavy line and the other creating rough, broken-octave fills; concordance is evident only when each vies with the other to hit the highest-pitch. Thumping bass lines plus ruffs and drags from Lasserre and Sato define the bottom, until a low-key, straight-ahead solo from the bassist silences the others, and brings the piece to a logical finale.

Native-born or acculturated residents of France admirably representing their musical talents make both CDs equally satisfying. Sophisticated out-of-country listeners should carefully note the musicians’ names and hope that in future they all perform more often outside of their native land.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Humus: 1. Le Polytric 2. L’Hépatique 3. La Sphaigne

Personnel: Humus: Benjamin Bondonneau (bass clarinet); Daunik Lazro (baritone saxophone); David Chiesa (bass); Didier Lasserre (drums) and Laurent Sassi (sound)

Track Listing: Nuts: 1. First Nuts 2. Nuts Society

Personnel: Nuts: Rasul Siddik (trumpet, seeds and objects); Itaru Oki (trumpet, flutes and tubes); Benjamin Duboc (bass) and Makoto Sato and Didier Lasserre (drums)