Eric Brochard / Jean-Luc Guionnet / Toshimaru Nakamura / Edward Perraud / Benjamin Duboc

January 27, 2009


Potlatch P108

Jean-Luc Guionnet/Benjamin Duboc


Amor Fati Fatum 012

Eric Brochard-Jean-Luc Guionnet-Edward Perraud


In Situ IS 241

Three aural snapshots of contemporary French improv, taken at two- and three-year intervals, these CDs feature Lyon-native Jean-Luc Guionnet acquitting himself distinctively on alto saxophone and a bit of electric organ.

Now a Paris resident, the 42-year-old Guionnet is a self-taught instrumentalist who studied fine arts and aesthetics at the Sorbonne. One of the Gallic musicians committed in part to the reductioinist style, as he demonstrates on these sessions, the saxophonist is also a member of the band Hubbub with drummer Edward Perraud, who is also featured on [on]. Other exercises in lower-case improv here match him up with fellow practitioners from near – bassists Benjamin Duboc from Paris or Eric Brochard from Poitiers – and far – Japanese no-input board mixer Toshimaru Nakamura.

Nonetheless no matter how mesmerizing some of the sounds on these CDs, remember that these are snapshots in real time, not official portraits. Most of the French players for instance, are involved in completely different programs elsewhere. Guionnet, Perraud and Duboc also constitute The Fish, a go-for-broke Free Jazz trio.

Picking a representative disc among the three also depends on the listener’s preference. From 2002, [on] is the closest to what is usually termed Free Music; MAP from 2007 is firmly in the near-silent Onkyo tradition – except, that is, when the saxophonist produces ear-splitting altissimo shrills; and W from 2005 falls sonically in-between the other two.

Precisely aligned the glottal, guttural and gorge timbres issuing from Guionnet on W mesh conclusively with the thick thumps, spiccato runs and abrasive scuffs and raps from Duboc. Unfolding over the course of one long improvisation, the performance flirts with meiosis, but doesn’t limit itself completely to under-emphasis.

For instance, at points unaffiliated blowing of colored air by the saxophonist meets up with rasping friction from Duboc’s strings that eventually push the reedist to replicate hunting-horn timbres. Duboc’s chording can expose tones that are almost as metallic as the rasps Guionnet scrapes from the inside of his horn. Yet, on the other hand the two also meet more impressionistically when they mesh a chain of extended reed split tones with consistent resonating sul tasto timbres from the bass. Extended pauses are worked into the interchange, and there are points at which one – or both – expel(s) an elongated single tone, whose unadulterated horizontal qualities make it seem as if it’s produced by electronic oscillations. Contrapuntal above all, strident reed shrieks are usually smoothed by guitar-like arpeggios from Duboc, while chiming taps on the bass’s wood that lead to silences are redirected with exaggerated, elongated single tones or split-second tongue slaps from Guionnet.

These same flat-line reed excursions and infinitesimal string motions are reflected with different instrumental intonation throughout MAP’s four tracks. Nakamura, who has recorded with other European improvisers such as saxophonist John Butcher and cellist Mark Wastell from the United Kingdom, uses the aural pulses emitting from his no-imput mixing board as a ring modulator-like constant on these tracks. Making all he can from unstable crackling, throbbing flutters, effervescent burbles and radio-wave-like static, the results often exist just prior to the point of attentive listening.

Most of the time, the unvarying hissing drones are more sensed than heard, only really noticeable when the pedal-point underpinning ceases. In contrast, Guionnet unveils a magician’s trunk full of extended techniques from his horn. Metaphorically replicating unique and unexpected circus stunts from his reed, ligature, bell and keys, his centre-ring act encompasses persistent strident squeals, gruff resonation, violent altissimo yelps and unstable squeaks, usually wrapped up in clenched-jaw circular breathing.

Mid-way through, Nakamura joins the fray, swelling his meandering oscillations to jarring flanges which almost literally shove the reed sounds to the side. Soon the grinding motorized exposition from his machine is expanded by buzzing wave forms, gravelly loops and unstable, pulsating crackles. Divorced from reductionism, the result is closer to Industrial Music or musique concrète.

Pugnacious cacophony is nearly resolved in the final variation however, at least until Guionnet begins pumping kinetic cadences from the electric organ, somehow also trilling intensity vibratos by practically gluing his bell to the microphone. Nakamura’s response centres around louder and thicker wave forms that not only build blurry underside drones, but also use pitch-modulated stopping-and-starting buzzes to moderate the interface. Eventually Guionnet’s jittery organ pulse levels to near equal temperament as buzzing signal processing intimation arrives from either his saxophone or the no-input mixing board. Organ washes then return to partner with knob-twisting crackles – with the finale interlocked, undifferentiated fading drones.

Fully acoustic, the trio improvisations that make up [on] depend as much on aleatory impulses as atonal ones. Perraud, who backs musicians as different as saxophonist Arthur Doyle and clarinetist Christopher Rocher; and Brochard, whose playing partners range from bassist Claude Tchamitchian to drummer Raymond Lopez, bring the same sort of musical versatility and technical smarts to this CD that Guionnet exhibits as a matter of course.

The CD’s themes range from frantic to atmospheric and from microtonal to multi-noted, while each man is an equal partner in the enterprise. No time-keeper, the drummer ranges all over his kit, scratching and scuffing drum tops, rasping drum sticks against un-lathed cymbals and pinging small bells. Brochard contributes sul ponticello, sul tasto and overridingly spiccato techniques with equal facility, resonating lower-pitched legato timbres at one point, then instantaneously shifting to abstract string-slicing. As for Guionnet, his repertoire of tongue slaps and stops, wiggling and chirping reed bites and unforced air vibrating are given full range to develop. For example his wildly overblown textures link up with pops and churns from Perraud and slaps, hits and string scrolling from Brochard. Elsewhere, Guionnet’s dog-whistle level shrilling and trumpeting joins nearly distracted slaps and bangs from the drummer and thick, powering thumps from the bassist.

With Perraud often producing irregular rebounds and bounces plus cymbal snaps and the saxophonist’s stock-in-trade are warbling split tones and tongue slaps, it’s Brochard who prevents both of the CD’s polyphonic improvs from fracturing into chaos. Familiar with the resonating properties of a stick placed horizontally through his strings as well as shuffle bowing and the closest to a walking ostinato one gets in music like this, the bassist’s pumping lines are often bulky enough so that wood resonation is heard as well as string textures. This still leaves plenty of space for the saxophonist’s Bronx cheer-like split tones to challenge the percussionist’s cymbal sizzles, pressured flams, rebounds and drags. Eventually resolution is reached with a coda of circular-breathed tones from the reedist, powerful bass pumps and rumbling drum beats.

With many attributes and few weaknesses evident in all three sessions, you can take your pick among the illuminated sections of this Guionnet triptych.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: MAP: 1. 18:27” 2. 12:45” 3. 15:59” 4. 23:16”

Personnel: MAP: Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto saxophone and organ), Toshimaru Nakamura (no input mixing board)

Track Listing: [ON]: 1. Lithe 2. Néolithe

Personnel: [ON]: Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto saxophone); Eric Brochard (bass) and Edward Perraud (drums)

Track Listing: W: 1. W

Personnel: W: Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto saxophone) and Benjamin Duboc (bass)