May 23, 2023

Umlaut UMFR-CD 043

Bertrand Denzler/Jason Kahn
Potlatch P122

More antithetical settings in which to express the improvisational skills of Paris-based tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler are hard to imagine. Yet each of these duos confirm his adaptability and proficiency. A single electro-acoustic track, Translations translates as a microtonal interaction between Denzler, known for his membership in Hubbub and other acoustic ensembles, with American-in-Zürich electronic musician Jason Kahn, who has worked with Axel Dörner among others. A volte face, Sbatax consists of two high-energy Free Jazz free-for-alls with French drummer Antonin Gerbal, who is part of the Umlaut big band as well as many other configurations, including one with Dörner and Denzler.

Based on the similarities and differences between the purrs, squeals and respirations of saxophone reed work and the programmed inconsistent hisses, buzzes and static from electronics, “Translations” burbles and judders through parallel outputs from both players. With reed expression varying from stuttering honks, growling flattement, linear drones and unaccented air forced through the horn’s body tube loudly and quietly, the push back from Kahn includes tremolo whirrs, sudden pops and rugged abrasions. Although both players’ timbres affiliate during the initial sequence with near unbroken timbres, harsher machine recoils and bent-note whines become more prominent as the piece advances. Trading places, squealing reed dislocation, key percussion and masticated split tones from Denzler project stridency, while purring crackles and quivering static from the electronics lighten the interface. The concluding motif finds Denzler aurally asserting expected saxophone properties with extended blowing, reed pops and tongue slaps until his output calms down to meld with restrained whirling from the programmed machine.

If the other session bounces from aggressive to Arcadian, then Sbatax’s two approximately 23-minute duos are unbridled and unstoppable Free Jazz reminiscent of the best creations of the 1960s-1970s. Not that there’s anything derivative about the mix. But relentless is amplified here. Constructing his first expositions out of repeated multiphonic vibrations with altissimo cries, the saxophonist is met by Gerbal’s backbeat splatters which encompass ruffs and pitter patter consistently involving the snare and tom-toms. Interesting enough, the density of the program is such that the drummer doesn’t even sound his cymbals until one-third of the way through the title track and even then it’s cross-handed ruffs and press rolls which predominate to toughen the flow. Finally the piece relaxes with tongue slaps, throat slurs and a sequence of basement level snorts from Denzler meeting Gerbal’s connective ruffs and drags. “Azimuths” is more of the same, although the drumming is more stretched, detached and shattered, at the same time as the broken-octave reed strategy is more emphatic with phrases duplicated up and down the scale with enhanced levels of intensity. As ambulatory and andante as the first track, the second’s dual connection of controlled tension also give it a distinctive sound.

The demise of long-constituted, regularly working bands in the 21st Century is somewhat disquieting for improvisational music. But it does give advanced plyers like the ones here license to experiment with varied forms.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Translations: 1. Translations

Personnel: Translations: Bertrand Denzler (tenor saxophone) and Jason Kahn (electronics)

Track Listing: Spires: 1. Spires 2. Azimuths

Personnel: Spires: Bertrand Denzler (tenor saxophone) and Antonin Gerbal (drums)