Unwrapping the CD wallet (nice-to-the-touch cartonpaper and printwork) and reading the name of the artist, the album and the first few tracks that catch the eye (‘Sitting on the side of the road’, ‘Sex of Angels’, ‘I believe in joy’, ‘Light water’) I instantly relax in the assumption that the music that will unfold will have a light feeling to it. Maybe not exactly country music (my first, wild association), but at least some experimental music with a certain laid-backness, lightness and maybe even humour.
Never judge a book by its cover they say, and indeed: maybe in a few aspects my assumptions could be defended (there’s definitely humour in the music on this album), but on the face of it I was totally wrong.
DiG! is an album of intense solo saxophone, the kind of experimental saxophone playing that never produces the sound that the instrument is broadly known for. And though it was totally not what I expected, it was, I must say, quite an extraordinary listening adventure.
“Sitting on the side of the road” starts off with sounds that are difficult to place, but for an open set of ears it is immediately a curious and titillating experience. As if it was a radio play, we visit different places and atmospheres, well seperated by Boubaker’s playing, with effective use of suspension.
“The real sexlife of a banana” leads us further, with almost computer-like sounds and textures, sometimes reminiscing white noise interferences on the radio. The intensity and focus that Boubaker puts into his sound-explorations makes my ears stay glued to the speakers. There are breath and saliva thrown in a lot, and sometimes it sounds as if Boubaker is playing underwater saxophone, to great effect. Boubaker’s timing is excellent, which he especially proves in track 3 (“Indistinguishable”).
Halfway through the album, however, my interest wears off. There is maybe a limit to the amount of these sounds a brain can take in one go. Also the type of explorations seem to repeat, with no new point being made. But then, with track 9 I am directly back on Boubaker’s lap: he’s wringing different rattling, thumping and insect-like sounds from his instrument, the kind of sounds you can get from beasts crawling under your ceiling at night. Here again, the mixture of textures and the timing of his sounds are superb and it is a track I enjoyed to re-listen several times.
The track titles are actually not giving any relevant information about the music, but the interesting part is that through my light-headed assumptions after reading them, I do listen with a rather relaxed ear. And although the playing is intense and focussed, dark at times and even foreboding, there is also a certain lightness and humour in the way Boubaker places and presents his material.
The album is at its best when the playing is subtle and pure and so far from the usual saxophone sound that the imagination goes wild with guessing “which wond’rous place are we in now…?”
For the balance of the CD, maybe three or four pieces less would have cut out some repetition and given a more round feeling to the whole, but this doesn’t dismiss the many great moments Boubaker has caught with these recordings.
Glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Boubaker!