Very good acoustic improv trio work from Bertrand Denzler, Antonin Gerbal and Axel Dörner on Le Ring (CONFRONT CCS 65). The players are keen to point out their rapport has been hard-earned, and that this particular configuration represents years of work getting to know each other through means of brass, mallets, and perspiration. “Dörner and Denzler know each other for 15 years”, states the press note, while Dörner and Gerbal have been at it since 2011. Meanwhile Denzler and Gerbal, the French part of the act, have often played as a duo and appeared in many other projects, for example the record Heretofore which came out on this same label in 2015. Le Ring could I suppose refer to the tight inner circle which binds improvisers together, whether it’s the social milieu of concerts and touring, or the act of playing together which is (I would hope) not unlike creating a magic circle as used by John Dee, Simon Magus, or other well-known sorcerers. There’s also a “circle of life” thing implied in such a title, the slow rhythms of the artistic life, and the fact that these three players have been embroiled in the churn of playing together for so long means they are now as inter-twined as your clothes when they fall out of the tumble drier.
Not too long ago my life was ruined by hearing Sound Of Drums, the solo record by Antonin Gerbal which was so single-minded in its pursuit of a pure beat that you could have used it to construct a Roman road across Chichester. Fortunately he seems to have brought his fanatical approach down a notch or two for Le Ring, and contents himself with punctuating the general flow of the music with percussive shots inserted in unexpected places. However, when they other two give him five seconds of quiet, he’s straight back to his doomy funeral march antics, hammering out obsessive bonks and blams with the deathly precision of the grim reaper. As to Axel Dörner, I used to characterise this German trumpeter as one of the kings of the Berlin Reductionist School (or whatever they’re called) and his ultra-quiet work in Phosphor was enough to bring most strong men to their knees. He’s since become much more audible and less preoccupied with calling attention to his own breath, and his instrument is now a tube for releasing escaping gas into the room with a delicious light roaring noise. These two abstract-noise extremists tend to make Denzler – who actually hits recognisable notes now and again – the “conformist” of the group, which is really saying something in this context.
While Le Ring stops and starts and reorganises itself to head down side tangents on more than one occasion, it still presents a coherent argument in one continuous 41-minute spiel, which is more than most of us can do. Long tones are explored and tested and rubbed up against each other, like two dressmakers trying it on for size as they admire the heft of certain fabrics. Eventually, someone may or may not get an outfit to wear at the end of the process, but that’s not important. Throughout these lengthy ringing soundings, the drummer Gerbal is tapping impatiently at his rims and his skins, trying to bring the meeting to order. There’s such stillness and tension in the room that it’s amazing they get anywhere, yet forward movement of a lurching sort does take place. It’s likely though that we’ll end up at the same starting point in Le Ring, having circumscribed a circular shape right there on the floor, and come away enriched with mystical knowledge thereby. From 29th September 2016.