A Petit Pair and a Prolix pfMENTUM

Jean-Luc Petit / Mathias Pontévia

A Google translation of the French press statement for this recording by monsieurs Petit et Pontévia (tenor/baritone sax and drums/percussion respectively) provides a worthy epigram: a saxophone abandoned, lost, wandering between shadows and ghostly and spectral glow, sometimes brutally reincarnated in furious ultra physical flights you take guts. While kinetically vivid in imagery, the mechanical translation’s oblique solecisms – a faint reminder of Burroughs’ poetic cut-ups – are as immediately intriguing as any of the sonic collisions that occur between the musicians. One could pontificate all manner of inventive images to describe the range exhibited over this hour-long recording. Or simply listen. Given the scarcity of this edition (limited to just 100 handmade copies), decisiveness is probably paramount.

Petit and Pontévia’s mutual sensitivity and rapport suggests they are a long-term pairing, one ever the other’s foil. By way of illustration, in ‘Pha’, a softly smoking tenor finds itself sandwiched between a strident, metallic whine from (what sounds like) a bowed cymbal and some abrasive electrical interference. A more aggressive turn of mind defines ‘Le Tube, Le Câble’: thundering rolls (and tinny taps) on all manner of solid objects front up to a sax squeal so sticky it sounds like plasters ripping off skin. While swinging between states of almost-forced and catatonic, once in motion, the piece’s relentlessness is easily relished, and though consistent rhythms seldom cohere, rarely does richness not result from the pursuit of dynamic equilibrium. The silkscreened black and red cover image of a dense, knotted treetop offers a decent idea of the disc’s bi-polar and dynamic disparity.

For improv aficionados, this non-idiomatic pairing will likely yield few surprises, but between the two exponents the manifold mysteries of the likes of AMM are at least mentioned. Ultimately, satisfaction is a more realistic reaction than astonishment.

Lebrat / Boubaker
Quasi Souvenir

Bowing and scraping before others is behaviour widely regarded as beneath human dignity. In a musical context it can be engaging, but too much of it can suggest a gloomy squat with peeling walls and squeaky doors. It depends, I suppose, where one’s aesthetic threshold is situated. And so is the case with this duo recording for saxophone and cello from Soizic Lebrat and Heddy Boubaker. The title indicates that this recording is more than a mere ‘document’ (one limited to just 100 copies incidentally), but not quite the memento of a special time abroad. Wherever it happens to be that this duo dwell, one assumes that clouds and rain are never far away.

The bow of the cello is, as suggested, pulled so painfully slow throughout these seven cuts that each seems most determined to emit – whether high or low – the most eardrum-rattling frequencies of all. The standard format for each vibratory performance appears to be a slow, exploratory warm-up that establishes a mood somewhere between morose and agitated, which then becomes an interlocutor in an improvised role play. The saxophone is a satisfying counterpart, with its careful curation of slow, low blows, delicate, virtually yogic breathwork and low register chatter. Tensions that arise at any given point are swiftly spent, and developed anew.

Recording quality is of unimpeachable clarity, capturing well the dynamic subtleties and timbres of the instruments, as well as the sense of open space and – indeed – the subtle expressiveness of the musicians. To top things off, the astringent blue card sleeve really does the music justice: the silkscreened medical illustration of an eye operation on one hand recalls the infamous scene from Bunuel and Dali’s phantasmagoric Un Chien Andalou, while on the other indicating that suffering is ever at hand.

Vlatkovich Tryyo
Pershing Woman

In ‘intimate’ musical settings, there seems to be little accounting for the power of a performance. Often, the special secrecy of an experience shared by just a handful of cognoscenti leads to legends, while on occasion a tiny turnout sparks just a distant, disaffected performance. On the recorded evidence here, both the audience and the Vlatkovich Tryyo – probably equal in number – are on fine, fiery form; the latter working up a storm ex nihilo as though it were second nature, preserving the triumphant occasion (recorded in Grand Rapids, Michigan) for posterity on this disc.

Doubtless owing in part to the history and pedigree of the three musicians present (Michael Vlatkovich on trombone, Jonathan Golove on cello and Damon Short on drums), the group appears resolved to deny admission to even a moment of silence: in Vlatkovich’s compositions, from the rip-roaring get-go, everything is event: the trombone firing tight, tethered phrases, deftly shadowed by Golove’s plucked cello, and underpinned by Short’s cymbals, which swing with the best – a meter he carries through much of the album. Sometimes soaring, though sometimes sober and even sombre, the group’s vibrant, full-bodied racket engulfs every inch of venue space. At its most upbeat, it bears traces of Henry Threadgill’s melodic exuberance; elsewhere some of Sun Ra’s more oblique, atonal colours enter the palette, especially when ties are loosened and fingers are freed.

Despite the Tarkovskian cover photo depicting a woman’s silhouette striding through a foggy landscape (which might analogise the not-quite-crystalline recording fidelity), the mood of the music – mainly monochrome – is far rougher, more unrelenting than the doom jazz one might anticipate. At times, the darkness is so wintery one imagines doggedly ploughing through piles of metaphorical snow, being housebound by climatic inhospitality, or succumbing to Seasonal Affective Disorder in the more solemn, later tracks. On occasion, the joylessness smacks of intellectualism over emotion, a notion compounded by unwieldy track titles such as ‘Our Costumes Should Tell Us Who We Are And What We Should Think’, and a structural disinclination towards climax, which is usually nice after a long workout. These are minor gripes however, for anyone with a thirst for dynamic, driven performances will drink their fill here.