Jean-Luc Guionnet
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Propagations

¬ Discographie ¬ Improvisations ¬ Saxophone

- Potlach – Paris - France - 2007
improvisation instrumentale — quatuor de saxophones :
Marc Baron, Stéphane Rives, Bertrand Denzler & Jean-Luc Guionnet


Un souffle de quarante minutes porté par quatre saxophonistes. Il faudrait regarder, pour l’ambiance, du côté de John Cage (dernière époque, celle des Number Pieces), de Morton Feldman (quand il prend vraiment son temps) ou Scelsi, pour la démarche, du côté de Sciarrino ou Giorgio Netti et puis bien sûr de quelques précurseurs de la scène européenne des musiques improvisées, en particulier ce classique de Michel Doneda, Anatomie des clés (en 1998, chez Potlatch déjà). Car il s’agit bien d’improvisation. À l’intérieur du son. Pour en extraire des instants de pure beauté, d’extrême violence. De poésie.
La pochette du cd esquisse le contenu (peinture d’Eric Loillieux, dont j’apprends en parcourant son site, qu’il a étudié la composition avec Michel Zbar). On se laisse happer par cette musique comme devant une toile (de Cy Twombly ou Mark Rothko, pour revenir à Feldman). Aucune narration, juste ces sons dont on se demande s’ils proviennent vraiment de saxophones. Passé l’émerveillement, on cherche à comprendre. Mais non, rien n’a été écrit ou trafiqué. Quatre improvisateurs, saxophonistes se retrouvent, lors d’une résidence au Carré Bleu de Poitiers, jouent, enregistrent.
Bertrand Denzler, répondant à mes interrogations, écrit : « Nous avons au fil du temps développé ce que j’appelle un "territoire" ou un espace commun (qui concerne à la fois les sons, les timbres, les textures et les "formes" possibles) pour tenter de créer collectivement une/des pièce/s qui nous semblent cohérente/s. »
Les quatre saxophonistes n’en sont pas à leur coup d’essai. Bertrand Denzler et Jean-Luc Guionnet (plasticien également) ont déjà quelques années d’intenses activités sur la scène européenne, avec quelques disques fameux. Les plus jeunes ne sont pas en reste, Stéphane Rives est actuellement en tournée aux USA, multipliant les rencontres, Marc Baron quant à lui, s’est illustré il y a peu aux côtés de Louis Sclavis (L’imparfait des Langues).
Laurent Matheron l Asaxweb l Février 2008

Détournement de saxophones. Marc Baron (alto), Bertrand Denzler (tenor), Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto) et Stéphane Rives (soprano) se produisent ensemble depuis 2003, ils se connaissent donc parfaitement et n’ont de cesse de repousser les limites des musiques improvisées expérimentales. Car ici, la surprise est totale, les souffleurs ont choisi l’approche la plus abstraite qui soit pour une telle réunion d’instruments similaires. Notes soutenues, interventions abruptes, silences, le dépaysement impressionne au point d’oublier qu’il s’agit bien de quatre saxophones qui produisent ces univers sonores dépouillés, accidentels et subtils.
Les techniques de coloration du son, la recherche de timbres inouïs, les jeux de fréquences et l’improvisation malgré tout structurée pourraient laisser penser qu’il y a ça ou là l’intervention de traitements électroniques du son. Clapets, valves, vertèbres... tirer pleinement parti de saxophones en détournant leur utilisation primaire et arriver à produire cette musique en filigrane est une vraie prouesse. Sur la dernière pièce, les quatre protagonistes jouent ensemble et quittent de façon plus manifeste le silence omniprésent sur les deux premiers titres. Les trajectoires de souffles s’offrent l’espace d’un instant une véritable libération.
Une superbe performance qui saisit l’immatériel, l’inaudible du saxophone !
Sonhors l Février 2008

Qu’attendre de l’association de ces quatre souffleurs « de pointe » dont on a suivi les mouvements ces dernières années ? Certainement – du moins l’espère-t-on – pas plus un hommage à Marcel Mule qu’un simple recensement des trouvailles saxophonistiques récemment passées dans l’usage… Alors, juxtaposition ? surenchère ? annulation des forces en présence ? Le jeu était somme toute risqué et l’horizon d’attente de l’auditorat se peuplait déjà de scénarios sonores et de combinaisons stratégiques… que finalement le quatuor [Marc Baron (as), Bertrand Denzler (ts), Jean-Luc Guionnet (as) et Stéphane Rives (ss)] bat en brèche : la matière est plus rêche que les aimables et polies pelotes qu’on aurait imaginées, le jeu se déploie dans des espaces fort divers et pas si flatteurs de prime abord.
La pâte musicale s’élève et ondule, matière textile, ductile, géologique, électrique : bobinages, efflorescences évocatrices de certaines pièces orchestrales brèves de Scelsi, éclosions d’éclosions, mondes du son dans le son, se densifiant sans obstruction, montant comme certains de ces bourgeons soufflés par Jim Denley. En surface comme en profondeur, une tectonique subtile qui fait sourdre le son et souffler un orgue à crêpage d’interférences. Le déploiement improvisé de cette suite en trois mouvements n’épouse pas une dramaturgie de simple progression ; et s’il faut parler de « propagation », c’est à un degré particulier de complexité : circulation d’ondes concentriques et solidaires certes, mais aussi cheminements paradoxalement individuels dont les initiatives finissent, comme des virus, se propageant donc, par infléchir les formes à l’œuvre. Passionnant.
Guillaume Tarche l Improjazz l Janvier 2008

Prenez quatre saxophonistes connaissant leur instrument sur le bout des doigts, mettez-les ensemble et laissez-les improviser. Depuis 2003, M.Baron, B.Denzler, J.L.Guionnet et S.Rives fonctionnent sous cette formule. Ils cherchent à donner à leur instrument de prédilection une nouvelle orientation qui puisse sortir des cadres conventionnels.
Sur Propagations, il apparaît assez évident que le quatuor dépasse largement les clichés liés au saxophone. Comme un véritable voyage introspectif, ce disque est un concentré de précision et de concision. Jouant avec les silences et œuvrant résolument dans un esprit purement expérimental, les quatre hommes s’évertuent, dans un minimalisme confondant, à donner des sonorités inhabituelles à des formes musicales qui le sont tout autant. Les saxophones semblent alors dialoguer entre eux, d’une manière certes discrète, entre chuchotements et envois de signes abstraits. Il n’est alors pas question de déclencher les hostilités, chacun des protagonistes évoluant dans des sphères apaisées qui n’ont aucunement l’intention de faire de vagues.
Ceci étant, Propagations reste un bel effort d’imagination et se montre, finalement, assez étonnant. Par moment, on se demande vraiment si l’on écoute un ensemble pour saxophones. Entre les longues nappes qui ressemblent à s’y méprendre à des drones, des soufflements confinés qui savent se mettre au second plan, de brefs éclatements sonores inopinés et un effort certain pour rester dans un cadre des plus intimistes, il y a de quoi penser que la formation a atteint son but. Leur tâche est-elle pour autant achevée ? On en doute, car l’improvisation implique cette volonté de se réinventer et de chercher sans cesse de nouveaux terrains de jeux. Ici on a juste exploité une idée, on l’a développée et même, on l’a transformée. En soi, tout amateur de musiques improvisées ne pourra qu’apprécier ce genre de démarche. Propagations va suffisamment loin pour qu’on lui donne un intérêt particulier qui ne pourra se vivre qu’isolément.
Fabien l Liability l Décembre 2007

Potlatch poursuit son remarquable travail de documentation des nouvelles scènes improvisées avec un très beau quartet de souffleurs made in france .
Une formule mythique d’avant-jazz par essence qui met en perspective toute l’évolution saxophonistique des derniéres années, qui n’aura eu de cesse de s’éloigner d’un idiome qui, après avoir beaucoup donné, semble s’être perdu dans la virtuosité, l’héritage et la notoriété proche en cela du corpus "classique" et de sa tradition .
Propagations confirme la permanence des techniques de granulation acoustique entre salive, colonne d’air et amplification pour jouer au plus près des gradations séparant la contingence de l’expiration du timbre des saxes.
Le souffle continu producteur de trames (héritage scelsien ?), la focalisation sur les bruits "parasites" : coups de anches pincées, léchées, gifflées, claquements des feutres obturateurs semblant acquis comme dans quasiment toutes les productions des nouveaux improvisateurs au plus loin du pointillisme indépassable de Charlie Parker ...
Reste la musique : la valeur ajoutée d’une combinatoire singulière alternant ou non les paramètres propres au médium et qui font tout le sel du disque. Ainsi des belles articulations / variations sur l’amplitude, la durée, le grain, les tutti et les va-et-vient embryonnaires des instruments se donnant la réplique.
C’est un disque intense beaucoup plus varié et surprenanrt que la production courante de noise acoustique aride, avec de l"émotion en quantité comme lors de cette chevauchée spectrale de la partie 2 où les hauteurs en fusion des anches s’avèrent d’une sensualité rare, quasi symphonique en réponse aux micro-mouvements principaux. On est au plus loin de tout académisme dans une "histoire" sonore qui ne se refuse aucun procédé de narration pour replacer l’émotion et l’intelligence à égalité au centre du travail.
Un disque recommandé pour toutes ces raisons et quelques autres que le résultat, bien supérieur à la somme de ces commentaires, suffit nous semble-t-il à éclairer : l’écoute, la rencontre singulière induite et déduite de Propagations qui, bien au dela des promesses d’un genre, le renouvellent. Rien moins.
Boris Wlassof l Revue & Corrigée l Décembre 2007

Quand quatre saxophonistes férus d’expérimentations, rivés sur les champs ouverts de la spatialité et de la vibration des textures qu’offrent leurs instruments, se retrouvent aussi souvent pour travailler sur un projet de longue haleine, les perspectives se révèlent souvent endémiques.
Depuis 2003, Marc Baron, Jean-Luc Guionnet (tous deux au saxophone alto), Bertrand Denzler (saxophone ténor) et Stéphane Rives (saxophone soprano) cultivent véritablement ce projet, Propagations, que ce disque révèle dans une saisie de l’instant puisqu’il a été enregistré sur une seule séance, en janvier 2007. L’idée de propagation est en effet indissociable de l’œuvre, tant les masses sonores libérées par les instrumentistes se jouent de leur propre lenteur, de leur aspérité blessante pour coller au plus près de l’oreille sans tomber dans une excessivité formelle qui aurait nui à cet équilibre acoustique bruissant. Un équilibre trouble, physiquement flou et méditatif, qui occupe avec un rendu sonore surprenant un espace musical indéfinissable livré à autant d’instabilités vibratoires qui en altèrent le sens.
Laurent Catala l Octopus l Novembre 2007

Quatre saxophones (2 altos, 1 ténor et 1 soprano) servent une improvisation inquiète de révéler sa propre sonorité, à force de mesure et de pratiques expérimentales accordées.
Entassant souffles et drones, interventions timides ou osées, Baron, Denzler, Guionnet et Rives, passent de l’abstraction charmante d’une première partie à l’instauration d’élans plus palpables sur une deuxième, que la réflexion autant que l’insistance peaufinent avec lucidité. Plaidant pour l’éternel retour d’une note sur laquelle ils s’accordent, les musiciens dérangent ensuite leur entente au son de sifflements hauts et de graves, de ruptures soudaines et d’assauts fomentés. Menée avec intelligence, l’expérience rassure en révélant les heureuses conséquences de ces Propagations.
Guillaume Belhomme l dMute l Le son du Grisli l Octobre 2007

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Hear the term “saxophone quartet” and you may imagine its rarely heard, overly sweet classical
form or the too-common, over-the-top jazz incarnations. This saxophone quartet, however, is one with a difference, as notable for its restraint as its extended techniques. In fact, the two conspire to virtually mask the fact that this is a saxophone quartet at all, with Rives on soprano, Denzler on tenor, and Baron and Guionnet on altos.
The first two of three segments focus often on individual or paired voices rather than the full quartet, and the timbres and lines — vibratoless circular breathing suggestive of sine tones, the percussive popping of keys, and the quiet split-tones— are a universe away from the bombastic ego frenzy that besets some of the jazz saxophone quartets.
When the group all play at once near the end of the final segment, there’s a pipe-organ breadth to the sound of their circular breathing and an uncanny recollection of Cage’s description of an anechoic chamber, Rives’ stratospheric high note suggesting the nervous system, Denzler’s gravelly drone at the bottom of his tenor’s range evoking the sound of blood circulating. There’s something wonderfully organic about this acoustic meditation in which ideas of breath and sound are continuous.
Stuart Broomer l Musicworks l July 2008

In a sense, the critical acclaim garnered by the Potlatch imprint is much ado about nothing, though that’s in no way indicative of the label’s quality. The label adheres to fairly consistent aesthetic coordinates, with more than a tendency toward eai (electro-acoustic improvisation) or minimalism or lowercase improv or whatever clever codification is used to indicate such sounds these days. Propagations, one of Potlatch’s most recent releases, collects a quartet of saxophonists for 40 minutes of music that, unsurprisingly, has a distinct lack of easily identifiable saxophone sounds. Two altos (Marc Baron and Jean-Luc Guionnet), a tenor (Bertrand Denzler) and a soprano (Stéphane Rives) get together, but the results tend to blur the lines between the musicians. Individual output is, at times, sketchily recognizable, but Propagations relies more on anonymity in its low-key sea of soft and subtle sounds.
Wide-open spaces mark Propagations ; the players rarely crowd each other, and it’s not unusual to find only two, or even one, of the quartet’s members playing at any given time. Like the end of a bag of microwavable popcorn, much of the album is populated by sparse and unpredictable pops and clucks, separated by a silence marked not by tension, but rather a relaxed sense of patience. When the sound is strung out, the players intermingle a bit more freely, their soft tones in tight layers, rising and falling, or creeping along underfoot before coming to a staccato, sputtering end. Their are some massed moments in which the quartet play with some insistency, finding a volume in numbers that is almost monolithic against the relative tranquility of the rest of the disc. Even at its most insistent, however, Propagations won’t wake the neighbors (though some of the higher register squeals might rouse the family dog).
Improv of this sort doesn’t require or rely on a payoff, and, anyone waiting for any sort of formulaic crescendo or finale would be frustrated more times than not. Still, there’s something quite satisfying about Propagations’ third track. It’s not the only time the quartet engage in long tones and layered sound, but it’s the disc’s most striking passage, richly running counter to the silence and space that play such a big part in Propagations’ sound. Despite the quartet’s clear intent to travel well outside their instruments’ expected norms, there remains a careful quality to the album’s sound, and any skepticism from the novice regarding the peculiarity of the group’s sound should be summarily extinguished by the precise nature of their near surgical approach.
Adam Strohm l Dusted l July 2008

The saxophone quartet sans rhythm section has been part of the fabric of Jazz and improvised music for well over 30 years now. There is a certain expectation when one sees that line-up. Muscular
riffs, brawny section work, virtuosic soloing are all brought to mind. But the unnamed quartet of Marc Baron (as), Bertrand Denzler (ts), Jean-Luc Guionnet (as) and Stéphane Rives (ss) that performs on Propagations defies all expectations. My guess is that, in a blindfold test, some listeners would find it difficult to identify the instrumentation of the group.
This is a group bent on exploring the sonic possibilities of the format and the instruments involved, making use of dynamics, the instrument’s extended range and extra musical devices and a mini-
mal approach to improvisation. In this quartet silence is as important as the sounds that are produced.
The piece performed on this disc is in three sections (Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3. 41:03. 1/12/07, Poitiers, France). The initial part is barely audible—a long breath here, a high pitched whistling sound
there. As it progresses, the piece gradually falls together. Eventually this section turns into an essay on long quiet tones. Looks unremarkable in print but the power in this section is in its subtlety and
in the listening ears of these players. In the second part the sounds become percussive as pads are popped and tongues are clicked, slapped, and high-pitched trills appear from out of nowhere. The
third movement is the most active with a drone that finds the saxophonists phasing in and out of the music, wavering their vibratos, shifting timbres, creating a shimmering fabric of sound.
This is quite an impressive disc and it’s meant to be listened to in its entirety. Propagations accrues its power and drama over the course of its 40 minutes. (Although my guess is most people, per-
haps the musicians themselves, would deny that there is any power or drama in this music and that wasn’t its intent.) But it works in that sense and I found it a damn good way to spend 40 minutes.
Robert Iannapollo l Cadence l July 2008
© Cadence Magazine 2008. Published by CADNOR Ltd. www.cadencebuilding.com All rights reserved.

Fans and readers of the popular books by neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks know that the brain reacts to sounds in numerous ways. From his book Musicophilia (Knopf, 2007), we learn of a woman who has seizures from the folk music of her country, and of comatose patients that are reanimated by song. Sacks tells us that it can be melody that invigorates the brain ; but it can also be simple pitch, tone, and texture.
Maybe that is why this part-minimalist, layered saxophone quartet outing is so inviting. Not that it entices you with melody as much as simple sonic textures, overlapped and smeared into almost pure emotion. The players—Marc Baron (alto), Bertrand Denzler (tenor), Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto) and Stéphane Rives (soprano)—pursue extended technique, breath, whistles, tones, and the machine-like sounds of their pads and mouthpieces.
Luckily, we have moved beyond the discussion of whether this is music. Certainly it is sound, and patient listeners can obtain a listening experience here. Even impatient listeners (friends and spouses) gain some insight, as these sound textures envelope you and draw your attention to this happening of sound.
The quartet puts on a clinic of technique, expanding the saxophone into—seemingly—the electronic world. They create sound (try and figure how they do some of this) that, at times, feels more percussive ; and in many instances, as if it were being processed through electronics. It is, for many listeners, a portal into new and varying ways of listening while opening different reaches of the brain.
Mark Corroto l All About Jazz l July 2008

On Propagations, Guionnet is in the company of three fellow saxophonists, each of whom is similarly bent on extending the sonic reach of their instrument. Clearly we’re not talking a typical saxophone quartet here : no compositions, no pulses, no sectional arrangements. Rather, the four voices blend together to create mass and texture, though not at the expense of tonality, even if the cumulative sound suggests Messiaen’s works for organ rather than wind instruments. The second propagation detaches suddenly from this thick sonic carpeting and moves into a territory of isolated pops, whooshes, and clicks, eventually seeming to weave together into some more recognizably saxophonic timbres. The third piece blends two approaches, the idiom of the first and the timbres of the second, into the disc’s most hypnotic and starkly affecting track. Unpredictable swells and oscillations flicker with an occasional sense of menace but more often with a senses-alight-before-the-cosmos feeling. There’s a sudden break, and then a return to earth.
Jason Bivins l Signal To Noise l June 2008

The idea of a saxophone quartet might instantly recall ROVA, but Propagations certainly does not belong to that kind of expression. Two altos (Baron and Guionnet), a tenor (Denzler) and a soprano (Rives) are the tools that give life to this concise piece, a pretty homogeneous improvisation that is nothing but another try to exorcise the concept that every secret in this artistic area has been revealed by now.
It is a successful one, in virtue of the players’ choice of dividing their introspective conversation in a series of frameworks whose basic characteristics exploit the nearly obvious, however fascinating conditions of pneumatic peculiarity that reed instruments determine when stimulated in the right way. Fluxes of continuous notes, halfway through the sound of a detuned squeezebox and an enthralling hypnosis, are reinforced by the slightly grainy distortion deriving both from the clash between the upper partials and the extended techniques applied by the four. Sine wave-like washes are complemented by impressively unhurried sharp frequencies, the sonic mass becoming at times almost colossal, a moment later next to pale-skinned and, just apparently, weak. Silence, when it appears, is soon disturbed by gentle hissing and tongue clicking and popping, only to re-launch the musicians towards those slanted settings in which the machines require once again to be set in vibrating contexts, the ones that better represent the most satisfying aspect of a music that - if intelligently tackled - has still much to say after all these years. Silently or not.
Massimo Ricci l Touching Extremes l January 2008

There are few instrumental arrangements as loaded as the saxophone quartet. A piano trio might be classic jazz, but it’s been so many other things that it’s easily opened. But the sax quartet - Duke Ellington wrote for them, ROVA and WSQ made them into variable bands, it means something.
And while the flexibility of the sax has made it a key instrument in recent waves of minimalist improv (see John Butcher’s remarkable The Geometry of Sound (Emanem, 2007) for some remarkable pushing of new technique), the sax quartet has, perhaps, been too hot a thing to touch. (James Fei’s group worked in the vocabulary but was more formalized than the 41 minutes of open improvisation here.) While the saxophone affords percussive, woody, metallic and breathy voices, it is still a monophonic instrument (forced overtones still being tied to the note played). So while Baron and Guionnet (on altos) and Denzler and Rives (on soprano) take full advantage of their horns, some surprising things emerge in the course of their playing, chief among them being harmony. It might not be the harmony of a triad with an added seventh, but the most electric moments of this disc occur not when there’s a smear of sound and interjections, but when there are four distinctive voices contributing to a single idea. At those moments the quartet truly forges something new.
Kurt Gottschalk l Squid’s ear l November 2007

The instruments : two alto saxophones, one tenor saxophone and one soprano saxophone. The musicians : Marc Baron, Bertrand Denzler, Jean-Luc Guionnet and Stephane Rives. The music : new, sometimes seemingly weird, sometimes seemingly electronic, sometimes extraordinarily surprising.
There are many ways to think and feel about this work. As the extremely inventive artists state on the cover of Propagations, (obviously divided into three parts, even though it is actually just one) : ‘Time codes have been inserted for listening references only’. Whether that was a real necessity or not must be questioned, because the music speaks for itself and provides some distinguished moments of silence throughout, which are probably a lot better placed than the ‘artificial’ ones.
In terms of musical history, if you hear a quartet of saxophone players you always experience a close interaction of melodies, a lot of phrasing, copying, interpreting on the different sounds levels of the instruments. Also, even on experimental releases, the sounds may be generated at the technical limits of the saxophones, daringly stretched and contorted at times - but they’ll still adhere to a certain way following the rules of musical development, even if only hinting at this concept.
Not so on this release. Upon hearing the first part, I wasn’t even quite sure whether I had inserted the right CD into my player. Lots of silence, lots of seemingly electronically created sounds, almost at the very limits of what the human ear can hear, certainly reminding me of some overamplified microphones set to mute. Then, slowly but surely, other sounds mingle in. They also don’t seem to be produced by means of using a saxophone. Knocking noises, once in a while reminding the listener of electronic drumkits, high frequencies, seemingly melting together only to be separated again.
Noises of the instruments pads without the instruments actually being played, I assume, play a major role, too. Maybe the scratching of an unindentified device over the metal of an innocent saxophone, It is hard to say.
May that be as it is, the continuously changing effects produced by the musicians morph ever so slowly, ever so subtly, almost unrecognizable into more traditional use of their instruments. Please don’t get me wrong, there is no such thing as the quartet actually getting involved in melodies. This is all sound. On Part Three, the last section of Propagations, all four instruments play together – a rare occasion – creating an event closest to what might have been done before. Only to be followed by silence, probably to let this extraordinary event sink in all the better.
This work tells us a fascinating tale about instruments – in this particular case saxophones - and the way they can be used. It leads us playfully on wrong paths, it lets us experience sounds we may have never heard before. The greatest achievement to me is that these sounds more and more, as CD time passes, are finding their way back to their original use, without denying their own will.
Probably because of its atypical character, the artists didn’t choose a name for their quartet ; instead letting their names appear on their own, again drawing a well selected distinction from tradition – like they did with their music. Propagations is just that : a distinction from tradition. A remarkable work.
Fred M. Wheeler l Tokafi l November 2007

For french saxplayers join forces here for a CD on the french Potlatch label. A label specialized in improvised music. I must say, it is some time ago that I came across a cd with the sax-quartet format, as there has been a time when this format was very popular (Rova, etc.). But these gentlemen still see possibilities.
All you might expect from a saxophone quartet is not here. Everything you expect from jazz either. This quartet choses for a very stripped down approach, resulting in a very abstract music made up of long sustained notes or very short ones. With straight lines and dots they divide space, leaving enough room for silence. Their improvisations sound very controlled and disciplined, and they are not a highly emotional affair. On the other hand their music sounds very delicate, subtle and even intense.
All four players made their mark in the french improv scene. As a quartet they play and study since three years, working on their own sound and music with a prominent place for the less is more principle. They do not chose the easy way. They make use of extended techniques for coloring their sound, making you often forget you listen to four saxophones. With little means - a very reduced use of musical idioms and vocabulary - they impressively succeed in sculpting a fascinating structure that lasts some 40 minutes.
Dolf Mulder l Vitalweekly l November 2007

I suppose one of the more daring things you can do nowadays is to form a saxophone quartet. Do you deal with the weight of history inherent in your horn or try to shrug it off ? Or do you simply see what four saxophonists with a thorough understanding of what has transpired in the last decade or so of contemporary improvisation can do these days ?
It sounds like the latter was the approach here. There’s no indication of how the pieces were put together, though it sounds as if at least the basic attack was agreed upon beforehand (if not, all the more impressive). But whatever the case, it by and large works. The musicians (Marc Baron, alto ; Bertrand Denzler, tenor ; Jean-Luc Guionnet, alto ; Stephane Rives, soprano) concoct three works ranging between about ten and seventeen minutes in length, allowing the ideas plenty of time to flourish. The first limns territory that one might have expected coming in : soft, grainy and generally high-pitched, long tones edged with spittle. That it’s not so surprising doesn’t at all mean it’s in any way unenjoyable and this one is fine, very delicate in its balance of tones and the succession in and out of the sound field. The first portion of second track gives me a bit of a problem, essentially because a large proportion of the sounds are key pops and other plosives, elements that carry a wee bit too much of that baggage from prior generations of free reedists. Still, the mini-explosions are arrayed with care over fainter flutterings and breaths and when it splays out into its last half, the saxophones coming to resemble nothing so much as a wheezing harmonium, it’s rather nice.
But the payoff is the final piece. Here, after several minutes of sour, whistling squeakiness, the quartet summons forth all the inherent richness in their axes ; the harmonium is cast aside and the pipe organ appears and raises the roof. Massive slabs of pure reeditude—we’re still talking drones, no screaming and screeching, just hugeness. The effect is liberating. Not so much in a cathartic manner as found in the finest of free jazz squalls, but more in the sense of a recognition that this capability, too, is in the saxophone and it’s been too often ignored in recent years. Diving into their lower registers, the metal begins to vibrate and thrum. They split back out into various pitch levels, one (Denzler, I would guess), maintaining the stuttering bottom, perhaps Rives scratching the ceiling. It’s a beautifully full performance, excellently structured. Good to hear that a format one might have guessed to be played out, isn’t.
Brian Olewnick l Bagatellen l October 2007

Just when it seemed that the saxophone quartet might be a format that had run out of ideas or momentum, along come this French foursome to add new vitality to the genre. For reasons that are not entirely clear, even when they have included otherwise free, radical players (I’m thinking of Julius Hemphill, David Murray, Lol Coxhill, Paul Dunmall…) saxophone quartets have too often opted to play it safe ; a sweeping generalization, perhaps, but one often born out.
Now, this combination of tenor, two altos and soprano (together for three years, although this is their recording debut) takes a truly radical approach, an approach more compatible with improv methodology than with that of a big-band horn section or a four-part vocal harmony group. So, there are no ensemble riffs, no interweaving melody lines, and no call-and-response—in fact, none of the standard sax quartet vocabulary. And—just as refreshingly—they aren’t called The (Blah-Blah) Saxophone Quartet either ; they are just identified by their names.
Instead, across three tracks varying in length from ten to just over seventeen minutes (a total time of forty-one minutes), the saxophones predominantly play long-sustained notes or make subtle noises with the instruments’ pads without blowing. The combined effect often sounds more like a combination of resonating electronics and percussion than four saxophones.
The final track starts out with the players in a rather more garrulous mood, but not until late in the piece do they remotely approach familiar sax quartet territory, when all four blow together, producing a righteous blast of sound. But it is short lived, followed by a period of guilty silence, as if they have to atone for the outburst. These four almost willfully seem to be avoiding well-trodden pathways, thumbing their noses at them and, hence, at clichés of the genre. Admirable.
John Eyles l All about jazz l October 2007