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CD Feature/ Jean-Luc Guionnet & Toshimaru Nakamura: "Map"

img  Tobias
After some routine has kicked in, writing reviews is really a simple task: You talk about a musician’s personal and professional past and about previous releases for a while, then turn towards a more or less adequate description of the disc at hand to arrive at a classification into the artists general canon of releases. And then an album like “Map” lands on your desk and suddenly words no longer seem to be capable of doing justice to the music.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the album falling out with tradition or with the performers arriving at a quasi-mythical land of subsonic depth and ultrafrequential altitudes. Granted, melody and chordal transformation even in a less conservative and classical sense are nowhere to be found here and rhythm has only survived as an idea, as an atoll of spontaneous, unpredictable and possibly even unintentional islands of interconnected percussive patterns. But if someone were to come along and call this record a “shining example of electroacoustic experimentation” or “the meeting of two figureheads of the contemporary improvisational scene” no one would feel offended.

The reason is that these terminologies, stripped of their linguistic pathos, are banale. Jean-Luc Guionnet has finely delineated a unique territory for himself in decades of playing in various line-ups and as part of diverse projects. The choice between composition and improvisation is not an idealistic one in his ouevre, it is a living and breathing inspiration, a reason for continous research and personal development: Guionnet is not merely deciding against or in favour of either of the two, but regards them as poles of a circular continuum, on whose soft moebius strip he moves gracefully and with utmost precision. Categorising him as an “improvisor” is not wrong – but neglects the finely nuanced shadings which the word is awarded through the intricacies of his playing.

Toshimaru Nakamura, meanwhile, has refined his style to such a degree that stereotypically supplied background information on the “No Input Mixing Board” (the technical setup he has become famous for) has given way to a more detailed appreciation of it as an instrument in its own right. His performance on “Map” indicates that he doesn’t care for proving his capacity in drawing recognisable stuctures from it, like a sorcerer conjuring rabbits from an empty hat, but that his real interest lies in using it to create fluidely emotive expressions. The importance of his work lies less in the quality of the sounds he produces, but in the completely intuitive way of arriving at them.

The backcatalogue of both artists reveals the immense importance of an atuned auditive process for the appreciation of their music on the part of the audience, as well as for themselves as performers. Maybe it is this increased awareness, this hyper-sensitivity to each single sound they produce, to the way it is capable of influencing the music’s direction and its context, which makes them listen so attentively to the other on “Map”. The fusion of Alto-Saxophone with electronic hiss, crackle and distortion, despite occasional outbursts and disturbing high-pitch screams, sounds completely organic and carefully balanced here.

The aforementioned level of proficiency in using their instrument of choice is one part of the equation: Guionnet produces smooth continous tones, smacking and plopping sounds, metallic attacks, short themes in overblown harmonics, teakettle- and steamtrain imitations, rhythmically undulating insect buzzes and diaphanous, duophonic intervals with a warm breath. Nakamura counters these impulses with granular gravling, delicate microtonal dissections, bleeps, burps and bumps, fidgety fizzling and abrasive nervousness, or actively pushes things to a climax by tightening the density of his musical events.

On other occasions, a grounding of nothing but finely hissing white noise feels like an open invitation to his partner of going where he pleases – which Guionnet amicably answers with discreet, silent horn tones, caressing the surface and forming a cohesive new texture.

The three opening improvisations, recorded on a single day in Montreuil are timbrally condensed and feel very much of one-piece, each new track offering glimpses at different formulations of the same idea. The concluding, 23-minute long piece, realised roughly two months later, however, additionally features Guionnet on Organ, delivering imposing clusters and sustained bass tones, injecting the already highly charged encounter with a vortex-like spatial depth, brimming with tactile aggression and continuing the energetic eagerness of the opening bars. In the outstretched middle-section, meanwhile, the undulating registers lend a mysterious, mythical feel to the music, which sways from the adrenalin-soaked to the ethereally cleansed, discharging itself in exchanges of industrial intensity and flowing towards a whisperd conclusion.

As initially stated, what makes this encounter special is not so much its radical revolutionary stance. Rather, the music suggests a potentially infinite source of exploration. Guionnet and Nakamura are so interested in what their counterpart has to say, that every second of music they produce needs to be appreciated without reference to what preceeded and followed it. Past and history are collapsing into a burning marker on a shifting timescale – I suppose this is what is meant by “being in the moment”. Words can of course still rationally describe what is happening here, but they can no longer act as a bridge: If you want to know what “Map” is about, you really need to listen to it.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Jean-Luc Guionnet
Homepage: Toshimaru Nakamura
Homepage: Potlatch Records

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