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CD Feature/ M. Baron, B. Denzler, J-L Guionnet, S. Rives: "Propagations"

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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.

By Fred M. Wheeler

Homepage: Potlach Records

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