Friday, December 23, 2011

Benjamin Duboc, "Primare Cantus," an Achievement for Avant Contrabass and Supporting Instrumentalists

Benjamin Duboc has an ambitious program of sound, noise and tone production that he realizes on the three-CD set Primare Cantus (Ayler 98-99-100). It all centers around Duboc's contrabass and the various sounds and tones he coaxes from it, covering a pretty wide range of conventional and unconventional sound producing techniques and interacting with a series of sympathetic musicians: Jean-Luc Petit on baritone and tenor sax, Didier Lasserre on snare drum and cymbals, Sylvain Guerineau on tenor, Pascal Battus on microtonal guitar, Sophie Agnel on piano, and Christian Pruvost, trumpet. It has an avant noise element going for it much of the time; other times there is more conventional note production that sounds more in line with the sort of "standard" free improv happening today. It's challenging music that will be appreciated by avant music aficionados, less so by others I suppose.

The long first disc bass solo provides perhaps the most difficult listening experience. Low bowed noisy sustains are punctuated by percussive clicks and taps for an entire CD. It is exhilarating once you get used to it, puzzling before that.

Disk two expands the music by bringing in Guerineau, Lasserre and Petit for varying portions of the program. It starts with aeriated long tones on reeds and string punctuations that make full use of the colors and sounds of the contrabass. It has an improv and ambient feel. For part two bowed harmonics and reed harmonics provide long continuously droning and gradually shifting legato sonics. Part three has more movement with bass and sax sounding some fundamental tones and harmonics. Part four brings in light brushed drums and some more conventionally expressed bass improvisatory sounding excursions. Part five appears to make use of bowed cymbals and bowed bass harmonics (?) for a long wash of sound color. Part six is a more "conventional" free duet between bass and brushed drums. There is a kind of ritually reverberating attention to fundamental bass tones there--double stops and ruminative phrasings. Part seven gets into a still more active duet between tenor and bass, freely articulated. Seven continues the bass-tenor interaction, getting closer to something Rivers and Holland did back in the day, but going at it in their own fashion. It continues and builts in density on eight, then returns to a slightly more quiescent conclusion on the final track of disk two.

Disk three brings in three new players to interact with Duboc (Agnel, Battus and Pruvost). The first longish section has an ambient noise element, produced with rumbling machine-like bass continuity and continuously sounding higher pitched soundscapes (on microtonal guitar?). A short middle section has to do with white noise hiss, quiet and at times nearly silent. The final 20 minutes indulge in bowed three-way harmonics and unconventional trumpet and piano soundings that would not sound out of place as produced by the Acting Trio of BYG days, or MEV, AMM or il gruppo. It changes and transforms...

This is a sometimes stark, always rather provocative presentation on the edge of avant music today. Duboc impresses with his controlled unconventional contrabass; the supporting musicians turn in sounds and tones that interact with Duboc in ways that are completely idiomatic and appropriate. It's purist avant of a thoroughgoing sort. It may not generate a huge following but it is worthy of the time and effort required to understand and appreciate the matrix of sounds the musicians put forward so imaginatively.

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