Thursday 1st AprilApril 1, 2010
So I was so caught up in my new job role this morning that I forgot to post an April 1st message. I must be slipping. I was home at eight tonight, which made a great change, but still its now half ten and I’m only just sitting down to write. To be honest I couldn’t write earlier because I hadn’t listened to any music today, so have just had two runs through one of the CDs I spent some time with last week. My selection of this evening’s album in particular; Icnites the new release on Potlatch by Pascal Battus and Chistine Sehnaoui Abdelnour was greatly assisted by the wise one with things coming out of his bottom. Don’t these little intros get more surreal by the day? 😉
I’m on record as saying, probably more than once that Potlatch is, in my opinion the most consistently strong label around today. These days Jacques Oger probably only manages a couple of discs a year (I know the feeling) but they are just about always really strong, even when the musicians involved are not that well known to me, last years Narthex release being a good example. I know the music of Battus and Sehnaoui Abdelnour quite well though, and should declare an interest here in that I have recently agreed to release a CD involving Pascal. Ichnites is, for all essential purposes a straight up improv record, and a pretty good one at that. Battus plays “rotating surfaces” a form of instrumentation he goes on in the liner notes to explain involves small motorised components rescued from the insides of old Walkmen used to excite assorted surfaces. Sehnaoui Abdelnour makes life much easier by just playing alto sax. However it is inevitable and doubtlessly predictable for me to say that despite their perceived differences it is in places hard to tell the two sets of instrumentation apart. There are five tracks here, the first four all weighing in at roughly ten minutes in length, the last, titled voies & allures (ways and paces?) lasting half of that.
I say that this is a straight up improv record because from start to finish it documents an alive, often quite fiery musical conversation between these two musicians that places them as tussling, wrestling equals wrapping their sounds around each other to form the meaty, gristly mixture we have here. For the most part Sehnaoui AbdelnourÂ plays her sax in the normal manner, blowing over the reeds, often with a low noteless warble, but nevertheless without an extreme amount of extended technique. She does bring her tones and whispers to match the general area of Battus’ agitated surfaces quickly and easily, though it should also be noted that in places Battus does the same, finding pitches to match the sax, thus revealing a remarkable amount of understanding of what must be a reasonably erratic way of creating sounds. Â There aren’t many silences, but then this isn’t full-on gabbification either. There is a great sensitivity to the playing that reveals two good sets of ears. The way these two musicians listen to one another is very impressive here. Generally a sound will be made by one or the other, after which there will be a slight pause and then the response comes, more often than not perfectly chosen and placed. The sounds here are all very nice, texturally interesting enough, but in truth the real joy in the music comes from following the conversation. In many ways it wouldn’t matter if this was a duo for prepared triangle and amplified tambourine, what works is the connection and occasional willful disconnection between the musicians, the dialogue, the discourse.
So what makes this release stand out from all the other great improvised music CDs? Well maybe nothing really, there is nothing I can say about this music other than underlining the great pleasure I get from following its narrative, and sharing in some small way in the conversation between the musicians. Interesting, engaging music is not always enjoyable music, sometimes the good recordings are also a challenge to our sense of what is pleasant to listen to, but here this is not the case. Ichnites keeps Potlatch’s record going, being a thoroughly engaging record that lasts forty minutes or so but feels like nearer fifteen, such is the ease in which I lose myself in it. Despite the use of 50% unusual instrumentation there are no rules being rewritten here, but that isn’t always necessary. Two musicians get together and find ways to work together. If we can’t be there at the time then a recording of the event is the next best thing. When the end result portrays that collaboration as well as Ichnites does we are onto a winner. Great cover too. Order here.