In a relatively melancholic mood this evening, for a number of reasons not worth going into here, so it seemed a good evening to write about an album of music I have been enjoying a great deal, another recent release on the tireless Another Timbre label, a CD named Spiral Inputs by Sophie Agnel, Bertrand Gauguet and Andrea Neumann. I’m a fan of all of these musicians, Agnel relatively recently, Gauguet for a few years and Neumann for quite a bit longer. This is one of those groups that makes sense even before you hear their combined music. The saxophonist Gauguet always seems to work well alongside a piano, and here he appears with one pianist playing a traditional instrument (Agnel) and a second playing the frame of a piano, removed from the instrument and attached to assorted electronic devices. (Neumann).
There are four tracks on Spiral Inputs, lasting a total of fifty-one minutes, all recorded in various live and studio situations in France across a two year period. So tracks one and four here were recorded in February 2010, and track three just a day later, but then track two was captured way back in June 2008. Despite the two year gap that separates the second track from the other three all of the music here feels like it fits together seamlessly. The second track (named Spiral #2) may be a little more boisterous and eventful than the others, but then maybe this might also just be my imagination. The music across all four tracks fits perfectly in that area of improvisation that has gradually become the dominant form in Europe of late, not quiet, not minimal, but also not fuelled by adrenalin and cluttered. Spiral Inputs is all about the interaction between sounds, tonal and percussive, electronic and acoustic, sharp and soft. It slips between loud and eventful sections to near silent restful periods. It can only really be described as improvised music. No sub genres easily apply.
Like so many fine improv albums the real listening pleasure here is an immersive, collaborative one. On my main, uninterrupted and focused listen to the album tonight I found myself thoughtlessly drawing shapes on a scrap of paper on my desk, a subconscious attempt to join in with the musical fray perhaps. The music finds a perfect balance between all of the inputs that make it up. The electronics here are understated rather than confrontational to the acoustic sounds, but they are still there and a vital part of the music. The sax rarely sounds much like a sax, but when we go listening for it, its presence is always there. Agnel’s piano playing flits between inside and outside, stroked and scraped strings one minute, softly played keys the next. There are long passages of calm and brooding expectancy, such as the last third of the opening piece, but these are often resolved in louder, more aggressive solutions, as that opening track illustrates; a period of muted electronics and murmuring piano bursts into sudden loud activity for a short while to end the track.
So I could end this review with a list of superlatives, and declare this the best album I’ve heard since whenever, or just state that listening to it, listening with it, letting it swarm and flow around me, has been a thoroughly joyful experience after a thoroughly tedious day. If improvised music is your thing, if, like me, you revel in the way musicians listen to each other int he moment and respond accordingly, if, like me you enjoy a blend of acoustic and electronic sounds of varying texture and dynamic, then you will enjoy this album a great deal. Fine stuff, and yet another winner from another solid batch of AT releases.