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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Double-Basse – This is Not Art (Clean Feed, 2015) ***½

By Dan Sorrells

Double-Basse is the duo of Benjamin Duboc and Jean-Luc Petit. We’ve heard from this duo before on Duboc’s Primare Cantus, but here Petit trades his saxophones down to contrabass clarinet. Needless to say, This is Not Art dwells resolvedly in the lower registers.

Without regular exposure, it’s easy to forget how powerful contrabass clarinet is in the hands of a musician like Petit—at times massive and woody, like creaking sequoias, more fluid in others, the rippled surface of a pitch black pool. Duboc is just as versatile a bassist, and he and Petit work around the edges of their instruments, sounding against the timeworn arcade and into the vault of Eglise Saint-Martin. This is Not Art is most effective in its quieter moments, such as the opening and closing minutes of “Craftsmen, Pt. 1,” which loses much of its nuance when the volume increases. Perhaps surprising are Duboc’s vocalizations about halfway through—if not homage, then certainly the quiet influence of Léandre. “Craftsmen, Pt. 2” is a little more consistent in mood than the first piece, rumbling and percussive to start, with tongues slapping reeds and bows slapping string.

The album and track titles, as well as Julien Palomo’s liner notes, make it clear that This is Not Art is a paean to the craft of the instrumentalist: reclaiming music through improvisation, pulling it down from the lofts of culture and back into the hardworking hands of music-makers. A title like “This is Not Art” is to some extent tongue-in-check, but the underlying critique is sound. Double-Basse’s free improvisation is well-positioned to argue that the abstract concerns of aesthetics often side-step the more fundamental—even ontological—pursuit of craftsmanship. We all do well to remember that improvisation is bleeding edge musicianship. Risky. Physical. A product of the will, talent, and passion of musicians toiling in a precarious present moment. This is Not Art emphasizes the doing over what has been done, the act of making, rather than the idolatry of what has been made.


Colin Green said...

"Idolatry" doesn't seem quite right - is that really how we think of works of Art? There are some interesting things to be said on the subject, however, see: Richard Sennett's "The Craftsman" (Penguin, 2009).

Colin Green said...

In addition: some of the greatest works of craftsmanship are quite literally, set in stone - the Gothic cathedrals. of Europe, which were built by a variety of craftsman over several generations. Some might also consider them places of idolatry. And of course, the process of creating something is fundamental to improvisation, but it then ends up as a permanent object, such as the CD under review. The relationship between these various concepts is not straightforward.

Colin Green said...

Finally: Bach never thought of himself as anything more than a musical artisan, paid to produce music for his employer. He is now revered as a great composer. What does this make him: craftsman or artist?

Dan S. said...

If I must defend word choice right out of the gate, what I meant to convey was, much like an idol being worshiped in the place of the Creator, the final "aesthetic object" can be (but is not always!) emphasized without much consideration for the quality and quantity of work and skill required of its human creator. The point is that, no, we don't think of works of Art like that at all--the means of making may be of no concern to the appreciator (or detractor). Bach is revered as a great composer, but today the name "Bach" more connotes the familiar, canonical musical work you're about to hear than the personhood of a talented "musical artisan" that astonishingly never thought of his output as much more than a job (or even just the skill and labor in the abstract that is required to create such music).

I never suggested that craftsmanship and artistry are incompatible or mutually exclusive domains; some people would consider them synonyms! My concern was not defending a particular side in a debate, but in highlighting a way of seeing or hearing that seemed important in the context of this performance. I agree that the relationship between all of these things is far from straightforward. I'm merely talking about a small sliver of this stuff in an album review.

Colin Green said...

I sought to open up the issues and suggest that there are several different ways of approaching the question of craftsmanship and art. Aside from the query over "idolatry" - and you've now provided a lengthy definition of what you meant - I wasn't referring to the content of the review as such.