French clarinetist Xavier Charles is a true explorer. Musically speaking, his own music and his collaborative projects range from abstract, raw noise to electro-acoustic textures, sound poetry, free improvisation and even the anarchist-punk of the Dutch The Ex (he already joined The Ex gigs for more than 120 performances, including many with the late Ethiopian sax great, Gétatchèw Mèkurya). Geographically, he seems to be all over the globe, trotting from a recording session in Québec City, Canada to Canberra, Australia and sometimes in between even enjoys the Swedish woods with his Norwegian comrades of "Dans les Arbres" group.
Xavier Charles / Michel F Côté / Franz Hautzinger / Philippe Lauzier / Éric Normand - Torche ! (Tour de Bras, 2017) ****½
This free-improvised session was recorded on May 2016 at the Café-théâtre de Jonquière, Québec Cityduring the local Festival des Musiques de Création, at the end of a short Canadian tour that featured the five musicians playing in different formations. The quintet features three musicians from the local Tour de Bras experimental musicians collective: percussionist Michel F Côté, bass clarinet player Philippe Lauzier and electric bass player Éric Normand plus like-minded Austrian trumpeter Franz Hautzinger and Charles himself.
This meeting of these five distinct improvisers - all are committed to an uncompromising search and research of pure sounds and the timbres of their respective instruments, all in their own personal manners and with their own sense of invention - proves that the language of free-improvisation is truly universal. You just need to have an attentive ears - elephantine ears - trust your comrades and your instincts, and then all sounds - raw, dissonant, distorted, acoustic or electric, melodic, breathy or noisy - find their place in the mysterious great scheme.
The eight improvisations tell different, strange, cryptic stories, with no apparent meanings, clear narratives or comforting conclusions. But all manage to draw the listener immediately into their rich, poetic universes, despite their contemplative, sometimes even austere tones. Nothing sounds radical in these improvisations, even though these musicians do produce some pretty weird sounds. Together, as a collective, they sound much larger, somehow more sensible than apart. You can hear that in the playful “Alaplasse”, where imaginative bird calls collide gently with noisy, electric sounds, in the almost psychedelic texture of multiphonics on “Boudboi” and in the extraterrestrial, minimalist-techno pulse of “Izatrape”. Brilliant.
Psithurism Trio with Xavier Charles - Lure (SoundOut Recordings, 2017) ****
The Australian Psithurism Trio is a collective of sax players - alto sax player Rhys Butler, soprano sax-bass clarinet-prepared drum player, label owner and SoundOut Festival organizer Richard Johnson, and tenor sax player John Porter - which began working in 2012, experimenting with minimalist and free-improvisation. This trio opts for an organic, inter-subjective developing of its music, evolving between the players as if it would have a life of its own. The Trio one-off collaboration with Charles was recorded live at 2017 edition of the SoundOut Festival in Canberra, Australia. This Trio has collaborated before with another innovative clarinetist, Canadian François Houle (Knots, SoundOut Recordings, 2017).
The three collaborative pieces on Lure are more structured, disciplined and patient than the ones of Torche!. The four musicians weave complex and multifaceted textures with an impressive restraint and control and a subtle sense of tension building. All focus on a collective, organic exploration of subtle, fleeting sonic articulations. Throughout these delicate improvisations the Trio plus Charles keep searching for new details and nuances in these polyphonic, microtonal multiphonics but always within a fragile sonic unity, where only Charles stands out with his distinct sound and urgent ideas. This collaboration is best realized on the 24-minutes of “Aebus Albopictus” that lures you -literally - into its enigmatic baths of sensual sonic spells.
Charles continues with two excellent, improvised solos “Multicellular” and “Ameboid”. On both pieces he uses his array of extended breathing techniques - resonant overtones, noisy and chirping multiphonics and raw breathes - to sketch engaging, chatty mini-suites.
Xavier Charles / Jacques Di Donato - ilex (Protagoniste, 2018) ****
Fellow French clarinetist Jacques Di Donato is considered as the most seminal educator of the clarinet in France, an improviser who plays jazz, contemporary music, folk songs and pop songs. He is a generation older than Charles but collaborated with him in the mid-nineties when the two recorded their debut duo album, Du Slavon Glagol (Khôkhôt, 1996). Both returned to perform as a duo in recent years. Ilex was recorded on May 2014 in the pastoral, countryside scenery of Mhère in eastern France, close to where the Roman god Mercury was worshiped.
The 14 improvised pieces stress the rich, playful and highly expressive spirit of this meeting. Di Donato is credited for playing a lawn mower, and Charles, adds a tiny helicopter to his clarinet. Both keep alternating roles and dynamics while employing an impressive range of extended techniques. They move freely between a serene, reserved articulation to an urgent, raw tone, between breathy sounds to gentle, percussive ones, between the playful and humorous to the spiritual and ritualistic, even mimicking the meditative tones of the Japanese flute Shakuhachi on “Bambou”, a busy birds talk on “Amère Coup de Vent”, or keep sketching a delicate, multi-layered texture as on the beautiful “Wisteria”.
It is impossible to know who is doing what since both sound as have developed such a precise and profound vocabulary of their own that extends and connects their ideas telepathically and organically. Di Donato and Charles simply keep fine-tuning their private language with new sounds, colors and dynamics, always with an eloquent elegance and great imagination. No doubt, Mercury would have loved this beautiful offering.
Listen to France Musique here and on Bandcamp.
Just listened to Torche! Great music!
However, I must say that this music was not recorded in Québec City. The venue the concert took place is the Café-Théâtre Côté Cour which is located in the city of Jonquière, in the province of Québec.
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