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Monday, October 19, 2020

Luise Volkmann & Didier Matry - Wünsche (Umland, 2019) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

A little late, but still worth mentioning, this unusual and unique trio of alto sax, church organ and church. It was recorded at night in the Saint-Augustin church in Paris in March 2018. The German altoist Luise Volkmann was then 26 years old. The French organist Didier Matry was then 60 years old. The church was then 158 years old ... and yet the three of them, the alto, the organ and the church bring a wonderful musical synthesis, built around eight tracks, of which six are titled "wishes" and two "improvisation", which makes me assume that there are some agreed structural parts present. 

The church itself plays a role: it creates the resonance of the music, the sonic reverbaration against dome, nave, aisles, columns and transepts. It is the sound board, it sets the atmosphere of reverence and mysticism. 

Most of the pieces are subdued, with eery organ tones and slightly moaning sax tones merging creatively to some as yet unheard aural blending, with tones moving towards each other, trying to find common ground between these two unlikely ensemble instruments. The small alto and the huge organ. The organ is actually celebrated in the world of organ building (I read on Wikipedia): the church's main organ was built by Charles Spackman Barker. One of the earliest organs to employ electricity, it features 54 stops with three 54-key manual keyboards and pedalboards.

But on some tracks, "Improvisation #1"  the organ sound is nothing but brutal, loud, voluminous and majestic, as if all keys are used at the same time, putting the sax on the defence, which has to react in high-pitched screams yet they find their common ground in toned-down subtlety and then silence. On the following track - "Wunsche #5: Lächeln from Fremden auf der Strasse" (Wish #5: the laughter of strangers in the street), the loudness is kept and the sax wails in agony over the dark pumping organ tones. For Didier Matry, who is the actual organist of the church since 1997, and a Gold Medalist of the "Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris" (among many other awards), this kind of music must be completely alien, and definitely to be performed in the church. The most amazing thing is that he manages to play this free and avant-garde music with vigour and finesse. Possibly the church also never had the chance to be part of such music before. 

My favorite track is "Wunsch #7: Mehr Tanzen" (wish #7: to dance more), a piece where the counterpoint between the two instruments is pushed to the limits as an amazing dance between the bombastic and the fragile. 

Other tracks are more refined, developed like lace, quiet, precise, subtle. 

But then it is finished. Again. And it is too short, a little over half an hour. You listen again. 

In all the multitude of music that is produced, sometimes something unique appears. This is one of these albums. The sound is unique, the synthesis between genres and styles and the creative development into something new, as well as the willingness of two artists to bridge all the gaps of age and instrument and language and throw themselves with open mind and open heart into an initiative such as this one. 

I can only recommend that you take the jump with them, into the musical unknown. When you take your chances, when you take risks, something you fall of the tightrope, but sometimes, as is the case here, you  manage to cross the bridge and find success. 

Listen download from Bandcamp