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Friday, August 20, 2021

Michel Doneda, Frédéric Blondy, Tetsu Saitoh - Spring Road 16 (Relative Pitch Records, 2021) ****

By Keith Prosk

Michel Doneda (soprano and sopranino saxophones), Frédéric Blondy (piano), and Tetsu Saitoh (contrabass) freely play a shifting soundscape of textural exchange across two tracks on the 39’ set Spring Road 16.

As the contrabassist’s first recording released after 2019, it carries the weight of Saitoh’s 
death, that twinge heightened by the presence of Doneda, one of his most frequent collaborators since the ‘90s and no doubt dear friend. While Saitoh uploaded a video just over a month before his death featuring a performance with Shun'ichiro Hisada on kotsuzumi and Doneda, his last recordings released so far - the solo Travessia and the duo Choros & Improvisations Live with saxophonist Taiichi Kamimura - are from 2016, as is this set. Blondy is no stranger to this familiar duo, the trio having at least recorded Carré Bleu: In Memory Of Bernard Prouteau together in 2007.

While the set is divided into two tracks, it’s difficult to discern a significant difference in approach, perhaps indicating just a natural pause in performance. The music is quiet and textural, communicating through pulse, dynamics, and timbre more than overt rhythm, harmony, or traditional structures. Mousy environments, creaking and tapping and sighing, sounded forays into silence. But unafraid of noise, Doneda’s characteristic chirps and screeches met with rumbling low end and heavy lumbering grooves from Saitoh. The pair appears to play contrapuntally, one judiciously operating in the space and volume left by the other, or shifting towards a higher bpm while the other drones. Blondy’s regular inside-piano chimes seem to keep some long drawn beat, and the sequence of the trio might iterate a rhythm on an unrecognizably slow timescale. But more than the meat of the sounds the shared spaces in their attack and decay illuminate deeper connections among the musicians, Doneda’s doppler whirr and arced cries extended by the taught twinkling of inside-piano pluckings appearing and disappearing into the silence as quickly as a shooting star in the dark, the big bodies of contrabass and piano allowed to vibrate and resonate together. The tension that drives their music surfaces along the fractures of their materials, the shear of air through metal bore, the friction of bow on string, the prick of plucked string on skin.

Spring Road 16 is available on CD and digitally.