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Monday, March 20, 2023

Two Trios from Sophie Agnel

By Eyal Hareuveni

The classically-trained French pianist Sophie Agnel is known for her imaginative way of transforming the grand piano into a lively, vibrating organism with extensive preparations as well as for her collaboration with like-minded, innovative improvisers like Phil Minton and John Butcher and sound artists Lionel Marchetti and Jérôme Noetinger. Two recent releases offer her visionary, sonic imagination.

Agnel / Lanz / Vatcher - Animals (Klanggalerie, 2023) 

Animals is the debut album of the unlikely, free improvising trio of Agnel, Swiss, Berlin-based turntables wizard Joke Lanz (aka Charles Testa) and American, Amsterdam-based jazz drummer Michael Vatcher. Agnel formed this trio for a performance at the Festival Météo in Mulhouse in 2016. Animals is a studio recording from Le Confort Moderne during Jazz à Poitiers in November 2018. The trio celebrates the release of this album with a European tour.

Agnel takes this trio to deliciously uncertain, heretic grounds. Lanz is a jack-of-all-trades who adds his extensive experience in playing anything, from improvised music to experimental music, from noise to turntablism, and is known as the leader of the action project Sudden Infant. Vatcher brings to this trio his experience of playing with jazz, free improvisation and avant-punk with Michael Moore, Tristan Honsinger and The Ex.

The 13 short pieces of Animals capture the wild, dadaist imagination of this trio with suggestive titles like “Laughing Hyenas”, “Lullaby For Dionysus” and “Metallic Meditation”, and often with more ironic and insightful references like the hyperactive “Michael Nyman Fell Asleep” and “Paul Rutherford's Trombone’. The dynamics are urgent and intense, creating constant, stimulating tension with unconventional and inventive techniques, but always precise ones, and with a subversive sense of humor and, obviously, many sudden twists. This trio explores radical sonic ideas, or unpredictable, rhythmic dynamics with great curiosity but no attachment. Once it is exhausted, the trio continues to its next adventure. Somehow this kind of improvised chaos makes perfect sense, and the beautiful cover artwork by Lasse Marhaug cements this trio's fascinating and joyful sonic collisions.

Sophie Agnel / Olivier Benoit / Daunik Lazro - Gargorium (Fou Records, 2023)


Agnel recorded two duo albums with fellow French guitarist Olivier Benoit (Rip-Stop, In Situ, 2003 and Reps, Césaré, 2014), who later recruited her to the Orchestre National De Jazz. She played in veteran baritone sax player Daunik Lazro's Quatuor Qwat Neum Sixx (Live at Festival NPAI 2007, Amor Fati 2009) and later recorded a duo album with him (Marguerite D'Or Pâle, Fou, 2016). Now the head of Fou Records, sound engineer and archivist of many historical free improvised meetings (and also a vintage synth wizard) Jean-Marc Foussat, has released live recordings of this short-lived trio from September 2008 at La Malterie in Lille and from April 2009 at Carré Bleu in Poitiers.

Agnel, Benoit and Lazro rely on their highly personal and unorthodox extended techniques. Agnel focuses on the inside of the grand piano and turns it into a vivid and intriguing playground, Benoit transforms his electric guitar into an abstract, and sometimes industrial sound generator and Lazro focuses on quiet, whispering breaths and long, sustained tones. The dynamics here are patient and fragile, letting the sparse, expressive percussive sounds resonate and float gently and suggest the course of the music. Each of the four pieces creates its own dream-like, sound universe but all highlight the poetic sensibility of this trio.