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French double bassist Benjamin Duboc is one of the busiest musicians in the left-of-center experimental scene of musicians today in Europe. This prolific musician plays regularly with Japanese trumpet player Itaru Oki (who is based in France), in duo and with the NUTS quintet, and with many of the elite of French improvisers, including pianist Jobic Le Masson's trio Free Unfold, or in sax trios with saxophonists Daniel Erdmann, Sylvain Guérineau, Jean-Luc Guionnet or Abdelhaï Bennani. The three-disc Primare Cantus features Duboc both solo and in collaboration with other artists (both frequent and irregular), supporting all the praise for his unique artistry.
The first disc features Duboc solo, playing only on the tailpiece of the double bass, focusing on the very lowest register of the instrument, with sharper frequencies obtained through bow friction and the sound of his breath. Despite developing very slowly, through arresting repetitive pizzicato bowing, still it continuously evolves, accumulating nuance, color and intensity through delicate, micro-variations of the bass's earthy tones.
The second disc features Duboc in three duo settings. The first presents three patient, spare and introspective improvisations with baritone/tenor saxophonist Jean-Luc Petit. The next three duets with frequent collaborator Didier Lasserre—here playing only snare drum and cymbal—are equally minimal but much more intense in spirit, their shared affinity and telepathic interplay turning them into one tight, sonic unity where it's difficult to know who is playing what and when, mainly on the 11-minute meditative "L'arbre se coucha." Duboc concludes the disc with three short, free form duets with Guérineau, another frequent collaborator.
Duboc continues his sonic explorations on the third disc, with a 20-minutes duet featuring Pascal Battus, who produces weird, electronic noises out of a guitar pickup. This duet begins sounding minimalist and monotonous, but gains momentum and volume through sudden shifts of its almost industrial sounds. After a short piece of field recording, Duboc brings together pianist Sophie Agnel and trumpeter Christian Pruvost (member of the KAZE outfit with pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura) for the album's only trio. All three use varied extended techniques on their instruments in this dense and dissonant improvisation: the piano sounds more like a percussive and string instrument than a keyboard; the trumpet whispers and shouts weird sounds; and Duboc's physical, earthy bowing anchors the chaotic interplay into a loose structure until its eruptive coda.
Clearly not for the faint-of-heart, Primare Cantus is an excellent option to explore modern and highly imaginative European free improvisation—much more minimal but still adventurous—performed by some of France's finest musicians.
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