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Daunik Lazro is a 30-year veteran of the Euro improv scene, but Some Other Zongs is just his second solo recording and first in 11 years. On 2000’s Zong Book, the Frenchman played both alto and baritone saxophones, but here he sticks solely to the larger horn. Of the album’s six tracks, the first two were recorded in April 2010 at the Europa Jazz festival in Le Mans, the remainder in February 2011 in Paris’s Saint-Merry church.
Lazro is of the same generation as Evan Parker and Joe McPhee; in fact, the three have toured and recorded together. And like those two, Lazro’s playing is rooted in jazz, something he demonstrates on the opener, McPhee’s blues-inflected composition “Vieux Carré.” He takes the piece at a stately pace, seeming to savour every note of its melody, and milks it for emotion. He adds the occasional flourish but avoids any pyrotechnics or grandstanding. A master of his instrument, Lazro makes full use of the baritone’s range while maintaining a rich and mellow tone.
Things start to get a little further out on the other track from Le Mans, Lazro’s own “Caverne de Platon.” Again, he mixes in passages from both ends of saxophone’s range, achieving soaring high notes with consummate ease – no easy task on a baritone. Although Lazro displays awesome technique, "Caverne" retains a deep-seated soul and musicality; the piece never becomes a technical exercise.
The four Paris improvisations, each entitled a variation of “Zong at Saint-Merry,” continue in a similar vein, providing an object lesson in the possibilities of the instrument. Lazro employs a variety of techniques -- overblowing, multiphonics, circular breathing -- to push himself and his horn to the limits of the possible. By altering his embouchure, he subtly varies the timbre to produce different voices that interact with each other.
It is not a word often used to describe baritone sax, but this music is stunningly beautiful. One of the year’s best.
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